Image: Hugh Threlfall
April 17 2010
If you did a word-association test, and fired “gadget” at people, many would fire back with “vacuum cleaner”, “Hoover”’ or “Dyson”. And there’s good reason why a vacuum is the archetypal household gizmo: it has improved our lives more than any other domestic appliance, bar the refrigerator. It’s only because vacuum cleaners are so ubiquitous and effective that we don’t all spend our lives, Quentin Crisp-like, drowning in dust.
Yet because the effects of vacuum cleaning are a negative – no dust, rather than anything tangible – these devices live sad, beneath-stairs lives and stay under the radar for us gadget reviewers. So I can guarantee that this quite revolutionary new vacuum from Miele, the Mercedes of household-appliance manufacturers, will get zero coverage from my esteemed colleagues.
But first, four fascinating facts about vacuum cleaners. 1. The vacuum many cleaning professionals prefer is the cheapest on the market, the brilliantly simple sub-£100 Henry, made in Somerset. 2. There’s a vacuum cleaner (the Kirby, www.kirby.co.uk) that’s twice the price of this new Miele but it’s only available from doorstep salesmen. 3. Vacuums have got progressively less durable. My grandmother’s Hoover from the 1930s was still going strong after 50 years – and was quieter than most of today’s. There are even older Hoovers still in use. This is unlikely to be the case with anything made today. 4. Central vacuuming – where your house has one hidden machine channelling suction to outlets plumbed into each room, and into which you can then plug a lightweight hose and tools – has been around since the 1950s, but it’s never caught on. (See www.beamvac.co.uk for example.)
So, to the Miele Hybrid S4812. What’s special about it? It can work cordlessly on an inbuilt lithium battery, that’s what. Not like one of those puny handheld things you use in the car, but as a proper full-on vacuum. So while it has a mains cable for normal use, if you want to vacuum some awkward stairs, the car, the boat, the horsebox or the helicopter, you just switch to self-powered mode. And it sucks, in a good way. On battery mode and highest power, the Hybrid runs for 11 minutes (which sounds lame, but is plenty in practice). The power is also reduced, from the usual 1,800W to 600W, but, again, that’s enough for awkward spots.
Being German, Miele and expensive in that order, the machine is superbly made, light (8.1kg) and positively purrs about its business. I stop working when our cleaner comes near my office with our Dyson; the Miele is so quiet I can carry on.
There is a downside, though. Our cleaner has been campaigning for months to get us to replace the Dyson with a Henry. Now, after a few weeks with the loaned Miele – guess what? – she wants one. There is no greater testimonial.