The Neato XV-15 is fairly limited when it comes to controls. As well as the large Start/Stop button you get just four buttons (Up, Down, Back and Select) for navigating the fairly limited menu, and there's no remote either. You can change the language, set the time, choose a schedule or set the robot to spot clean, and that's it. Otherwise you just press the Start button and it goes off and does its own thing. The buttons aren't the most easy to use but as the whole system is so basic it didn't cause any head scratching – or robot kicking for that matter.
If there's a particularly grubby spot or you've split something (dry) the spot clean mode can be used. Just place the robot over the dirt and it will give an area of about a metre in diameter around its starting position a thorough going over.
The real trick of this device, though, is setting it to do its own thing, navigating its way round your house of its own accord. You can either do this by just pressing the Start button or you can schedule it to do this at any time of day, or particular day of the week – a couple of times a week while you're away at work is enough to really take the strain off from everyday vacuuming. This is all the more true as the Neato XV-15 is by far the most accomplished little navigator we've encountered.
When we reviewed the Samsung Navibot SR8855 we were very impressed by its ability to map the layout of a room and clean the whole area, efficiently zigzagging up and down before moving onto the next room. It could even return to its base station for a charge mid-clean, returning to the spot it left off to finish the job, even if the base station was several rooms away and out of sight. However, it wasn't very good at getting into corners or navigating round obstacles – it just bounced off them and ended up missing our large chunks of floor.
Meanwhile the iRobot Roomba 520 was utterly useless when it came to navigation, employing a tactic of essentially moving randomly until by sheer brute force persistence it eventually covered what it vaguely thought was the whole area. It didn't track where it was going, and couldn't return to its base station if out of sight. However, it did have very good edge tracking and was good at persistently poking into nooks and crannies.
The Neato XV-15 combines the best of both these machines.
It quickly scans the layout of a room, then sets of cleaning all the way round the edge before efficiently zigzagging across the bulk of the room. If it encounters an object like a table leg or coffee table it will very closely track round it before heading off again in the direction it was going. Once it has finished a room it will then move onto the next one, and so on until it has finished or run out of battery, in which case it will return to its base station up to two times to recharge and finish the job.
Stairs are automatically detected and the three metres of magnetic strip included in the box can be used to stop the robot crossing a certain threshold. You can cut the strip into as many lengths as you like; about three metres' length is included in the box.