John Lewis stores have been shifting a lot of vacuum cleaners lately. Well, according to the salesman who had to help me as I had great difficulty in putting a bin back onto a bagless upright vacuum cleaner. On my quest to find the best of the best on offer from Electrolux, it took me at the most, 15 minutes trying to angle the top canister of a dust bin back onto their expensive Vitesse red upright, before locking everything in and then realising it wouldn't go back into its lock position as designed. Red faced, I left the store leaving the bin by the side of the upright and swore my hard earned £90 wouldn't be going anywhere near it.
Proaction, the exclusive brand from Argos however have quietly launched lots of different models to compete at the budget end of the market, the VC9630 being no different other than trying to add value and detract the eyes of consumers to their products rather than going with more reputable firms.
Priced at £39-99 the Proaction VC9630 seems to be the cheapest compact bagless upright vacuum cleaner & hose currently on sale and for a time remained to be one of the very few bagless uprights on the market which has a rolling brush and tools on the back to further heighten its added value. Whilst Vax and Hoover have tried to do the same with their "Quicklite" and "Alyx" models, the Proaction doesn't look any different in terms of specifications even though the price is cheap and the design is similar. It however paints a different story once it has been purchased and for once I was £50 in pocket after purchase!
** Nar's Quick Skip Product Spec **
* 1600 watt fixed suction motor - on average it is noisy but not as loud as Hoover's Alyx upright.
* Rear mounted stretch hose with two extension pipes and a long crevice tool - at least something genuinely stretchable enough to get up to ceilings and stairs. Also includes a separate upholstery brush.
* HEPA paper washable filter with one spare filter enclosed.
* 2 litre dust capacity bin with drop down bottom release.
* 5 height floor selector dial - soft, easy and big enough to change whether the machine is in the upright position or in use.
* Can clean hard flooring due to removable rubber squeegee strip, soft bristles on the roller brush and a lack of beater bars. Edge cleaning on both sides.
* 6.8kg total weight - not the lightest around.
* 6 meter power cord - ribbed for extra safety.
* £39-99 from Argos, catalogue number 4061540.
* Same as Tesco value upright vac but with the hose, pipes and extension tools.
Out of the box, the biggest secret of the Proaction isn't the fact that everything comes out of a totally recyclable box but because it comes with one spare washable paper pleated filter. Although this is not a surprise for more expensive offerings, I found this to be of great value since a filter alone will cost around £15-95 from Proaction. A handle with a lock mechanism shows that the Proaction VC9630 can be stored as compact as possible, with the fact that the handle can be swung down instead of keeping it in its upright position all the time. A red push in button at the hinge allows the handle to be folded back whilst a silver switch located at the top of the handle acts as on the on button - nothing could be simpler for using and activating the vacuum and if it looks familiar then it is also featured by Woolworths but lacks the back hose and an extra 200 watts of power for their "Worth It!" range.
Handling wise, the Proaction glides well until you set it to the correct height - and for the thinnest of carpet which requires the brush to be as close to the pile as possible it can get harder due to its rubber squeegee strip located just after the rolling brush bar. I found it easy to pick this out without a knife and hey presto the ploughing became as light as a feather, helped along by four wheels which trundle this vacuum along. A silver dial in the middle of the floor head allows the machine to be selected to five different height selections, the "bare floor" setting being the closest to the floor whilst "plush" offers the highest position going. Unlike so many uprights on the market the silver dial is thick, easy to move and will move easily regardless of whether the upright is in the upright position or in use.
Design wise location of the tools and hose is extremely easy to get to which is quite surprising given the price. Travel to the back of the Proaction and you'll find that the bottom fill hose curves from the bottom to the top of the machine and around the body at the back, just above the main carry handle, itself being angular and easy to fit most sizes of hands. A handle on the main hose which slips out half way at the back ensures that its easy to grab the handle and pull upwards, lending itself another handle on the hose a la Bissell style for quick clean ups when required with the use of the hose. The biggest shocker however isn't the versatile hose, because on its own it can stretch to about two or three stairs before the upright rolls back or you may fear that it topples over - a problem most uprights face - but in its defence the Proaction hasn't toppled over thanks to the fact that it has an anti-tipping design built into its main body and there are permanent clips to hold the hose in place unless you want to use the hose from the back of the vacuum for above the floor cleaning tasks. Whereas Electrolux, Hoover and Vax all fit one extension pipe with an additional long crevice tool slipped inside, the Proaction offers TWO plastic extension pipes AND a long crevice tool, thus allowing the machine the same kind of access that a cylinder/pull along vacuum offers. Extra value? I'd say definately because against Hoover's Alyx the hose and pipes together offer greater reach. The slip on upholstery brush reveals hard bristles and if you don't like that the bristle frame slips off to reveal a ribbed narrow tool suitable for velour and soft fabrics.
The plastic quality on this machine is in abundance but that's not to say that it feels overly cheap. The biggest gripe could well be the silver detailing which is minimal on the machine and only shows "1600" on the left hand side of the front floor head - which is low and easy to shift under low furniture for ease of cleaning - thus looking ever so slightly out of place and awkward. A further little window on the right hand side above the floor head gives owners a view window to check that the drive belt is still in place - a handy and neat consideration here. It is underneath when removing the minimal of four screws that the poor plastic can be seen even though it fits flush with the floor and everything is recessed.
** Performance **
So despite its finer excellent points and aside from its plastic redness due its colouring, the Proaction has surprised me, but being the owner of a wet and dry cordless hand vac which bears the same name, and was also cheap to purchase, the performance is actually another winner. Suction is endless on this machine until the bin really fills up, and even then through the hose the Proaction will keep going until the dust bin is completely filled with dust and debris. It is a shame that whilst the suction is good, the noise of the motor isn't quiet. Nothing seems to be quiet these days unless it carries a German brand name matched by its premium price, and the Proaction here is no exception to its audible high rising motor. You'll hear the phone ring when using this vacuum but like most, you'll have to switch the vacuum off to hear people talking. I don't find using the Proaction annoying however so the motor noise is average to say the least and belies its noise when my Vax Quicklite at half the power (850 watts) is annoyingly loud.
The most important aspect of this product however isn't just its excellent all round performance but by the very fact that it is marketed as a small compact upright vacuum; those looking for a back up vacuum or something small and reasonably lightweight will find favour with the Proaction, even at 6kg it isn't that bulky or heavy to lift up stairs.
** Filtration & Emptying **
So to the filters and emptying the thing and here's where it gets messy; there is a release button on top of the bin which is easy to take off once unlocked and its here that I can see Proaction have either taken license from Dirt Devil (who are responsible for the Hoover Alyx's design) or perhaps it is Proaction who are responsible outwardly for this design. The top is very easy to unlock whilst the HEPA paper pleated filter must be unscrewed before it is brushed clean. After this, the bin splits into two parts, with an unscrew able top part which is see through acrylic (thus easy to see what needs to be cleaned) and the main plastic grilled cone which also includes an inner cone and separates the moment you take it out. In this instance compared to most on the market I found the Proaction to be very easy to dismantle and clean out. Like most bagless upright vacuums, there is some cyclonic action seen by the clear plastic dust cup when dirt revolves at the bottom of the cup, and there is also a handy drop down release button which releases a bottom trap door making dirt disposal fast, easy and without much fuss. A warning on the bin warns that the Proaction must be cleaned out after every use or that the filter must never be so clogged that it can damage the motor. Given the ease of emptying and getting to the filter, I don't see this as much of a hardship but it does qualify budget build and design despite its excellent all round appeal.
The filtration aspect however is not disappointing but basic for the budget needs of the consumer, evident by the fact that every brand these days is offering a similar washable paper pleated filter that meets HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) standards. However in my experience those with allergies should consider bags regardless of the incurred cost because like every cyclonic vacuum cleaner, once in a while the filter will need a good clean. Luckily I have no fear of dust and I'm happy to have a spare whilst the old one gets washed and then dried completely before it can be installed. It's a pity that a spare drive belt doesn't come with this upright, but Proaction state that belts cost £5-99 with a further £2-99 charge for postage and packaging. Time will tell how quickly this vacuum reaches consumers, and EBay will probably be my source for cheaper belts. One month on however and the original belt is still working!
If that wasn't enough there is also a handy pick out motor protection filter that can also be brushed or washed clean. Being carbon in nature, this filter will trap all the carbon that the motor supplies, thus ensuring that the air is cleaner. I wish Hoover's Alyx filter was as big as the one on the Proaction, or as easily reached whilst a central filter at the bottom can also be picked out and cleaned. Oh I forgot - the carbon filter on the Hoover Alyx cannot be removed unless you prise the channel open and it snaps off thus rendering the cover useless unless you happen to have PVC glue lying around. On the Proaction at least you have a viewable and removable door.
Top marks also for an excellent user manual; with 23 pages of very large printed English, you won't be left in the dark for the clear maintenance of this upright; it even has actual pictures of the machine in black and white which give the clearest view of anything should it go wrong.
And if anything gets trapped in the main hose, it can be loosened simply by pressing on its tabs at the side. Inspection has never been this easy on a budget upright vacuum - even Hoover's Alyx has to have screws removed to take off the main hose completely from the cleaner.
So overall, I feel this is another winner from Proaction; Argos have since renamed this brand "Argos Value," on their website and for once, it is easy to see why this name is so justified.
The only thing that needs changing is the view that not everything cheap won't work; well done Proaction for producing a compact upright which should make the bigger brand names think twice about bulky main sized upright vacuums! Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2008
** UPDATE AUGUST 2008 **
With thorough use, I find it a lot easier to just tap the top filter than brushing it clean and sadly the clear bin is no longer clear since it dulls up with dust the moment you start using it again.
One very important aspect is the main motor filter behind the flip down door. In use I was used the "motor smell," of newness after the first couple of months but could detect actual burning smells. Whilst the Proaction may have this carbon filter which protects the motor from dust I've since taken it out which lessens the overheating smell from the motor. In no way does this mean that the dust smells emerge from the vacuum however and you can continue your cleaning tasks without worry of the motor over heating.
1600 Watts / Short name: Proaction VC9630S4