There are two facts about life I generally hold to be true; robots are awesome, and vacuuming sucks (no pun intended). In all seriousness, vacuuming isn't much fun, and even with my modestly sized apartment I try to avoid it at all costs. You can imagine my excitement when I was asked to review the Neato Robotics XV-21 robot vacuum. If the promise of not vacuuming wasn't enough to pique my interest, the prospect of my very own robot wandering the apartment picking up behind me? I could barely contain myself.
Specs and features (from the manufacturer)
- Weight:8.6 lbs
- Dimensions:13 × 12.5 × 4 in
- Powerful suction equals a cleaner floor. You can count on the XV-21 to pick up everything a traditional vacuum would-dirt, pet hair, dust, even cereal.
- The XV-21 cleans in a methodical back-and-forth pattern. This method is the quickest and most efficient way to ensure that every spot on your floor gets cleaned.
- There are no bags to buy or replace. When the dirt bin is full, simply empty it into the trash.
- You'll always come home to a clean floor. You can schedule your Neato to clean while you're out working or playing.
Out of the box
Unpacking the vacuum was fairly straightforward. The device was well packed, and easy to get out of the box. Provided alongside the vacuum were its charging station and an additional brush. Also included was a CD-ROM user guide and some brief quickstart instructions. Since I use a Macbook Air (and have no optical drive) the CD-ROM was of limited use to me, so I took to the quick start guide to get me started.
Setting it up
Getting started was also quite easy. The charging station plugs in placed upright on the floor, and the vacuum is placed with its two conductive strips matched up with those of the charger station to receive its initial charge. A big red button boots up the device, and after selecting a language, the device begins its first charge cycle (2-3 hours) before it can start cleaning.
Build quality and design
The build of the XV-21 is quite robust, and in many ways the mechanics of the wheels and brush are pretty impressive; clearly a good amount of consideration went into engineering the device hardware. The design is a bit of a different story. The device casing is made from a matte grey plastic reminiscent of an old CRT computer monitor, and in general the industrial design seemed a bit dated (especially in the post Dyson age).
A basic backlit LCD and a simple set of navigation buttons let you interface with the device and its more "advanced" features, with the addition of a large red button to start, pause, and boot the vacuum. Red and green LEDs behind the big red button help to indicate the status of the vacuum at a glance. A green light generally indicates the device is charged and working, and red means the vacuum has a low battery or that it, for some reason, needs your attention.
Charged and ready to roll
After a couple of hours of charging, the vacuum gives a green light indicating its readiness, and a quick push of the red button puts the device to work. The device rolls away from its charging station and begins to rev up. It should be noted that this startup sequence is really loud (picture a small jet engine powering up). Although this is exciting, for a device meant for cleaning up pet allergens, my cat was frankly not impressed by the new and noisy addition to our home. After starting up, the vacuum then begins its first run of the room.
Hoping to get on with my day, I tried to ignore the very loud robot wandering my abode. It wasn't long after the device first began exploring that I first needed to adjust the vacuum's course to avoid obvious obstacles. Like most modern apartments, mine is a maze of cables, tables, small area rugs, shoes, cat toys, and even a couple of bikes. It's not generally very messy, but open floor space, especially around the edges of the wall, is a bit hard to come by. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be an ideal environment for the vacuum, as it seemed to get stuck on one thing or another about every 2 or 3 minutes on the job. The less than one inch edge of my tiled kitchen floor proved to be too much of a challenge for the vacuum, though it would persistently attempt the climb and get stuck.
Additionally, I found whatever exploratory mapping the device utilizing to be a bit haphazard. After scanning about under my couch and vacuuming a small rug repeatedly for quite a bit, it again found itself stuck on the lip of my kitchen floor. To be fair, the small area rug was clearly and noticeably well vacuumed (but in the many areas the vacuum failed to reach, the dust bunnies persisted).
Despite the noise, and the special attention the device needed (or perhaps even because of it) it was difficult not to anthropomorphize the vacuum. The little shake it gives when it's stuck on something, the sound it makes when it's struggling to mount a new surface — I found myself almost treating it like a pet.
Meant to clean up after your pets, except when it becomes one
At the end of the vacuum's first exploratory mission, the device started looking for its charging station. I tried to move the device as little as possible, but since it kept getting stuck, and the brush kept getting caught, I'm afraid I may have nudged it off course. Like a kitten tiring itself out, the device required me to pick it up and put it back on its charging station instead of finding its way back.
In general my experience with the device was defined by this kind of interaction. Far too often I felt like I was taking care of something. The ideal would be to set the vacuum up when I'm out (especially because of the noise). Since it was unable to adjust itself around many of the normal obstructions in my apartment, I did not really feel comfortable leaving it free to roam when I wasn't around.
Pros Generally the vacuum seemed to clean well enough (in the area it covered), handling a small shag rug like a champ. The device was simple to set up and use, and in a lower traffic, less furnished apartment, it might have done better. It's worth noting that others I've talked to have loved the Neato Robotics vacuum(s) (in one case a very open one bedroom apartment, and in the other, a very large but uncluttered suburban home). The build quality of the device was also quite good (functionality aside).
In my case, the vacuum simply wasn't usable without far more interaction than I'm willing to do for something that is meant to make my life easier. A job which could take 20 minutes with a conventional vacuum just never got done. The design could definitely be improved upon (with regards to its general look), and the noise is actually comically loud. It's worth noting that my cat also agrees with my assessment of the volume, as she is still currently in hiding.
I'm not sure what the ideal use case is for the XV-21, but it's definitely not my apartment. I was left feeling I needed to walk around after it, picking up or moving obstructions to keep it from getting stuck. Unfortunately that really defeats the purpose, since I could just as easily push a conventional vacuum around the apartment. I really wanted this robot to be awesome, and frankly I couldn't help but shake my head and smile every time it got itself into trouble. That said, it's also an appliance, and in this capacity, though it may be a cute robot and maybe even a good vacuum, a fully autonomous robot vacuum it is not.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by Neato Robotics for testing and review purposes.
(images: Sean Rioux)