Don't let the Gtech AirRam's sleek looks and data gathering feature fool you, this rechargeable stick vacuum isn't worth $349. Its price isn't so shocking when you consider the fact that the Dyson DC59 Animal retails for $499. The DC59, however, is a champion performer and with its detachable handheld unit and assortment of attachments offers lots of flexibility.
The AirRam, on the other hand, offers no attachments, and had a mediocre showing in our lab, coming in last among other stick vacs on our pet hair and fine debris tests. Its Data Bridge feature, which makes power consumption, battery charge, and other information visible in a Windows app via a USB, also feels gimmicky. I can certainly see the appeal of a lightweight, maneuverable cordless vacuum, and I might even be willing to pay a premium for such a unit that also has decent performance. The AirRam sadly doesn't satisfy the latter requirement.
Design and features
The AirRam is an incredibly light, cordless vacuum. It weighs 7.7 pounds, which is comparable to the 7.3-pound Hoover Platinum Collection LiNX Cordless Stick Vacuum or the 6.3-pound Electrolux UltraPower Studio. Arguably taking the best features from both stick vacuums and traditional uprights, the AirRam boasts a slim handle and easy maneuverability, coupled with a larger cleaning head.
The dustbin, which sits inside the cleaning head, is rather small, features two rectangular chambers and two filters, which Gtech claims will last the life of the vacuum. The handle houses only the power button and battery indicator lights. This design gives the AirRam a very sleek silhouette and a relatively small footprint. You should have no trouble finding space to store the AirRam, even in the smallest living situation.
The AirRam cleans a path 11.5 inches wide and, because of its extremely low profile, can vacuum completely under furniture, provided you have at least 4 inches of clearance. Because the handle can recline to rest almost completely flush with the floor, you can reach further under furniture than with bulkier models. It makes sweeping under the couch and beds a breeze. The AirRam also boasts pivoting capabilities and I found that it was as easy to maneuver as any Dyson I've tested.
Perhaps the AirRam's most attractive feature is its lack of a power cord. You can take it wherever you need without worrying about finding an outlet and there isn't a cord to worry about catching on your furniture or corners. A Lithium-ion battery powers the AirRam, which runs on 22V of electricity. Gtech claims that a 4-hour charge will give the vacuum enough power to run for as long as 40 minutes, depending on what types of floors you're vacuuming.
In our testing, I didn't notice that one flooring type drained the battery more quickly than another. I completed all of my tests on each surface in our test battery on one charge, which is comparable to the other cordless vacuums we tested. Unlike the Dyson DC59, which only has a single flashing indicator light, the AirRam features a more useful four-stage LED battery life indicator.
With the AirRam, what you see is what you have to work with. It's not terribly fair to compare the AirRam to an in-hand vacuum like the Shark Rocket and all of the attachments that accompany it. The upright or stick vacuum design is more limiting than in-hand models like the Shark, which lend themselves especially well to cleaning attachments. I do wish that the AirRam gave you at least one more option for cleaning, be it the ability to turn off the brush roll like the LiNX allows or a removable handheld vacuum like the one integrated into the Electrolux Ergorapido Power.
Lack of attachments aside, Gtech does throw a bit of a high-tech bonus your way. The AirRam features what Gtech calls a Data Bridge that connects to your computer and allows you to calculate electricity savings, determine the condition of the battery, find cleaning and usage information, and set different suction power/battery life modes. It will even measure how many calories you've burned while vacuuming.
The Windows-only software to view the data is a free download from the Gtech Web site, and while the program's interface is uncluttered and easy enough to use, few but the most dedicated personal quantifiers will find the information interesting. It's also annoying that there's no power level adjustment on the vacuum itself.
In determining a vacuum's usability, I tend to factor the difficulty of cleaning both the brushroll and dustbin heavily in my assessment. The AirRam's bin is as easy, if not easier, to empty than the other vacuums we've reviewed so far. You'll need to rinse the bin's filters once a month, though this is far less maintenance than most traditional upright vacuums require.
This easier-than-other-vacuums concept is part of the AirRam's charm and appeal. Because of both its size and simplicity of design, the AirRam is a breeze to maintain between cleanings. In addition to being extremely easy to maneuver and steer, the AirRam also features self-propulsion. This helps you to move it around easily on carpet. Watch out on hard floors, however, or it will, quite literally, run away from you.
The brushroll is prone to tangling, but removing the hair isn't difficult. The opening of the brushwell is wide enough that you can use scissors to cut tangled hair if necessary. That said, cleaning it out isn't a speedy process, and if you have long-haired pets or humans living in your home this may be a deal breaker.
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.