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Neato BotVac 85 review: Neato's best robot vacuum yet?

New features and revamped accessories give Neato's BotVac models an edge over the competition, including the brand's own XV-line of robot vacuums.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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8 min read

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.

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8.3

Neato BotVac 85

The Good

The $600 BotVac 85 outperformed the other Neato models we've tested and offers more robust accessories and features.

The Bad

Its $600 price tag is definitely verging on high-end and there's still no remote control.

The Bottom Line

Neato improved on its already-impressive robot vacuums with the BotVac line. Roomba 870 fans might find that Neato's BotVac 85 offers similar features and performance, but you get more accessories (like three filters rather than the 870's two) and much shorter run times.

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.

Neato's Botvac 85 sets its sights on clean (pictures)

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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.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

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.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

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 .

Usability

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.

So, I rebooted the system, checked to make sure its software was up-to-date, and cleaned off the sensors but that didn't solve the issue. It continued to go through an entire cleaning cycle and stop short. When I manually returned the vacuum to the dock, it would respond in various, unpredictable ways.

After describing this to Neato, I learned I had a defective unit and Neato promptly sent another BotVac 85 for comparison. The new BotVac consistently returned to the dock after several repeated tests in various room settings. Still, make sure you're careful with your BotVac -- Neato told me that an accidental drop or other incident could cause significant damage to the laser's accuracy (making locating the dock a potentially lasting issue, requiring you to send the faulty unit back to Neato for repair).

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Neato suggests fully charging and discharging the vacuum two or three times before its first use for it to work as effectively as possible. After that, the BotVac can clean for over an hour on a single charge. It takes up to two times longer than its run time for it to charge. So if you let the vacuum clean for 30 minutes, expect to wait about an hour for it to return to a full charge.

One clear usability improvement is that the BotVac is noticeably quieter than the XV models we've reviewed. It would be much easier to carry on a conversation or watch TV with a BotVac in your home rather than an XV Signature Pro or other XV model. Also, the larger dust bin means that you won't have to empty it quite as often.

Performance

Since there are plenty of feature and accessory updates with the BotVac 85, I was interested to see how it stacks up against the $450 XV Signature Pro , the $430 XV-21 , and the $380 XV Essential . In addition to the Neato robot vacuums we've reviewed, I also compare this BotVac's test results to the $800 LG Hom-Bot Square , the $700 iRobot Roomba 880 , the $700 iRobot Roomba 790 , the $300 Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5 , and the $240 Infinuvo Hovo 510 . While the BotVac 85 placed in the top tier of each performance run, it didn't do significantly better than the other Neato bots or the Roomba 880 on most of the tests.

RICE (OUT OF 2.5 OZ)

Neato BotVac 85 2.45 2.38 2.45Infinuvo Hovo 510 2.33 2.45 2.48iRobot Roomba 880 2.38 2.43 2.33Neato XV-21 2.37 2.32 2.20Neato XV Essential 2.22 2.28 2.28iRobot Roomba 790 2.00 2.32 2.25Neato XV Signature Pro 2.05 2.33 2.13LG Hom-Bot Square 1.85 1.87 2.13Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5 1.55 1.80 0.80
  • Mid-pile carpet
  • Low-pile carpet
  • Hardwood floor
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance


The BotVac 85 picked up 2.45 ounces of rice on mid-pile carpet and hardwood, and 2.38 ounces on low-pile carpet, stealing first place from the reigning rice champion, Infinuvo's Hovo 510. iRobot's Roomba 880 placed third, and Neato's own XV-21 came in fourth. I was particularly impressed with the BotVac's rice results, since this was the only case where the brand didn't already have a bot in first or second place.

PET HAIR (OUT OF 0.2 OZ)

Neato XV-21 0.18 0.18 0.19Neato BotVac 85 0.17 0.17 0.20Neato XV Signature Pro 0.15 0.15 0.18Neato XV Essential 0.13 0.15 0.15iRobot Roomba 880 0.12 0.10 0.17iRobot Roomba 790 0.047 0.05 0.17LG Hom-Bot Square 0.083 0.02 0.08Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5 0.00 0.02 0.00Infinuvo Hovo 510 0.00 0.00 0.00
  • Mid-pile carpet
  • Low-pile carpet
  • Hardwood floor
Note: (Longer bars indicate better performance)

Historically, Neato-brand robot vacuums have been particularly good at tackling pet hair -- and the BotVac 85 was no exception. The brand's XV-21 holds in the lead with 0.18 ounces of pet hair collected on both carpeted surfaces and 0.19 ounces of pet hair on the hardwood floor. The BotVac came in a close second with 0.17 ounces on both mid and low-pile carpets and 0.20 ounces on the hardwood floor. The XV Signature Pro and the XV Essential finished in third and fourth, rounding out the top rankings. This is truly a Neato-dominant category, making Neato's -- either the XV or the BotVac line -- fantastic pet hair cleaners among their robot vacuum counterparts.

SAND (OUT OF 1.25 OZ)

iRobot Roomba 880 0.35 0.58 1.25Neato BotVac 85 0.43 0.45 1.22Neato XV Signature Pro 0.48 0.45 1.12
  • Mid-pile carpet
  • Low-pile carpet
  • Hardwood floor
Note: (Longer bars indicate better performance)


I also wanted to know how the BotVac 85 would react to smaller debris. SI scattered 1.25 ounces of sand on mid-pile carpet, low-pile carpet, and hardwood and compared the BotVac's results to the Neato XV Signature Pro and the iRobot Roomba 880 (no more sand and sawdust mix test, hence the smaller list of comparison units). The Roomba 880 did the best overall, picking up 0.35 ounces of sand on mid-pile carpet, 0.58 ounces of sand on low-pile carpet, and 1.25 ounces of sand on hardwood. The BotVac came in second, picking up 0.43 ounces on mid-pile, 0.45 ounces on low-pile, and 1.22 ounces on hardwood, and the XV Signature Pro finished in third. These scores indicate that even a top-performing bot struggles with small, heavy particles on carpet, but does a fantastic job on hardwood (especially the Roomba 880 and the BotVac 85).

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion

The $600 BotVac 85 is a fantastic robot vacuum, rivaling the brand's $450 XV Signature Pro. While the performance between the two wasn't hugely different, the BotVac does have a slight edge. In addition, it comes with a larger brush, a larger dust bin, larger filters, and less noise. Neato also added a side brush to the BotVac's design and gave it a more modern display with touchpad-style buttons. So, is it worth the extra $150? Sure, if your budget can stretch. But, it's really more interesting to compare the BotVac 85 to the Roomba 870 -- they cost the same, but you get more filters, shorter run times, and an easier setup with Neato's magnetic room barriers than the Roomba's battery-powered Virtual Walls.

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8.3

Neato BotVac 85

Score Breakdown

Performance 9Usability 8Design 8Features 7
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