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Neato Botvac Connected Robot Vacuum review: This clever, connected cleaner is Neato's best yet

Ry Crist/CNET

Powerful performance

We run lots and lots and lots of cleaning tests when we evaluate robot vacuums. There are different types of floors to test on, different types of debris to test with, and different cleaning modes to test out. All in all, I sullied and cleaned over 30 floors with the Neato Botvac Connected, carefully weighing the results of each run. And I've come away convinced that it's the best performer we've ever seen.

Let's start with rice -- a good analog for the typical crumbs and clutter that you'll find on a floor in need of a good cleaning. We sprinkle 2.5 ounces of it onto each flooring surface we want to test, then let the robo vac do its thing. When it's done, we weigh what it picked up, then clean out the bin, give the floor a thorough cleaning, and run the test again. After three runs, we take the average, then move onto the next flooring surface.

Rice (out of 2.5 oz.)

Neato Botvac Connected
2.48
2.45
2.50
Neato Botvac 85
2.45
2.38
2.45
iRobot Roomba 880
2.38
2.43
2.33
Neato Botvac D85
2.44
2.22
2.38
iRobot Roomba 980
2.42
2.29
2.13
Samsung Powerbot VR9000
2.33
2.23
2.28
Neato XV Signature Pro
2.05
2.33
2.13

Legend:

Midpile carpet
Low-pile carpet
Hardwood floor

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Neato cleaned up in more ways than one. On all three surfaces we test -- plushy midpile carpet, berber-style low-pile carpet, and hardwood -- the Neato Botvac Connected posted a higher average than any other robot vacuum we've ever tested. That includes our first ever perfect score on hardwood (and our first perfect rice score on any surface).

I also ran the tests with the Neato switched over into Eco mode. It did seem to run a bit quieter, though only slightly, but it still performed well, managing another perfect score on hardwood and a slight downtick to 2.35 ounces on low-pile carpet. And midpile carpet? In Eco mode, the Neato actually exceeded the Turbo average of 2.48, instead scoring a perfect 2.50.

Pet hair (out of 0.2 oz.)

Neato Botvac D85
0.19
0.20
0.20
Neato Botvac Connected
0.20
0.18
0.20
Neato Botvac 85
0.17
0.17
0.20
iRobot Roomba 980
0.18
0.19
0.16
Neato XV Signature Pro
0.15
0.15
0.18
Samsung Powerbot VR9000
0.15
0.15
0.18
iRobot Roomba 880
0.12
0.10
0.17

Legend:

Midpile carpet
Low-pile carpet
Hardwood floor

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Next up: pet hair. A local groomer kindly donated a trash bag full of the stuff (shampooed before trimming, thankfully). For our purposes, we spread a fifth of an ounce of it across each of our test floors, then see how much each robot vacuum can sweep up.

Again, the Botvac Connected performed admirably, essentially finishing in a dead heat at the top of the leaderboard with Neato's previous generation cleaner, the Botvac D85. Its perfect score on midpile carpet was another first among the cleaners we've tested.

neato-botvac-connected-hairy-brushroll.jpg
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In Eco mode, the brushroll had trouble passing pet hair up and into the bin.

Ry Crist/CNET

Those scores ticked down a bit in Eco mode, though. The Neato still managed a perfect score on hardwood, but could only get about three fourths of the fluff into the bin on both carpets. However, the floors all still looked clean to the naked eye, which raises a question. Where did that other 0.05 ounce of hair go?

The answer, as you might suspect, is that it didn't make it past the brushroll. With the motor running slower than before, the Neato didn't have quite enough suction power to keep the hair from clinging to those brushroll fibers, and created a bit of a tangled mess. It wasn't too terrible to yank the stuff out, and in fairness, the Neato comes with a handy multitool to help with this exact chore. Still, it was annoying enough that I'd steer clear of Eco mode if I had pets to clean up after.

Sand (out of 1.25 oz.)

iRobot Roomba 880
0.35
0.58
1.25
Neato Botvac 85
0.43
0.45
1.22
Neato XV Signature Pro
0.48
0.45
1.12
Neato Botvac Connected
0.47
0.33
1.22
iRobot Roomba 980
0.28
0.37
1.16
Samsung Powerbot VR9000
0.38
0.27
1.18
Neato Botvac D85
0.33
0.25
1.24

Legend:

Midpile carpet
Low-pile carpet
Hardwood floor

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Our final test is to see how well each vacuum can sweep up 1.25 ounces of sand. This is our most challenging test -- particularly on the carpets, where no cleaner to date has yet managed to pick up even half of what we throw down.

The Neato Botvac Connected struggled similarly, finishing more or less in a tie for third with the XV Signature Pro, a Neato cleaner that we first tested back in 2013. The strongest performer here is still the iRobot Roomba 880, which costs about the same as the Botvac Connected.

On the other hand, the app-enabled Roomba 980 -- the Botvac Connected's closest competitor -- finished towards the back of the pack. Despite selling for $200 more than the Botvac Connected, the Roomba 980 ended the day getting outperformed by Neato at every turn.

neato-botvac-connected-floor-error.jpg
View full gallery
Ry Crist/CNET

Usability kinks

Robot vacuums aren't perfect cleaners, and the Neato is no different. It wasn't able to handle a particularly shaggy, inch-thick living room rug in the CNET Smart Home, for instance. And, though I was impressed with how intelligently and consistently it navigated around our test floors, it occasionally finished a run earlier than expected, or needed me to come and pick a wad of pet hair out of its brushroll.

We also ran into trouble with the Neato Botvac Connected's floor sensor. Pick the thing up, and you'll see a polite little message on the screen asking you to put it back down on the floor -- same as all Neatos that came before it.

About halfway through our tests though, that sensor seemed to get stuck. After picking the Neato up and putting it back on the ground, the message refused to go away. I tapped the "okay" button about a hundred times, and tried everything from jimmying the wheels to rebooting the system. Nothing worked, and I was forced to continue my testing with a second unit (I named this one "Roger Two.")

Neato tells me that Roger One was an early production unit, and was likely affected by a design flaw with the vacuum chassis that they claim has since been fixed. I wasn't able to replicate the problem with Roger Two, which is a good sign, and the one-year warranty offers a good deal of reassurance. Still, if you wanted to wait to hear some of the early customer feedback before making a purchase, I wouldn't blame you.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

For $700, the Neato Botvac Connected offers unrivaled cleaning performance and the long overdue addition of remote controls via a well-designed app. It isn't just the best Neato yet -- it's the best robot vacuum to date, and the one I would buy if I were buying one today.

If you're willing to live without remote controls, you can save some money by going with a $500 cleaner from the last generation of Neato Botvacs. It also might make sense to wait and see if any of the emerging crop of connected robot vacuums ends up integrating in some useful way with an existing smart-home platform like Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit. But for now, the Neato Botvac Connected is the best buy of the bunch, and a deserving winner of our Editors' Choice Award distinction.

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