Few product categories have one definitive best-in-show brand, but vacuum cleaners do. While Miele may widely be considered the Rolls-Royce of vacuums, it’s Dyson that is the Tesla: James Dyson’s designs don’t just weigh less and look more aerodynamic than other models; they also come with remarkable engineering. A few years back, Dyson invented new electric motors to power its products with more torque but reduced energy usage and noise. Theoretically, the Dyson is undupable.
Which makes one wonder about all the ecstatic online reviews for the much cheaper Shark vacuum, which has a futuristic look about it in its own right. “A dream come true!” reads an October 2018 review from a dog-owning Amazon purchaser with carpeted stairs — and thousands of others would seem to be in agreement. With that much fanfare, what could really be the difference between cleaning your apartment with a Shark instead of a Dyson?
To find out, I tested one of each: the latest Shark model, the APEX UpLight ($270), and the new Dyson V11 Torque Drive ($599). Both are upright and slender, composed of several detachable plug-and-play parts and nozzles. They were also released in the past six months and have comparable two-year minimum warranties (with some fine print to look out for on the Shark). Unlike the Dyson, the Shark doesn’t come with an algorithmic monitoring system that learns how its owner cleans; but then again, it costs a third of the price. In the end, you just need a vacuum to physically pick up dirt and dust and, in the case of this experiment, an entire box of sugar granules. Here’s how they ultimately stacked up.
Initial impressions: Upon unboxing, both vacuums intuitively snapped together (point Dyson, point Shark), but only the Dyson is cordless (point Dyson). The Dyson comes with five nozzle attachments; the Shark comes with four (no points; it seemed like too many nozzles). The Shark is noticeably heavier and more unwieldy (point Dyson) but does have a pleasant mechanism wherein you simply put your foot on the head to tilt the handle back (point Shark).
I first tested the vacuums on a low-ply red Turkish rug (I bought it from this online vintage-rug company). Previously, I’ve used a broom to sweep dirt and dust off it. But I’m ashamed to admit that the carpet can take on an ashy hue at times from all the debris nestled into the fibers. The vacuums performed equally well on the carpet: Patches of the rug instantly returned to a more brilliant red, and I couldn’t tell by eyeballing it whether one model picked up more particles than the other.
In pursuit of a more empirical result, I poured a box of white sugar onto my hardwood kitchen floors. The Dyson eventually got every grain in its path, but it took about four swipes. The Shark devoured everything in one fell swoop (point Shark).
Still hungry for data points, I took both vacuums over to a friend’s apartment. She owns two cats, one of which has lots of white fur that sheds all over her velvet sofa. We detached each vacuum from its standard head and attached nozzles meant for targeted deep cleaning. Side by side, the Dyson and the Shark both vanquished the cat dander, but the Shark did so quicker (point Shark).
In my proprietary, highly unscientific points system, the devices came to a tie. But that doesn’t make them interchangeable: The Shark is a stalwart machine, and if you’re willing to contend with a cord and put a few extra muscles and even brain cells into swiveling it around, you’ll get what you came for, which is a dust-free, dander-free, sparkling space. If you buy a Dyson, in many ways you’re paying for ergonomic brilliance. The head swivels around effortlessly on a ball joint. To empty the bin, you simply push one button that triggers a “point and shoot” ejection of all the crap you’ve collected. It’s a seamless, satisfying maneuver. With the Shark, I had to wrestle with multiple buttons on the bin, worrying the whole time that I’d accidentally empty dust (and sugar, and cat hair) all over myself instead of into the trash can. And so in the end, it all comes down to how much you care about ease versus price.
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