Black+Decker SMARTECH Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum Review

My wife and I have been mulling over the idea of a new vacuum recently, so I was intrigued when Black+Decker sent out their SMARTECH hand vacuum (model number HHVJ320BMF26) for me to review.

What is SMARTECH?
Before I get into my own experience with this vacuum, I want to get into what the “SMARTECH” in this product’s name refers to. In fact, Black+Decker has a whole line of vacuums that share this feature set. Here’s how their site describes SMARTECH:

SMARTECHâ„¢ BATTERYSENSEâ„¢ AUTOSENSEâ„¢ + FILTERSENSEâ„¢ features help you clean smarter, not harder.

    BATTERYSENSE shows you how much battery remains, so you know how much longer you can clean before you need to recharge.
    FILTERSENSE alerts you when it’s time to clean the filter so you continue to get maximum performance.
    AUTOSENSE helps you power through your cleaning by automatically adjusting suction from bare floors to thick carpet.
    POWERBOOST gives you added power with the push of a button.

In reality, I’ve come to expect the benefits of battery and filter notifications in any newer products where they would be applicable. I understand that other products may not offer this, so I’m at least appreciative that they exist here. On the other hand, AUTOSENSE and POWERBOOST are the pleasant surprises here, with AUTOSENSE being the headliner. Vacuuming can be such a mundane chore that it can be easy to forget to turn off POWERBOOST when you don’t need it. This can drain the battery faster than necessary and it becomes evident by looking at the BATTERYSENSE indicator. At nearly full charge, all three battery indicator lights are lit with POWERBOOST off. Turn it on and only two battery indicator lights are lit.

With all that said, I’m not sure AUTOSENSE works on – or is designed for – the handheld vacuum and may be more of a feature for the 2-in-1 vacuums that have a stick vacuum add-on. Whether this is the case or not, I was unable to experience AUTOSENSE during my testing.

Of these features, if I could change one thing, it would be the BATTERYSENSE indication lights. Some form of indication of minutes of use remaining would be far more useful to me.

Does it Suck
The lithium battery provides decent suction for typical handheld vacuum tasks like picking up small dirt and debris. There is a noticeable difference with POWERBOOST on and this was very handy when it came to removing cat hair from a cloth couch cover. While testing this, I was able to make a clear X on the couch cover distinguishing the vacuumed X from the untouched portion. I have four cats, which put this product to the test. On carpeted stairs, I had less success, requiring several passes to get all the cat hair up. All other tests with small debris were successful as I had expected them to be.

Pros and Cons
As mentioned above, I had limited success removing lots of cat hair from carpeted stairs and I imagine a more useful indicator of how long I can expect to run the vacuum on the remaining battery. Additionally, I found the air output to have inconvenient placement. The air sucked into the vacuum makes its way through the filters and then back out the bottom of the vacuum. While using it on the floor, air began to push around debris I had not yet vacuumed. Now that I’m aware of this I can be conscious about how I position the vacuum, but it would be better if I didn’t have to think about it.

There are a number of things I like about this little machine, as well. At just over 2 pounds, it’s light without compromising much in the way of power or features. The battery indicator, while not perfect, does differentiate between remaining usage expectations for normal use versus POWERBOOST. The extendable crevice tool helps with getting into tight spaces, but it also helps reach higher places and requires less bending over when cleaning up small messes quickly from the floor. Having only about 15 minutes of run time, the wall-mountable charging cradle can be a big plus. As long as you return it to its cradle when you’re done, it should always be ready for use. The debris compartment is pretty small, but it’s also bagless and very easy to clean by just pressing the release button, pulling out the filter, and then dumping the contents of the compartment into the trash.

Specifications
AIR WATTS 22 Watts
CAPACITY 16.9 oz.
REPLACEMENT FILTERS VBF10
WEIGHT 2.13 lbs

Conclusions
Many companies (including Black+Decker) offer handheld vacuums that are cheaper, but they also have fewer features or may not work as well. This vacuum retails for about $89.99 and is worth the price. It feels comfortable but sturdy and shows promise of working well for a long time, which is worth spending a little more for. My gripes are small and few and I would easily recommend this to anyone shopping for a handheld.

Backpack Lets You Climb Walls Like Spiderman

Have you ever wanted to scale a wall like Spiderman? Daredevils have climbed walls over and over, but their feats have been a combination of skill and luck more than anything. Fortunately, like with most other things, you can overcome a lack of rare skill and bravado/stupidity by putting machines to work for you.

wall climbing vacuum backpack
(photo: USU News)

Pictured above (and shown in the video below is the machine for the job. The Utah State University “Ascending Aggies” team created this vacuum backpack with suction “gloves” as an answer to an Air Force 90-foot wall-climb competition, beating out 33 other wall-climbing devices. It also earned them an additional $100,000 grant to continue working on it. The 48 pound Personal Vacuum Assisted Climber (PVAC) is designed to strap to the back of a brave soldier for the vertical trek and can support weights up to 700 pounds.

If you watch the video, you may note that the only thing upstaging how cool this thing is would be the amount of noise it makes. I don’t think the Air Force is going to sneak up on anyone with this early model, but the team is already working on plans to make it quieter and more efficient. Now if they could just get it to shoot high-tension webbing from our wrists, we’d be all set.

Taking the iRobot Roomba 560 Robot Vacuum for a Spin

Most people, by now, are familiar with the iRobot Roomba. It’s a small robot that vacuums your floor on its own. It’s a concept that brings us a step closer to the robot maids of the movies. Finally, we can have an army of robots whirring around the house cleaning up after us without a care in the world.

Well, almost.

iRobot Roomba 560

The best way to really get to know and love (or not love) a Roomba is to have one running around your house for a week, but for those without that option, I’ll try to bring you into the experience with me. My wife and I borrowed one from iRobot for a couple weeks and here’s what we learned.

What it does for you
In short, it’s a robot vacuum that makes its way around your floors, cleaning up any dirt it finds along the way. While it can just randomly run around picking up dirt, it can be set to move in a spiral pattern, which could be optimal in terms of efficiency, depending on your scenario. It also comes with two lighthouses to keep it from wandering into rooms you’d rather it avoided. These aren’t needed to keep it from going off the stairs, though. Although I don’t have stairs in my own home, I asked some friends about their 560 and they assured me that it indeed won’t go bouncing down the stairs.

iRobot Roomba 560 - beconGetting a Roomba to clean is easier than getting me to clean, because it only had to be told once after giving it a full charge. I just touched the Clean button on the top and it started cleaning. This little guy can clean up carpet or hard floors, adjusting its brushes accordingly and has a bumper to let it gently realize physical boundaries. However, a bumper just means it will retry in another direction and keep retrying if it keeps hitting a wall or object. It did seem smart enough to get going in the right direction pretty quickly. It also returns itself to it’s home base when it’s done or you tell it to dock for charging. Not all models include the scheduling feature, but the 560 does. This feature is ideal for a household with hours of downtime while everyone is at work, like mine. Initially, I was worried that a Roomba would be a big threat to a house full of cats, but they did OK with it. One of them tried to eat the poor little Roomba and the other two just cautiously got used to it.

I’ve discovered another model series called the Pet Series, which this 560 is not a part of. The Pet Series promises a deeper cleaning to grab all that pet hair my cats leave all over the place. Unfortunately, not being a part of that series, the 560 had to make many passes to get things really clean. I don’t vacuum once a day or even once a week, and the Roomba works best when it’s allowed to run frequently. This seems like a downside at first, but it’s really the ideal way to keep your floors clean all the time. After I let him run for a couple days, he seemed to do much better.

What you still have to do
The Roomba is a cleaning robot, but it can’t clean itself. The folks at iRobot have made cleaning pretty easy, but you still have to do it pretty often to keep him running smoothly. When I talk about cleaning, I mean not only the obvious dumping of the removable tray, but also the more arduous cleaning of the brushes and under a couple parts.

iRobot Roomba 560 cleaning

Before using the Roomba, it’s probably a good idea to pick up a little, too. With an upright vacuum, you can sometimes be lazy and just work around an ottoman or other objects on the floor, but the the idea is to be even lazier with the Roomba. Pick up some things before he starts his shift and you can relax until he’s done.

Using the Roomba
Using the Roomba was really simple. Even without a manual, it would have been pretty easy to figure out that you press the clean button and it cleans. When button throbs orange, it means he’s running low on energy and red means he’s in desperate need of a charge. Just hit the Dock button and he aligns himself with his charging base and heads home. At first, it looked like he was going the wrong way, but he needs to get a couple feet away first to line up properly.

Don’t force him. With a little patience, he’ll get the job done and get home just fine.

Some pros and cons
Let’s start with the obvious advantage to having a robot vacuum… less work for you. If the Roomba does all the vacuuming, you can come home to nice clean floors every day. One of the things I almost overlooked when writing this is the fact that it’s cordless. There’s something to be said for not having to constantly move around an electrical cord to the vacuum to avoid running over it.

Conclusions
At a reasonable price, this is a great alternative to pushing around an upright vacuum. If you don’t clean often, the Roomba might create more work for you, having to clean the tray pretty often, but you’ll have a cleaner floor. If you vacuum a lot, the Roomba will save you a lot of energy. Just schedule it to do its work while you’re at work and empty the tray when you get home or before bed. The 90 seconds it takes to empty the tray is a worthwhile daily routine for a constantly clean home. If I hadn’t already just spent a lot of money on another unnamed upright, I’d have bought this for half the price.