Review: Neato Botvac Connected uses iPhone, Apple Watch and lasers for an effective clean
With autonomous cleaning modes built in, and the ability to use iPhone and Apple Watch as a controller, the Neato Botvac Connected proves we are finally living in the future.
Vacuum cleaner robots have the potential to remove an act of drudgery from our lives: cleaning floors with a suction machine and beater brush. When they work, an owner's duties end at emptying a dustbin.
From industry leading products like Roomba to no-name cleaning robots, many autonomous vacuums clean by performing multiple random passes over a dirty area until their little battery hearts run out of juice. This works well when set to run at a time when users aren't at home, but tends to annoy the heck out of people expecting the efficiency of a human operator.
This is where the Neato Botvac Connected gets human expectations right. Neato detects and patrols the perimeter of a room, and then within that perimeter makes back and forth stripes, moving over as each stripe completes. Making Botvac's navigation more impressive is the fact that a form of Lidar is used to map the room. The machine also includes a bumper, though its sees much less use than competing vacuums.
Neato Botvac Connected works with both iPhone and Apple Watch. The iPhone app controls lets users start, stop, and change basic settings on the robot, like whether it uses Turbo or Eco mode for cleaning. It also allows the user to manually drive the robot. This, it turns out, is a huge success for kids 11 years old and under.
The Watch application is less comprehensive, offering push notifications (battery, obstacles, etc.) and start/stop control. It's not very elaborate, but it doesn't need to be. Though it would be fun if users were able to remotely drive the robot from their wrist.
For years, iRobot's Roomba has been synonymous with autonomous robot vacuums. The Roomba is workable, if somewhat messy. The bin comes off the back of the Roomba bot, and in the old Discovery series, inevitably some dirt, hair and lint gets stuck above the carrier that holds the brush and beater bars.
Is it unfair to compare the old robots with a brand new one? Absolutely, but the old ones were built like tanks, requiring little in the way of maintenance. Even the new versions mount the bin in a similar way.
By contrast, the Botvac's bin detaches from the top of the robot's body. This method is a lot cleaner and a much more elegant — no dirt spills out of the canister or stays in the robot. Cleaning the filter is a lot easier, too. Since Botvac's bin is larger than Roomba's, the machine boasts a larger filter area to collect horrible things we had no idea were lurking in the carpets.
If there's a downside, it's that the BotVac loses its side brush frequently. Most robots include a main brush and an ancillary side brush to get into hard to reach crevices. The side brush on a Roomba is screwed onto the motor shaft, but Botvac uses a magnet to secure its component. Hair often gets knotted in the brush spindle, displacing the part from its nook. We frequently find the brush some 15 feet away from the robot when the cleaning has finished.
Botvac uses a local Wi-Fi network to talk to iPhone and Watch, providing notifications if it gets stuck, runs out of battery, or finishes cleaning. Updates are accomplished via an included USB on-the-go adapter.
To protect itself from a wild and wooly internet, Botvac employs SSL and HTTPS protocols to communicate with its command cloud. Searching the forums of robot vacuum enthusiasts indicates that if someone tried to intercept the connection between the robot and its servers, a "man-in-the-middle" attack with a self-signed certificate, that the robot automatically terminates the connection.
If you're in the market for a robot vaccum cleaner, this is one of the best models around. It supports complex scheduling functions, cleans very well, is easy to empty and clean, and is controllable via iOS and WatchOS. The advantage to cleaning by schedule once a day is that the floors are always pretty clean, meaning there's less to do when we take out our traditional vacuum for a deep clean on the weekend.
It might be nice if the side brush stayed on reliably, and it was easier to clean the beater brush from hair that gets wrapped around it, but on the whole, Botvac is a darn good robot.
When kids are around, they love to drive it around with iPhone, which is a win: they get to play with a robot, and we get a cleaner floor as a byproduct. It's not hard to see why, Botvac picks up everything from oatmeal, dirt, cereal, baking soda, and sand without issue, both from bare floors and carpet.
The Neato Botvac Connected sells for $659 from Amazon.com.