Best Mapping Robot: Neato D7 vs D4 vs Roomba 980 vs Roomba 960

Cam Secore
Updated 09/11/2018

After testing different models for a month, I determined Neato Botvac D7 Connected is the best mapping robot vacuum for most people because it never gets stuck thanks to its in-app No-Go Lines. However, if you have a simple home layout and aren’t bothered by virtual barriers on the floor, Roomba 980 is a decent option too.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing four robot vacuums (Neato D7 vs. Roomba 960 vs. Roomba 980 vs. Neato D4) while evaluating four categories: navigation, floor types, software, and design.

best mapping robot vacuum

Neato D7

10
  • Navigation: Its navigation is the best of all of the models I tested. You create No-Go Lines in the app to designate areas you want it to avoid, and the battery lasts for two hours.
  • Floor Types: It works well on all flooring types and is more efficient than Roombas.
  • Software: You can choose three different floor plans and tell it which rooms need attention.
  • Design: The filters are great, and the bin is easy to empty. The charging base is far superior to Roomba’s.

Best for you if...

You want a robot vacuum that consistently covers every spot of your house, regardless of floor type. Neato’s killer No-Go Line feature keeps it out of designated areas and D7 runs for two straight hours, cleans the entire house, and uses the data from previous cleanings to improve efficiency. Once you implement the No-Go Lines, it won’t get stuck. It’s quieter but just as powerful as Roomba.

roomba vs neato

Roomba 980

8
  • Navigation: It’s great compared to conventional non-mapping vacuums and has a two-hour battery. But it gets lost and stuck more often than Neato.
  • Floor Types: The suction power is equal to Neato’s on all surfaces; it goes into Carpet Boost mode to handle thick carpet.
  • Software: Setup is easier than Neato, but once your house is mapped, the map is deleted from Roomba’s memory.
  • Design: The dustbin is smaller and harder to empty than Neato’s.

Best for you if...

You want something that’s more effective than a budget robot vacuum (non-mapping). While Roomba 980's cleaning cycle is slower than any of Neato’s products, its cleaning power is about equal. If you don’t mind keeping the virtual wall barriers on the floor and you find a better deal than Neato D7, definitely consider it. It’s a great vacuum, but it occasionally gets lost and doesn’t dock.

neato vs irobot

Neato D4

6
  • Navigation: You can create the same No-Go Lines and navigation as with D7, but it only has a 75-minute runtime.
  • Floor Types: The suction power is the same, but there’s no side brush for corners.
  • Software: You can only store one floor plan and can’t label different rooms.
  • Design: The filter is harder to clean, the dustbin harder to empty, and it attracts more fingerprints compared to the others.

Best for you if...

You want a Neato D7 but are on a budget and are willing to settle for a few less-than-ideal qualities. The suction power and navigation are the same, but you get a subpar battery and filter, hard-to-empty dustbin, no “zone cleaning,” no side brush, and just one floor plan. If you’re comfortable spending $500, don’t hold back. Neato D7 is worth the extra $200. Don’t buy Neato D3 or D5 until No-Go Lines are enabled.

roomba 960 vs 980

Roomba 960

6
  • Navigation: Its navigation is the same as 980, but only includes one virtual wall barrier and has 75-minute battery life.
  • Floor Types: Hard surface performance is the same as 980; the difference is with carpets.
  • Software: The software is the same as 980 and uses the Roomba app.
  • Design: The carpet suction power is the only difference from 980, otherwise it’s the same design.

Best for you if...

You want everything that Roomba 980 has to offer, but you don’t need the extra suction power for carpets, the extra 45-minutes of battery life, or the extra virtual wall barrier. It performs similarly to the others tested while on hard surfaces, but it has the worst suction power on carpets. If you find it for under $500 (cheaper than Neato D4), it’d be a great option for small houses or apartments without carpets.

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My Experience

neato vs roomba

I’ve experimented with six different robot vacuums over the last two years. I focused on the budget models that supplement a real vacuum, but can’t take over full vacuuming duties.

The best vacuum in the budget category is Ecovacs Deebot N79S. You won’t find a better value in the $200 range. Deebot is great for what it is, but it’s not smart, can’t detect which areas have been covered and knows nothing about your home’s layout.

Mapping robot vacuums have been on the market for over a year, but I waited until they were past the beta development stages and the kinks had been worked out.

Currently, Neato and Roomba are the only reliable mapping robots on the market. They are fantastic products. As the mapping technology, battery life, and suction power improve, I can see a world where most people choose these instead of a standard vacuum.

I wasn’t planning to keep my favorite mapping vacuum from this comparison post because I don’t have kids or pets. Plus, I work from home and don’t mind vacuuming since I bought a cordless stick vacuum. I break out my Dyson V10 for a few minutes each day, and my house stays clean effortlessly.

If I had kids, pets, an old-school corded vacuum, or hated vacuuming, Neato D7 would be the pick for me because it’s by far the best robot I’ve ever tested and works perfectly with my wood floors and home layout.

mapping layouts

Things to Know

  • Why choose a mapping robot over a budget option? Mapping robots provide more control, additional assurance that everything is clean, and better effectiveness.
  • Like the cheap robot vacuums, these won’t work on black or dark floors because the robot sees black and thinks it’s a cliff.
  • These mapping robots are smarter. They don’t use the “bump and run” randomness that most robot vacuums use. Once the mapping robot has run its cycle, you’ll see exactly where it went.
  • These won’t work well in huge empty spaces. They can’t utilize their full mapping potential because they bounce light and lasers off of objects to sense where they are. They’ll function as a regular robot vacuum in larger empty rooms.
  • Can they replace a normal vacuum? These mapping vacuums should do most of the heavy lifting if you have a wood floor. You’ll still need a vacuum for the stairs, vacuuming furniture, or getting the tough spots that the robot can’t reach. You’ll still need a real vacuum for better suction on thick carpets.
  • It’s easier to break out the real vacuum to clean up quick messes or crumbs when they happen, rather than running a cleaning cycle and hope that it eventually reaches the spill.
  • The ability to avoid getting stuck is the most important thing to look for any robot vacuum. You want flawless navigation that covers all areas of your floor and a way for it to avoid problem areas. The suction on these mapping vacuums is excellent compared to other robot vacuums, but it’s nothing compared to a traditional vacuum.
  • All of these models will finish their run if they get low on battery by returning to the base to juice up, then continuing the job. Roomba models tend to need more time to recharge so sometimes they’ll go back to the base multiple times.

Neato D Series

10

Navigation (A):

  • Neato uses “LaserSmart Mapping” technology to sense walls while it’s mapping. Because Neato uses lasers rather than a camera, it can run without a light source flawlessly.
  • Neato uses SLAM technology, which is a better method than a traditional robot that just goes in random directions (i.e., the bump-and-run method). There’s more methodology to SLAM, but without mapping, it’s still not the smartest and similar to the cheaper robot vacuums.
    • For example, before Neato D7 learned the layout of my house, it repeatedly got stuck under a glass TV stand. Neato asks you to move it within two feet of its location, so the map doesn’t get messed up, but Neato went under the TV stand and got stuck four more times. Later, I created a physical barrier under the TV stand to keep it out and get a map of my house. Then, I made a No-Go Line in the app in front of the TV stand and removed the physical barrier. Now Neato doesn’t get stuck there.
  • Your first run with Neato is a “mapping run” so it can learn your layout. This can be painful because the robot isn’t very smart. But if you keep an eye on it, make some barriers, use the included magnet strip, you’ll be fine. Just remember to set your “No-Go Lines” after you have a map.
  • When Neato is getting low on battery, it’ll do a “quick boost charge” that’ll only get the amount of juice that it needs to finish the job, rather than going back to the base to charge for two hours like Roomba.
  • Neato always knows where its base is and adds it to the map. Roomba can still get confused.

Floor Types (A):

  • There’s an “Eco” mode that’s quieter and allows Neato to run longer.
  • The “Turbo” mode is my preference and not much louder than “Eco.” Under this setting, Neato D7 can do my entire first floor in an hour with 50% battery left.
  • There’s an “Extra Care” mode that slows the vacuum down when it senses objects. This is a great idea, but I didn’t find it necessary with Neato because even in its standard setting, it barely taps the edges and is much more gentle than Roomba.
  • You can set it to “Spot” clean, which will do about a 25-square-foot area, but you can increase it to a 13’ x 13’ square too.
  • Neato is far superior on wood or hard flooring than Roomba. It’s able to pick up all debris during its run without an issue.
  • Neato is more efficient because once it learns your house, it uses the data it has to take better angles and avoid things. On the first sweep, Neato gets significantly more debris than any of the Roomba models.
  • They perform the same as Roomba 980 while on carpets.
  • Neato switches cleaning modes automatically when it is running on wood, carpet, or tile.

Software (A+):

All Neato Models:

  • The push notifications are helpful. They show you the map and let you know when and where the robot got stuck so you can fix the issue and prevent future incidents.
  • The app scheduling is great. You can schedule times and dates and choose which cleaning mode you’d like it to do.
  • They’re compatible with Google and Alexa. You can say things like “Alexa, ask Neato to start cleaning.”
  • The app design is excellent and feels fresh. It looks different than most apps, but it’s intuitive.
  • I had an issue getting it synced with my WiFi, but once the initial setup was done, everything was perfect.
  • There’s an IFTTT page with awesome options. My favorites are having Neato run as soon as you leave your house and having it dock as soon as you arrive home so you don’t have to listen to it run.
  • You can set reminders for maintenance (brushes and filters) and how frequently you’d like to receive them.
  • If you use Neato without a map or do a spot clean, there’s no way to send it back to the dock without picking up manually and moving it.

D7:

  • No-Go Lines are a game changer, and no other robot vacuum has anything remotely similar. Once you make your floor plan map, you can keep Neato out of particular areas (i.e., rooms you don’t want to be cleaned, places it’d get stuck, near loose cords or cable, near pet food dishes, shoe mats, etc.) by drawing virtual lines in the app.
  • It can be hard to place the lines in the app because you won’t know precisely where to put them. If your robot is getting stuck in the same place, I’d love for that to be marked on the map, but it’s not.
  • You can save up to three different floor plans so that you can have a map for each level of your house. You should buy an additional charging base for $40 for each floor that you want Neato to run on. Neato won’t recognize your floor plan if the station isn’t placed in the same spot every time, so it’s best not to move it. I had my base misplaced within an inch, and Neato didn’t recognize my house and was forced to remap everything.
  • This fall, Neato D7 will be able to do “Zone Cleaning.” There aren’t many details on how this will work, but you should be able to name the rooms and areas from the map made in the Neato app. Imagine saying, “Alexa, clean the living room.” and your Neato immediately cleans the room quickly then returns to the base right before your guests arrive.
  • You can manually control the robot in the app, but I’m not sure when this would be useful.
  • It can run on the 2.4 GHz or the 5 GHz WiFi channel.

D4:

  • Neato D4 has the No-Go Lines discussed above, but you can only store one floor plan, meaning you can’t clean multiple levels of your house.
  • Neato D6 allows for three floor plans.
  • Neato D3 and D5 models are going to get No-Go Lines in the future, and the software update will be pushed out to existing customers. I think D3 and D5 will stop being produced because they’re over two years old. I don’t recommend the D3 or D5 over one of the premium Roomba vacuums until this update has been rolled out because No-Go Lines are the most essential Neato feature.

Design (B):

All Neato Models:

  • The charging base is nicer and heavier than Roomba’s. It stays in place. Another benefit is that there’s a way to tuck the cord inside the base making it look more appealing and reducing the risk the robot will trip over the cable.
  • The dustbin is 700 ml, which is bigger than the Roombas’.
  • It’s shaped like a “D” rather than being round. In my experience, this helps Neato get the edges of a room better.
  • It’s hard to measure decibels accurately, so I’m not going to post my official numbers, but the Neatos I tested sound similar, with D4 being slightly quieter. The turbo cleaning mode is substantially quieter than Roomba 980’s turbo mode.
  • The larger wheels on Neato help it climb things better and clear high thresholds.
  • Neato vacuums have a handle slot for carrying, which I found helpful.

D7:

  • It’s 3.9 inches tall and weighs 7.7 pounds. There’s a circular piece that sticks up above the robot for the lasers.
  • The filter is funky because it has a fine mesh in front of it and dirt gets stuck behind the mesh, but it makes cleaning the filter much easier because the big pieces of material stay out.
  • The battery is 4,200mAh and lasts two hours. My real world tests match and surpass the two hours on wood floors. It takes 150 minutes to recharge the battery.
  • You can buy a replacement battery for $80.
  • The dustbin is easy to empty and clean because the filter pops out easily.
  • Magnetic strips come with Neato and are used as barriers. You’re supposed to use these before you create the No-Go Lines, but they’re not something you’d want to leave on the floor permanently.
  • Neato D6 has the same design and runtime as D7 with a couple of software differences, but they’re priced the same, so I don’t see the point of D6.

D4:

  • Neato D4 has the same body and components (for the most part) as D7. It’s 3.9 inches tall and weighs 7.4 pounds.
  • The battery is 2,100mAh and lasts 75 minutes (half the size of D7). It takes 100 minutes to recharge the battery. Seventy-five minutes of runtime sounds like enough, and theoretically, it should be sufficient to cover one floor of a small house, but there are things to consider:
    • When Neato’s battery gets lower than 25%, sometimes it’ll go back to the base to get more juice.
    • The predicted 75 minutes is the runtime out of the box, but lithium-ion batteries weaken with age. I could see needing a few runs to clean a medium-sized house once normal battery wear and tear kicks in.
  • The included filter is awful. The debris gets stuck in it because there’s no mesh filter and the filter is hard to pull out of the dustbin without spilling the debris everywhere. The good news is that the filter included with D7 “ultra performance filter” fits perfectly in the D4, but the bad news is that the D7 filters are $25 each.
  • The magnetic strips for the boundary markers are not included, and without these, it’s harder to get Neato out of certain areas before you set up the No-Go Lines.
  • The top case (dustbin tray) is a fingerprint magnet and looks awful once you use it.
  • There’s no side brush and this means it doesn’t do as well near the edges of the wall.

Roomba 900 Series

8

Navigation (B):

  • In my experience, Roomba vacuums get stuck more often than Neato. And when it’s stuck, you need to fix the issue within 90 minutes because if you don’t, it won’t continue its route. It’ll create a new map and won’t be able to find the base, which is frustrating!
  • The mapping Roomba vacuums (960 and 980) use “iAdapt 2.0 Navigation with Visual Localization.” It’s smarter than the Roomba 600 models because it uses the camera to map where it’s been. In my experience, they move in straighter lines and have more methodology compared to the entry-level Roomba vacuums.
  • It uses odometry (number of wheel spins) and the cameras on top to sense the walls and create a map of your house. Everything works great, as long as there’s light because the cameras can’t see at night or in dimly lit rooms.
  • It doesn’t use the previously-acquired maps to adjust the routes because the maps are deleted from its memory after each clean. Each time it starts its run, it takes a different path, and it doesn’t remember your house. The mapping Roombas are smarter than other robots, but conversely, Neato uses the previous data and takes a similar route each time.
  • When the battery runs low, Roomba can go back the base to charge, then finish the spots where it hasn’t hit yet. It usually finds the base, but there were a few times where it didn’t, whereas Neato found its base every time for two months.
  • Roombas tend to take at least 50% longer than Neato to clean an area for the same effectiveness. Roomba’s first run never picks up debris as well as Neato. Roomba eventually produces the same results as Neato after it does multiple passes.

Software (C):

  • I prefer Roomba’s WiFi setup because you can follow the set-by-step guide and tap the buttons and it brings you to the proper place in your phone settings. It’s easier to get lost with Neato if you’re a rookie.
  • It works with Alexa and Google Home. You can say things like “Alexa, ask Roomba to go home.”
  • You can choose how many cleaning passes (one or two) you want Roomba to do. Or you can set it to automatic, and it’ll go off of how much dirt it detects.
  • Roomba gives you a “Clean Map Report” that shows you a map of all the areas that your Roomba covered. These reports are reliable, but not quite as accurate as Neato. And once you have the plan, there’s nothing else you can do with it. It’s just an assurance that an area was covered.
  • You can set daily schedules in the app, but you can only schedule in 15-minute increments.
  • Roomba makes a noise when you change the schedule from the app. This feature is helpful because even though I didn’t have issues with Neato’s scheduling, I’m always curious if Neato got the signal.
  • The error messages are weird because they’re a bunch of codes that don’t make sense. There’s a better approach.
  • There are reminders for maintenance, like when to replace the filters or brushed based on how long Roomba expects those to last.
  • You can see your WiFi signal strength. This is a cool feature, but once you use it once, you’ll never need it again.
  • Roomba can only run on the 2.4 GHz channel. It’s not a big deal, but it provides less flexibility.
  • Roomba has an IFTTT page with cool options, like having Roomba pause its run when you receive a phone call.
  • iRobot’s potential plans with your mapping data are sketchy. Their executives haven’t dismissed the idea of selling your data to other companies. Roomba has a camera (unlike Neato that uses lasers) and can see your house so that they could sell this data to a company like Amazon. Hypothetically, Amazon could see the same sneakers by the door for six months and think they’re getting old, so they start targeting you with advertisements for shoes. Or maybe there’s an empty space in your living room, and Amazon knows shelf that would fit there perfectly.
  • To be clear, Roomba is NOT currently selling your data! If they decide to do something with the mapping data, you’ll be notified and have an option to opt out, but it’s potentially creepy, and you shouldn’t ignore what tech companies are doing with your data.

Floor Types (A):

Both Roomba Models:

  • Roomba’s Dirt Detect system is the only feature where Roomba beats Neato by a significant margin. Neato vacuums run their cycle and hit every spot a couple of times, but they don’t pay attention to what’s on the floor. Roombas sense dirt and try to go over a spot more until it doesn’t sense the dirt. In real life, this system doesn’t matter and wouldn’t help on wood flooring, but I could see it helping if you had a major spill on the carpet.

980:

  • Roomba claims 980 has double the airpower of 960 and ten times the airpower of the entry-level Roombas. While on hardwood floors 980 and 960 have the same suction. When on a carpet, Roomba automatically switches to turbo mode. The extra power helps, but there’s not a substantial difference in debris picked up, it’s just louder.
  • The extra power helps with pet hair.
  • After two sweeps of an area on any surface, 980 will collect less dirt and debris than Neato D7 on any surface, but the Roombas tend to do more than a couple of passes, and the result is similar to Neato.

960:

  • It does poorly with pet hair while on thick carpet. It clumps the hair together and spreads it around the house. There’s not enough suction.
  • It does about the same as 980 on all surfaces, aside from carpets.
  • It has the worst suction power of the mapping vacuums that I tested.

Design (B):

Both Roomba Models:

  • The dustbins are 600ml. That’s smaller than Neato’s, and harder to clean.
  • The charge base is poorly made. The long cord gets in the way of docking the robot, and because it’s so light, it’s easy to move.
  • It has “Tangle-free Dual Multi-Surface” brushes that are easy to clean and, in my experience, hair doesn’t get wrapped around the rollers as Neato’s.
  • Roomba has “Virtual Wall Barriers” that are shaped like lighthouses. You switch a button on the barrier to either make a circular perimeter or straight line to keep your robot away from areas. This is Roomba’s answer to Neato’s No-Go Lines. I don’t want barriers around my house because they’re ugly and could easily be moved or accidentally kicked. Additional barriers are $50 each.

980:

  • It’s 3.6″ tall and weighs 8.7 pounds, making it slimmer than Neato.
  • It has a 3,000mAh battery with a listed runtime of two hours.
  • It comes with two virtual wall barriers.
  • It has the same volume in eco mode as 960, but when it hits the carpet and goes to turbo mode, it’s the loudest robot vacuum I’ve ever tested.

960:

  • It’s 3.5″ tall and weighs 8.4 pounds, making it slimmer than Neato.
  • It has a 2,130mAh battery with a listed runtime of 75 minutes.
  • It comes with just one barrier.
  • It sounds about the same as Neato and is not ideal while watching TV.

i7+:

  • Roomba released a new model that will succeed Roomba 960 and 980 called Roomba i7+. I haven’t reviewed it because was just released, but it has the same mapping capabilities and suction power of 980, but with two new features for $950:
    • It automatically empties the bin, by going to the new oversized dock that sucks up all the dust from the bin and puts it in a disposable bag that holds 30 robot bins.
    • It has “Imprint Smart Mapping” that lets you to label different rooms on a map and tell Roomba to clean those rooms specifically.
  • Unfairly and without testing Roomba i7+, I’m sticking with Neato D7 as the best bet because the automatic emptying of the bin seems like a gimmick to me and labeling rooms already exists on Neato, but stay tuned for future testing.
 

4 Comments

  • Rupa says:

    Hi,

    I want to know which Robo vacuum cleans hair well, as that is one of our high priority cleaning issue. We have one level of house only. Our floor is mostly laminated and in kitchen tiles. Thanks for your detailed posts.

    • Cam Secore says:

      You’re better off with a Roomba if you have lots of hair. Neato will pick up the same amount, but Roomba is easier to clean the hair out.

  • Eric Kravitz says:

    Hi,

    Looking for the robot vac that bumps into walls and furniture the LEAST. Willing to spend a bit more for this as the roomba I currently use is like a bull in a china shop…

    Thanks

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