The under-$200 vacuum cleaner market is a hot one. It’s the point in the market where people are willing to spend beyond the cheapest models to get something with good suction and at least a few years of durability, but it’s below the point where the masterful cleaners and “hand-me-down-to-your-children”-type vacuum cleaners start appearing. We’ve got our favorites at the sub-$300 price point, such as the Shark Rotator NV682 or the Soniclean Soft Carpet, but because so many models come out at the $sub-$200 price point, the field is always changing.
Today we’ll take a look at three of the most popular sub-$200 vacuum cleaners: the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional (NV356E), the Lift-Away Deluxe (NV361BK, NV361PR), and the Lift-Away (NV352). They’re all part of the in-demand Shark Navigator line, but as is often the case when a manufacturer has success with one vacuum, the number of seemingly identical siblings within the line can make it tough to tease out which vacuum is worth buying, or to put it another way, which offers the best value at a given price point. We made it our mission to answer these questions.
Pros, Cons, and Key Features of the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional with Dust-Away & 2 Microfiber Pads (NV356E)
Out of the box, the NV356E impressed us the most. Like its two Navigator siblings, it featured a Lift-Away design that effectively made it function like an upright vacuum for regular carpet and floor work and like a canister when it came to reaching complex areas (e.g., stairs, ceilings, corners, blinds). We were fans of its light weight at under 14 pounds, its generous 30 feet of power cord length, and the fact that we could push it without much effort and turn it easily with the swivel steering system.
Build quality was more than acceptable; there was more plastic than we’d like to see, but that’s par for the course in the vacuum industry today. Our overall assessment was that it felt rugged enough in the areas it most needed to be (e.g., the metal extension tube). Ergonomically, it was comfortable and generally balanced whether when pushing or when removing the canister; our oldest team member at 80 didn’t have any issues navigating the cleaner, and declared it both senior and little old lady friendly. We took her word for it, as she’s not shy about chucking cleaners that make her want to retire.
Speaking of cleaning, we loved the quiet whir of the Shark when we turned it on as well as how well of a job it did pulling pet fur and spaghetti out of our test carpet. It didn’t clean as thoroughly as the Rotator Speed, but it also doesn’t cost nearly as much. We also liked the included HEPA filter and the absence of any noticeable odor while vacuuming; allergy sufferers with $200 budgets would do well to look at the NV356E. To that end, we were also fans of the washable microfiber pads; they did a relatively good job of wicking away dust from bare floors although we were nervous about their long term durability.
Overall, we liked the price, the weight, the ease of use, the maneuverability, cleaning ability, the fact that no bags were harmed in the emptying of this vacuum, the 30-foot cord, and the 5-year warranty. We weren’t a fan of some ergonomic elements (we’d like a one-hand dirt release from the canister), some questionable use of plastics, and the lack of power compared to the most powerful vacuums we’ve used (i.e., the Dyson Animals).
The NV361BK nearly matched the NV356E in our books. It featured the same Lift-Away design, nearly identical ergonomics and ease of pushing and steering, a nearly identical weight, and similar sound profiles and cleaning abilities. We did feel the NV356E did a slightly better job with pet hair than the NV361. However, apart from this factor, the most significant differences between the NV361 and the NV356E were that it came with slightly fewer attachments (particularly the microfiber pads). The power cord was also shorter at 25 feet instead of 30. It’s worth noting that the NV361BK and NV361PR are exactly the same internally; the only difference between them is the external color, which is black (BK) in one and purple (PR) in the other. Besides that, our review of the NV356E gives you a solid idea of what to expect from the NV361. It did a great job cleaning most surfaces we threw at it, and is a solid choice in the sub-$200 price range.
Finally, the basic Lift-Away (NV352) left us wanting in comparison to its more feature-filled siblings. We noticed a significant difference in cleaning power compared to the previous two Navigators when it came to both pet hair and deeply embedded dirt particles (e.g., fine sand) in carpets. On hard wood floors, it performed more or less the same as the other two vacuums although it couldn’t match the NV356E due to the lack of microfiber pads. It also felt generally much cheaper in build quality than the two higher-end Navigators, giving us concerns about whether it would last more than a couple of years of moderate use or even a full year of heavy-duty use.
A pro of the NV352 was that at under 13 pounds, it was the lightest of the three cleaners. However, it also came with a significantly smaller tank than that in the NV356E; we measured it as just over 1 quart compared to just over 2 quarts in the NV356E. This difference effectively meant we could only do half as much cleaning at a time before we needed to find a garbage receptacle. If you don’t like stopping frequently to dump your garbage, you’ll want to opt for one of the two higher end models. Finally, like the NV361, it also had only a 25-foot power cord instead of the 30-foot standard we like seeing in mid-to-high end vacuums.
Which is the Best Vacuum Under $200 among the Shark Navigator NV356E, Lift-Away Deluxe NV361BK, and Lift-Away NV352?
While it’s hard to provide a permanent answer to the question for all upright vacuums, we can clearly state that among the 3 we considered today, our favorite Navigator was the Lift-Away Professional (NV356E) followed by the Lift-Away Deluxe (NV361BK, NV361PR) with the regular Lift-Away (NV352) in 3rd place. As we noted in our reviews above, all three are solid machines and all three will clean your house. However, beyond the basics, the little touches in craftsmanship and additional cleaning power in the higher end Lift-Aways made them better values for us, and the Professional in particular lived up to its name in our books as the machine we most trusted of the three to do a thorough job day-in, day-out for years to come.
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