The price is also a bit of a throwback: We found it for $319, which is less than just about any other robot vacuum with a dock included.
As far as performance is concerned, the Neato proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. In our standardized tests, it frequently got stuck on obstacles, but it picked up pet hair better than any robot vac we've tested.
If you have a lot of furniture, area rugs, or clutter, the Neato won't be able to do its job. But if you've got a minimalist home or you're looking to try out a robot vacuum with a minimal investment, the XV-21 is a great value.
Built like a tank... for better or worse
The XV-21's purple and gray color scheme recalls a certain video game console from the 90's. When you turn it on, a little LCD screen flickers to life accompanied by a pleasant start-up tone. Look inside the box and you'll find a magnetic strip (used to virtually "block off" a room), a charging dock, and a few spare parts. Pretty standard stuff.
The charging dock is 13 inches wide, which gives the Neato a wide margin of error when backing up into it. This lack of precision will come up again in the Cleaning & Navigation section, but more on that later....
After you set up the charging dock, cordoning off where the Neato shouldn't go is next on the to-do list. Instead of virtual walls that emit a signal, as featured on Roombas and the Samsung Powerbot, the XV-21 comes with a 6.5-foot magnetic strip. You can cut the strip into doorway-length pieces, or small pieces to protect, say, dog bowls. Magnetic strips aren't as fancy as virtual walls but, hey, at least they don't need batteries.
Now that you've charged up your Neato and set up the magnetic boundaries, ready to start cleaning? No, you're not. Before you let the XV-21 loose, you need to define a schedule. You see, a robot vacuum can't clean as well as a human being with an upright. What a robot vacuum can do is work while you're away. The Neato XV-21 can be programmed to run once a day at a different time each day. The only thing you have to do is empty the 28-gram bin about twice a week.
Overly eager to please
Neato vacuums have infrared sensors that map out a room before heading out to clean. It's sort of a cross between the "visual" camera-based mapping used by Miele and Samsung, and the real-time infrared detection used by iRobot.
Like a stingray, the Neato XV-21 weaves its way across the ground, eating up dirt as it goes. But where Neato can't reach, it can't eat. Unobstructed, the Neato proved it had powerful suction and the ability to seek out dirt and pet hair. It got under six-inch obstacles, edged its way into tight spaces, and seamlessly transitioned from low carpets to solid floors.
However, practical performance fell to pieces when the Neato encountered furniture, uneven floors, and area rugs—obstacles that were all well represented in our testing lab.
The uneven floors came in the form of three risers. Standing two-thirds, one and one-third, and two inches tall, they tested whether the vacuum could get over obstructions like the thresholds in between rooms. The Neato got over the two-third inch riser and a normal threshold without issue. In the real world, that means this robot can go from a tile kitchen to a carpeted room without skipping a beat.
Instead of avoiding the obstacles it couldn't surmount, however, the XV-21 attempted to climb over—and got stuck in the middle of—the taller risers. The same thing happened when we let it loose on a high-pile area rug. We should give it credit for even getting up there–most robot vacuums shy away—but it did require human intervention to be freed.
The best news was how well the XV-21 cleaned pet hair. In fact, it was the only robot vacuum we've tested to date that aced our pet hair tests.
At the end of our test runs—which tended to be shorter than competing vacuums—the Neato picked up 9.6 grams of dirt on average. That might not sound like a lot, but if you use the XV-21 seven days a week, that's about 67.2 grams—comparable to a full-sized vacuum.
Power over grace
The Neato XV-21 is the classic tradeoff between strength and agility. Like a tank, it lumbers from place to place. It has plenty of suction to clean up dirt and pet hair, but none of the finesse needed to determine whether a mission is doomed in the first place.
At the end of the day, it did pick up plenty of dirt. If you live in a place that has more pets than furniture and want some help keeping it clean, the XV-21 is a good pick—and a great value. Should you find it for less than $320, you'll get some serious bang for your buck.
Meet the tester
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.See all of Jonathan Chan's reviews
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email