On the Dyson Web site, Chief Engineer James Dyson is quoted as saying, "Our mission is simple. We solve the problems others seem to ignore." But what about the problems Dyson ignores?
That's what I was left wondering after testing out the Dyson Ball Allergy, which at the time was called the Dyson DC65, and was the newest in Dyson's long line of high-end upright vacuums. Like the models that came before it, the Ball Allergy trumpets its forward-thinking engineering, and it performs admirably when it comes time to clean. But the Ball Allergy also suffers from a few baffling build flaws -- the same flaws I found when I tested its immediate predecessor, the DC41.
These flaws impact the vacuum's usability, undermine Dyson's claims of superior design, and make the Ball Allergy a tough sell compared to models like the Oreck Touch and the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean, even in spite of the fact that Dyson recently added new attachments for 2015 and cut the price from $600 down to $500.
A design that falls flat
The Dyson Ball Allergy is a very attractive-looking appliance, with a bold, futuristic build that looks more like a space station component than a vacuum cleaner. Of course, this distinctive design isn't new. Dyson's uprights have only seen incremental build tweaks since the company's first ball-mounted vacuum, the DC15, was released in 2005.
In terms of performance, the Ball Allergy offers three primary build upgrades over the DC41. The Radial Root Cyclones that sit above the canister have been "retuned," with newly modified diameters that Dyson claims allow for more airflow.
The brushroll has also gotten a power boost of 25 percent, which is intended to help the bristles work dust and allergens out of your carpets more effectively. Additionally, the sides of the cleaner head have been stripped back for "edge-to-edge cleaning," which makes it easier to vacuum into corners and up against baseboards.
Aside from these changes, the Ball Allergy's design is almost exactly the same as what we saw from the DC41, as well as the now-discontinued DC40 and also the DC50, which now goes by the name Dyson Ball Compact Animal . The Ball Allergy retains their futuristic sheen -- but, unfortunately, it also shares their shortcomings.
Chief among these is a problem with the vacuum's back wheels, which act as its kickstand when it stands upright. Bring the Ball Allergy down, and the wheels pop up and out of the way with a click, allowing you to maneuver using the Dyson Ball.
When you're finished and push the vacuum back up into its standing position, the wheels click back down into place -- only sometimes they don't stay there. It takes a little extra push past that initial click in order to keep the wheels locked in place. Fail to give it that extra nudge and the Ball Allergy will end up flat on its back.
This is the same issue we saw with the DC40, the DC50, and most notably, the DC41 (the extra size seems to exacerbate the problem, which carries through to the Ball Allergy). Keep in mind that these vacuums don't come cheap. I know that I wouldn't want a $500 appliance to come crashing to the floor every other time I tried to put it away.
This problem gets worse when you consider all of the small, plasticky parts that stand to get jarred around whenever the Ball Allergy falls. Dyson likes to refer to the clear, ABS plastic that makes up the canister as "riot-shield material," and it's admittedly tough stuff -- but look at that thin, red plastic exposed along the outside. That's the mechanism that opens the bottom of the bin for cleaning, and even on a brand-new Dyson, it rattles a bit and feels slightly loose. I can't say that it inspires a great deal of confidence -- although, to be fair, Dyson does offer a five-year, parts-and-labor warranty on all of their vacuums, which is reassuring.
Another issue that carries over from the older models is the Ball Allergy's wand. Like the vacuum itself, it performs fine, but its usability suffers from design flaws. There's no handle on the thing. You're forced to grip it at its base, right where the plastic ends and the hose begins. This, combined with the wand's length and the natural elasticity of the hose, makes for an awkward and uncomfortable fulcrum as you're moving the wand around and cleaning with it.
Other models, like the Oreck Touch, don't just put a handle on their wand; they also extend it away from the point where the plastic meets the hose. This puts much less stress on your wrist as you move it around, and gives these models a distinct usability edge over Dyson.
None of these flaws are fatal ones, and they don't compromise the Ball Allergy's level of performance, which is admittedly impressive. Still, they add up to a user experience that's less than ideal -- and certainly less than I'd expect from a $500 vacuum.
Most frustrating of all is that they're flaws that continue to recur throughout successive generations of Dyson vacuums, something that flies in the face of the company's reputation for problem-solving innovation.