BERLIN -- Neato's fleet of robotic vacuums are about to navigate their way into the smart home, thanks to a new connected cleaner that you'll be able to control using your phone. The California-based Roomba rival offered an early look at the new floor cleaner at this week's IFA trade show in Germany -- the Wi-Fi-equipped Neato will sell for $699 when it arrives in retail outlets by the year's end.
Dubbed the Neato Botvac Connected, the new model will join existing Botvac models on store shelves and represents a more significant step forward for the brand than its Botvac D series, which were largely the same cleaners with a fresh coat of paint. Aside from the addition of Wi-Fi, the Botvac Connected boasts a battery upgrade. Gone are the existing nickel metal halide (NiMH) batteries -- the Botvac Connected makes the jump to lithium ion. That's a fairly significant step up that should yield longer runtimes, and a longer lifespan, too.
There are new features at play, too. The most obvious addition is the app-enabled smartphone controls that'll let you set your Neato's schedule or start a run remotely. You'll also be able to use Neato's app to steer the bot around your living room -- handy for a quick spot clean, or for taking the cat on a joyride.
Beyond the app, the new Neato will also offer two distinct cleaning modes: Turbo mode and Eco mode. You'll use the former for full-powered cleaning and the latter for lighter runs. That's a nice option to have, as Neatos tend to make a fair bit of noise as they clean. If Eco Mode is quiet enough not to overpower the TV show you're trying to binge through on Netflix, it could quickly become a favorite feature.
The Neato Botvac Connected also comes with an improved filter design that adds a protective mesh layer over the accordion-like folds of fabric. Neato says that keeps dust and debris out of those folds, making it much easier to keep the filter clean than with the existing Botvac models.
Still, with so many other nonconnected, well-reviewed Neatos currently selling for less, it really all comes back to those smarts. With built-in navigational intelligence, the cleaners are already somewhat autonomous -- the idea of being able to start a vacuum run from outside of the home when you learn that you'll be having unexpected company over is an appealing one. It's an especially welcome addition for Neato in particular, as the brand has yet to introduce a model with a remote control, something we've always seen as a shortcoming compared with more full-featured models like the iRobot Roomba 880 and the Samsung PowerBot VR9000. Relegating those remote controls to an app makes a lot of sense.
Integrating with existing smart home systems would also make a lot of sense -- setting your Neato to run a cleaning cycle whenever the Nest Learning Thermostat detects you've left for the day, for instance. Neato doesn't have anything like that planned just yet, though, and isn't releasing a software development kit (SDK) that would let third-party manufacturers or home automation hobbyists craft those sorts of integrations themselves. Time will tell if Neato keeps the gates up as it moves into the connected neighborhood.
That might ultimately leave the door open for a potential competitor that plays nicer with other connected gadgets. Its most likely smart rival: a Samsung PowerBot that's built to work within the SmartThings connected home platform. Samsung purchased SmartThings in 2014, and SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson has gone so far as to pitch the idea of smart, camera-equipped robot vacuums capable of doubling as roving security droids when you aren't at home. Unlike Neato cleaners, which use laser-guided navigation systems, Samsung PowerBots use cameras that track your floor and ceiling.
Still, Neato looks to be out in front for the moment, especially given that the $700 price is less than you'll pay for a non-connected PowerBot, and comparable to what you'll spend on a top-of-the-line Roomba, too. It's also significantly less than the not-yet-widely-available Dyson 360 Eye, an app-enabled robot vacuum that made an IFA debut of its own one year ago.
For more of the best of IFA 2015, see CNET's complete coverage.