Alongside smart light bulbs and security cameras, we’ve seen an explosion in robot vacuum cleaners recently. Ranging from discount devices by obscure manufacturers to luxury models from top-tier brands like the iRobot Roomba i7+, hordes of robotic smart cleaners are piling off production lines, ready to tackle a life of grime.
At $499, Neato’s Botvac D4 Connected drops neatly in the middle of the pack. While it can’t deliver all of the features that impressed in our reviews of the Botvac D6 and range-topping D7 cleaners, it’s certainly a step up from the entry-level D3. But it retains a chunky price tag that puts it at risk of being overshadowed by plucky discount performers like the Ecovacs Deebot 601 and Deebot 901.
So, the Botvac D4 – competent contender, or a mid-range miss? Let’s find out.
Solid specs with some surprising gaps
Packing a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connection plus laser-guided mapping and navigation, the Botvac D4 Connected may be accurately named, but compared to other Neato cleaners, its features are solid rather than spectacular. App control and support for Google Home, Amazon Alexa and even Apple Watch provide convenience, but the D4 misses out on luxuries like multi-floor mapping and zone cleaning, and surprisingly lacks the side-sweeping brushes you’ll find on all but the cheapest competitors.
Feature highlights like No-Go Lines (virtual barriers which prevent the robot from travelling into specified areas), spot cleaning, and a high-performance Turbo mode boost ease of use and performance, but Neato cuts the corners on consumables. A close comparison with other models shows a downgraded filter, cleaning brush and battery, delivering a quoted 75 minutes per charge (compared to 120 minutes on the D6 and D7).
Visually, the D4 looks similar to its pricier brethren, but lacks some of the more stylish finishes available higher up the range. A subtly-patterned top surrounding the robot’s laser sensor adds interest (smudges and fingerprints, too) to an otherwise dull design. The cleaner retains the ‘D’ shape chassis that encourages Neato to boast improved edge and corner cleaning, although without side-spinning brushes, the 11-inch front ‘combo’ brush (comprised of plastic fins and bristles) and vacuum have their work cut out to deliver.
As with all Neato models, the front face of the robot is equipped with a safety bumper that detects physical collisions. Some competitors choose to rubberize this bumper for protection from bumps, although Neato’s designers have opted for a textured, plastic finish, which may scuff over time.
Lift up the center panel and you can pull out the D4’s dustbin, with a neatly-integrated dust filter that prevents debris from escaping back on to your floor. According to Neato, this “high performance’” filter is able to capture dust particles as small as 0.3 microns, but it’s not the ultra performance HEPA-style filter you’ll find equipped on the D6 and D7 models. Owners should change filters every two months, and Neato provides a spare in the box for your first changeover. If allergies are a concern, Neato’s HEPA-style filters are compatible with the D4, so you can upgrade.
Compared to other cleaners, the D4’s features are solid rather than spectacular.
Manual controls are limited to a physical button to start the robot (a selection of cleaning modes are available from a smartphone controller app), while two indicators keep you informed of battery and operating status.
Flip the robot over and you’ll find two sturdy, spring-loaded, rubberized wheels and the impressively wide spiral brush. The brush is held in place by a plastic guard, which snaps into the underside of the chassis, making replacement easy. While the D4 misses out on those side-sweeping brushes, you’ll find plenty of additional technology packed into the robot. Alongside the top-mounted laser sensor, which allows the robot to also operate in the dark, the D4 is equipped with additional sensors at the sides for following walls and drop sensors on its undercarriage, preventing the robot from hurtling down your stairs.
For charging, Neato includes a reasonably compact dock with wide plates to connect to the D4’s rear charging pins. Neato quotes a 75-minute battery life, which is well behind the 120-minutes available on more premium models, and will vary by cleaning mode. We found battery life to be nearer to 55 minutes in the robot’s high-performance Turbo mode.
However, the D4 is able to pause and resume cleaning to top-up its lithium-ion battery, which works really well. Rather than wait to be fully-charged, the D4 only pauses until it has enough juice required to finish cleaning up, and can auto-recharge twice during a cleaning cycle, minimizing delays. We found battery life to be just about sufficient for a 500-square-foot floor plan — any larger, and the D4 will be returning to its dock for a recharge. Expect a full charge to take around two and a half hours, which is reasonable.
Fast and friendly setup
Getting up and running with the D4 is very simple. First, the robot arrives assembled and fully charged, so you can get going straight away. Neato’s friendly app does a great job in guiding you step by step through connecting the robot to your Wi-Fi and downloading any available firmware updates. Unbox the robot, and you should be cleaning in no more than five minutes.
It surprisingly lacks the side-sweeping brushes you’ll find on all but the cheapest competitors.
You can choose from a selection of cleaning modes – Turbo is the high-performing option, incurring additional noise during operation (it isn’t deafening) and reduced battery life. Eco mode is the default setting, providing a balance between cleaning performance, duration, and comfort. When required, a Spot Cleaning mode can also be launched from the app, enabling the D4 to focus cleaning in radiuses up to 13 square feet.
Fast, accurate mapping but noisy operation
In operation, we found the D4’s top-mounted laser did a decent job of ensuring the robot avoided obstacles on the floor. You should definitely pick up anything obvious to prevent the D4 from becoming stuck, however. We missed a tray on the floor with a couple of pet food bowls and returned to the room to find the D4 attempting to mount our cat’s lunch. The absence of side brushes offers some advantages here, as brushes on most robot vacuums can become tangled in cables. A quick tidy is recommended to ensure the floor is clear ahead of the cleaning cycle. Should the robot become stuck at any time, you’ll receive a notification requesting help on your phone and you can locate the D4 in your cleaning map with simple tap. An “Extra Care” setting is available for gentler navigation, should you find the D4 receives too many knocks, although this wasn’t required in our tests.
The D4 will map a single floor on its first cleaning cycle, and we were pleased to see the robot accurately plot all areas during its test run. However, before you can use Neato’s No-Go Lines virtual barrier feature, an additional “special cleaning run” is required to create a complete floor plan. It’s a minor inconvenience, but once complete, we found the feature to work well. To the cat’s relief, those pet food bowls were unmolested on subsequent cleans.
Good suction but poor edge and corner cleaning
We’ve found Neato robot vacuums to be noisier than some competitors in operation, and the D4 is no exception. That said, cleaning performance was reasonable, with good suction and pickup, especially when using the robot’s Turbo mode. Despite our cleaner visiting the day before, the D4 still managed to collect a surprising amount of pet hair, dust, and even a few rogue Cheerios hiding under the table from breakfast.
It offers friendly control with little fuss.
Our early suspicions on edge and corner cleaning were proven correct — performance here was poor. The D4’s side sensors keep the robot around 1.5 inches away from walls. Without side brushes to sweep dust into the path of the vacuum, you’ll most definitely have to follow up with a standard vacuum or handheld for best results. While Neato likes to point out the geometrical weaknesses of puck-shaped cleaners in edge and corner cleaning, without those side-sweeping brushes, the D4 disappoints, despite its novel shape.
Friendly app with easy voice control
Neato’s smartphone app, available for iOS and Android phones, offers friendly control with little fuss. While the D4 isn’t as well stocked on features as other models, those available are very easy to use. Cleaning performance stats can be viewed at a glance, and regular cleaning schedules can be set up in seconds, while more advanced features like virtual barriers can be defined with little effort.
Throughout our tests, we were delighted to see how responsive the D4 was to commands fired from the app. Unlike some controller apps we’ve tested, there was no loss of connectivity with the robot, which did its job with minimal interruption. It certainly makes the D4 a viable option for those who prefer to set it and forget it, while smart home experts will love options to experiment with IFTTT recipes for third-party device and service integration and the (now obligatory) voice assistant control.
Overall, the Botvac D4 Connected is a solid robot vacuum with solid performance that will certainly prove to be a help with the daily household chores. But a $499 price point is a tough sell in a market that’s evolving rapidly. The D4 has significant advantages over bargain basement devices like last year’s plucky Eufy Robovac 11S ($220). Stacked up against the Ecovacs Deebot 901 (currently available at just $349) or newer Deebot 711 ($400)? The difference is far less distinct.
Pick up the Neato Botvac D4 Connected and you’ll benefit from a one-year warranty covering defects in the robot cleaner, while batteries are limited to just six months’ protection.Our Take
Wind the clock back just two years and we’d have been blown away by the D4’s value for money. Laser-guided navigation, room mapping, and solid cleaning performance under $500? We’d be climbing over each other to be first in line to buy. But in 2019, if you’re happy to go with less well-known brand, you can find these features and similar performance for less.
Is there a better alternative?
The D4’s lack of side-sweeping brushes is a concern, and you’ll find them available on plenty of lower-priced competitors such as the Ecovacs Deebot 901 (currently available at $349) or Deebot 711 ($400). More advanced features such as multi-floor mapping require greater investment, so take a look at the $799 Neato Botvac D7 or iRobot Roomba i7. Money no object? At $1099, the Roomba i7+ is a premium robot vacuum which will empty its own dust compartment after every clean.
How long will it last?
Like all robot vacuums, the D4 requires regular maintenance and replacement consumables to perform at its best. Take good care of your robot and it’ll reward you with long service.
Should you buy it?
If you prefer to invest in familiar brands, then you’ll find the Botvac Connected D4’s blend of smart features, solid performance and simple control a comfortable buy. But if you’re concerned about the lack of side brushes and higher cost, you might want to look elsewhere.