Celia Rivenbark

From the Belle Tower | Cheaper robot vacuum fairly Neato

I’ve wanted one of those robot vacuum cleaners for a long time, but I was too cheap to buy the pricey Roomba.

Fortunately, my sister told me about her success with a Wal-Mart knock off called Neato. I had a flashback to when she told me at age 7 that there was no discernible difference between Crayola and off-brand crayons. What can I tell you? She had a good vocabulary. But off-brand crayons are terrible, and everything just looks like “flesh,” which used to be a color! When it comes to crayons and vacuum cleaners, you don’t want to be too cheap. It’s like when you go to the dollar store, and there are products that look like Spic and Span, but when you look closer, it’s “Spock and Spank” or some such, and you end up with no suds.

Anyway, when she told me that Neato worked great on cat fur, I went right out and bought my own deep-discount robot vacuum. What could go wrong?

Neato is cute and friendly. When I turned him on, he said “hello” right away. He told me his battery was low, and he reminded me to “keep an eye on my filter.” Right. I got nothing else to do. Aren’t robots supposed to do that stuff themselves?

Neato charged quickly and asked me what I wanted to do next. I said, out loud, that I wanted to walk into the kitchen and find Matty McConaughey frying donuts wearing nothing but my “Breaking Bad” apron from Costco (“Alright, alright, alright, maple bacon’s ready!”), but we can’t always have what we want, now can we, Neato? I settled for “vacuum downstairs,” and off he went.

Neato vacuums robot-style, which means he maps the room in his pretend-brain and does the whole thing in a weird but efficient way. The cats freaked out because he’s very loud on hardwood floors (plus I think they thought it said “Kitty Eating Machine” on the box.)

“You missed the rug in the hallway,” I said. Did he glare at me? Neato flashed a message: “I have now completed my task and will return to my dock.”

“Not so fast, Mister,” I said, again out loud. Just like a crazy person. I picked him up like a big turtle off the highway and set him down in the laundry room. BIG mistake. Neato became obsessed with this tiny room and spent 30 minutes banging into the dryer again and again. Finally, I picked him up and closed the door to the laundry room.

He cleaned the kitchen, but his heart didn’t seem to be in the task. I know this because he scurried back to the laundry room door THE SECOND I TURNED MY BACK and banged against it. What was in there? A girl Neato?

Bottom line? Neato is terrific for the most part. Definitely no off-brand flesh crayon. Just be careful when you set up his “auto vacuum” programming to note 2 p.m., not a.m. Turns out that’s a fairly terrifying way to wake up.

CELIA RIVENBARK is a New York Times bestselling author. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.