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Neato XV Essential review: This basic bot rivals Roomba vacuum performance

The $379 Neato XV Essential is an unassuming robot vacuum that offers top performance.

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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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We were quite taken with the $449 Neato XV Signature Pro that we reviewed last year. Then, Neato announced a new robot vacuum at CES earlier this month and our enthusiasm was renewed. Not only is the $379 XV Essential another Neato for the CNET Appliances team to review, but it's also very similar to the highly rated Signature Pro (just $70 cheaper).

2Z9A0025_1.jpg
7.5

Neato XV Essential

The Good

The $379 <b>Neato XV Essential</b> is very similar to the high-performing $449 Neato XV Signature Pro. It did even better than the Pro on two tests.

The Bad

It didn't do quite as well collecting pet hair as the Signature Pro. Emptying the dust bin is a nightmare due to the cheap filter.

The Bottom Line

This robot vacuum is a whopping $320 less than the iRobot Roomba 880 and performed similarly well. However, its cheap filter makes it hard to use -- if you want a Neato, stick with the $399 XV Signature or the $449 XV Signature Pro.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Unfortunately, I can't recommend it. While it performed well, the standard filter it comes with is very flimsy. That makes it nearly impossible to empty the dust bin without spilling gross stuff all over yourself. Why would you ever bother with that when you can get the $399 Neato XV Signature that comes with one (considerably more substantial) pet and allergy filter and the same, sturdy blade brush as the Essential (all for just $20 more)?

This robot vacuum is Neato (pictures)

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And if you deal with pesky pet hair on a regular basis, you might as well spend the extra $70 to get the $449 Signature Pro. It comes with two pet and allergy filters, a blade brush and a combo brush designed specifically to combat pet hair. You do have the option to purchase various brush and filter upgrades for the Essential (that would make it identical to the Signature or the Signature Pro in every way except color), but that will end up costing you more in the end. And that's the most interesting takeaway from this review: Neato models are virtually indistinguishable. It's the seemingly minor accessories that set each Neato apart.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and features

Like every other Neato vacuum, the XV Essential clocks in at 8.6 pounds and measures 12.5 inches by 13 inches by 4 inches. It also has that classic Neato shape: It's rounded in the back and squared off in the front. But you can distinguish among models by color -- the Essential has a grayish-white finish. It also has a small display screen and a start button surrounded by LEDs.

The display screen includes a menu button where you can select among spot clean, schedule, set clock, language, and support. The LED lights around the start button change color depending on the status of the charge, which is handy. Press start once, and your Neato will power on. Press it twice and it starts to clean.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The XV Essential also has sensors on the top that map out the room to determine the most efficient route. The dust bin is located in the center of the vacuum right in front of the sensors. Just pull up on the handle to remove the bin and empty its contents. This model comes with two basic filters and one blade brush. That makes the XV Essential a stripped-down version of the $449 Signature Pro. They are identical machines outfitted with different filters and brushes. And the fact that you can swap out basic accessories for upgraded ones makes Neato vacuums very versatile but also a little too similar. Where's the unique tech among models, Neato?

Megan Wollerton/CNET

The XV Essential also comes with a matching charging dock, where the Neato will return after completing a cleaning cycle to hang out and charge. A 6-foot boundary marker is also included in the box. This is my favorite Neato accessory. Where Roomba complicates this feature with Virtual Wall barriers you need to restrict your Roomba to a specified area, Neato simplifies things. Just lay the boundary marker flat on your floor and your Neato won't travel across it.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Usability

The Neato XV Essential is a relatively easy machine to use. Plug in the dock, let your Neato fully charge, and press start (twice if it was powered down). It will immediately leave the dock and begin to scan the room. When it scans it sort of "looks" left and right to determine what route to follow. As far as initiating a cycle, it couldn't be easier.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Then, it starts to clean and the first thing I noticed is that it's incredibly loud, particularly on hardwood. The blade brush has rubbery silicone "bristles" and the sound is pretty distracting. (Ry Crist reviewed the Signature Pro using the combo brush and said that it was also loud.) If you plan to be in the same room as your Neato while it cleans, this could get annoying. I also found the brush very difficult to get back in place. One side of the brush fits inside a belt, and it can be a chore to get it situated correctly.

One thing going for the XV Essential is that it's very responsive. I lifted it to carry it closer to the garbage can and the screen said, "Please put me down on the floor." When the battery was low, the screen read, "My battery is low, please charge me." It thanks you for emptying its dust bin and reminds you to put it back. And when it's done with a cycle, it will even say that it's finished on the screen. If there's something obstructing the view of the sensors on the top or if it gets tangled on something, it will let you know that, too. It borders on being a nag, but the reminders are still helpful.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

My biggest complaint with the Essential relates to usability, and it's ultimately the reason I can't recommend this machine over the $399 Signature or the $449 Signature Pro. The Essential is supposed to be entry-level for Neato; it's replacing the XV-12 and it comes with basic accessories. That's fair, but the filter is terrible. It feels extremely cheap, and you have to remove it every single time you dump the contents of your dust bin.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

It has a tab you're supposed to pull on to remove the filter, but it felt like it would break whenever I tried. Also, it takes more effort than it should to remove and that force caused debris to scatter everywhere half of the time. Very messy and it kind of defeats the purpose of vacuuming in the first place. For just $20 more, you can get the XV Signature -- it's the exact same machine but with an upgraded filter that says it can "remove particles from the air stream down to 3 microns in size, including mold, spores, cat and dog dander, dust mites, pollen, textile and carpet fibers." Sounds much better to me, and if you're already considering spending $379, $399 isn't that much more.

Performance

While I can't recommend the XV Essential, it did impress me during the performance tests. It led right alongside the $450 Neato XV Signature Pro and iRobot's $700 Roomba 880, which replaced the $700 Roomba 790. I definitely can't say that about the underwhelming $800 LG Hom-Bot Square and $349.99 Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The vacuum cycle for the XV Essential was very straightforward. Each run took under 8 minutes -- it was quick and it stuck to its predetermined route. A couple of times it did look "confused" and returned back to an area it had already cleaned. But a few glitches didn't significantly alter the results of the test compared to other runs. And I never once had a problem with the bin filling up before a cycle was finished or with the length of the battery life during testing (I can't say as much about the Roomba).

You can see that the vacuum skipped a whole section of carpet during this run. Megan Wollerton/CNET

Rice (out of 2.5 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor

iRobot Roomba 880
2.38
2.43
2.33

Neato XV Essential
2.22
2.28
2.28

iRobot Roomba 790
2
2.32
2.25

Neato XV Signature Pro
2.05
2.33
2.13

LG Hom-Bot Square
1.85
1.87
2.13

I spread out 2.5 ounces of rice on mid-pile carpet, low-pile carpet, and hardwood. The Neato did very well on all three tests. It came in second place on mid-pile with 2.22 ounces (after the Roomba 880's 2.38 ounces). It trailed behind the Roomba 880's 2.43 ounces and the Signature Pro's 2.33 ounces on low-pile with 2.28 ounces. And, it came in second on hardwood with 2.28 ounces (after the 880's 2.33 ounces). On average, it didn't do quite as well as the 880, but it did do slightly better than the Signature Pro.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Pet hair (out of 0.2 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor

Neato XV Signature Pro
0.15
0.15
0.18

Neato XV Essential
0.13
0.15
0.15

iRobot Roomba 880
0.12
0.10
0.17

iRobot Roomba 790
0.047
0.05
0.17

LG Hom-Bot Square
0.083
0.02
0.08

Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Signature Pro did better than the Roomba 880 on the pet hair test, so I was very curious to see how the XV Essential would perform. I scattered 0.2-ounce of mixed pet hair on mid-pile, low-pile, and hardwood. The Essential did very well, but not as well as the Signature Pro. On mid-pile it got 0.13-ounce, compared to the Signature Pro's 0.15-ounce and the Roomba 880's third-place spot with 0.12-ounce. It tied for first on low-pile with the Signature Pro with 0.15-ounce, and it actually came in fourth place on hardwood with 0.15-ounce after the Signature Pro's 0.18-ounces and the Roomba 880 and Roomba 790's 0.16-ounce.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

During this test it became clear just how significant the accessories are for each Neato model. The Signature Pro comes with the pet and allergy combo brush (it's a mix of silicone and bristle brushes). It's designed for vacuuming pet hair, and it did that incredibly well. The XV Essential, while still good, used the all-silicone blade brush, which just isn't designed for pet hair.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Sawdust/sand mix (out of 1.25 oz)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Medium-pile carpet
Short-pile carpet
Hardwood floor

iRobot Roomba 880
0.4
0.43
1.18

Neato XV Essential
0.50
0.32
1.03

Neato XV Signature Pro
0.42
0.43
0.92

iRobot Roomba 790
0.3
0.23
1.12

LG Hom-Bot Square
0.23
0.27
0.75

Infinuvo CleanMate QQ5
0.15
0.13
0.07

I also scattered 1.25 ounces of sand and sawdust over the same section of mid-pile carpet, low-pile carpet, and hardwood. The XV Essential came in first on mid-pile with 0.50-ounce. It came in third on low-pile with 0.32-ounce after the Signature Pro and Roomba 880 tied for first with 0.43-ounce. And it got 1.03 ounces on hardwood, trailing behind the 880's 1.18 ounces and the 790's 1.12 ounces (but it did beat the Signature Pro's 0.92-ounce).

Overall, the blade brush does better on standard debris and the combo brush does better on pet hair. If you want to vacuum both regular debris and pet hair, get the $449 Signature Pro. And if you aren't concerned with pet hair, get the $399 Signature.

Conclusion

The XV Essential is a very good robot vacuum. I mean, it's a $380 model that performed almost as well as the $700 Roomba 880. That's quite a feat. However, I still don't think it's worth $380 especially when there's a $400 Neato that's nearly identical, but comes with an upgraded filter that makes emptying the bin a whole lot easier.

The XV Essential is supposed to be the entry-level robot vacuum for Neato, so I fully expected it to be a bit more basic than the $400 Signature or the $450 Signature Pro. But that's where the Neato line-up gets a bit foggy. It isn't as much a line-up of different models as it as a bunch of vacuums with identical features and technology sold at different prices based on "trim level" accessories. Wouldn't that kind of be like BMW selling one 335i as an entry-level car because it has basic all weather floor mats and another otherwise identical 335i as a premium model because it has high-end carpet floor mats? The difference is pretty arbitrary, especially because you can just go buy carpet floor mats (or upgraded filters in the case). That feels a little bit like cheating.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

If you don't mind that, though, you might be happy with this budget bot. It's extremely basic, it performs similarly to the Signature Pro and the Roomba 880, and it's a good value -- if you can get past the filter. Unfortunately, I can't, and I suspect that it will frustrate you, too. I'd much rather spend another $20 to get the XV Signature or another $70 to get the XV Signature Pro so I don't have to spend so much time struggling with the standard filter. Or consider iRobot's Roomba 880 if you're feeling spendy -- it doesn't suffer from the same identity crises as the Neato bots.

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7.5

Neato XV Essential

Score Breakdown

Performance 9Usability 5Design 8Features 6