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Black & Decker gets a lot of things right with the 36V Max Lithium Stick with ORA Technology. The vac is lightweight and maneuverable, it transforms into a hand vac, all of the pieces come apart quickly for easy maintenance, yet it still feels sturdy and can stand on its own when put together. With 12 air cyclones to efficiently filter dirt and a beefy battery to ensure a solid runtime between charges, Black & Decker's vac has the look and feel of a convenient stick that can pose as a full-sized upright.
Except it certainly doesn't have enough power to do anything more than pose as an upright, and those easily removable pieces cause dirt to leak out of the dust bin. Black & Decker recommends you clean the filter regularly and outright replace it every six to nine months, meaning long term maintenance will be a costly pain. Given these issues and its middle of the pack performance, the vacuum is overpriced at $300. It's solidly mediocre and I recommend the more competent $180 Hoover Linx over it. (UK and Australian pricing and availability have yet to be announced, but the US price roughly converts to £200 or AU$380.)
Assembling this Black & Decker stick vacuum is quick and painless. Snap a couple of pieces together and screw the backplate into the handle. That's it. I had it ready to roll within a couple of minutes.
Well, almost ready to roll. Black & Decker recommends charging the battery first, and says to allow 4 hours to get it full from empty. That's quite awhile if you need to stop mid-cleaning and wait for it. Most sticks we've tested, including the top performing $180 Hoover Linx and $550 Dyson Motorhead , take 3 hours to charge.
You'll need to plug a separate stand into a wall and set the assembled vacuum on top of it to start charging. Four LEDs on the side of the vac light up to indicate the building battery power. One lights up between 0 and 25 percent, two between 25 and 50 percent and so on.
Getting the vac to rest on the baseplate was simple enough. It sits on a simple protrusion that conducts the charge and I never had any trouble lining that up with the matching notch in the bottom of the stick.
Even apart from the charging stand, Black & Decker's 36V Stick can stand on its own and looks like a simple, mini-upright. The grey color palate plays well to this simplicity. It's relatively light at 8 pounds (3.6kg) and the vacuum head attaches to the body with a small hose bookended by two pivoting plates to allow a wide range of maneuverability as you use it.
A button on the handle releases the vacuum's core, turning it into a handheld. The handheld's front squares off into a nozzle that gets the dust out of corners well and that nozzle pulls out to extend your reach.
You'll find this model available on Black & Decker's website, Amazon, and via other online retailers and vacuum dealers. In addition to the $300 model we tested, you can purchase a 24V Max version of the same stick series for $240. The 24V version can't stand on its own and you won't have the option to shut off the beater bar. Otherwise, the models are the same.
Both will be available in Europe in the first half of 2015. Pricing has not been confirmed.
ORA Technology stands for "Optimized Runtime and Airflow." Black & Decker's Lithium battery supposedly maintains suction throughout a single charge better than the competition, vacuuming just as well when it's low on power as it when its fully charged. The top stick vacs we've tested haven't had trouble cleaning at low power, though, so I hoped Black & Decker's fancy battery might instead gain an advantage in the length of its runtime.
While vacuuming, that same battery indicator will give you a sense of how much longer you have before needing a recharge. Fully assembled, with the brushroll turning, the Black and Decker Lithium Stick Vac ran for 20 minutes in our test.
After its appearance and ease of use impressed me initially, I was hoping the battery could follow suit. Twenty minutes isn't bad -- the Linx and Motorhead each run between 15 and 20 minutes -- but it isn't impressive. It's also not enough to allow you to cover every room of a moderately sized house without a recharge.
The $300 Hoover Air Cordless , a similar stick vac that stands on its own and almost looks the part of an upright, provided the best battery life we've seen with a 25-minute run time, and it includes two batteries in the package to ensure you won't need downtime while you clean.
For the same price, the Air Cordless rounds out its features more than the Black & Decker Stick. Black & Decker made a good-looking vac, and the removable handheld is a nice touch, but we've tested plenty of vacs that provide some level of convertible design. And by only including one extra attachment, Black & Decker makes its convertible stick relatively feature-poor.
The simplicity that I liked in the design and not so much in features gets back to working in its favor when it comes time to clean the vac. I mentioned how easy it is to assemble, and it's just as quick to disassemble it for thorough maintenance of each piece.
The dust bin, though small in capacity, can be readily emptied. The plastic side of the hand vac swings open after you loosen the latch on its end. You can also pull off the entire filter compartment and the other plastic side of the hand vac to clean out any dust that's gathered near the engine.
The filter can be hand washed along with the foam cover that protects the engine and you'll need to do all of this regularly. The fact that it all comes apart so easily actually works against it when it comes to compartmentalizing dirt, and I frequently found sand and dust had leaked from the dustbin through the filter and onto the foam engine cover.
It is easy to clean each piece, but you'll need to clean more pieces than you would on the Linx or Motorhead on a use by use basis. Black & Decker even recommends you fully replace your filter every six to nine months. With the Linx and Motorhead, that's when you'd first need to clean the filter, making the idea of replacing it in the same time frame ridiculous.
Day-to-day maintenance proves more tedious with the Black & Decker because the dirt leaks from compartment to compartment. Week to week, it's easier because of how quickly everything comes apart and how practiced you'll already be at removing the filter and cleaning the motor. Long-term maintenance will be much more costly than any other competing stick vac we've tested.
And after frequent maintenance during our testing process, the pieces started resisting when I tried to snap them back together. It only took a little extra force to get most things back into place, but the button that releases the handheld from the handle started to stick badly.
The easy maneuverability of the vacuum head also works against it when trying to stand it upright. The vacuum can click into place vertically, only to tumble to the side because the vacuum head was slightly askew horizontally.
This Black & Decker stick vac is light, maneuverable, easy to assemble and easy to use at first. But minor annoyances mar the vacuuming experience and maintenance can be a big headache.
Usability puts the Black & Decker Lithium Vac behind competing stick vacs, and it doesn't make up much ground in terms of performance, falling firmly in the middle of the pack of stick vacs. It might look like an upright, but it doesn't come close to vacuuming like one.
To test our vacuums, we task them with picking up pet hair to see how readily the brushroll gets tangled. Then, we use fruity cheerios to see if the vacs can handle large particles without clogging. Finally, we use sand as a stress test to gauge their ability to deep clean fine particles. We do each test three times on low and mid pile carpets as well as hardwood floors.
The ORA showed poorly on pet hair. The brushroll tangled it badly. It comes apart from the vacuum head easily so untangling the hair didn't take long, but after each test, I had to pull large clumps from it.
The Black & Decker vac did manage to get some hair in the compartment, but what it didn't pull through or tangle, it ground into the carpet, leaving an ugly mess after its run.
On hardwood, I turned the brushroll off. A button next to the power button disables it quickly, and whenever we have the option when testing any vac, we start without the brushroll on hardwood, as the spinning bristles can scratch the finish. Without the brushroll, the ORA didn't have the suction to get any pet hair at all. It failed the test.
I ran it again with the brushroll on, it picked up a lot and tangled a lot, similar to its carpet performance. With the brushroll on, its average score puts it above the Hoover Air, but given the tangles and the ground in mess, it still disappoints with pet hair.
Large particles proved its strong suit. The vacuum head got over top of them easily and never clogged on them, getting all but a couple in each test.
On the Cheerios test, the brushroll makes a big difference in terms of where it lands on the chart. Again, the default is to turn it off. That's what I started with and that's what the chart shows. Without the brushroll, it didn't have the suction to grab anything.
With the brushroll on, the Black & Decker ORA got 100 percent of the Cheerios on hardwood. Those results would average out to second place among strong stick vac competition, falling short only of the Linx.
The brushroll never scratched our floor, and the instruction manual doesn't warn against using it on hardwood, but it's not notably softer than brushrolls on vacs that do carry that warning. Either way, it's enough to note that it doesn't clog, and can spot clean with large particles well.
The Black & Decker doesn't have the suction power to shine on our deep cleaning test. It performs on par with the Linx -- this is the main weakness of that otherwise fantastic stick. But the Black & Decker falls well behind the top numbers put up by Dyson's sticks.
Priced well below the $550 cost of the Dyson Motorhead, the performance gap here is reasonable. But the Black & Decker with ORA Technology still costs a hefty $300 and the sand test proves that it's only fit for spot cleaning, and only if you don't have a pet.
The Black & Decker 36V Max Lithium Stick Vacuum with ORA Technology isn't a disaster. It's attractive and vacuuming with it is pleasant and easy. It's a pain to maintain and it lacks features, but it does spot clean well. That said, it doesn't measure up to the best stick vacs we've tested. It's not horrible, but it's definitely not great. It's mediocre. And $300 is too much to pay for mediocrity when you can get a great vac in the Hoover Linx for $180.