When you set up a Wi-Fi-enabled robot vacuum, you’re usually required to name it. Sometimes, this seems like a cheesy and pointless affectation, like those people who spend ages trying to think of clever monikers for their wireless network. I don’t name my dishwasher or my air purifier. Maybe robot vacuum manufacturers are trying to make you feel a little better about spending such an outrageous sum on a household appliance.
But truthfully, you get pretty darn attached to the things. In the past month, Pirate Kitty (I let my toddler name it) has saved me so much time and energy. Her cleaning performance and navigational capabilities are on par with my favorite robovac, the iRobot Roomba 980.
Unfortunately, her price is comparable, too, and she does have a few quirks that leave the Roomba 980 as my top high-end pick. But if you have $800 to spare, picking up one of these would not be a bad decision.
No-Go, No Problem
The first improvement that you’ll notice with this iteration of Neato’s Connected line is the no-go line. Neato’s earlier Connected botvacs used a magnetic divider strip to block off botvac traps like Christmas trees, shoelaces, and cords.
The divider strips were easy to use. You cut them up and put them on the floors, and Neato also suggests using double-sided tape to stick them in place. But each robot only comes with two, and they’re unwieldy and unsightly. I didn’t like having big, black dividers around my bedside table. On top of that, the two magnetic divider strips weren’t enough to wall off cords in multiple bedrooms and offices. If I had a larger house, I’d have to buy more.
While the D7 Connected also comes with magnetic divider strips, you can also enable no-go lines. Once the botvac’s done a preliminary run and drawn a floor map of your abode, you can zoom in on the map and draw barriers with your fingers.
It can be a little awkward to draw the lines. I kept messing up my precise little squares, and found myself wanting a stylus. But finally, you don’t have to pay for yet another virtual wall barrier or shell out for more magnets! No-go lines are effective, free, and you can put them wherever you want. Draw mazes in your living room! Draw shapes around your kitchen chairs!
The no-go lines are just the cherry on top of Neato’s impressive mapping abilities. Lasers mounted in a turret on the top of the vacuum do regular 360-degree scans to look for obstacles. I ran Pirate Kitty in my garage, which is liberally scattered with other kinds of botvac traps—loose electrical cords, flapping garbage bags, small tools. The D7 Connected adroitly avoided all of it, finished cleaning, and waited quietly in a corner to return home.
Rubber Baby Bugger Bumpers
In the months that we had the D7 Connected, she did have one minor meltdown. A few weeks into her run, Pirate Kitty, the First of Her Name, started bashing into things. Once she ran into a wall, she kept running into it. She couldn’t course-correct.
It’s mildly terrifying to brush your teeth in the bathroom, listening to a robot vacuum thunk menacingly into the closed door and feeling like John Connor hiding from the T-1000. Finally, I contacted Neato, who quickly sent a replacement botvac. We haven’t had any problems since. However, I would recommend regular sensor cleaning and calibration.
I’d also recommend turning on the gentle navigation mode. The Connected series are powerful robot vacuums, but not particularly graceful ones, at least not by default. Gentle navigation may slow down the cleaning process a bit, since the robot will move much more gingerly around walls and edges. But it will prevent the botvac from jarring the bump sensor loose.
And even with gentle navigation, the D7 is still very fast and effective. It took around a half-hour’s time to clean 400 square feet of my grimy house. After each run, the usual high traffic areas around the door and under the kitchen table were clear, and our low-pile rugs had no visible dog hair.
The D7 automatically switches cleaning modes when it is running on wood, carpet, or tile. You can also select between an Eco cleaning mode, which is quieter and has a longer cleaning run, or Turbo mode, which gives you maximum pickup power. I measured the sound of Turbo mode at 67 dB and Eco at 64, so I opted to go for turbo mode. Sure it’s louder, but it’s still more than ten decibels quieter than the Roomba 980.
The battery lasts for about two hours, and it took around an hour to charge out of the box. I also emptied the bin once or twice every thirty-minute cycle, which could’ve been annoying but I found to be a testament to the botvac’s effectiveness.
As with all Neato’s Connected vacuums, the D7 has pointed corners to clean effectively along walls. Pirate Kitty came with a spiral combo brush, which alternates plastic blades with standard bristles to better dig pet hair out of the rugs.
And as with all the Connected series, the app was easy to use. The botvac is also compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, IFTTT, and Facebook’s chatbot, and it also has a manual mode with directional control.
In terms of navigational and cleaning capabilities and ease of use, both the iRobot Roomba 980 and the Neato Botvac D7 Connected are great picks. Deciding between the two ultimately comes down to your personal preference. Maybe you have a large house and need to draw six million no-go lines. Or maybe your house has lots of high-traffic areas, and you prefer Roomba’s Dirt Detect system.
Ultimately, I realized that my choice of the Roomba 980 came down to my own idiosyncrasies. For example, I’d sometimes start a cleaning cycle just as a friend walks in unexpectedly through the door. But like the rest of Neato’s Connected line, it takes Pirate Kitty awhile to initiate localization and activate the dock button on the app.
Sometimes it takes awhile, around ten or fifteen minutes, for Pirate Kitty to orient herself. If I have to interrupt a cleaning cycle, I can’t push a button—I stop her, pick her up, and return her to base. If you run your botvac at work or after you go to sleep, this isn’t a problem. But I like to do a cleaning cycle after my kids are in bed, to pick up all their gunk. It just happens that it’s also the time that my neighbors are most likely to drop by with some refreshments.
I also didn’t like cleaning the combo brush. I find cutting the hair off the brush to be an abhorrent household task, on par with emptying the kitchen sink’s drainage food collector with my bare hands. Every time I tried to skip it—just this once!—Pirate Kitty would start blinking and beeping, alerting me. Her. Brush. Was. Stuck! Again! Hello! I found it much easier to clean the Roomba 980’s rubber carpet agitator.
But even I have to admit that these are petty complaints, like whining that your rare bottle of Chateau-Lafite has made you mildly dehydrated. For the past few weeks, Pirate Kitty has been swooping through my house after I’ve put the kids to bed, quickly vacuuming up debris and returning back to base before I’ve poured myself a congratulatory beer.
Being able to draw no-go lines without relying on finicky barrier mechanisms is a significant upgrade. If I had a large house with lots of obstacles that needed no-go lines—or maybe if I had shorter hair that wasn’t constantly snarling the combo brush—the Botvac D7 Connected would definitely be at the top of my list. I will definitely miss Pirate Kitty when she’s gone.