Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright Vacuum review: Negative, JetForce, that dustbin ain't full

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.8
  • Performance: 6.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Design: 7.0
  • Usability: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright Vacuum offers some truly customizable tools that you can use with the extension hose, such as a telescoping crevice tool or 3-position fan/blind brush. It also picked up 100 percent of sand/sawdust on hard floors.

The Bad Less than stunning performance coupled with a short warranty make this vacuum less appealing, especially compared to other, similarly priced units that boast both better performance and warranties.

The Bottom Line Spend a little more and get much better performance with other vacuums.

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A name like JetForce inspires high expectations. It conveys power, performance, and excellence, at least in my mind. Unfortunately, the Panasonic MC-UL429 JetForce Bagless Upright vacuum falls short of the mark.

Priced at $148, the MC-UL429 is the newest member of Panasonic’s line of MC-UL vacuums, all of which boast the same JetForce technology and hourglass-shaped bin. This particular model, available exclusively at Walmart, failed to wow me the way I’d hoped it would.

Performing in the bottom half of six of the nine tests we scored, the Panasonic failed to impress, even for its budget-friendly price. It’s one strength was with fine particulate (a sand and sawdust blend) on hard floors, a test in which it collected 100 percent of the debris, the best record in that particular test. Hard floors, however, are not the most common surface target for vacuum cleaners. To qualify as a good vacuum, it has to work well on carpets, too. In this, I was disappointed with its results on both large debris and fine particulate debris tests. It did perform well with pet hair on carpet, collecting 100 percent, but as anyone who has ever deep-cleaned their carpets will tell you, there is a lot more stuck in that carpet than just pet hair.

Consumers looking to purchase a sub-$200 vacuum would be far better off considering either the Bissel PowerGlide Deluxe Pet Vacuum or the Hoover WindTunnel 3 High Performance Bagless Upright vacuum, both of which boast MSRPs of $179. For the extra $30, you get far more consistent performance.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and Features

The Panasonic is a light-feeling bagless, upright vacuum that features bright purple accents and tools. It uses two primary controls, which include a brush roll on/off switch and a power switch, both located within reach of your foot. To recline the vacuum, you must press your foot down on the front and then pull or push the handle backwards. This gesture is similar to the one required by the Dirt Devil Dash Upright, but for some reason it just feels more awkward to accomplish with the Panasonic. I’m blaming the odd pitch of the vacuum’s front.

The hose and compressed telescope wand reach 8 feet, though when you extend the wand, it reaches more than 9 feet. This reach is further extended by the telescoping crevice tool for a total reach of up to 13 feet. This length isn’t particularly generous, especially when compared to the Hoover, which boasts a 12 foot hose, telescoping wand not included.

The telescoping pet tool is highly-customizable. Katie Pilkington/CNET

Like the other vacuums we’ve looked at so far, the Panasonic comes with tools for the extension hose, such as the gliding double roller pet tool, three-position fan and blind tool, and the telescopic crevice device.

Aside from the fact that it can triple in size when it's extended, the Panasonic’s telescoping crevice tool is fairly standard in terms of nozzle shape. It doesn’t have the uniquely molded tip like the Hoover’s crevice tool. That said, I don’t want to downplay the fact that it does extend much farther than other tools we’ve seen, in addition to functioning as expected.

The three-position brush can be adjusted to dust the tops of fan blades or under furniture with ease. Katie Pilkington/CNET

I really like the three-position fan and blind tool (known with other vacuums as a dusting brush). Whether you’re trying to reach the tops of fan blades or vacuum under a sofa, this tool will help you get the job done.

I wish I had the same glowing report for the double roller pet tool, which caused me problems with pet hair on both carpet and upholstery. It looks like it’s picking up all the pet hair, but upon turning it over, you’ll notice that the pet hair is matted together and stuck inside the tool’s narrow slit opening. I found the pet tools on nearly every other model more effective. I attribute this to their use of either bristles or rubberized blades, both of which grab at pet hair and bring it towards the vacuum hose. The nubs on the Panasonic’s tool don’t do enough to grab pet hair and the entry point into the vacuum is too narrow to collect it even if they did.

The gliding pet tool was problematic, with pet hair matting together in the small opening. Katie Pilkington/CNET

Like the Hoover and Oreck, the Panasonic comes with a replaceable HEPA filter, which will help trap dust and allergens, helping you breathe easier.

You’ll find a 24-foot long power cord, which is not as long as the cords on other models. I don’t mind this so much, however, because the Panasonic’s cord is retractable and housed inside the vacuum’s body, just below the dustbin. The Eureka AS1104A also features a retractable cord, though it’s not as quick or responsive as the Panasonic’s. Give the convenience of not having to wind and unwind every time I use my vacuum, I’m willing to give up a few extra feet of cord length.

Like other bagless vacuums we’ve looked at, the Panasonic uses a plastic dustbin to collect debris from floors. I’ve been rather ambivalent about most of these dustbins. Some elements I like, others I don’t. My feelings about the Panasonic’s bin are no different though they are, perhaps a bit stronger on either side of the spectrum. For example, I love how easy it is to remove the bin and reinstall it onto the vacuum. Both actions are effortless. On the other hand, I hate that there isn’t a lever or button to open the bottom hatch and that I have to manually pull the bottom of the bin open to empty it.

Every brand has its own spin on the dustbin. Colin West McDonald/CNET (photos); Katie Pilkington/CNET (collage)

While the Panasonic lacks maneuverabilty-centered hardware like the Dyson ball, found on the DC40 Origin and DC41 Animal Complete, or the pivoting capabilities of the Oreck Touch Bagless or Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away vacuums, I still found it to be an extremely light-feeling, easily maneuvered vacuum.

Unlike other models, like the Eureka and Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean, the Panasonic does not give you the ability to adjust the height of the vacuum or its brush roll to fit your flooring type. The Panasonic features automatic height adjustment. In theory, this is a good thing. In actuality, I found that it was less than helpful, especially on carpet. Sometimes, to really get at the dirt or grime in a carpet, you need that weight to really force the roller brush to agitate the carpet fibers. When the vacuum simply glides along the top of the surface without any of this forced friction, it collects less debris, which definitely proved true with the Panasonic.

Usability

When I consider a vacuum’s usability, the difficulty involved with cleaning both the brushroll and the dustbin factors heavily into my assessment. With a bagless vacuum, the dustbin is convenient but it’s not as “set it and forget it” as some people think. In addition to emptying it regularly, you’ll need to rinse the bin’s filter once a month. You'll also need to occasionally dust or clean off the cyclones or other equipment inside the bin. On some models, accessing these parts can be a huge hassle.

Manufacturers recommend rinsing this filter once a month. Easy access makes it less of a hassle. Katie Pilkington/CNET

I’ve found that where routine maintenance is concerned, if it’s troublesome for me to do, I tend to conveniently forget about it. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to access the Panasonic’s filter and bin insides. The top portion that encloses the filter lifts off by means of a tab. This filter gets really grimy and if you vacuum frequently, you may want to rinse it more often than the recommended once a month.

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