A pair of very sucky motors

By Peter Griffin In Technology

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12th February, 2014 Leave a Comment

The last time I got excited about a vacuum cleaner was nearly a decade ago when the Roomba robot came to visit.

It felt its way around my house sucking up dirt, with infrared sensors and software eventually guiding it back to its dock to recharge. It seemed like the future, although a pricey one at $700.


But the robotic vacuum cleaner never really caught on. Maybe a guilt complex compels us to get our hands dirty with housework. More likely we’re too lazy to move the junk that can block a robotic cleaner’s path.

Vacuum cleaners of late have gone back to basics. They are cordless and bagless and come with powerful, quiet motors. You don’t need an iPhone app to tell you the lounge is dusty.

All the vacuum action at the moment is in the upright category and two players, Dyson and Bissell, seem to be leading the way on innovation.

Despite its ease of set-up, I hit an early snag with the Bissell AirRam. I ran over my headphones cable, which instantly tangled itself around the AirRam’s brush. Bad move. I managed to extract it, but the AirRam thereafter emitted an annoying clatter – a bit like Kim Dotcom’s debut album.

Waiting for a replacement was all the excuse I needed to duck out of the housework for a few days.

For a lightweight, battery-run cleaner, the AirRam is incredibly powerful and effective on carpet, tiles and wood. The battery lasts for 40 minutes – more than enough for my two-bedroom apartment. The machine is well made and handles the bumps fine as long as you are careful with its delicate brush. A small transparent tray collects the dust, but fills quickly.

Dyson’s $599 Digital Slim DC59, left, and the $499 Bissell AirRam.

The Dyson Digital Slim, with its long-barrelled steampunk pistol appearance, is a more showy-looking contraption. Its over-engineered body is deceptive: this is a simple device to use and it really sucks.

But you can’t dally with the Digital Slim. The battery lasts just 20 minutes and takes three hours to fully charge. You can remove the upright pipe and attach all sorts of nozzles for delicate cleaning jobs – it does the curtains beautifully.

When an Irish aunt came to visit, I invited her to do some vacuuming – or as they say in Ireland, “hoovering”. Aunty Marion preferred the AirRam.

Because it is on wheels with its mass close to the floor, it is easier to push around. The Dyson’s motor is suspended well up the pipe, so you notice the weight in your hand. But it’s more versatile as a result. I’m more likely to reach for the Dyson for small cleaning jobs such as sucking the crumbs from the dining table.
These stand-up vacuum cleaners aren’t really direct competitors. The AirRam suffices for my apartment and its battery would last long enough to get around a small house. But it struggles to get into hard-to-reach places, along skirting boards and around the toilet bowl. You’ll still need something else – maybe a cheap handheld vacuum cleaner – to finish the job.

The Dyson is more a complementary cleaner. With 20 minutes of juice, you’ll be lucky to do the house on a single charge. It’s meant as a lightweight companion to your main vacuum cleaner, of which Dyson has many futuristic-looking models to choose from.

The Digital Slim’s big advantage is its detachable nozzles, which allow for all those dusting chores – along windowsills, cobwebbed ceilings and behind the couch. It also comes with a handy wall mount and the brush can be removed for cleaning.

The welcome change these lightweight cleaners have ushered in is to make vacuuming less of a chore – it is easier to take care of in short bursts. My old Husqvarna, with its squat body, stretchy plastic hose and snaking power cord is clearly overdue for trading in.

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