Roomba 980 vs Neato BotVac Connected: Review of the Two Best Robotic Vacuum Cleaners
One of the innovations introduced by Neato Robotics since its inception is systematic cleaning. While competition simply replicated the iRobot Roomba random navigation and bouncing on furnitures and walls, Neato vacuum robots build a map of your home and cover every part of it methodically. The path followed ressembles very much how we humans proceed when vacuuming an area. Compared to the random trajectory, this systematic approach is not only more natural, but also faster. With the same battery, the robot can cover a larger area. It seems that iRobot made this very analysis, since the latest Roomba 980 switches to systematic cleaning. In the following, we’ll review this new version of the Roomba and compare it to the latest vacuum by Neato: the BotVac Connected.
Compared to previous versions, the Roomba is making significant progress (see Video 1) in an attempt to catch up with the BotVac. Still, Neato continues to improve its BotVac (see Video 2) which has unique patented features that makes it hard for the competition to reach the same level. This can be seen on Table 1 which summarizes our review based on multiple criteria. It shows that the Neato BotVac Connected gets a better score than the Roomba 980. In the remainder of this post, we provide a detailed analysis of the multiple criteria we used for our review covering both the hardware and the software of the two robotic vacuums.
Video 1: Overview of the Roomba 980
Video 2: Overview of the Neato BotVac Connected
First, let’s have a look at the main cleaning system, that is the main brush. The Roomba has actually two brushes rotating in opposite directions. The major benefit from this so-called tangle free brush is less maintenance. There is much less hair and dirt entangled around the brush. The BotVac brush is a simple one and thus requires being cleaned more often. However, the BotVac’s brush is wider than the Roomba’s one, and hence covers a wider area at each pass. This is the first benefit of the unique D-shape of Neato vacuums. This shape allows for a brush located at the front of the robot, before the wheels (see Figure 1, right), while the brush is located in between the wheels for the Roomba (see Figure 1, left). The length of brush is nearly equal to the width of the robot. So, the Neato is a bit faster at cleaning your house. Besides, the Roomba wheels may get dirty and spread the dirt around.
Figure 1: BotVac has a wider brush, while the double brush of the Roomba is tangle free
The second benefit of the Neato’s shape is better corner cleaning. Most robotic vacuums copied the Roomba’s round shape, and thus leave corners dirty. In an attempt to fix this limitation, iRobot introduced a side brush on the Roomba from the beginning. Neato also has a side brush since it improves cleaning room edges. Still, the side brush is not enough for corners.
Both robotic vacuums are shipped with boundary markers to restrict cleaned areas. The difference here lies in the need for batteries. The BotVac’s boundary marker is passive requiring no battery to operate. This results into less waste, making the BotVac more eco-friendly than the Roomba.
For Pet owners and sensitive people, both vacuums have high performance filters, though only the iRobot one is HEPA certified. Compared to basic filters, high performance filters are able to capture finer particles. As a result the dirt bin is filled faster. Better have a large bin since you have to empty and clean it less often. The BotVac’s one is slightly larger (0.7 L) than the Roomba’s one (0.6 L).
Last, from the user interface point of view, the Roomba has only a set of multi-function buttons. The BotVac has a color LCD screen. It’s more convenient for setting up the robot and scheduling its operations.
Both the Neato BotVac Connected and the Roomba 980 share many desirable features including scheduling and self charging. So you can set up your vacuum to operate when it’s most convenient, typically when you’re out. Once the cleaning is over, the robot goes back to its docking station for recharge. So, all you’ll have to take care of is maintenance, i.e. emptying the dirt bin and for the BotVac cleaning the brush once in a while.
As mentioned above, the Roomba 980 introduces systematic cleaning pioneered by Neato. Both will methodically clean the floor by following a map of the area to clean. The map is built based on a SLAM algorithm which stands for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. This approach is now mature enough and we are likely to see it more and more in commercial robots. The robotic vacuum builds and update a map while cleaning.
Thanks to the SLAM, robots clean an area by following a trajectory close to what a human actually do with a traditional vacuum. Beside looking much more natural than the random motion, initially adopted by earlier Roombas, the major advantage of SLAM is a much faster cleaning and covering a wider area with a single battery charge. Besides, if battery is low before finishing, the robot memorizes the curent position before going back to its docking station. Once the battery is charged, the bot resumes cleaning at the location where it stopped.
To achieve systematic cleaning, Neato and iRobot took different solutions. Neato, from it’s beginning features a 360 degrees laser range sensor in its vacuums, and hence performs Laser-based SLAM. The Roomba relies on a camera oriented 45 degrees towards the ceiling, and thus perfroms Visual SLAM (VSLAM). The laser-based solution of the BotVac is superior to Roomba’s camera. Indeed, a camera cannot operate in the dark. Besides, a single camera cannot accurately allow estimating distances. As a result, the Roomba still bounces on furnitures.
Regarding cleaning modes, the two vacuum bots offer the Spot mode that makes the robot clean only a small area. This is typically useful if you spilled something. Both vacuums also detect the kind of floor and automatically adjust the suction power accordingly. But, the Roomba has a combination of an optical and an acoustic sensors for dirt perception. It can then detect dirtier areas and trigger its persistent cleaning behavior at the right spot.
With the BotVac, you can choose between the Eco and Turbo modes for cleaning your house or office. In the Turbo mode, the brush motor runs at full speed for maximum pick up. The Eco mode is more quiet and hence more appropriate if you are at home. You can still do a deep cleaning by instructing your robot to clean the same area twice. The Roomba seems to be constrained regarding motor speeds. However, it allows two successive passes.
Last, the two robots are Wifi enabled. They can be controlled via a smartphone app from anywhere through the Internet. This app turns your smartphone into a remote control for your vacuum. So, you don’t need to use the robot buttons if you have your phone at hand. You can select a cleaning mode and the robot, suspend/resume/cancel cleaning, or make the robot go back to its charger. The app also provides info and notifications about the robot status (e.g. remaining battery, or dirt bin is full), and allows to set and update cleaning schedule. It also allows steering around your robotic vacuum manually like a toy car, which you can do just for fun or to move the vacuum to some particular location without lifting it.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The Roomba 980 and the Neato BotVac share many must have features such as systematic cleaning, self charging, and double pass for intensive cleaning. Both will save you time and keep your home or your office clean. However, our analysis shows that the Neato BotVac Connected is technically the better option (See Table 1). It turns out that it is also the cheapest one. Roomba 980 costs nearly $900, while the Neato BotVac Connected costs about $700. If your budget is tight, we recommend the Neato Botvac D80 that costs less than $400 while still providing many of the features of the BotVac Connected.
Table 1: Comparison of Roomba 980 and Neato BotVac Connected
NooTriX choice: Neato BotVac Connected ($700)