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Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away review: A budget vacuum that's full of features

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The $199 Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away vacuum cleaner really had a lot to prove at the outset of this review. It claims to "clean carpets better than the Dyson DC41" on the box. So I tested it against the $649 DC41 (and the $499 DC50 for good measure). To diversify a bit more, I also compared it to the $399 Oreck Touch and the $309 Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean.

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Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away

The Good

The <b>Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away</b> is a veritable master of versatility. It comes with so many attachments and accessories that you are pretty much guaranteed to have the right brush for the job at hand.

The Bad

It didn't lead during performance testing. Then again, it costs $450 less than some of its competition -- and in many cases the results were only marginally worse.

The Bottom Line

The Shark is a very good vacuum with solid construction and intuitive design. Other models may have performed better, but none of them can match this sweeper's value for the price.

The $200 Shark is the least expensive of the five models and makes pretty lofty performance claims. So, is it really better than a Dyson? Well, yes and no. I would recommend it over either Dyson because it is a more well-rounded machine. It offers good design, usability, and performance, and it has excellent features. Both Dysons struggled in the design department, while the more expensive DC41 outperformed the Shark (on carpet and everywhere else) and the less expensive DC50 performed on par with the Shark.

And in comparison to the Oreck and the Electrolux, it's much more a matter of preference. The Shark is a fantastic budget vacuum that holds its own against these two in usability and features, albeit with slightly lower performance marks. Still, I would highly recommend this vacuum. It offers the best value of any of the models and its multitude of accessories will delight the more thorough cleaners among you.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design

This is a fine-looking vacuum, but it isn't trying to appear high-end like the other models. It's a glossy white machine with red accents that belie its more modern functionality. Fortunately, its slightly dated design doesn't seem to hurt its construction in the least. It's a solidly built vacuum with strong components.

The wand feels sturdy and secure, the transparent bin isn't flimsy (as was observed in both Dyson models), and the vacuum is comfortable to carry around in canister mode. Just don't expect this $200 budget buy to have the same design features as a more expensive model, and you won't be disappointed. I do kind of wish there was a way to get all of the various Shark attachments and accessories to fit on the vacuum, though. The different parts would likely end up scattered around my house.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Features

I gave the Shark the highest possible rating in this category. You really can't get better than this, especially when you consider price and value. Using it as a upright model, it has a pivoting head and headlights. It also comes with a wand accessory like the other models and suction adjustment like the Electrolux.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

To the wand, you can add a flexible crevice tool for vacuuming corners, a multipurpose tool that does well on upholstery and hard surfaces, a straight suction floor nozzle for picking up stuff big and small from bare floors and area rugs, a power brush to take on pet hair and dirt from carpeted stairs and upholstery, a wide upholstery tool for getting pet hair and dust from fabrics, and a dusting brush. It can also switch between an upright and a canister vacuum so you can carry it around while using the cleaning wand, or set it on top of the canister caddy, which rolls around while you're in wand mode. The Dyson DC41 gets the closest to this number of brush accessories, but still can't really compete with the Shark on features.

Usability

The Shark gets a very good usability score. Considering the number of accessories offered on this incredibly modular machine, there was a chance that it would seem cumbersome and awkward. However, that just isn't the case. It couldn't be easier to convert the vacuum from upright to canister, set the canister on the caddy, or extend the wand and add various brush attachments. The bin, too, is easy to open and put back in place, although not quite as easy as the Electrolux. Also, its pivoting head makes for one maneuverable model that can go anywhere and do pretty much anything. It's also 15.5 pounds, which is lighter than the 17.2-pound Electrolux model I like so much.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Performance

In order to deliver a comprehensive review of this vacuum, I tested it on thin low-pile carpet, thicker midpile carpet, and hardwood. On each surface, I scattered fruity Cheerios, sand and sawdust, pet hair, human hair, and washers, nuts, and bobby pins to test different types of functionality. And I learned that the Shark does very well, although not as well as the Dyson DC41, the Oreck, or the Electrolux. Still, it really impressed me -- it's only $200, folks.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Cheerios

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


92
97
95


92
97
93


73
88
97


93
88
92


80
83

The Dyson DC41, the Oreck, and the Electrolux all did consistently well on this test, removing 88 percent or more of the Fruity Cheerios from thin carpet, thick carpet, and hardwood. That's good news for parents with young kids or really anyone dealing with larger things that need to be dust-busted. The Shark remained competitive on the carpeted surfaces, but on hardwood, it picked up only 73 percent of the cereal dropped. That's not terrible, but it isn't as good as the other three. The Dyson DC50 performed pretty well on carpets, but didn't collect any Cheerios on the hardwood.

Sawdust/sand

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


97
80
91


98
68
77


97
61
67


98
68
60


92
86
59

For this test, I mixed together sand and sawdust and spread it across each floor type. The Shark had some issues with consistency, here. It picked up only 59 percent of the mixture from the low-pile carpet, 86 percent from the midpile and 92 percent from the hardwood. Averaged together, that's a fine score, but what went wrong on the low-pile carpet?

To be fair, the top-performing Dyson DC41 only got 60 percent of the mixture from the low-pile carpet, the Oreck 67 percent, and the Dyson DC50 77 percent. The Electrolux did the best by far, picking up 91 percent of the sand and sawdust. Unfortunately, a lot of people probably need top performance in this category. Low-pile carpets are more common in high-traffic areas where small particles like dirt thrive. Going over the same spot multiple times would take care of this issue. Per our test design, I only rolled over each material twice.

Pet hair

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


100
100
100


100
100
100


92
100
100


75
100
100


100
100

CNET's own Katie Pilkington shaved her Labradoodle Lola so we could perform this test. I spread hair clumps of various sizes across both carpets and the hardwood. The Shark picked up 100 percent of Lola's hair from both carpeted surfaces and none from the hardwood. That's because you're supposed to turn off the brush when you're vacuuming on a bare floor. Without that spinning brush to help drive debris inside, you're at a disadvantage. If you decide to be a rebel and use the brush on your hardwood anyway, you run the risk of scratching your floor, but it will pick up everything like it did on the carpets. Say you aren't interested in harming your bare floors -- you might want to opt for one of the Shark's many brush attachments or just use a broom instead.

Human hair

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Nuts, washers, bobby pins

Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away vacuum preys on dirt (pictures)

See all photos

Conclusion

I highly recommend the Shark vacuum to anyone looking for a budget option with very good performance and optimal versatility. It's also a great choice for, how shall I put this, more meticulous cleaners. Since it has so many accessories, you never have to worry about having "that perfect attachment." There's bound to be a brush for nearly every home vacuuming situation. That's quite a feat for a $200 machine. None of the others come close to this level of choice, not even the $649 Dyson DC41 Animal Complete. I think the Shark has earned some bragging rights in that respect.

As nice as that is, I have a feeling that most of those Shark attachments would end up collecting dust in my closet rather than making regular or even semiregular appearances when I'm vacuuming. So, if you too are a more straightforward vacuumer who doesn't want all that extra stuff, the $300 Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean is also an excellent option. It's a more traditional upright that still offers a wand and a couple of brush attachments to suit various tasks -- and it performed a bit better than the Shark. Still, the Shark is a very good vacuum that stood up to the competition, and when you factor in its $200 price, it's hard not to be impressed.

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Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 10Design 8Usability 8