Dyson Ball Compact Animal review: A good vacuum, but not worth the price

The maneuverable nature of the Ball Compact Animal is an excellent feature, though, as I mentioned earlier, it is not without flaws. Other vacuums in this test set, such as the Shark or the Oreck, also feature pivoting maneuverability but feel much more sturdily constructed. More importantly, other, less expensive vacuums sport more features with more utility, such as the Electrolux's adjustable height handle and brushroll or the Oreck's in-handle on/off button. It looks beautiful and has typical features for a vacuum in this category, but nothing that goes above and beyond to impress.

Usability
The Ball Compact Animal is exceptionally easy to use, with four buttons. I was happy to see the power button and roller brush button located next to one another, directly above the bin's quick-release button. The red button to collapse the handle rests above them. The roller brush button automatically depresses when you turn the vacuum on, engaging it, which is convenient.

You'll find the bin easy enough to empty, though it feels more complicated than it should be to clean completely. You open the bottom hatch via a button on top of the bin and, as long as you hold it over your trash can, emptying the vacuum is smooth sailing. If, however, you need to clean debris out of the inner chamber, as I did, you may have a more difficult time separating the cyclone component from the container itself. More plastic hardware makes this an unnerving task and I still didn't feel confident that I wouldn't break something in the process.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Ball Compact Animal moves well and without much effort. As long as the bottom of your couch is at least 2.63 inches high, the vacuum will sweep at least 4 inches deep underneath it. This is on par with other models but demonstrates an area where robot vacuums like the Roomba 790 come in handy to clean under sofas and other low-to-the-ground furniture.

With their patented ball technology, Dyson vacuums can turn on a dime. I can maneuver the Ball Compact Animal sharply with one wrist movement. This impresses me and makes more traditional models like the Electrolux look and feel clunky.

Performance
We put each of the vacuums through a series of vigorous tests to assess how they would do with types of debris you may encounter in your home. Our tests included Fruity Cheerios, a sand and sawdust mixture to mimic fine particulate debris, pet hair, and human hair. My labradoodle, Lola, donated the pet hair and we purchased the human hair as a hair extension kit from a local beauty supply store. We performed every test three times each on three different surface types: low-pile carpet, mid-pile carpet, and hardwood/laminate floors. We also conducted a torture test, scattering nearly 3 ounces of bobby pins, washers, and nuts on the low-pile carpet.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

The Ball Compact Animal was rarely a top performer, but it held its own on carpet. On the low-pile carpet, it picked up 83 percent of the Cheerios, 77 percent of the sand-sawdust mixture, and 100 percent of the pet hair, a middle-of-the-pack performance but not better than other vacuums in this group.

Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Midpile
Low pile
Oreck
92
97
95
Dyson DC41
92
97
93
Shark
73
88
97
Electrolux
93
88
92
Dyson Ball Compact Animal
80
83

On the mid-pile carpet, the Ball Compact Animal collected 80 percent of the Cheerios, 68 percent of the sand-sawdust mixture, and 100 percent of the pet hair. Again, it missed the top contenders.

Sand/sawdust, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Midpile
Low pile
Electrolux
97
80
91
Dyson Ball Compact Animal
98
68
77
Oreck
97
61
67
Dyson DC41
98
68
60
Shark
92
86
59

The Ball Compact Animal performed well on hard floors with smaller particles. It collected 90 percent of the sand-sawdust mixture, 100 percent of the pet hair, but none of the Cheerios.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Midpile
Low pile
Dyson DC41
100
100
100
Oreck
92
100
100
Electrolux
75
100
100
Dyson Ball Compact Animal
100
100
100
Shark
100
100

Admittedly, the hard-surface test is somewhat unrealistic. After all, if you spill cereal on your kitchen floor, you are likely to either pick it up by hand or use a broom and dustpan, rather than the vacuum. But as all of our vacuum manufacturers claimed that their machines could vacuum hard surfaces, it was necessary to perform the same tests on each floor type.

Part of the reason for the Ball Compact Animal's failure with the Cheerios on hardwood lies, I believe, in the fact that the bottom plate on the front of the brushwell is so low to the ground. This means that the vacuum pushes debris around that doesn't fit under the plate and into the rollerbrush's path. With carpet, the Ball Compact Animal didn't struggle because there is more give to the surface and friction on the floor, causing the Cheerios to stick and giving the vacuum a chance to run over them. Hard floors lack that kind of friction, however, and so the Ball Compact Animal just pushed the cereal around as it was never able to get leverage, even with its specially-designed brush.

Naturally, brushroll function is important and some work better than others. We wanted to test how well the vacuums collected human hair, as it tends to wrap around the brushroll. The Ball Compact Animal passed this test. I still had to pick a few hairs out of the brushroll, but they weren't wrapped around and so the task wasn't difficult.

None of the vacuums passed the torture test, so to speak. All left debris behind and washers or bobby pins even jammed inside some of the brushwells or pipes. This is not so much a test to see how much a vacuums collects, however, as it is a test of ruggedness. In other words, if you run over a couple of bobby pins or a washer, will it break your vacuum? The Ball Compact Animal did as well as I expected, but no better. It left behind the largest washers and I spent at least 10 minutes picking bobby pins out of the brushwell and shaking them out of the tubing where they'd gotten trapped. So, no, large debris will not break this vacuum but you will likely have to invest a few minutes in removing it from the Ball Compact Animal's underbelly.

It boils down to this: the Dyson Ball Compact Animal is a fine vacuum that performs well. None of the vacuums in this test group performed poorly. Given that less expensive ones performed better across the board, it's hard to excuse the mistakes of the Ball Compact Animal, the second-most expensive vacuum in this series.

Maintenance and service
Dyson claims that its vacuums will never lose suction. This is potentially true of all cyclone vacuums, but the power lies with you. If you empty the bin regularly and take care to clean the filter when necessary, you preserve the life and power of your vacuum. The Ball Compact Animal comes with a five-year warranty should anything go wrong, and a comprehensive service page if you are more of the DIY type.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
The Dyson Ball Compact Animal works well. It's a dynamo with pet hair on carpet and performs admirably with other debris on carpet as well. It's not, however, the best. With a $650 vacuum also in the mix, I know I can't reasonably expect the Ball Compact Animal to be the best-performing in the group. As the second-most expensive vacuum in this test set, however, it is not unreasonable to expect the Ball Compact Animal to be second-best in performance. It isn't and I recommend you save your pennies and go with more reasonably-priced vacuums from Oreck, Electrolux, or Shark.

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