If there’s one household chore I loathe more than any other it is vacuum cleaning. The hassle to reward ratio of digging out the Dyson, plugging it in, and then swishing it about in a vague hope that it’ll make the house look neater is massively out of kilter.
So I was delighted when I got my hands on a Neato Botvac Connected robot to review for a couple of weeks.
The Botvac is essentially the latest evolution of the Roomba. A small, wheeled robot that will pootle around your house on its own, sucking up all of the dust that it encounters in the process. The difference with the connected Neato? At long last you can control it with an app, meaning that you don’t even need to get your lazy ass off the sofa in order to start the chores. Brilliant!
Getting started with Neato is relatively straightforward. All you have to do is plug it in and download the app to your phone - then it’s just a case of connecting to the wifi hotspot it generates and getting it connected to the correct network - with any luck, the robot will then be ready to roll.
Of course, this does also mean that in order to use the app you need to sign up for a Neato account. So yes, we’re now living in an era when you’ll have a login for your vacuum cleaner.
The charging cradle never needs to be plugged in - as long as Neato is touching the metal contacts, it’ll charge itself up. And once the battery is full, it’s ready to blitz through your house.
To get started, in theory all you have to do is hit “go” and then the device will fire up and start exploring. Using on-board cameras, it’ll scope out whatever room it is in and will slowly work its way around the whole area - or as much of it as it can reach, in any case. Once it is done, it’ll return to base and connect itself up to the charger. No need to even make you bend down.
Of course, in practice, it isn’t quite as smooth as this. I set Neato loose on my flat, without doing much in the way of preparation. There was rug on the wooden floor that was uneven. Power cables and USB charger leads were splayed out by the sofa. And as you might imagine for the Interim Editor of a tech site, behind my TV is an utter chaos of HDMI, USB, Power, Ethernet and countless other leads and connectors. Essentially, it was ready-made bermuda triangle for vacuum robots.
So it trundled around - internally building a map of the room, which would presumably make it faster the second time around - and broadly everything seemed to be going okay. It conquered the rug, and managed to negotiate the coffee table - but once it went exploring underneath my armchair and approach the back of the TV unit, it seemed to get a bit stuck and I had to rescue it.
The good news is that Neato has already thought of this - and there’s a solution in the box in the form of boundary tape. Simply stick this to the floor and it’ll act as a subtle marker to the robot that it should tread any further.
Using the app it’s possible to set Neato on to a schedule, so that at a specific time it’ll fire up and vacuum your house - though given the number of hazards in my house (and I can’t be the only persons who doesn’t live in optimal conditions), I’d be nervous to let it run unsupervised.
But all told, in my completely subjective view it seemed to do a good job of making the floor look an awful lot cleaner. The only places that it struggled were corners - because unlike a conventional vacuum where you can switch out the nozzle for specific jobs, Neato is one-size fits all. It also has the obvious disadvantage that it can’t handle dust higher up than the ground - or tackle stairs. But use Neato connected, in combination with a dust-buster or something like that, and it could mean you can finally banish the unwieldy (Brexit-backing) Dyson to the scrapheap.
So is it worth it? I’ve certainly enjoyed not having to vacuum the floor, and also witnessing some rather clever technology at work. But - and here’s the big but - if you want to buy one it’ll set you back £730. Yikes.
Obviously it’ll depend on how much of a neat-freak you are, but that’s well over my budget for an irregularly used vacuum cleaner.
The good news is that there are cheaper models of the Botvac available - the D3 and D5 come in at £449.99 and £599.99 respectively, though they lack some of the high-performance vacuuming features of the Connected.
So is Neato worth it? If you can mentally stomach spending seven hundred quid on a vacuum cleaner, it certainly does save a lot of effort.