Dyson DC50 Animal review: A good vacuum, but not worth the price

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.4
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Design: 7.0
  • Usability: 8.0

The Good The Dyson DC50 Animal performs well on carpeted surfaces with most types of debris. The canister is easy to empty and the vacuum itself is simple to use.

The Bad The DC50 didn't outperform other vacuums the way you'd expect it to for its price.

The Bottom Line You can buy a better-performing vacuum for far less money, making the Dyson DC50 a poor value.

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Editors' Note, October 17, 2013: Confusion between models prompted us to revisit this review. We have now factored the collapsible handle and added a point to the design sub rating. We also retested on hardwood with the brush roll engaged, as recommended for this model. The performance results and some analysis have been adjust accordingly. Our overall impressions of this vacuum remain the same.

It's hard to not be impressed when you look at the Dyson DC50 Animal, or, for that matter, any Dyson upright vacuum. It's sleek, modern, and a bit out-of-this-world-looking with its roller-ball design and bright purple accents. The DC50 looks fantastic, but pretty is as pretty does. After all, pretty won't necessarily clean up after your aggressively shedding beagle. Though, for $500, I certainly think it should.

When I saw my first Dyson commercial, more than 10 years ago, the vacuum looked straight from the future. No bag? That will never catch on. My grandpa once said the same thing about fast food and you know how that story ends. Now, nearly every major vacuum manufacturer offers a bagless cyclonic version.

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Cyclonic technology marks an important step in vacuum innovation as it means that a filter bag is not relevant or necessary. These cyclonic vacuums, like the DC50, rely on high-speed, high-power suction to create a vortex inside the vacuum canister, where dirt and debris are collected and then easily discarded.

The Dyson DC50 performed adequately in most of our tests, and occasionally with excellence. There are flaws, however, in both design and performance, which seem all the more glaring because of Dyson's claims of near perfection. While a good vacuum cleaner, the Dyson DC50 can't quite justify its $499.99 sticker price, especially when you consider the fact that the $259 Shark Rotator Lift-Away performed on par with the DC50.

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The DC50 weighs 11.6 pounds and features a removable dust bin, an extension hose for hard-to-reach surfaces, a brushroll that you can turn on and off, and a long power cord. You may appreciate the fact that the handle collapses into itself, saving vertical space wherever you would store your vacuum. Dyson's patented roller-ball technology, perhaps its most unique-looking attribute, serves as the drive mechanism for the DC50. This roller ball allows for a wide range of pivoting motion and makes the DC50 an exceedingly maneuverable vacuum cleaner.

I have concerns about the durability of this vacuum, however, and the ball is central to a few of them. As the roller ball doesn't function as a base, two small wheels and axles support the vacuum in the upright position. They are plastic, like nearly everything on this machine, and don't feel sturdy. I'm not confident that axles on the rear wheels would withstand heavy use or falling over more than a few times without suffering damage. In fact, after our testing, one of these support wheels fell off the vacuum. We reinstalled it without much trouble, but the event wasn't encouraging.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

In order to return the vacuum to an upright and locked position, you must push the handle forward with some gusto. This isn't something I would mind if it locked into place intuitively. Often, however, I found that even when the vacuum clicked, giving the impression it was secured, the handle fell down. I had to push until I heard a second, fainter clicking sound.

Similarly, you must push down on the handle and rock the vacuum backward to unlock the DC50. These gestures aren't difficult, but their necessity raises more questions about the DC50's construction. I found I much preferred the Oreck Touch Bagless Vacuum Cleaner, which offers the same maneuverability and pivoting, coupled with a much sturdier design and upright locking.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

I may have a bias against plastic hardware -- that's my issue and I'm working through it -- but the hinges, pins, and tabs on the DC50's bin feel flimsy. For example, the pin that depresses the button to open and empty the bin doesn't look sturdy enough to last the vacuum's lifetime of regular bin emptying. The bins on other models feel much more well-made without sacrificing ease of access.

You'll find the same sort of plastic hardware on the brush well. To access the brush, I flipped two red plastic tabs that came off the machine multiple times when I tried to lock them back in place. I reinstalled these tabs without any trouble, but it's a concern that I had to perform the task as many times as I did with a brand-new vacuum. For $500, I don't think I should have any reservations about durability, a sentiment which applies to the $650 Dyson DC41 Animal Complete as well.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The DC50 comes with expected features, such as an extendable vacuum hose and attachments, and one unexpected feature in the form of a collapsible handle. Its hose is not as far-reaching as other models, like the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean's, but it's long enough to vacuum drapes or curtains provided they're not excessively tall. The wand is not long enough, however, to make vacuuming stairs as easy as I would like.

Accessing the extension hose is clumsy, as it nests against the vacuum's handle. Part of the hose's wand serves as the top prong for wrapping the power cord, meaning that to use the hose you must unwrap the cord completely. This is inconvenient, but not unique to Dyson vacuums. It is, however, a little frustrating, considering Dyson's reputation for excellent design. Notwithstanding, the hose works well and I welcome the variety of attachments, all of which work.

Among the attachments, you'll find a combination tool, a stair tool, and a Tangle-free Turbine tool, which is designed specifically to pick up hair without tangling. The vacuum body includes places to nest two of these attachments, keeping them at the ready. These accessories work well and will assist you in various cleaning tasks, though they pale in comparison to the variety and versatility of the Shark's inclusions.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Like all of the cyclonic vacuums we tested, the DC50 has a plastic dust bin, which is easy to empty. The bin is not difficult to disassemble for deep cleaning, but the process still feels more finicky than it needs to be.

The maneuverable nature of the DC50 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. The DC50 looks beautiful and has typical features for a vacuum in this category, but nothing that goes above and beyond to impress.

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  • Cleaner Type upright