Neato Botvac D80: Not Just Another ‘Bump-n-Go’ Robot Vac

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Photo by Neato

When the Neato Botvac D80 first arrived, I was skeptical it could replace my trusty iRobot Roomba 560. The Roomba’s been going without fail for five years, dutifully sucking up all the detritus left by two adults, two children, and a variable number of cats. I’ve rebuilt it countless times, upgrading its internals when I could. I’ve watched it slam itself into walls, marring baseboards, and into chairs, scuffing walls. I’ve rescued countless dolls from its grasp. I’ve gritted my teeth as it went over the smallest possible portion of a carpeted room on its way to an “easier” tiled floor. I’ve watched it beeline over and over and over again to the cords under my desk, foiling my best efforts to tuck them away, and either miring itself or dragging all of the cords with it…

On second thought, nostalgia for things limits your experiences. It’s good to embrace the new.

Photo by Neato
Photo by Neato

At first glance, the Botvac D80 reminded me of an oversized silicone bowl scraper; but those square edges serve a purpose. They let the Neato get into corners better; a welcome feature, since the long side-brush on my old Roomba, that’s meant to tackle corners, doesn’t work all that well in practice.

The Neato’s setup is simple, accessed via the small LCD mounted on the top of the unit. This is also where you program the Neato and I found it to be worlds better than the 1980s-clock-radio experience of the older Roomba (hold down a button, press another button simultaneously, swear when you blow past the number you were trying to hit, repeat). It’s also where you’ll get status messages and error codes, much more reliable than random beep patterns and the occasional voice prompt.

Photo by Neato
Photo by Neato

What surprised me during my first couple of days with the D80 was how nice the vac is. If you pick it up it will ask you to “Please put me down.” It thanks you for emptying its dust bin. It doesn’t ram into things like a kamikaze pilot.

The later is due to a clever laser guidance system that maps the room as the bot pops off its base. It then uses that plot to chart a path through the space, carefully navigating to keep overlap to a minimum. There are no bumper cars here! As the Neato finds new areas, it adds them to its nav plot, until it’s determined that either it’s cleaned all available space or that it can’t finish cleaning in one charge. Either way, it will shut off its vacuum and guide itself back to base (flawlessly, I’ve found so far), reminding me of a squarish mouse droid from Star Wars. What impressed me was that, if it can’t finish cleaning in one pass, it will charge itself up, then automatically resume where it left off once the battery is topped off.

The Neato is definitely smarter than the last-gen Roombas. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its foibles. We have a dining room table with cross-supports that are just barely high enough off the ground for the Neato to get its nose under. However, they’re too low for the laser-hump on the back of the unit. It’s gotten itself wedged under the table several times, even after I put down the included magnetic tape to create a barrier underneath the table. The Neato was also convinced for a couple of days that the patio beyond our sliding glass door was another room to clean and chirped at me annoyedly as it tried again and again to ram its way through the door (it has since given up on this endeavor). There also doesn’t seem to be a consistent menu option for sending the Neato back to its home base. It pops up in some status menus, but not all.

Photo by Neato
Photo by Neato

Of course, all of this would be moot if the bot didn’t clean. As one of my daughter’s newly-shorn Barbies can attest, it has zero problem with suction. The D80 is built to tackle messes like pet hair and comes equipped with an extra-large brush and a fluted, high-performance filter. When I was standing across the room watching its inaugural run, I noticed a steady rush of air coming out of the back of the vacuum. And it does it with about half the noise of our old bot. Needless to say, our floors are much cleaner than they were with the Roomba.

If an automatic robot butler isn’t quite enough, if you need to be able to control it and get updates from your phone, you’re in luck. Right about the time the Botvac D80 arrived, two new bots were announced, the Neato Botvac Connected and the iRobot Roomba 980. Both feature wi-fi and mobile apps (the app will be infinitely more helpful for scheduling on the Roomba). The 980 features a new proprietary optical and visual mapping system. It’s good to see iRobot finally embrace advanced guidance for its Roombas. It was the feature that impressed me most about the Neato.

But, unless you really need another app on your phone, or your floors are so bad they need all the extra suction you can get, I don’t know that the extra cost is worth it (the 980 is nearly double the price of the D80). The Neato Botvac D80 is thorough and effective. It’s simple to operate and setup. And being able to clean your floors every day, unattended, is invaluable. If you don’t own a robot vacuum yet, this is the model to get. If you have an older Botvac or Roomba and are looking to upgrade, the Botvac D80 hits that sweet spot of features and cost; and does it without beating your baseboards, chairs, and ankles into submission.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a sample unit for this review.

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