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Oreck Touch Bagless Vacuum review: This ain't your grandmother's vacuum cleaner

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MSRP: $399.99

The Good The Oreck Touch is a powerful performer from a long-trusted brand. At a price of $399, it flat-out beat the $649 Dyson DC41 in our basic cleaning tests.

The Bad A few minor design imperfections detract from an otherwise flawless build. Also, the Oreck isn't quite as versatile a vacuum as the DC41 or the Shark.

The Bottom Line The Oreck Touch is an exceptional vacuum that left us all highly impressed. It's an excellent choice for anyone looking to upgrade to a high-end machine.

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8.2 Overall
  • Performance 9
  • Features 7
  • Design 9
  • Usability 8

When I was a kid, I remember seeing commercials for Oreck vacuum cleaners on TV. David Oreck himself usually starred in the ads, and when he did, he'd always cheerfully proclaim the merits of his machine, the 8-pound Oreck XL. The XL had the look of a complete clunker, with an ugly, dated design that seemed like it hadn't been updated since 1963, when Oreck first started selling vacuums in Louisiana. All the same, there was just something endearing and perhaps infectious about Oreck's unapologetic confidence. Sure enough, everyone I knew who used an Oreck XL swore by the thing.

Fast forward twenty years or so to today, and you'll still see Orecks on the market (David Oreck, by the way, just celebrated his 90th birthday last month, and is still an active entrepreneur, lecturer, and philanthropist). You won't, however, see anything quite like the good ol' Oreck XL. It seems that somewhere between those TV commercials and the present day, the company finally caved in and decided to update its design -- which brings us to the new Oreck Touch. I was almost disappointed as I took the thing out of the box. It looked... modern. It looked... great. Was this really an Oreck vacuum I was looking at?

The Oreck Touch is as modern as the Oreck XL was vintage. Colin West McDonald/CNET

By the standards of the many Oreck loyalists out there, I'm happy to say that yes, this is most definitely an Oreck vacuum, the kind of vacuum you'll swear by. We put it through hours upon hours of tests, throwing everything from sawdust to Labradoodle hair at it, and in the end, we found that it was one of our top scoring vacuums, right up there with the most expensive, high-end models. At a price of $399, the Oreck Touch isn't cheap, but as a high-quality appliance in a category with more variance than you might think, it still represents real value for consumers looking for a dependable, easy-to-use cleaning machine.

Design and construction
The Oreck Touch is a vacuum cleaner built for the 21st century, and if Oreck was late to the party in this regard, it's only helped it to make a big entrance. The minimalist, utilitarian design of fifty years ago is gone, replaced with something truly modern and elegant-looking. If there was an old chalkboard at the Oreck factory with the word "flourishes" boldly crossed out for all to see, it's been thrown out the window

This is a vacuum with style to spare. The thick, pale blue bag is gone -- the Oreck Touch uses a sleek-looking translucent blue canister, instead. The handle isn't just a boring, industrial-looking loop of white plastic anymore -- it's a futuristic joystick buttressed by arcs of brushed steel. I hate when writers refer to appliances as "sexy," but I'm really struggling to not call this thing a sexy vacuum.

Thankfully, these design touches have a degree of functionality to them. The brush roll is housed in a body with stylish cutaways that actually allow you to immediately see if you've missed anything on the floor as you're cleaning. The great-looking canister is amazingly easy to take out, empty, and replace. And, of course, there's the fact that the Oreck Touch conveniently relocates the power switch, along with the brush roll button, to the tip of the handle, where they sit just beneath your thumb. From start to end, you could clean with this vacuum and never need to bend over once.

This is a vacuum designed with maneuverability in mind. Colin West McDonald/CNET

The most noticeable function of the new design is how maneuverable the Oreck Touch is. The curves of the machine's body create a pivot point at the base, allowing you to turn the thing with a simple twist of the wrist, similar to how you would with a ball-based design, like Dyson vacuums use. The comfortable angle of the handle seems designed to make this kind of turning even easier -- it juts out in front of the vacuum, giving your wrist more leverage.

It's a subtle, surprisingly smart build, and I was struck with how much I enjoyed using it in comparison with other machines that we tested. It isn't without its minor imperfections, though. I wish that the hollow loops connecting the brush roll to the back wheels were a bit sturdier, since these are what you're supposed to step on in order to click the vacuum down out of its resting position. While we're at it, a dedicated button or latch for this function would have left me feeling much more comfortable. All in all, when it comes time to criticize the build, minor quibbles are the best I can come up with.

One last design note: as Oreck vacuums go, the Oreck Touch is a heavyweight, weighing in at about 16 pounds. This isn't to say that it's noticeably heavy or difficult to lug around, but don't expect to see David Oreck lifting one with a single finger the way he used to do regularly while hocking the 8-pound Oreck XL.

So the Oreck Touch looks and feels great, but the real question is how well does it clean? After all, it's going to spend most of its life stashed away in a closet. How... ugh... sexy it looks is a trivial concern next to knowing how much dirt it'll suck out of your carpets. For $399, you want a vacuum cleaner that's going to do the job, and do it well. So how does the Oreck stack up?

Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Dyson DC41
Dyson DC50

Let's start with cereal. For our purposes, we used Cheerios (Fruity Cheerios, to be exact -- they photograph a little better against beige carpet and plus, they were on sale).

Our goal was to see how well the vacuums could handle lightweight particulates of a significantly larger size than your average dust mote. What percentage of the cereal would each vacuum manage to pick up? Would the cereal fit underneath the vacuum, or would it just get shoveled around? Would the vacuum grind it up and leave multicolored dust littered across the carpet? What about low-friction, hardwood floors -- would any of the vacuums scatter the cereal across the floor?

See? I told you they photograph better. Ry Crist/CNET

The Oreck Touch passed all of these tests with flying colors (or, in the case of that last one, with no flying colors.) Across all three surfaces that we tested on, the Oreck picked up more cereal than any other vacuum, averaging a very impressive 95 percent pickup rate, one percentage point better than the top-of-the-line Dyson DC41, which retails for $649. The Oreck didn't leave any ground-up cereal dust behind, and it didn't have any trouble on hardwoods, either. If you have a militant toddler in your home who loves lobbing his breakfast around, you'll want to move the Oreck to the top of your list.

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