I have never been a regular vacuumer. I have a moderately priced vacuum I bought 20 years ago while in graduate school, and I've probably gone through all of 8 bags. However, I'm a home owner now, with kids, kids who bring in bits of sand, drop crumbs everywhere, methodically chop bits of paper into confetti, and generally make a mess. And a wife who's busy starting her own business. My floors need vacuuming.
I perked up my ears on hearing the new editor of Engadget say his favorite product review of all time was the Neato xv-11 robot vacuum cleaner. I had, of course, heard of the iRobot Roomba—and drive by the iRobot headquarters in Bedford, Massachusetts 5 days a week—but had never heard of the Neato. Reading through the Amazon reviews gave me a picture of a more robust product than the Roomba, with more cleaning per charge and a square face capable of doing corners. So I bought one.
I like it quite a bit, but it cannot operate in the chaotic child-infested environment of my home without supervision. The kids are likely to drop a brush fouling yoyo string or a pile of clothes right in front of its charging station so if I set it to operate on a schedule, I'm likely come home and find it stopped after half a room with something jammed in its brush or it stuck behind a moved space heater. Scheduled cleanings are for people who's houses are always neat.
I've found that the robot and I work best as a team. I'll take it down in the basement, start it going in one end and I'll start picking up in front of it, quickly getting much farther in front of it so that I can clean up the basement in 10 minutes while it takes 45 minutes to vacuum. I'll still have to come rescue it a few times as it will sometimes wedge itself under a piece of furniture or get its drive wheels lifted up, but this takes a few seconds and barely cuts into the labor savings of me vacuuming as thoroughly. It will leave a few things on the floor, it isn't a human that will go back and forth and back and forth over a clingy bit of paper until it finally does get sucked in, but frequent vacuuming quickly leads to pretty floors. I just wish it could climb stairs.
Noise is like a distant jet turbine, not as loud as my old traditional vacuum but enough to distract you from any productive work.
One major problem is that for whatever reason, the Neato does not keep its clock time, like a blinking VCR it can't be relied upon to keep a schedule.
The Neato differs from the Roomba in its approach. The Roomba uses a random walk algorithm to achieve coverage in a room. The Neato finds a path around the circumference of a room and then vacuums it in a grid; I believe this is more efficient and allows it to cover more area on a charge. The Roomba also has beacon lights you are supposed to setup to aid in navigation, the Neato uses an internal laser range finder to map rooms. Whatever it is doing, it almost always knows how to find its way back to where it started, and it has an amazing ability to follow curved surfaces, like the circular base of my recliner.
My wife is most happy with the fact it will clean under beds, picking up years of dust bunnies the first time and keeping it tidy going forward. I'm most happy emptying it's reservoir, seeing all that dust and dirt that was messing up my floors, getting my feet dirty, and potentially getting into my lungs, and sending it along to the landfill.