Sunday, January 08, 2006

Dyson vacuum not Ready For Prime Time

After you dye all that fabric, you've got to do something with it. I like to sew it into clothing, handbags and scarves, littering scraps and threads all over the carpet. Which brings me to the point: our vacuum sucks, but not enough. And the 15-year old Kenmore cannister spews dust out it's butt like the morning after bad Sushi. We needed a new one.

Consumer Reports to the rescue! They measured suck, weight, ability to scale small buildings in a single bound, whatever you need to know. Sometimes they actually write this stuff in their reports, too. :) So the challenger was the undiscovered Dyson DC14 (US$500) vs. the Eureka Boss SmartVac 4870 ($140). [Hmm, I'd say that if you're stuck with the vacuuming, you're not so smart, but perhaps you are the boss.] The Hoover WindTunnel ($300) was actually rated highest, but is a little noisier, according to CR.

First, a quick check with Amazon's feedback section. An interesting check is that the factory-reconditioned Dyson is not actually reconditioned, according to half of the recipients. Yup, the reconditioned units might be cheap to buy, but it still has the problems that folks returned them for in the first place. This says to me that Dyson is not experienced enough in manufacturing. They've got excellent ideas, but have not executed them quite right. Give them a couple of years -- I expect great things from their factories! Some folks were actually enamoured by the Dyson's pretty colors and clear chambers, but the chambers show all that extra dust collected by their whirling whirlies (no, not the type you get in grade school -- these leave your hair much nicer than a tour through the toilet) and I don't see the utility of retrieving a prized gold earing from a clear chamber vs. an opaque bag. Just split the bag. If you're vacuuming up all that many earings, perhaps you're holding the vacuum a little too high.

So off to Best Buy to actually try our own tests. CR has scientists and test engineers and loads of stastistics, but they rate the noise as a number from 1 (needs ear protection) to 5. What I want to know is if the pitch is high and whiny or low and bold. How does the noise change when I use attachments vs. carpet cleaning? Stuff CR doesn't tell you. I've got to ask Why? Have they not heard of the web, where all the stat's and your mother's age can be posted without space restrictions?

OK, so here's the test: Best Buy has a power outlet! The Dyson already dust and dirt in it, so we, well, tested (yeah, that's the word... tested!) how easy it was empty. Oops, it's really easy. Oh well, gotta clean that up. Can't have a dirty Best Buy, can we? Let's try the Dyson first. OK, gotta put it back together first (remember we emptied it's chamber). Hmm. Where's the on switch? Oh, I see: their graphic designers hide it so well that they needed to attach a little label explaing where it is. OK, the Eureka wins there with a simple international 0/1 switch. Was that so hard, Dyson? (Eureka 1, Dyson 0) OK, a vacuuming we go... HEY! What the ...? It can't clean up the stuff that just came out of it? I'm starting to think that the Twilight Zone was perhaps history, not science fiction. Maybe I didn't put it back together right, or maybe it's set wrong. Let's see: a switch for carpet vs. bare floor. That's set to carpet. No carpet pile adjustment. I recall from the Amazon reviews that it automatically adjusts for pile height, so that's OK. Well, maybe the carpet is too tough for it, so let's try the Eureka. Two passes and it's all up. Well, Eureka 2, Dyson 0.

Test 2: can the wand reach our 10 foot ceilings?
  • The Eureka has some 3 tubes and the hose, so there's only, ummm, 32 possible ways to connect them. Let's experiment... The tubes are all different thicknesses... this only connects to here... this has a little icon that says it goes on the hose... OK! 5 minutes later, we have a wand! Let's reach above our heads and voila! it reaches and the hose comes out of the bottom of the vacuum so it's going to be stable.
  • Now the Dyson. Doh! I see a hose but how do I get it out? Ah, the little label says to press this button to release the wand. There's a 12 inch tube integrated into the handle through which a 3 foot tube slides. In one position the tube is pushed down the unextended hose, keeping the normally flexible hose rigid. Cool idea. Pull the tube out of the hose, press yet another button, and the handle with it's short tube, detaches. Spiffy ergonomics, Batman, we've got a handle on the wand! But all those buttons. Can we ever remember them? Again, 5 minutes to figure it out. The hose emerges from the bottom of the main unit, like the Eureka, so it's probably stable, but many on Amazon complained about that. Perhaps this unit has been redesigned to avoid that?
Finally, there's the ongoing price, assuming nothing breaks. The Dyson has no bags, and has a washable HEPA filter. Euraka bags ($2), plus you need a new HEPA filter ($25) each 6 bags, and a new rubber belt ($6) every year. Let's say you fill a couple of bags a month (eg, you have a dog, child or husband), so that's 24 bags/year ($48) plus 4 HEPA filters ($100) plus a belt ($6). Opps. The Dyson breaks even in only 3 years. I guess we'll have to vacuum less often. :( In my mind, it's Eureka 2, Dyson 1. Of course, you could get the washable HEPA filter ($40) and cut the yearly cost from $154 to $54 (with an extra $40 the first year). That's more reasonable. Eureka 1.5, Dyson 1.

The Eureka has this carpet pile height adjustment that is not quite obvious. Seems simple enough, but it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to turn off the carpet spinner on my flat floors. The trick is to tilt the vacuum (use the foot pedal) first, then set the switch to "floor". Seems like every time you set the vacuum upright, it turns off the spinner "automagically", which is great but when you tilt it again, it tends to turn back on. And why this be on the handle, where it belongs?

Eureka wins, but Dyson will catch up, especially if they read this blog.


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