Great design and technology are particularly satisfying when applied to products that improve doing routine, mundane tasks. Household products have been a latecomer to incorporating clever design, great industrial design and improved functionality. But two companies have shown what great imagination and design can do to set them apart.
One company is Breville, once a low-end Australian appliance company that sold products under the Sunbeam name. I'm testing the new Oracle espresso machine and will report my findings next week, but I say it's quite a breakthrough.
The other is Dyson, a company that creates vacuum cleaners that outperform conventional machines and have a futuristic design. Each of these companies proves that you can command higher prices by offering better performance and design.
I've been trying out Dyson's DC59 Animal Digital Slim vacuum cleaner, a pricy machine ($499) that provides 26 minutes of high power cordless vacuuming. The animal moniker stems from its ability to clean up animal hairs, something that's a challenge for many machines.
Dyson is known for creating unusual-looking vacuum cleaners that perform better than other brands. The DC59 is the new top-of-the-line cordless model that, according to the manufacturer, has three times the vacuuming power of any other handheld. It can be used as a handheld vacuum that fits in a large kitchen drawer or hangs on the included wall rack, as well as an upright machine that performs as a full-size vacuum. It comes with four click-on tools, including a short brush, floor attachment and crevice tool.
The DC59 is held in one hand and operates by pressing its red trigger. The product is made of durable plastic, finished in metallic gray, purple, silver and clear. The full vacuum with its purple aluminum extension and floor tool weighs only 5 pounds. As a handheld, it weighs just over 3 pounds. All parts click together and apart easily.
The most noticeable feature is what appears to be a series of 15 channels forming a circular cap that looks much like a carburetor. It's unclear whether these are functional or decorative, but it gives it a modern industrial look, similar to what you might see on the cover of Popular Science.
I've been using it as a handheld to keep the area around my espresso machine and coffee grinder clean, as each sheds lots of coffee grounds, and I've used it to vacuum my car, and clean my computer keyboard. The Dyson's powerful vacuum leaves everything free of dirt and dust. The lack of a cord makes it easy to maneuver and vacuum when you are far from an outlet.
By snapping on the aluminum shaft and floor attachment, you have a full-size vacuum that will tackle most jobs. For cleaning hard floors, there's little resistance, and steering is accomplished by just tilting your hand, causing the floor nozzle with its universal joint to quickly change direction. Vacuuming on a plush rug requires more force to push, but my hand never became tired from holding the unit.
The dirt all goes into a clear cylinder so you can see the accumulation. Sliding a button below the trigger opens up the trap door on the bottom of the cylinder and lets the dirt drop into a wastebasket.
If you need additional power — which I never did — you can push a button called "max" to provide even greater suction. In that mode, the battery lasts just six minutes.
The unit can be recharged in about three hours, so you'll find its best to start a major job with it fully charged. But there is no warning before the batteries run down, so keep it charged.
What's so special about this vacuum is that it's two products in one: It works effectively as a full vacuum cleaner, yet also brings that power to jobs requiring a handheld. While it's quite expensive, it performs very well. ($499, dyson.com.)