We got our hands on a Neato Robotics XV-11 recently, which gave us the opportunity to test it out, and also to compare it with an iRobot Roomba (review of 780 model here) and the Evolution Mint Cleaner (see our review of the original Mint and the new 5200 Model). The good news is that there are some key things that the XV-11 does a lot better than the competition. Does it beat the other two in all areas? Not really. BUT depending on what you’re looking for in an automated vacuum cleaner, the Neato may the robot for you. Read on to find out what we discovered.
Besides the robot vacuum itself, in the box you get a manual, quick-start instructions, a charging dock (with power cord), an extra filter, and a roll of brown keep-out strip (which is 15 feet long, unwound). So the robot really comes with everything you need to get started, which is excellent. The manual is 54 pages long, is very detailed and clearly written.
There are a couple of things that make the XV-11 stand out from the competition. For one, it uses what Neato Robotics calls RPS Technology, which is their mapping system that is built into the robot. It uses a laser rangefinder to build a map of everything in the room so that it can navigate around your house and find its way back to its dock. Because it maps the room, it can clean methodically, doing the perimeter of the room and also going back and forth in rows. Because it works this way, it cleans rooms more quickly than a Roomba will, and thus can afford to put more power into the suction of the vacuum. When you watch the vacuum cleaner go around a room, you’ll notice that it kind of divides a room up into sub-spaces and does those spaces one by one. The XV-11 is also aware of doorways. So it will automatically stay in one room until it finishes vacuuming it, and then it will move on to the next room.
Another welcome difference is the LCD display. You and the robot will use this display to communicate with each other. Around the display are five buttons. The most obvious of these is the red Start button, which is pretty much the “Clean” button. On the right side of the display are the following buttons: Up, Down, and Back. Below the display is a Select button. So basically, you use the up, down, back, and select buttons to navigate through the menus on the robot. The XV-11 can be scheduled, and you use this interface to do the scheduling. Setting the time and scheduling the robot is very easy. If you can set a digital alarm clock, then you shouldn’t have any trouble with the XV-11. It’s also nice having a display where the robot can communicate with you. There is a battery level indicator, and the robot will also display messages there. For instance, when the robot is finished vacuuming the room, and is headed back to the dock, it displays a message which tells you that it’s looking for the dock.
Another thing that is obviously different about the XV-11 is that the front end is square. When the vacuum was first introduced, the tech press made a big deal out of how the front end was square and claims were made that this shape would make the robot be able to get into corners better than the competition. Unfortunately, as you’ll see in the review video here, the XV-11 doesn’t do a great job of the corners. One would expect the robot to drive into the corner and then back out. Instead, it sort of curves through the corners. Also, it lacks a spinning side brush, so it doesn’t really get that inch of space between the edge of the robot and where the beater begins.
Some other nice things built into the Neato Robot: The dust bin is built into the top of the robot, and is very easy to remove, empty, and replace. There is a cleverly built-in carrying handle on the top at the front of the robot. As mentioned above, the robot comes with a roll of barrier strip. So what you can do is cut these to length and use them to keep the robot out of various areas. This is pure genius. I’ve got a space under my desk where the cables for my computer, monitor, mouse, and peripherals all hang out. Keeping the robot out of that area is as simple as laying down one of these strips.
This video will show you what I mean about the XV-11 not really doing a great job with corners. In the video, the robot does kind of bump into the edge of the doorway, and then kind of curves through the corner, instead of driving into it, and then backing up and turning like one might expect. This is the way it does all corners. Watch the robot as it navigates around a table leg. This illustrates the really seriously different thing about the XV-11 that nobody seems to talk about: It doesn’t knock into your furniture. Before anybody gets all excited, I should say that yes, it will bump into walls and furniture every once in a while. But in comparison to the Roomba, which can really smack into things, the XV-11 mostly avoids touching your furniture.
The dirty little secret of all robot floor cleaners is that they require room prep before you set them loose. Things like clothes, toys, or any other small objects that may or may not be sucked up into the vacuum should be cleaned up. Cords need to be tucked away (or moved behind barriers), tassels and curtain pulls may be in danger if they hang to the floor, and some of your mats and rugs may simply refuse to play nice with your robot. Despite all your best preparation, the robot will find a cord sooner or later, and unfortunately the XV-11 doesn’t react well to them. It will suck a cord up, mangle it, and often try to pull whatever is connected to the cord away with it. (It’s fair to say that this will happen with Roombas, too, except that the new 700 Series Roombas actually detect cords and spit them out.)
The XV-11 is a half inch taller than a Roomba, and thus can’t get under everything a Roomba can. Also, curiously, it will not go under anything it can’t see under. So if your bed has a skirt, the skirt won’t stop most floor cleaning robots, but to the XV-11, the skirt looks like a wall. So a bed skirt, if it is laser “eye” level to the robot, will keep the vacuum from going under the bed. Depending on your situation, this might be a good thing, but it bears mentioning.
Maintenance: The Neato doesn’t seem to get hair and other debris wound around its brush bearings much. Although the XV-11 does need a little maintenance now and then, it’s pretty hassle-free.
Finally, in several months of testing, the Neato robot vacuum cleaner found its way back to the dock 100% of the time. I’ve read other reviews that don’t report this success rate, but that’s what we experienced.
We did a LOT of testing with XV-11. We ran tests to compare it to the Roomba and also to compare it with the Mint cleaner. We found that there wasn’t really a substantial difference in cleaning between the different floor cleaners. In other words, if you cleaned a room with one of the robots and then followed it up with another one, the second robot would come back without much dirt. There would always be some dirt on the second run, but never enough to make us stop and take notice.
Now you may be thinking to yourself that it sounds like there isn’t any compelling reason to choose the Neato Robotics XV-11 over the competition. But there are two places where it really shines. As I said in the intro, it depends on your situation. First off, the XV-11 is a master at cleaning multiple rooms. If you have thoroughly prepped all the rooms in your house, you can set the XV-11 running, and it will vacuum an entire floor with no human intervention and no need for arranging lighthouses (or, in the case of the Mint, Northstar cubes). When used with a charging base, it will recharge itself if necessary, and start off where it last left off. Second, the XV-11 doesn’t bang into furniture and walls. It’s not perfect, so it will gently bump things here and there, but it is much less likely to leave streaks on your furniture and walls.
So there you have it. The XV-11 does a good job of vacuuming, maps rooms as it goes, can be scheduled, requires less maintenance, comes with handy barrier strips and a charging base, doesn’t bang into the furniture much at all, and is capable of cleaning a whole story of a house in one go with a minimum of fuss.
Neato XV-12 at Engadget
Neato Robots Reviewed at Robot Buying Guide
Neato Review at IEEE AUTOMATON