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Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away review: Hunt dirt with Shark's powerful and versatile cleaner

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your Dyson, along comes the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away to put the premium vac brand to the test. Shark often compares its products to Dyson's, and tries to bite into Dyson's hold of the high-end vac market by claiming superior performance and selling for about half the price. It's a move that's gotten Shark caught up in some trouble, but we did think the $200 Rotator Pro compared favorably to the $650 Dyson DC41 and $500 DC65 (now called the Dyson Ball Allergy ).

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8.4

Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away

The Good

The Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away lets you switch among its many functions to clean every surface in a room without ever breaking stride or turning off the vacuum. Especially on carpets, it performs on par with high end uprights for a mid-range price.

The Bad

It's not great at hardwood floors. Even the dedicated hard-floor genie couldn't help it grab large particles off of hard surfaces.

The Bottom Line

With a remarkable amount of flexibility afforded by its well-implemented features, the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away is as easy to use as any full-size upright we've tested. To top it off, it cleans almost as well as vacuums that cost twice as much.

Dyson upped its game with its Cinetic models, improving fine-particle performance and doing away with the need for the filter. The Rotator Powered model starts off feeling like any other vacuum, but when I started using the attachments and taking advantage of the Lift-Away feature, I understood the charm of Shark's versatile machine. It's more chameleon than shark. Lots of vacs can transform to an extent -- say from a stick to a handheld -- but few make it as easy to shift to as many different configurations as the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away.

It has smartly designed features that actually make the chore of vacuuming less tedious. It's definitely not perfect -- it performs quite well on carpets, but I was disappointed in its ability to adapt to hardwood floors. Still, it provides a fitting counterpunch to the Dyson Cinetic. Given that the Cinetic costs $700 and the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away is only $350, I'd recommend this Shark over that Dyson upright. It's well worth your consideration as a high powered vacuum at a midrange price.

Take the bait and check out Shark's changeable vacuum (pictures)

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Coming around for seconds

A lot of the transformative qualities that I found so appealing in the Rotator Powered Lift-Away aren't new to this specific vacuum. In fact, this Shark is quite similar in many ways to its predecessor, the Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away.

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Similar builds between Sharks. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Both have a button letting you lift the canister free from the wand and motorized head. Both include a caddy with wheels for that canister so you can turn the machine from an upright to a rolling canister vac. Both have a button to release the wand from the motorized head as well, giving the hose that much extra reach. You can secure any attachment to the end of the wand, or press a button to set the wand aside as well and use the handle to maneuver the hose.

Most pieces snap together securely. Three prongs act as plugs beneath each connecting cylinder, so you can send power from the engine through to the motorized head via the wand, or through to the mini motorized tool via the wand or the handle. The smaller attachments that don't use power don't have the prongs, and don't have that satisfying click when you put them in place. Still, they each fit securely enough.

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The prongs snap into place and run power from one piece to the next. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Which attachments you get depends on which version of the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away you buy. Head here for a breakdown of what each model includes. The price of the whole set varies from $299 to $349, and the only difference from one to the next is coloring and number of accessories.

We tested the $350 NV752, and I found the maroon base with silver accents quite appealing. The overall aesthetic has a more modern sheen than the white with red of the Shark Rotator Pro. Even when the Rotator Pro was released, it looked dated. The Rotator Powered vac has no such trouble and looks the part of a high end, stylish machine.

Other than the coloring, though, the two vacs are practically twins. The wheels, the brushroll, even the dustbin, the filter and the mechanic for cleaning both are the same from the older Shark to its younger sibling. That said, we quite liked the older Shark, so the fact that a lot of the mechanics have been brought back is a good thing.

Maintenance

Emptying the roomy dustbin requires you to pull a small trigger at the back of the canister's handle. It'll then pull free from the rest of the engine, and you can push a button once it's over your trash can to flip open the bottom and let the dust dump out. Another button at the top of the container lets you open its lid for further cleaning when necessary.

With the dustbin removed, the main vac filter sits exposed on the remaining part of the vac's canister. You can pull the foam cylinder free via the small handle that juts from its top. Shark recommends hand-washing both the foam filter and the felt disc beneath it every three months, then letting them air dry before vacuuming again. If needed, you can tap the foam filter over a trash can for day-to-day maintenance.

Since the Dyson Cinetic successfully did away with filters, you'll spend longer maintaining the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away than its pricey competitor, but not much longer. As a whole, emptying the dust bin and cleaning the filter feels pretty painless, and I like how easy it is to get into the top of the dust bin, letting you get at dirt that might stick near the lid. The process is simple and quick, just like it was on the Shark Rotator Professional Lift-Away.

A Shark of a different color

Of course, Shark's new vac would be pretty disappointing if it was exactly the same as its predecessor, especially since it costs $100 to $150 more. Thankfully, that's not the case. As noted above, the coloring looks more modern, and there are a few other aesthetic and logistical tweaks. The canister is squared off instead of rounded, the handle is bigger and the power button and height controls now rest on it.

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All the buttons you'll use frequently sit on the handle. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Having the buttons at your fingertips adds a small but noticeable convenience over the course of long cleaning jobs. The brushroll also gets tied into a slider that adjusts the height of the vac, instead of having its own button. The Rotator Powered vac has three height settings, one for thick carpet, one for low pile, and one for hard floors. Push the slider to that lowest point, and the brushroll automatically turns off to prevent it from scratching your bare floors.

The front of the main vacuum head also has bright LED headlights now, helping you see into dark corners. The old machine had small lights in the same spot, but these are bigger and better. And going along with the theme of making things brighter, the handle now has a small light as well, helping to keep things illuminated even when using attachments.

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The bright headlights keep things lit. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Together, those changes hardly feel worth $150 to me. The big one, though, just might be, as it does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making this vac the most flexible one I've ever tested.

Adapting anew

As noted, both vacs have the Lift-Away button, letting you carry the canister to reach upper corners or set the canister on its caddy to have a whole new type of vac, but the new model lets you keep the wand attached to the powered vacuum head even after you've removed the canister. On the old vac, once you detached the canister, you had to use the attachments, on this one, you can still have the full power of the upright with the motorized brushroll while its as thin as a stick vac.

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Lift the canister away... Tyler Lizenby/CNET

And because each piece detaches separately now, getting the vac to switch to any desired mode is almost always as simple as pressing a button. On the old vac, pressing the Lift-Away button would remove the canister with the wand still stuck down its back. Now, the wand stays put in the vacuum head.

It's really awesome how easy it is to transform this vac. You can also stick a pair of attachments onto the back of the main vac or onto the caddy should you want to wheel it as a canister. The NV 752 includes a dusting brush, a dusting genie, a true pet mini-motorized brush, a canister caddy, a pet upholstery tool, and a hard-floor genie with a Swiffer-like pad. It also has a bag to keep things organized.

The benefit of this vac comes from being able to clean anywhere with barely a pause as you go room to room. Clean the floors as an upright, remove the canister to reach under the bed, pull out the wand to get the corners, and move on. It makes it so easy to get the whole job done without stopping that you might almost forget you're doing a chore.

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... and now your upright is a stick vac. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That's not to say you'll never get yourself tangled. Holding the canister, the power cord and the wand with whatever attachment you're using requires a bit of dexterity on your part and I'd be lying if I said I never got in my own way while using the vac as a stick. And because you have to hold the canister, it's definitely not as maneuverable as a normal cordless.

However, I got tangled less often than I thought it would. So yes, though you can do almost every task seamlessly, you might have to stop if you need to fetch an accessory since you can only attach two to the body. But this vac comes with an impressive amount of well-implemented features that make the process of vacuuming about as simple as possible.

The Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away isn't perfectly designed, but goodness, it's close.

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The NV752 includes a wide array of attachments. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can purchase any model of the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away from Shark's website. It's also available from Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond and other vacuum retailers. It's not currently available overseas.

Attacking dirt

The Shark Rotator Powered Lift Away can reach, bend and twist to get to just about any surface you need cleaned. Its hard-floor genie even dusts your floors with a Swiffer-like pad while you vacuum hard surfaces. That said, in order for that flexibility to be worthwhile, it has to be powerful enough to actually get those surfaces clean once it reaches them. Thankfully, especially on carpets, it stands with other top full-size uprights in terms of cleaning prowess.

To test our vacuums, we spread pet hair, Fruity Cheerios and sand and task it with picking up each. The first gauges how well vacuums avoid tangles and -- more obviously -- how well it'll clean up after your pet. The second, though a bit of a stress test, does a lot to show how well the vacuum handles large particles and sticky items in particular. Sand gives us a great idea of how well the suction of the vac and the brushroll work together to give your carpets a deep clean.

Pet hair, 0.2 oz. (percentage picked up)

Hoover Linx 100 100 100Dyson DC65 Animal 100 100 95Oreck Touch Bagless 100 100 92Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean 100 100 75Dirt Devil Lift & Go 90 87 100Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Allergy 94 98 54Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away 98 90 25Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away 100 100 0
  • Mid-pile
  • Low-pile
  • Hardwood
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

On pet hair, the Rotator Powered Lift-Away fares quite well, though it finished next to last overall among competent competition because it struggled to suck up hair on hardwood. On carpets, it consistently grabbed everything with only minor tangles, but the lip of the vac was too low to the surface on hardwood, and it ended up pushing around the hair instead of pulling it into the dustbin.

The hard-floor genie helped a lot here, and snagged 99 percent of pet hair. Using that for the averages, the Shark Rotator Power would have finished in fourth, just behind the excellent Oreck Touch . It's a good vac when it comes to cleaning up after your pet. The attachments help here, and I was able to use the extra tools to get hair off of upholstery quickly.

Fruity Cheerios, 1 oz. (percentage picked up)

Hoover Linx 100 100 100Oreck Touch 97 95 92Dyson DC65 Animal 100 100 80Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Allergy 87 99 90Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean 88 90 93Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away 88 97 73Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away 100 97 35Dirt Devil Lift & Go 87 73 52
  • Mid-pile
  • Low-pile
  • Hardwood
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

It again did well with large particles on carpet, but like with pet hair, the overall average suffered because of hardwood. On carpet, it snagged almost every single Cheerio and the sticky cereal didn't clog any opening or slow the suction. On hardwood, the front lip couldn't get over the top of the particles and it struggled as a result.

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Even the hard-floor genie couldn't help with Cheerios. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The hard-floor genie didn't help here, as the Cheerios were still too tall for it. If you have toddlers, you'll want to keep the broom and dustpan handy. You won't have to spend long sweeping though, because the Shark will grab all the little stuff for you.

On sand, it aced the test on hardwood, getting 100 percent. Surprisingly, it fared slightly worse with the genie, getting only 95 percent. That elevates its total at small particle cleaning over the Dyson Ball Allergy, and it finishes right in line with the older Shark. The Dyson Cinetic, with its filterless approach designed specifically for fine-particle cleaning, wins this battle.

Sand, 2.5 oz. (percentage picked up)

Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Allergy 84 95 96Oreck Touch 83 91 99Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away 78 73 100Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away 71 82 99Dyson DC65 Animal 65 79 99Dirt Devil Lift & Go 63 76 85Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean 59 64 97Hoover Linx 34 48 99
  • Mid-pile
  • Low-pile
  • Hardwood
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Shark does well on carpets, getting about three quarters of the sand, and this is designed to be a hard test, so it's certainly more than competent as a deep cleaner. It just didn't quite have the extra oomph of the Dyson Cinetic or the Oreck Touch.

Between the main vac and the attachments, you can suck up just about anything with the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away. It does well enough on every test to live up to its versatile build. It might not be able to keep up with the Dyson Cinetic at deep cleaning, but it's much more well-rounded.

The verdict

When vacuuming on carpet with the $350 Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away, the rapidly spinning brushrolls actually help propel the vacuum when you push it. It seems to race forward with little to no effort on your part. You almost feel like you could sit back and watch it attack, as though this Shark smelled blood in the water. When it comes time to get under the furniture, the canister pulls free leaving you with the thinness of a stick vac while keeping the power of a full-size upright. Even corners and shelves are no match for the easy-to-use wand and attachments.

Hardwood floors are a little different. You can get fine particles with the normal vacuum and pet hair with the hard-floor genie, but you might want to keep the broom and dustpan around for big particles. If your home is mostly hard floors, you should look for a different machine. For a simple vac that's good on all floor surfaces, check out the $400 Oreck Touch . But this Shark thrives on carpet and does more than that Oreck for $50 less. It's a potent, adaptable predator that leaves dirt nowhere to hide.

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8.4

Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 10Design 9Usability 9