Corbin Dunn
Redwood Monkey

Neato Botvac: A neat idea that will eventually break

General

I like automated vacuum cleaners. They keep the house looking tidy with minimal effort. Roomba vacuums are the quite popular and have been around for a long time, but they aren’t too smart and do a lot of pecking to find the wall locations. Back 2010  Neato Robotics introduced a more intelligent vacuum that could detect the walls and floor layout, and I thought this was a great idea. I was an early adopter and bought the XV-11 back in August of 2010 for $400. Unfortunately, it had a few technical issues right away, and failed twice. Neato Robotics, located a short distance away from me in Gilroy, replaced it twice, for free, under warranty. They were extremely helpful and very prompt with shipping.

Then, the warranty expired and I was left with a piece of equipment that would frequently stop working. The bumpers would get stuck, or the motor would get clogged with hair. I figured out how to disassemble it and clean the affected parts, and this would keep it limping along for quite some time. After a while, it would slow down and not hold a charge, so I had to replace the batteries about once a year. Finally, in 2015 it got some fatal error that I couldn’t get rid of, and I decided to sell it on eBay for $80 and buy a new one.

Conveniently, Neato Robotics had just come out with their “BotVac Connected”. It has Wifi capabilities, something I don’t really care for, but I was hoping they would have fixed a few of the fatal problems of the XV-11. Specifically, the motor would get clogged with hair, and the vacuum would loose its programmed settings if the batteries died, and the on board dirt storage bin was pretty small. So, in October 2015 I ordered a “BotVac Connected” for $700. Not quite twice what I paid for the original Neato back in 2010, but I do see that the newest model is selling for $800 now. I sucked it up, and ordered one.

The new vacuum did work pretty well. It didn’t seem to clean any better than the older one, but it did hold more dirt, and the motor did not get clogged. The brush would still get full of hair and stuff, but that is to be expected, and it was easier to clean than the older one. But it also failed. In February 2018, my Botvac decided to give a permanent fatal error 9006, and said to contact customer support. I contacted support via the phone, and also twitter. They weren’t helpful and *could not* tell me what that error code meant. They simply said it was a software error and a technician had to look at it. I was surprised to see that the vacuum had over 1 GB of log files on it. The files are in some proprietary format, so I couldn’t decipher anything from them. I updated the software version to see if that would fix the problem, but it didn’t help. So, I pinged Neato on Twitter, and eventually they did say the problem *might* be related to the motherboard, and at that point I knew I was screwed.

My original XV-11 lasted nearly 5 years, but this newer model lasted only 2+ years! Quality seems to have gone down. I was forced to get my out-of-warranty vacuum repaired somewhere at my own cost. Neato has two authorized repair retailer: iFixRobot and Funai. I read really bad reviews on Funai and decided to go with iFixRobot.

I mailed them my vacuum on 2/28/18 using their pre-paid label for $20. They acknowledged receipt of it a week later on 3/7/18. They said it would take 10-14 days to diagnose it, and sure enough, 15 days later on 3/22/18 they emailed me a repair estimate of $203 saying the main motherboard needed to be replaced. At this point I’m kind of stuck; it is cheaper to get it repaired than to buy a new one, so I opted to have them do it, and they charged my credit card but have yet to do any work or notify me. I would have been better off buying a certified refurbished Botvac for $280 (I’m already out $220) and selling my Botvac for parts for $80-100. Then I wouldn’t have been without a vacuum for a month. Or longer, since I’m still waiting to get it back, and my total cost for this vacuum is up to over $900 (nearly $1000 when you add in tax) — that’s $450/year!

To Neato: Please increase the quality of your products. I like them, but reliability is more important than fancy Wifi features and an iPhone app. A 5 year warranty would tell us that you trust the reliability of your products.  We need to buy products that last a human’s lifetime, and move out of the disposable society mentality.  Don’t use iFixRobot and Funai for repairs; they are horribly slow. Please repair broken vacuums at your facility.

To everyone else: I don’t recommend you buy a Neato vacuum until the warranty is at least 5 years. It will eventually fail.

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