X

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

The Ball Compact Animal is a fine vacuum cleaner, but you can find better vacuums for less.

Headshot.jpg
Katie Pilkington
Headshot.jpg

Katie Pilkington

Associate Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Katie is a writer, a humor blogger, a Vietnam War historian, and an avid cook. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is hard at work on her first novel. When she's not writing about tech, she's reading about armored cavalry units in Vietnam, or teaching her labradoodle, Lola, to overcome her lack of opposable thumbs.

See full bio
10 min read

Editors' Note, February 12, 2015:Dyson has announced name and price changes for the majority of its US vacuum lineup. This upright model, previously called the Dyson DC50, is now the Dyson Ball Compact Animal and its price has been adjusted down from $500 to $450. This review has been updated accordingly.

2Z9A4572.jpg
7.4

Dyson Ball Compact Animal

The Good

The <b>Dyson Ball Compact Animal</b> 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 Ball Compact Animal 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 Ball Compact Animal a poor value.

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 Ball Compact 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 Ball Compact Animal looks fantastic, but pretty is as pretty does. After all, pretty won't necessarily clean up after your aggressively shedding beagle. Though, for $450, 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.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

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 Ball Compact Animal, 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 Ball Compact Animal 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 Ball Compact Animal 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 Ball Compact Animal.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design
The Dyson Ball Compact Animal 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 Ball Compact Animal. This roller ball allows for a wide range of pivoting motion and makes it 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 Ball Compact Animal. These gestures aren't difficult, but their necessity raises more questions about the Ball Compact Animal'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 Ball Compact Animal'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 $450, 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

Features
The Dyson Ball Compact Animal 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 Ball Compact Animal 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 Ball Compact Animal 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. It looks beautiful and has typical features for a vacuum in this category, but nothing that goes above and beyond to impress.

Usability
The Ball Compact Animal is exceptionally easy to use, with four buttons. I was happy to see the power button and roller brush button located next to one another, directly above the bin's quick-release button. The red button to collapse the handle rests above them. The roller brush button automatically depresses when you turn the vacuum on, engaging it, which is convenient.

You'll find the bin easy enough to empty, though it feels more complicated than it should be to clean completely. You open the bottom hatch via a button on top of the bin and, as long as you hold it over your trash can, emptying the vacuum is smooth sailing. If, however, you need to clean debris out of the inner chamber, as I did, you may have a more difficult time separating the cyclone component from the container itself. More plastic hardware makes this an unnerving task and I still didn't feel confident that I wouldn't break something in the process.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Ball Compact Animal moves well and without much effort. As long as the bottom of your couch is at least 2.63 inches high, the vacuum will sweep at least 4 inches deep underneath it. This is on par with other models but demonstrates an area where robot vacuums like the Roomba 790 come in handy to clean under sofas and other low-to-the-ground furniture.

With their patented ball technology, Dyson vacuums can turn on a dime. I can maneuver the Ball Compact Animal sharply with one wrist movement. This impresses me and makes more traditional models like the Electrolux look and feel clunky.

Performance
We put each of the vacuums through a series of vigorous tests to assess how they would do with types of debris you may encounter in your home. Our tests included Fruity Cheerios, a sand and sawdust mixture to mimic fine particulate debris, pet hair, and human hair. My labradoodle, Lola, donated the pet hair and we purchased the human hair as a hair extension kit from a local beauty supply store. 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 nearly 3 ounces of bobby pins, washers, and nuts on the low-pile carpet.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

The Ball Compact Animal was rarely a top performer, but it held its own on carpet. On the low-pile carpet, it picked up 83 percent of the Cheerios, 77 percent of the sand-sawdust mixture, and 100 percent of the pet hair, a middle-of-the-pack performance but not better than other vacuums in this group.

Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Midpile
Low pile

Oreck
92
97
95

Dyson DC41
92
97
93

Shark
73
88
97

Electrolux
93
88
92

Dyson Ball Compact Animal
80
83

On the mid-pile carpet, the Ball Compact Animal collected 80 percent of the Cheerios, 68 percent of the sand-sawdust mixture, and 100 percent of the pet hair. Again, it missed the top contenders.

Sand/sawdust, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Midpile
Low pile

Electrolux
97
80
91

Dyson Ball Compact Animal
98
68
77

Oreck
97
61
67

Dyson DC41
98
68
60

Shark
92
86
59

The Ball Compact Animal performed well on hard floors with smaller particles. It collected 90 percent of the sand-sawdust mixture, 100 percent of the pet hair, but none of the Cheerios.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Hardwood
Midpile
Low pile

Dyson DC41
100
100
100

Oreck
92
100
100

Electrolux
75
100
100

Dyson Ball Compact Animal
100
100
100

Shark
100
100

Admittedly, the hard-surface test is somewhat unrealistic. After all, if you spill cereal on your kitchen floor, you are likely to either pick it up by hand or use a broom and dustpan, rather than the vacuum. But as all of our vacuum manufacturers claimed that their machines could vacuum hard surfaces, it was necessary to perform the same tests on each floor type.

Part of the reason for the Ball Compact Animal's failure with the Cheerios on hardwood lies, I believe, in the fact that the bottom plate on the front of the brushwell is so low to the ground. This means that the vacuum pushes debris around that doesn't fit under the plate and into the rollerbrush's path. With carpet, the Ball Compact Animal didn't struggle because there is more give to the surface and friction on the floor, causing the Cheerios to stick and giving the vacuum a chance to run over them. Hard floors lack that kind of friction, however, and so the Ball Compact Animal just pushed the cereal around as it was never able to get leverage, even with its specially-designed brush.

Naturally, brushroll function is important and some work better than others. We wanted to test how well the vacuums collected human hair, as it tends to wrap around the brushroll. The Ball Compact Animal passed this test. I still had to pick a few hairs out of the brushroll, but they weren't wrapped around and so the task wasn't difficult.

Roaming with the Dyson Ball Compact Animal (pictures)

See all photos

None of the vacuums passed the torture test, so to speak. All left debris behind and washers or bobby pins even jammed inside some of the brushwells or pipes. This is not so much a test to see how much a vacuums collects, however, as it is a test of ruggedness. In other words, if you run over a couple of bobby pins or a washer, will it break your vacuum? The Ball Compact Animal did as well as I expected, but no better. It left behind the largest washers and I spent at least 10 minutes picking bobby pins out of the brushwell and shaking them out of the tubing where they'd gotten trapped. So, no, large debris will not break this vacuum but you will likely have to invest a few minutes in removing it from the Ball Compact Animal's underbelly.

It boils down to this: the Dyson Ball Compact Animal is a fine vacuum that performs well. None of the vacuums in this test group performed poorly. Given that less expensive ones performed better across the board, it's hard to excuse the mistakes of the Ball Compact Animal, the second-most expensive vacuum in this series.

Maintenance and service
Dyson claims that its vacuums will never lose suction. This is potentially true of all cyclone vacuums, but the power lies with you. If you empty the bin regularly and take care to clean the filter when necessary, you preserve the life and power of your vacuum. The Ball Compact Animal comes with a five-year warranty should anything go wrong, and a comprehensive service page if you are more of the DIY type.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
The Dyson Ball Compact Animal works well. It's a dynamo with pet hair on carpet and performs admirably with other debris on carpet as well. It's not, however, the best. With a $650 vacuum also in the mix, I know I can't reasonably expect the Ball Compact Animal to be the best-performing in the group. As the second-most expensive vacuum in this test set, however, it is not unreasonable to expect the Ball Compact Animal to be second-best in performance. It isn't and I recommend you save your pennies and go with more reasonably-priced vacuums from Oreck, Electrolux, or Shark.

2Z9A4572.jpg
7.4

Dyson Ball Compact Animal

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 8Design 7Usability 8
laptop
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping