Saturday, September 25, 2010

Neato Robotics XV-11 Vacuum Reviews Suggest Reliability is Suspect

Neato XV-11
The Neato Robotics XV-11 vacuum has the potential to eat big into the Roomba empire built by iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT), but a new set of reviews at Amazon suggests early reliability problems plague the upstart robot maker. While 13 of the 28 reviews are still 5 stars and many say that Neato's product outperforms Roomba, there clearly are some upset customers out there who got lemons. Overall, the rating is down to 3.5 stars — less than some Roomba models.
One reviewer quoted a company representative saying that they had ramped down production to upgrade the robots to deal with all of the complaints that they have been receiving. "It seems to me Neato has adopted the now seemingly popular and despicable practice of allowing paying customers to be beta testers to work out the kinks of not ready for market products," the reviewer said. (Ouch!)
Given that the product already was delayed by more than six months due to unknown supply chain problems, you'd hope they would have had time to iron some of these kinks out.
Others complained about poor customer service (the company at one point was apparently telling customers with dead robots that they had to buy another and then return the first one for a refund, or else wait — weird). But that's not that surprising either given that this is a brand new product from a brand new company.
Other XV-11 complaints contained in the reviews include:
* weak edge suction.
* some report frequent error codes or the robot getting stuck on cords/under items and requiring human intervention.
* some say the robot had trouble finding its home base and returning to where it left off, or simply gets lost. (Not acceptable when a chief selling point is superior laser navigation). That seems to be a potential pitfall here — while the Neato is designed to be a much more precise, smarter machine than the Roomba, a failure of any of its sensor systems would seem to be catastrophic, and so there is less room for error. If a modern Roomba's proximity sensor fails, it will still function, albeit it will hit objects harder with its bumper. If a Neato's sensor is off just 10 percent or so, it won't properly cover the whole room.
* a circle dance flaw (remember when Roomba used to suffer from that pre-2005?).

New tech gadgets often have glitches at the start, and when the first Roomba debuted in 2002 it had plenty of flaws of its own, including sketchy reliability. Modern Roombas are much more reliable, and Neato needs to get on top of this, because people won't stand for products that don't work right regardless of how superior the technology is on paper. (I'm convinced that the problematic reliability of the first Roomba models significantly hurt the growth of the industry.)
I've also seen some complaints that the Neato does not have a USB port for uploading firmware fixes. This is not true. The company has confirmed that it does have a USB port, but it is covered by a plastic cover.

In the meantime, if you are interested in a Neato, buying it from Hammacher Schlemmer is a no brainer. That way you get a free lifetime guarantee. (I'd not that shipments have been delayed to 10/20/10 — either a sign of the aforementioned slowdown in manufacturing or a sign that they are selling like hotcakes, or both).

At any rate, looks like my earlier roundup of XV-11 reviews was premature.

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