There are a lot of vacuums to choose from out there. The CNET Appliances team has already delved into the cute and somewhat unpredictable world of robot vacuums and today we're expanding to uprights. Yes, the stately upright vacuum is the most common type of dustbuster found in homes today.
I exposed myself to dirt particles large and small to test the $309 Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean against the $649 Dyson DC41, the $499 Dyson DC50, the $399 Oreck Touch, and the $199 Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away.
I would recommend the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean to anyone looking for a reliable upright vacuum -- even if you can spend more. It was competitive with all of the more expensive vacuums and, in many cases, far exceeded my expectations for a midrange model. Somehow, Electrolux found a way to merge thoughtful design, high-end features, and sturdy construction all into one 17-pound vacuum. Combine those three things and you get top usability and performance. The only caveat is that it isn't the most maneuverable or the most versatile of the five models. For the best turn radius, consider the Oreck or the Shark (and for maximum versatility, the Shark excels).
Design and usability
The Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean is a durable vacuum with a silver finish and orange accents. All of its components feel substantial on their own and fit together nicely with the rest of the machine. I really like the look of this vacuum. In fact, it's my favorite design of all five models tested. Even without a swivel function for navigating around furniture, it's still incredibly easy to operate. Also, the sturdy dust bin is a breeze to remove, empty, and snap back into place. It is heavier than the other four, so if you're concerned about lifting the 17.2-pound Electrolux, the 15.5-pound Shark might be more appealing.
While the Dyson machines look modern and efficient, their construction doesn't feel solid. This led to some usability problems with opening the bin, angling the vacuum during tests, and holding the awkward, handleless wand accessory. That's a touch too sparse, wouldn't you say, Dyson? In contrast, the Oreck is a very well-designed vacuum that also offers optimal pivot action with the turn of a wrist. The Shark isn't quite as streamlined as either the Electrolux or the Oreck -- the design is less modern and it doesn't look as high-end, but can I fault it for that? It's only $200.
The Electrolux handle is quite a multitasking pro; it doubles as a wand accessory and the hose stretches incredibly far. The Electrolux wand was the unanimous favorite of the group; the handle is comfortable to grip, it comes with a suction control feature for making power adjustments and a quick release button. Also, it snaps back into place with minimal effort. There's also a crevice tool, which targets corners, stairs and other hard-to-reach-places and a dusting brush for dusting. It probably won't fit under most couches unless you switch to the wand and its many attachments.
This model comes with a switch that lets you select between a "carpet" and a "bare floor" mode. Choose "carpet" and it turns on the brush, choose "bare floor" and it turns it off. Using the brush on bare floors can potentially cause damage or at least scatter the stuff you're trying to vacuum all over the room. The transparent dust bin comes with a removable, washable filter, and it has a handle for carting it to your garbage can. You'll also get a removable HEPA filter, a three-level height adjustment lever, and my favorite feature: brush-roll clean technology. Just press a lever and any gunk that got trapped inside your brush will be pulled into the dust bin. It's a vacuum miracle.
One thing that sets the Electrolux apart from the other four vacuums is maneuverability; both Dysons use the Dyson ball technology, Oreck has swivel steering, and Shark comes with a pivoting head. Some models also include more brushes and accessories than the Electrolux, but the Shark trumps them all. You can convert the Shark upright to a canister vacuum and it even comes with a separate wheeled caddy for rolling the canister rather than carrying it. The Electrolux is still simple enough to steer, though.
So, what did performance testing entail? For the Electrolux, I vacuumed Fruity Cheerios, a mixture of sand and sawdust, pet hair, human hair, and a whole bunch of nuts, washers, and bobby pins on thin carpet, thick carpet, and hardwood. It performed very well overall and when it needed a little extra help, the brush-roll clean feature came to the rescue.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Electrolux picked up nearly all of the Cheerios for every test. That's a score of 88 percent or better on low-pile, mid-pile, and hardwood. Both the Oreck and the Dyson DC41 outperformed the Electrolux, with the Shark coming in fourth, and the Dyson DC50 coming in last.