Gtech AirRam review: This vacuum didn't blow us away

Performance
We put each of the vacuums through a series of rigorous tests to assess how well they will clean debris with different characteristics. Our tests included Fruity Cheerios, a sand and sawdust mixture (to mimic fine particulate debris), pet hair, and human hair, collected from a hair extension kit. 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 1.25 ounces of bobby pins and small nuts on the low-pile carpet.

In addition to these performance tests, we also tested each vacuum's suction power at the floor, via a sealed homemade box with a 1-inch by 6-inch slot on top and a 2-inch diameter PVC pipe connected to the side. Placing the vacuum's cleaning head over the slot on the lid, we used an anemometer at the PVC opening to record suction power in CFM or cubic feet per minute.

(Click to enlarge)

These measurements represent how much suction each vacuum has on the floor, independent of debris type. Suction power isn't the only key to a vacuum's success, of course. The design of the roller brush and cleaning head, as well as how well that brush seals to the carpet will also have an impact on overall performance, but the suction power measurement gives us an idea about raw cleaning power each vacuum can muster. We tested each vacuum in its default performance mode. That meant "High-power" mode for the Gtech AirRam.

Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  
Hoover LiNX
100 
100 
100 
Gtech AirRam
90 
97 
98 
Dyson DC59
68 
78 
97 
Shark Rocket
75 
57 
87 

On low-pile carpet, the AirRam collected 98 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 47 percent of the sand/sawdust blend, and 67 percent of the pet hair. It was one of the top performers with Cheerios, but one of the bottom performers with the other debris. I was particularly disappointed with the pet hair performance. It seems that the fact that the AirRam doesn't seal well to the carpet made it an excellent match for large debris like Cheerios. With regards to pet hair, however, the AirRam's stiff bristles trapped the pet hair, tangling it around the rollerbrush, which prevented it from making it into the bin.

Pet hair, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  
Shark Rocket
100 
100 
100 
Hoover LiNX
100 
100 
100 
Dyson DC59
67 
92 
100 
Electrolux Ergorapido Power
25 
100 
100 
Gtech AirRam
N/A
75 
67 

On mid-pile carpet, the AirRam collected 97 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 60 percent of the sand/sawdust mixture, and 75 percent of the pet hair. Again, it was a top performer with the Cheerios. As with the previous tests, however, it struggled with the other debris. As with low-pile carpet, I attribute these failures to the brushroll design and the fact that the cleaning head doesn't grip the floor well.

Sand/sawdust, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood  
Midpile  
Low-pile  
Dyson DC59
100 
63 
81 
Hoover LiNX
98 
58 
58 
Shark Rocket
95 
65 
55 
Gtech AirRam
85 
60 
47 

Hard floors proved troublesome for many of the traditional, upright vacuums we tested. In our hard floor tests, the AirRam collected 90 percent of the Fruity Cheerios, 85 percent of the sand/sawdust blend, and a negligible amount of pet hair. It wasn’t alone with the pet hair - the Electrolux UltraPower Studio also failed this test.

Human hair was challenging for lightweight and full-sized vacuums alike, no matter what surface we tested. The AirRam was no exception. On both carpet types, only two or three hairs ended up in the bin, while the rest tangled around the rollerbrush. It fared slightly better on hard surfaces, with roughly one third of the hair in the bin and two-thirds around the rollerbrush. These tangles are fairly easy to clean, but they were still a nuisance.

The AirRam's bristles are too stiff and spaced too far apart to make the brushroll effective with either pet or human hair. The bristles trapped and tangled the hair, preventing it from making it into the dustbin. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Finally, we graded our so-called "torture test" on a pass/fail scale. If a vacuum survived the test without breaking, it passed. If you accidentally vacuumed over loose change or a bobby pin, would your vacuum live to clean another day? Or would it break? While the AirRam struggled with more traditional debris, it dominated this test, collecting 22 of 25 bobby pins, one of two small nuts, and all four extra-small nuts. What's more, it picked them up without ever jamming or sounding distressed. Maybe the AirRam's would be a better dry shop vac?

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Maintenance and Support
Provided you register your AirRam within 90 days of purchase, the vacuum comes with a 2-year warranty. The removable battery is included in the warranty as well. Unlike larger vacuum or appliance brands, Gtech doesn’t have local or licensed service centers. The Web site, however, has a service section of the FAQ page which outlines how you may arrange to ship your AirRam to their repair facility in Ohio. According to the site, if Gtech can’t fix the vacuum, they’ll replace it, provided the warranty is still valid.

This two-year warranty falls within an average range in terms of duration. With the exception of the Shark Rocket's 5-year warranty, all of the lightweight vacuums we tested in this series featured 2-year warranties.

Conclusion

With a $349 sticker price, the Gtech AirRam is not a cheap vacuum, but neither does it perform consistently at a level I would expect from a vacuum in that price point. If you're interested in making an investment in a luxury cordless vacuum, you're better off looking at the Dyson DC59 Animal. Though the DC59 wasn't flawless, it did perform far better than AirRam, not to mention the fact that the DC59 is incredibly customizable.

We discovered in our tests, however, that you don't need to shell out that kind of money for a good cordless vacuum. The Hoover LiNX was a consistent performer that features a similar body style to the AirRam but with none of the hiccups. Couple the LiNX's performance with a much more reasonable $179 price tag and it becomes even harder to justify the purchase of an AirRam.

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    Gtech AirRam

    Part Number: 839107
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