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Neato's $599 BotVac 85 is one of four new robot vacuums for the brand. While it's clear that Neato used its existing XV models as templates for the BotVac line, the company also made significant updates, even addressing some of the complaints we had with the XV models we've tested. The Botvac 85 is more than just a refurbished XV, though -- Neato added a side brush to the design, a larger main brush and dustbin and, miraculously, made it less noisy.
It also aced its performance tests, doing better overall than any of the three previously-reviewed XV-line bots and about the same as iRobot's Roomba 880/870. It's a close call between the BotVac 85 and the identically-priced Roomba 870 (the remote-free version of the 880 model), but the BotVac offers three filters over the Roomba 870's two, shorter run times, a longer brush, and extremely straightforward magnetic boundary markers compared to iRobot's fussier battery-powered Virtual Wall barriers. The BotVac also did much better on the pet hair test, making it ultimately more recommendable that iRobot's Roomba 870.
Design and features
The Neato BotVac 85 doesn't look all that different from the XV-line models we've reviewed. It has that traditional Neato rounded back and squared-off front, allowing the brush to tackle corners and edges with ease. Also like the XV bots, the included accessories are the only clear way to differentiate one BotVac model from another -- that, and each model's paint color. Still, there are both subtle and obvious differences that make BotVacs and XVs two clearly distinguishable robot vacuum lines.
While each XV model has a different color combination, all BotVac models are finished in white with a brightly colored accent on the top sensor. Neato currently offers four different models in the BotVac line, including this $599 BotVac 85 with blue accents, a combo brush, a blade brush, and three high-performance filters on down to the $479 BotVac 70e with orange accents, a blade brush, and one standard filter. The design of the sensor has also changed slightly too; it's more rounded than XV model iterations.
The "Neato Robotics" name was moved to the left side of the bot, and the display located to the right of the sensor has flat touchpad-style buttons rather than the standard buttons you see on the XV line. Other than that, the options offered on the display screen itself are still essentially the same. You can schedule your bot to clean at a certain time, check the software version, and so on.
Instead of the XV's start button, BotVac's have separate home and spot cleaning buttons. The home button both wakes up the bot and initiates a regular cleaning cycle. The spot cleaning button will vacuum in a space 4 feet by 6 feet for a more targeted deep clean. I do wish BotVac models came with a remote -- something that Roomba offers that we haven't seen on a Neato model yet.
Neato also gave BotVac dust bins 2.96-cup capacities: the brand's own XV line has smaller 2.54-cup bins. To account for the larger dust bins, BotVac models are also equipped with larger filters. The less expensive BotVac 70e comes with one standard filter, while this BotVac 85 model comes with three high-performance filters. They look the same as the XV filters, just larger.
Turn over the BotVac and you'll see a couple of other differences between this line and the brand's XV line. While the BotVac 85 comes with the same combo brush that specializes in pet hair and blade brush for regular cleaning, both brushes are larger than the XV line's versions -- 10.9 inches long compared to 9.8 inches long. That means that the BotVac brush is literally closer to the wall and better equipped to tackle those pesky edges.
Those are significant updates, but my favorite feature is the addition of a side brush, similar to what you see on Roomba robot vacuums. This lets the BotVac get even closer to edges than its already-larger main brush can. These changes do mean that this robot vacuum weighs more, though -- 9 pounds compared to the XV line's already-hefty 8.6 pounds. While the BotVac 85 retains a lot of classic elements from the XV line, the BotVac line is a full-fledged new product line for Neato. It's not just another new unit with minor tweak like we saw with the Neato XV Essential.
Using this robot vacuum is a lot like using an XV bot. It's simple and straightforward. Press the home button once to wake up the BotVac and again to start a regular cleaning cycle. Then, the vacuum will scan the space and decide on its plan of attack. Since it scans the room and maps out a route, it should be easy to predict where it will go. However, as with some of the XV models we tested, we noticed some significant navigational anomalies with this BotVac.
I completed several runs on the each flooring surface, and the BotVac didn't always follow the same route, even when it was leaving from the exact same docked location and cleaning in the exact same space. It also periodically maneuvered around a perceived obstacle along the perimeter that wasn't there. Since the robot would still vacuum the majority of the floor, none of this seemed to significantly influence usability or performance.
About halfway through testing, though, I noticed some significant operational problems that would severely impact this bot's overall usability. At one point, it completely stopped returning to its dock. Instead, it would go through a cleaning cycle and stop just shy of the dock and sort of shift around confused for several seconds and then chime triumphantly, as if it had successfully returned to its dock.