Dyson's smaller upright is a great vacuum for its size—but not for its price.
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Edge cleaning tests measure how close to the wall the Small Ball can get. We place a wooden barrier alongside carpet to represent the trim along a wall, and pour talcum powder to visualize what is and isn't cleaned. The Small Ball is able to clean flush against the wall from both the front and the side—meaning suction is distributed evenly throughout the brush head. Dyson's unique drive system is to thank, as vacuums with drive belts mounted on the left or right just can't get that close.
The all-new Dyson Small Ball (MSRP $399.99) packs all of Dyson's best design and technology into a single 12-pound package.
It replaces the popular DC50/Compact Animal, condensing all the advances of the bulky Dyson Cinetic Big Ball (MSRP $599.99) into an apartment-friendly package. The Small Ball may not be as powerful as other vacuums in its class. But, after a week cleaning with it on various floor types and lifting it around our labs, we think it's a good tradeoff for some consumers.
Should the prospect of lifting a 20-pound vacuum up the stairs prevented you from cleaning those carpets, the Small Ball might be just what the chiropractor ordered.
Our carpet tests are split across high-pile and short-pile carpet. To simulate the dirt that's in your own carpets at home, we blend a mix of sand of various sizes and talk. Then, we pour it on the carpet and tamp it down with a roller—like your feet do. We then run each vacuum over the entire surface once, the same way you clean your own home.
On average, this Dyson picked up 43.2% of the dirt off the short-pile carpet. Although that's good for vacuums in general, it doesn't measure up to competitors in this price range. Pickup results on the deep carpet lowered the Small Ball's ranking even more. It vacuumed up only 12.9% of the testing dirt, and while all vacuums struggle with this test, the Small Ball's performance placed it near the back of the pack.
Open the box and you'll find the pickings rather spartan. While the Big Ball came with enough attachments to warrant their own tote bag, the Small Ball includes only a combined crevice and brush tool, plus a stair tool.
It's just enough for all of the basic vacuuming scenarios: a brush tool for curtains, a crevice tool for corners, the main brush head for the floor, and a stair tool for awkward surfaces. It's not much, but it's probably all you need. They all attach to the wand that detaches from the top of the cleaner—a Dyson signature move that takes a little getting used to until it becomes second nature.
Conveniently, the Small Ball is also equipped with a washable, cone-shaped filter, which sits atop the bagless canister. Cleaning any vacuum filter is an annoying extra step, but with the Small Ball it's as easy as rinsing a plate and waiting for it to dry.
The namesake of the Small Ball is an engineering feat that helps with handling. Unlike cheaper uprights, the Small Ball incorporates a universal joint—a ball—that lets it twist and turn on a dime. Being able to apply force from different angles lets you more easily navigate around furniture. Plus, it's easier on the arms.
You'll need all the mobility aids you can get, because the Small Ball clamps down pretty hard on carpets–necessitating about three pounds of force to push it. That's a lot, but the tradeoff is good suction. If this is too hard to push, or if it leeches onto high-pile carpets, simply operate the vacuum on its low setting.
If you have multiple floors in your home, the Small Ball is worth your consideration. At only 12 pounds with all the attachments onboard, it's easy to heft the Small Ball up and down stairs. And with a 32-foot cord, the Small Ball can easily clean a room or three without the need to replug. That cord does have to get manually wrapped up every time you're done cleaning it, however.
When you're done cleaning, the Small Ball's dirt canister has a button-operated trap door on the bottom. It didn't spring open as easily as we'd like and was tricky to replace after emptying. We got everything to work after some practice, so don't get discouraged.
The bare floor test is intended to reflect cleaning scenarios in your kitchen, and we simulate that by leaving out pieces of uncooked macaroni and rice. This is where the Small Ball stumbled the most: It only picked up 45% of the macaroni and 65% of the rice. The brush head is simply to low to the ground to pick up large debris, so you'll need to take out the hose and spot clean instead.
As a design-focused company, Dyson has handling and accessories down pat. What usually makes or breaks a Dyson is dirt pickup. Frankly, the Small Ball doesn't live up to the big hype or bigger price tag.
For instance, when we distributed 100 grams of testing dirt on short carpet, the Small Ball got just 43% of it. Compared to your normal sub-$100 vacuums, that's a superior clean. However, you can get almost twice the dirt pickup for $150 less with the bulkier Kenmore Elite 31150. The performance-to-price gap got even wider when we switched over to high-pile carpet: This Dyson got only 13% of the dirt, while the Elite sucked up 24%.
The Small Ball also had problems dealing with large debris. The low-profile, auto-adjust brush head will push around uncooked macaroni, for example, rather than scooping it up. It's the same problems we've seen with other Dyson uprights. If your little one drops her Cheerios or your dog is a messy eater, you'll have to bust out the hose.
For in-depth performance information, please visit the Test Results Page.
With proof of purchase, the Dyson Small Ball comes with an impressive five-year warranty. This covers any original defects of materials or workmanship. "Normal wear and tear" is not covered.
Dyson rounded up a lot of technology into a little vacuum. Navigation is a dream, and it's light enough for homes with lots of stairs and small enough for tiny apartments. Everything we liked about the Big Ball is here, in a smaller package.
Well, almost everything: For all the cyclonic power, the Small Ball offers relatively weak dirt pickup. And while 12 pounds is even lighter than some cordless vacuums, we think $400 is a tough sell, especially with cheaper, more functional options out there. Taking all that into consideration, we say wait until you can snag one on sale.