Oreck Touch Bagless Vacuum review: This ain't your grandmother's vacuum cleaner

Sand/sawdust, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Mid pile
Low pile
Electrolux
97
80
91
Dyson DC50
90
68
77
Oreck
97
61
67
Dyson DC41
98
68
60
Shark
92
86
59

Next up, we tested out our patented mixture of sand and sawdust, last seen when we spent a week putting robot vacuums through their paces . As small as the particles are, it's inevitable that a good deal of the stuff will end up ground into the carpet or kicked up into the air, so the bar was a bit lower for this round. Ideally, a vacuum would be able to pick up at least 70 percent in one pass -- anything higher would likely require repeated runs after the kicked-up dust had a chance to resettle.

The Oreck did great on hardwood floors again, but all of the vacuums scored over 90 percent, so this wasn't as much of a standout performance. The carpet runs were less satisfying, as the Oreck was a marginal disappointment on both mid-pile and low-pile, with scores just short of that 70 percent benchmark. The real winner here was the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean, which wowed us with an overall average of 89 percent across all surfaces.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Mid pile
Low pile
Dyson DC41
100
100
100
Oreck
92
100
100
Electrolux
75
100
100
Dyson DC50
100
100
Shark
100
100

This brings us to pet hair, and for the second time this year, Lola, trusty labradoodle sidekick to CNET's own Katie Pilkington, courageously volunteered to be sheared for science. After collecting a few plastic bags worth of freshly shampooed dog fur, we set out spreading the stuff over our test floors.

Pet hair is no match for the Oreck. Ry Crist/CNET

The standout here was Dyson's DC41 Animal Complete, which lived up to its hefty price tag by delivering perfect scores in each and every run across all three surfaces. This wasn't as impressive an accomplishment on carpet, where every vacuum we reviewed was able to ace the test. On hardwood, however, we saw a few machines, like the Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away and surprisingly enough, the Dyson DC50 struggle to pick up anything at all. The Electrolux was able to pick up a satisfactory 75 percent of the pet hair off of hardwood.

And the Oreck? It picked up an average of 92 percent of the pet hair after earning perfect scores on every hardwood run except for one. This left it just short of splitting the DC41's bulls-eye, but for $250 less, the Oreck still looks like the smarter buy to me.

Oreck's canister was a standout in terms of usability. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Usability and features
Given Oreck's history of simplicity, it's no surprise that using the Oreck Touch is about as easy as it gets. Just plug it in, click it out of its standing position, then press that power button, which, again, is conveniently located just a few millimeters underneath your thumb. The Oreck moves easily and turns on a dime -- in our tests, it stood out as one of the most agile machines we reviewed, even in comparison to Dyson's ball-mounted vacuums.

I saw the Oreck's canister as another big plus for the vacuum. It fits securely in the machine with no leaks, but pops right out at the touch of a button. Lifting a latch will allow you to release the bottom and dump the contents directly into the garbage, keeping your hands clear of the inevitable dust cloud. Snap it shut and pop it back into the machine and you'll be all set for the next round of spring cleaning.

I also appreciated the Oreck's "quickwand." As hoses go, it was simple to use, although I wish that it stretched just a little bit further. It also only comes with the most basic of brush attachments. If you're like me, and rarely use your vacuum's wand at all, you probably won't mind, but if you tend to rely on your vacuum's wand and enjoy customizing it for different cleaning needs, you might want to look into a more feature-rich model, like the Shark or the Dyson DC41. I wasn't particularly impressed with the way the DC41's wand is designed, but it did let me reach about a foot further than the Oreck's, and it also comes with a variety of brush heads.

That said, Oreck does offer a variety of additional attachments on its Web site, so if you're willing to add anywhere from $10 to $50 to the price tag, you should be able to customize the wand to your liking.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Maintenance and service
Aside from regularly emptying the Oreck's canister, there isn't much you'll need to do to maintain your machine aside from giving the HEPA filter a quick occasional rinse in warm water. The "Endurolife" belt that spins the brush roll is designed to last the life of the machine, and should not need to be replaced.

The Oreck Touch comes with a five-year limited warranty. In the event that your vacuum requires service, you can contact Oreck Monday through Saturday at 1-800-989-3535, or through its Web site. You can also take your vacuum (or any competitor's vacuum, for that matter) directly to an Oreck Store -- you can locate the store nearest you by searching the Oreck Store Web site.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
The Oreck Touch was easily one of our favorite vacuums. It's an exceptionally well-designed machine, it's easy to use, and it performed admirably in our tests. At a price of $399 -- well below the top models from Dyson -- I think it sits as one of the most sensible high-end vacuum purchases you can make.

Consumers looking to save a little money, however, might want to take a look at the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean, as it costs about $90 less than the Oreck and also left us impressed. The $199 Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away intrigued us, too. Its performance wasn't quite on the same level as the Oreck, but its flexible, multifaceted design was more feature-rich than any other machine we tested.

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