Ever try to spot-clean your car's interior or a carpeted floor in your home with an old Dustbuster? It couldn't suck up a straw wrapper, let alone real dirt. But times have changed: Thanks to high-wattage motors and smaller, more powerful batteries, the latest cordless, rechargeable vacuums clean almost as well as their plugged-in counterparts. Plus, they're still able to sneak into the hard-to-reach crevices. We attacked several apartments' worth of dirt and pet hair, spending time with each vacuum over a few weeks. During all tests, a decibel meter read each machine's volume, and battery life was recorded.
Black+Decker 20V Max Lithium Flex
One hand comfortably holds the vacuum's 20-volt motor housing, leaving the other to easily maneuver the onboard 4-foot hose (or head) toward your target. When not in use, the hose simply wraps around the unit for storage. The Flex's canister empties somewhat inelegantly to the side, but that's our only qualm: Smart design, good suction, and a low price make it a worthy occasional-use vacuum. [$130; blackanddecker.com]