More than a decade ago, Dyson, the British company known for its line of powerful and expensive vacuum cleaners, quietly began working on an ambitious project to displace its own best invention.
Dyson's traditional vacuum cleaners have long been acclaimed for their dirt-sucking prowess. But the company believed that its vacuums were too large and bulky, and were held back by an annoying electrical cord plugged into the wall.
Dyson has since spent hundreds of millions of dollars and hired several hundred people to design, build and start selling what it hopes will become the standard vacuum cleaner of tomorrow — a lightweight, cordless machine that works as well as a corded upright.
Its newest such model, the DC59 Motorhead, is tiny, weighs under 5 pounds and has a slender hot pink and purple body. It's extremely maneuverable and comes with a bevy of attachments that allow it to be used in a variety of modes. It is powerful, capable of sucking up everything from the prodigious mess my children make at dinner to the more intractable horrors they've caked into the carpets and upholstery of my car.
By its own admission, the company has not yet realized its vision of a cordless vacuum that can fully replace an upright. The DC59's battery allows for only about 20 minutes of cleaning between charges (and only six minutes on its higher-powered "boost" mode). Because charging takes two to three hours, the machine is unsuited to cleaning an entire suburban McMansion. For that, you'll still need an upright.
Yet what the machine lacks in longevity, it more than makes up for in accessibility. Because it is as small and easy to use as a broom, you might find yourself reaching for it several times a day, which is about a billion times more often than I hunt down my old-fashioned vacuum.
In this way, the DC59 seems more like a couple of other battery-powered devices that do not look as powerful as full-size machines, but that have nevertheless taken over the world: smartphones and tablet computers.
Your phone can't do as much as your computer, but because it's right there in your pocket and starts up in a flash, you might spend a lot more time on it than on your PC.
The DC59 offers the same wonderful trade-off — very good cleaning without the headaches of a bigger machine. It's the iPad of vacuum cleaners.
Unfortunately, the DC59 has an iPad-like price tag, too. At more than $500, it costs substantially more than most full-size vacuum cleaners, including some lightweight cordless models that also clean quite well.
Hoover's cordless Linx, for less than $200, is one such rival. Many tests, including mine, show that the Linx performs about as well as the Dyson. On the down side, the Hoover does not offer the Dyson's useful attachments, its battery lasts only about 15 minutes, and it is a couple of pounds heavier.