Show of hands: Who likes to vacuum? I'm not raising my hand either. That's why robotic vacuum cleaners have been the stuff of slacker dreams ever since iRobot unleashed the first Roomba more than a decade ago.
Home robots have evolved, and I've been testing out a new Roomba competitor called the Neato BotVac Robot Vacuum 85 from Neato Robotics. I like it, though my experience wasn't completely clean. Models start at $479. My test unit cost $599.
I was especially curious to try Neato because the Newark, Calif., company says it takes advantage of a proprietary laser scanner and navigation software that's based on the same technology Google uses in its driverless cars. After watching Neato plow into a few parked toy trucks in my family room, I'm not sure if I'd ever get into one of those vehicles.
Never mind that, though. The robot performed admirably as a powerful dirt-and-dust sucker-upper, though some human intervention was required. At one point it got caught on the fringes of an area rug. During another cleaning cycle, it stopped because of a "clear my path" error message that persisted even after I had cleared the path. Periodically the robot paused in the middle of a job because I needed to clean out its brushes, suggesting, perhaps, that I should vacuum more frequently.
You're willing to overlook such things because of the advantages, beyond preserving your lazy streak. The robot can crawl under tables, couches, chairs and beds that are out of reach of a standard upright. Scary statistic reported by Neato: Almost 40% of people said it had been three months to a year since they last vacuumed under the bed.
The D-shaped robot bears a slight resemblance to a bathroom scale — three straight sides and a brush in the front across its full width. It can clean within 0.4 inches of a wall, the company claims,. On top are two buttons, Clean House (to clean entire rooms), Clean Spot (cleaning a smaller area). There's also a small display for messages and for menu options that let you change the clock, schedule cleanings and so on.
Watching Neato is a spectator sport that's especially fun for the kids. It advances, changes course, and pirouettes like legendary NHL superstar Bobby Orr — you sometimes play a guessing game wondering where it will go next. I kept rooting for it to get to a lonely Cheerio on the other side of a room. It eventually did, though Neato does miss a spot here and there.
Even at that, Neato does a really neat job on all sorts of surfaces — carpeting, rugs, hardwood floors, kitchen tiles and the stone in front of a fireplace. I was amazed, and frankly a bit terrified, at how much dirt and dust it collected in its 0.7-liter dirt bin. The bin is a breeze to empty. You can swap out accessory brushes.
When Neato finishes the task at hand, it attempts to navigate back to its charger base; I love the little wiggle dance it does when it gets there, though it wasn't always successful making its way back. While the robot isn't exactly quiet, I didn't find it any noisier than my regular vacuum cleaner.
After pressing Clean House, Neato takes a moment to consider its bearings and map out a path, using the laser, bumpers and other sensors to scan and navigate a room. You're not meant to pick it up in the middle of a cycle, lest it mess up its route.
If an area is less than 15' by 15' the robot starts off by cleaning the boundaries of a room, then tackles the interior with a back and forth straight-line pattern. In a room that's larger than 15' by 15,' the robot creates virtual 15' by 15' rooms and cleans in "segments."
Sometimes Neato will move from one room to another, even before it has finished cleaning the room in which it started. You can confine it to a given room by setting down boundary markers included in the package. The robot had trouble climbing a small ledge to get from my living room to my family room but in general showed a remarkable ability to escape situations where I thought it was stuck, even lifting itself when necessary.
It takes 12 hours to charge Neato for the first time. After that, charging time is about twice vacuuming time. (Vacuum for an hour, charge for two.) If the battery is low before Neato finishes a job, it can automatically wiggle back to the base, get some juice and then resume cleaning.
Neato is a neato product. Now if I can only get a robot to do the dishes, make the bed and put away the laundry I'd be in slacker heaven.
E-mail: email@example.com; Follow @edbaig.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Neato BotVac 85
Pro. Strong vacuum. Robot can automatically map out route to vacuum room, then charge itself back up. Can clean in areas regular vacuums can't easily get to.
Con. Robot sometimes gets stuck or missed spots. Can take a long time to charge battery.