The nirvana state for home cleaning is not to do it at all. The Neato XV Signature robot vacuum might be one step closer to that goal, even if it has a few minor issues.
Like the much more expensive Roomba 880 for $799, the Neato XV Signature, for a significantly lower $399, also vacuums your carpet without human intervention. You press one button to start the robo-motors. The brushes start whirring and off it goes. To contain the bot in one room, you can place magnetic strips (a 13-inch roll costs $30) that form a boundary. Our bot lasted about 30 minutes before it ran out of power, although Neato says a charge should last more like 40 to 60 minutes.
Surprisingly, the vac worked perfectly for light carpet cleaning. We set a schedule of noon every day for about two weeks, and the bot had no problems with table legs and couches.
We're not talking about heavy rug maintenance here by any means. The Neato has a small compartment about the size of your hand to hold debris. It's meant for daily cleaning. If you have a bunch of dirt on your carpet, it will likely fill up quickly or even stall. And, the Neato didn't react too favorably to small pieces of plastic or a stray twist-tie from a kitchen trash bag; it just rolled right over them. That said, the pricier Roombas we've tried have similarly-sized compartments for debris and don't handle heavier-duty fare any better, either.
The extra money you'd spend on a Roomba will get you a few things, though: At about nine pounds, the Neato is heavier than the Roomba 880. Plus, those magnetic strips are a bit annoying to have lying around your house. The Roomba used to stay put using two sensors you place at the edge of your carpet, but now there's a Virtual Wall Lighthouse that you can program to create a virtual boundary in your house. It's a much better approach.
Ultimately, though, the Neato costs $300 less and still does daily maintenance vacuuming on a schedule. You can even "spot" clean a small area. It's smart – and comparatively affordable. [$399.99; neatorobotics.com]