Welcome to the future, where we force robots to do our bidding with the swipe of a finger

Everything you need to know

  • Vacuum the house wherever you are, or at pre-determined times
  • Quick to set up and operate
  • Costs around £500
  • Can have problems with loose threads or small obstacles
  • Excellent time-saver for a clean house

For every one person who enjoys vacuuming, there are at least ten who loathe it with a passion – and that’s the demographic for Neato’s robot vacuum cleaners. That, and those who grew up wishing for their own R2D2. This little droid’s D-shape allows it to nose right into corners that older, circular robot vacuums might miss, and it’s remarkably adept at getting out of tight corners behind furniture or under chairs. Its laser guidance also ensures that it doesn’t miss a spot: it trundles around the house, nosing along the edges of rooms to map out the space, and then goes back to methodically cover the middle space. Wifi connectivity means that you can programme it through the app to clean at set times or operate it remotely – so not only do you never need to pick up a vacuum again, you don’t even need to bend down to turn it on either.

What’s in the Neato Botvac Connected box

First of all there’s the robot itself, which makes up most of the weight. The charging station feels flimsy in comparison, but just needs to be plugged in and left in a corner to work. There are two spare filters, a spiral brush, and a comb tool to clean each brush and prolong its life. There’s also a hefty instruction manual (only about eight pages are relevant, don’t worry) and the usual guarantees and warranties. Finally, there’s a “Do not cross” magnetised tape that you can lay across the floor to stop the Neato from travelling into certain areas. While the robot can detect drops and avoid falling down stairs, the tape is a little bit of extra insurance at the top of staircases – or it could be used to protect delicate fabrics or furniture.

Neato Botvac 2

What we tested it with

We used tile, wood and carpet floors (the latter of various depths), as well as throwing some flimsy rugs with tasseled edges down just to confuse things. It switched between all the surfaces without any problems, although the tassels were a challenge: it would sometimes swallow one and have to be helped out as it briefly pulled a rug behind it. While the instructions warned that the combination of thick carpet and stairs might interfere with the robot’s sheer-drop detection, we had no problem with that – and as insurance, the ‘do not cross’ tape worked every time we tried it. We also loaded the app onto an iPad to test out its connectivity.

Neato Botvac app

The Neato App

The app is still bare bones in its design, the icons are small, and the ‘Shop’ link leads to a store without any accessories on sale, which is frustrating. But otherwise, this is easy to use. You can set the time and date for your Neato, and then arrange cleaning at the same time on multiple days, or at a different time each day. You can also operate it remotely if you’re on your way home and want everything done when you arrive. For all of that, you will need to keep the Neato’s wifi switched on, of course, which can on one occasion seemed to interfere with other streaming services in the house – but that was an isolated incident.

Setting it up

It’s very easy. Plug in the charging station, line up the Neato’s contact points with the silver bars on the station to charge it up, and you’re ready to go. On the first outing, we ran into a few problems with tricky spots or loose threads – but every subsequent use was faster once we shifted furniture slightly or moved loose items. We did need to reference the instructions to turn on the wifi, but the app was intuitive after that. The only thing that seemed counter-intuitive was the fact that it’s the curved part of the D-shaped Neato that touches the charger, rather than the straight edge that matches its shape so well.

Living with the Neato Connected

Real user: Helen O’Hara
Lives in: A two-floor maisonette in southeast London
Works: Full time journalist

What are your first impressions?
I feel like Princess Leia, ordering robots to do my work for me. Set up was extremely easy, although charging took a little while. And then, like magic, my little robot started trundling around the room, nosing into corners and getting slightly distressed at the rag rugs that I had rather cruelly left in its way. That first outing saw it stop and beep in distress quite frequently, but once I moved a few stray leads and loose threads aside, and got in the habit of keeping loose papers off the floor, it’s been smooth sailing.

What didn’t work?
The Neato is supposed to return to its base, but mine stopped about 6 inches from the base, at a slight angle to it, until I moved the base to a spot with more manoeuvring room. You will need to make sure that it’s back on the base to recharge, as it doesn’t hold a charge particularly well from day to day. I also had a little trouble getting the dust bin out and in again the first time, but once I put the filter on the right way around, it was fine.

What did work?
It was easy to set up, use and maintain, and it cleans phenomenally well. My home includes carpet, deep-pile carpet, loose rag rugs, laminate and slate floors, and it’s coped fine with all of them – including the transitions. I even experimented with the ‘spot clean’ setting for a few remote corners, without any problem. Setting it up to run daily, or using it remotely for a quick swing around the house before I get home with a guest, is just a lifesaver. Most importantly of all, my house is clean without me having to clean it. The only slight drawback is the urge I feel to talk to it like a misbehaving puppy when it runs into problems – but you are probably more sensible.

Words and gifs by Helen O’Hara

Helen O’Hara is a freelance film journalist and therefore knows far more about superhero films and Star Wars than any reasonable person should. She also runs marathons extremely slowly, and hopes that someone will invent a robot that dusts next. Perhaps some sort of small drone?