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

Gtech's AirRam may be a better pedometer than vacuum.

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Katie Pilkington
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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.

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8 min read

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 LINK TEXT" target="_blank" rel="follow">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.

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6.6

Gtech AirRam

The Good

The <b>Gtech AirRam</b> is lightweight, easy to use, and highly maneuverable. Cordless operation makes it extremely convenient, and a data feature provides some semi-interesting usage information.

The Bad

It consistently underperformed almost every other vacuum we tested.

The Bottom Line

The AirRam doesn't perform well enough or offer enough cleaning options to justify its price.

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.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

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.

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Screenshot by Ryan Crist/CNET

Usability

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.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

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.

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.

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CBS Interactive

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

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
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

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.

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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?

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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 2-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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6.6

Gtech AirRam

Score Breakdown

Performance 5Features 7Design 7Usability 9
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