Neato XV Signature Pro review: Is this boring little bot better than the Roomba?

Despite being the slowest-moving vacuum that we tested, the Neato actually finished its runs faster than most of the competition, and this is a testament to how effectively and efficiently it covers space. Unlike the others, which zigzag chaotically about, the Neato maps out a perimeter, then fills it in with a precise back-and-forth, row-by-row motion. This also means that it rarely covers the same ground twice -- but thanks to its powerful suction and slow, steady pace, it really doesn't need to.

No Labradoodles were harmed in the testing of this robot vacuum. Colin West McDonald/CNET

These navigation capabilities are even more impressive once you throw common household obstacles into the mix. In addition to mapping out the perimeter, the Neato's invisible lasers will calculate the position of your furniture, as well. Once it has the lay of the land figured out, the Neato will weave back and forth through all of it, deftly avoiding every obstacle in its path. Watching it in action for the first time is about as cool as it gets.

The Neato also comes packaged with a 6-foot strip that you can lay on the ground to create a virtual boundary. This boundary did an excellent job, and was slightly easier to use than the Roomba's invisible walls, which involved imprecise aiming. Better still, the Neato strip didn't require us to run out to the store and pick up C batteries like you'll need for the Roomba's electronic barrier modules.

No robot vacuum is perfect though, and the Neato, for all its strengths, is no exception. During one test run in a furnished living room, the Neato spent a few futile minutes trying to ascend the sloped leg of an easy chair, and ultimately needed me to step in and correct its path. However, this specific chair seemed to be a tricky spot for almost all of the vacuums we tested, and unlike the Neato, some of the other units needed to be course-corrected more than once, and in multiple spots.

One more disappointment: during our admittedly punishing nuts-and-bolts test, the Neato found its brushes jammed by a three-quarter-inch washer, and again, I needed to step in and fix the problem before it would continue. While it might not be the best vacuum for extremely heavy debris, in most cases I feel confident saying that it should be able to make its way through your home without getting stuck and requiring rescue.

One other key gripe about the Neato is that it lacks some of the features commonly found in other robot vacuums. Unlike the LG Hom-Bot Square, which offers a variety of options for how it cleans your home, the Neato doesn't have any customizable cleaning modes, aside from spot cleaning, which simply tells the machine to vacuum in a specific, concentrated area. I like the Neato's orderly approach to cleaning, but I also enjoyed the way the Hom-Bot allowed me to experiment with different cleaning styles. I found I missed that level of customization with the Neato. Also, the Neato was the only vacuum we tested that didn't come with a remote, utterly dashing my hopes of using it to chase my cat. That said, none of those features made the Hom-Bot worth the extra $350.

The Neato comes with a pair of interchangeable brushes: a spiraling brush designed for rigorous carpet cleaning, and a rubber, straight-edged brush, better suited for smooth surfaces like wood and linoleum. Both of these performed as intended, and both of them also did well in the opposite environment, so if you forget to change a brush out (or if you're just too lazy to bother -- you are, after all, using a robot vacuum), your Neato will still get the job done just fine.

The Neato's bin is easy to remove and easy to clean. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Maintenance
The Neato's bin is a little on the small side, so you'll need to empty it out fairly regularly. It lifts easily out of the top of the machine, and boasts an allergen-reducing filter that snaps in and out of place to allow you to empty its contents. The Neato comes packaged with an extra filter, with additional replacements available for sale on the Neato Robotics Web site.

The Neato will charge in 2 to 3 hours, and will go for approximately 90 minutes before the battery runs out. In my home testing, I found that it was able to clean the kitchen, living room, dining room, and hallway of my 800-sq.-ft. apartment in about 35 minutes, with just over half of the battery remaining when it arrived back at its charging station. Cleaning time may vary depending on your furniture and the layout of your home.

Service and support
In addition to a one-year, limited warranty with an option for extra, extended coverage, the Neato comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee: users who aren't completely satisfied can return the Neato for a full refund, less shipping. Neato Robotics only offers this guarantee for vacuums sold directly through its Web site, so if you're purchasing from a third party, be sure and check that company's specific return policy.

The Neato Web site also features an extensive series of tips and tricks, how-to videos, frequently asked questions, and troubleshooting guides. You'll find periodic software updates that you can install on your Neato using a Mini-USB cable (not included). Recent updates have included the addition of the Neato's spot-cleaning mode, and improved corner navigation.

You can also call Neato directly at 1-800-642-0944 for toll-free technical support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Conclusion
No other robot vacuum comes close to matching the value of the Neato. Out of all the machines that we tested, the Neato performed the best. Its ease of use and relatively low price level of $450 make it a product we could all envision ourselves owning, using, and enjoying on a daily basis, which isn't something we can say for every model we looked at. The Neato won't replace your upright vacuum outright (no robot vacuum will), but it will allow you to leave the upright in the closet and save it for those special circumstances that require good ol' human intelligence.

For its high level of performance and outstanding value, the Neato deserves first consideration from anyone thinking about buying a robot vacuum, especially pet and carpet owners. Shoppers looking for an abundance of cleaning modes to experiment with may also want to look into the LG Hom-Bot Square , while those looking for a more aesthetically minded unit that brims with personality will want to check out the Roomba 790 . But in my view, none of these units offer enough of an edge over the Neato to justify the higher price tags, and at the end of the day, the Neato is simply the better vacuum.

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