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Having already thoroughly tested and reviewed the Henry and Hetty machines from Numatic, I had James firmly in my sights as the next model that I wanted to put through its paces. I knew going in to this review that James is meant to be one of the lightest and cheapest vacuum cleaners in this range, so I was keen to test this out. Furthermore, I was excited to discover just how well the James performs as a vacuum cleaner in the home, tackling all of those everyday tasks (as well as some of the trickier ones).
Is James the Right Vacuum Cleaner for You?
Before we jump into the review it is worth stating that James is a no-nonsense vacuum cleaner that lacks all of the modern advancements in suction technology that a Dyson or a Sebo will boast. What you get with this machine is simple technology that performs extremely well for years and without complaint. If you are looking for a vacuum cleaner that is affordable, with excellent suction power that is built tough, then read on. However, for anything fancier than this you will want to look elsewhere.
How Does James Differ from Henry?
The first immediately obvious difference between James and Henry is the fact that James has a manual cord rewind feature on the top of the machine, meaning that you have to physically wind the cord around the handle. In contrast, Henry has a handle on top that use to automatically rewind the cord back in to its housing. This difference in the way the cord retracts back into the machine makes James quite a bit lighter than Henry (1.5kg lighter). Secondly, the power cord is much easier to replace in the James (more on this later). Thirdly, he has a larger capacity (8 litres) compared to Henry (6 litres). Fourthly, he is a little bit larger (340 x 365 x 360mm) compared with Henry (320 x 340 x 345mm). Lastly, James comes with aluminium extension tubes (that make up the wand) which are lighter than Henry’s stainless steel tubes.
A Quick overview of James
James is the blue variant of the Henry vacuum range. He puts out 620 watts of power and works by sucking dust and dirt through a strong, crush-proof hose into a large 8 litre capacity bag. He sits on two large wheels and two small casters, which allows him to be pulled along as you move throughout your home or office. He comes with a large number of sturdy attachments that make it a versatile vacuum cleaner, suitable for everyday tasks and more intense commercial cleaning. He is built entirely in Britain, which is a pretty rare accolade these days, and he is still available for an affordable price.
Unboxing and Assembling
My first impression was that Numatic certainly known how to save money on their shipping costs, with such a small box containing so much contents. Inside the box was the body of the James himself, plus a spare dust bag, the three extension tubes (that connect together to form the wand), the hose, the floor head and the three attachments that come with the machine (soft dusting brush, upholstery brush and crevice tool). It was all very obvious what went where and which bits connected together and I was able to get it assembled in just a few minutes, without even having to read the instruction manual. The hose connected to James’ nose, the three tubes slotted together, the floor head went on the other end of the hose and there was a bag already fitted inside.
There is a large green switch on top of James that I switched on and the indication light next to it told me that we were ready to go.
James comes with a 10 mentre long cable, which is definitely on the longer side of what is normal in the UK vacuum cleaner market. For us in our 3 bed victorian house, I found that I was able to vacuum the entire floor without having to relocate to a new plug. This is a real positive point for the machine because it just makes the whole vacuuming process that bit faster. I also found that I was able to plug in to the socket at the bottom of our stairs and vacuum both the hallway and a good distance into each of our bedrooms upstairs. I was even able to plug in to our kitchen wall socket, across our back patio, down the steps and onto the lawn (note: I wasn’t vacuuming outside, this is just for illustration purposes).
When you consider the very large dust capacity of the James, I was pleasantly surprised by its relatively compact size. It is worth noting that James is slightly larger than Henry but this doesn’t mean it is hard to store. Indeed, I was able to easily slot it into our bedroom wardrobe and under our stairs. The only thing that will limit you in terms of storage is the hose and wand, which you are going to need to disconnect first. If space is really an issue, you can always disassemble the extension tubes and disconnect the hose.
As already mentioned, the cable rewind system on the James is manual, which means that you need to physically wind it round the central housing on top of the machine. The main benefit of this is quite a substantial reduction in weight of 1.5kgs. I didn’t find wrapping the cable myself to be too much of a chore but I do still think I prefer the handle that comes with the Henry and it is definitely faster than doing it yourself with the James.
There is a handy latch that swivels around, making it easier to wrap the cord and then hold it in place whilst it is being stored or transported.
At the back of the James is a really useful storage caddy, which allows for two attachments to be stored at any one time. This is another practical design feature that I really love because it means that you don’t have to keep fetching attachments from the room that you were last using them in. Additionally, the floor head clips in to another slot on the caddy, which means you can store the machine with everything attached and upright in a storage cupboard or room (if you have the space).
James has an increased dust capacity of eight litres compared to the Henry and Hetty’s six litres. This makes it a better choice for commercial or professional cleaners as you will be emptying the bag less often. Indeed, this kind of capacity means that for regular use in a household, you won’t have to change the bag for weeks at a time. To illustrate this size, you can see below that it is actually the same size as our sofa cushions!
There are two clips on the side of the machine that, once released, will allow you to lift off the top to expose the filter. Underneath the filter you will find the bag, which you can simply pull away from the interior end of the hose and replace it with a new one. You can then simply dispose of the old bag in your outside bin. This whole process takes approximately 30 seconds.
These dust bags are made from a Hepaflo material, which are meant to be better than the older paper versions that Numatic used to provide when it comes to dust and dirt escaping. They are made up of three layers and feel very strong and thick to the touch. They also include a self-seal tab that ensures no horrible dust comes back out the wrong way. I certainly found this to be true when I replaced the bag.
Attachments and What They Do
James comes with the same bunch of attachments that both the Henry and Hetty come with and all of the attachments will connect to any of these machines. They are all strong and sturdy, with no flimsy bits of plastic that can snap off or bend out of shape. All of these attachments can be connected to either the end of the flexible hose, or the extension tubes by using a universal adapter (a small cylinder).
Combi Floor Tool
This floor tool can be used on both hard and soft floors, so you can use it on the laminte in your kitchen and the carpet in your living room. This tool slots on to the end of the extension wand and it is ideal for large, flat surfaces (your floors).
There is a brush bar on the underside of the tool that can be raised using the foot pedal on top. This brush bar agitates hair and dirt so you will want to raise it when you are working on hard floors and lower it for carpets.
I found it really easy to switch between these different floor types as I went around my home and I found that it was picking up quite a lot of hair in particular from my carpets, because I could see some of it let clinging to the brush (which I picked off with my fingers and let it shoot off up the pipe). However, it definitely does require a bit of strength to stroke back and forth on carpets and I actually found that I had to reduce some of the suction power using the bleed valve on one of the extension tubes (more about this later).
Combi Floor Tool Before and After (1 stroke up and down)
For this test I used a mixture of hair, dust, tape, elastic bands and other debris. I was impressed by the performance of the combi floor tool with just one stroke up and down, as there was only a very small amount of debris left, which I quickly removed with a third stroke. I was also really pleased with how well the tool removed the debris from the entire width of the floor head, instead of just near the tube in the centre. It appears that Numatic have built the head with a groove that runs along the entire width to achieve this.
When I was recently replacing some of the slats on our double bed I was quite appauled by the amount of dust under there, so I wanted to test out James to see how well he removed this dirt and how easy it was to use him to do so. In terms of results, I was able to reach approximately 1/3 of the way under the bed from either side but the curvature of the extension tube stopped me from reaching any further. However, all I had to do beyond this point was to attach the upholstery brush (which is essentially a miniature version of the combi floor tool) and this allowed me to reach all of the way underneath and I was very pleased with the vacuuming results.
Speaking of the upholstery brush, it is a miniature version of the combi floor tool, with stoff bristles around the circumference of the attachment to agitate dust, dirt and hair. This is the tool that you will use to tackle sofas, arm chairs, car seats and stair treads. Essentially, it is ideal for any flat surface that is too small for the combi floor tool to access. I tested out the upholstery brush on our stairs and I was very impressed with how easily it spotlessly cleaned each tread. The amount of suction power moving through the much smaller attachment produces quite a bit of noise but the results were worth it.
Upholstery Brush Before and After (5 strokes)
This brush also gave me great results in the boot of our car, underneath the sofa cushions and as already mentioned, under the beds.
This tool is long and thin in shape and it is ideal for reaching those really hard-to-access nooks and crannies that you can’t even reach with your hands, such as the gap between the seat and door in the car and down the side of the sofa. The crevice tool is also really good because it focusses all of the James’ immense suction power on a very narrow surface area, so you can really remove all of the stubborn dust and dirt that collects in the corners of your home that regular vacuuming doesn’t reach (such as where the carpet or floor meets the skirting boards).
Crevice Tool Before and After (1 stroke)
Soft Dusting Brush
The soft dusting brush is a small, circular attachment that has soft bristles around its circumference. It’s been designed to be used on delicate items that could be damaged by the bulkier and harder upholstery brush. The soft bristles are akin to horse hair and they are going to protect your shelves, ceiling lights, lamps, curtains, ceiling fans and picture frames from scratches and accidental breakages.
I found the soft dusting brush particularly well suited to vacuuming my ceiling fans, which are actually quite flimsy and delicate. I also didn’t want to use a regular duster this high up, as I imagined all of the dust cascading down and spreading over the bed. The soft dusting brush was perfect at delicately agitating the dust and sending it all down the nozzle, through the hose and into the bag.
Soft Dusting Brush Before and After (Ceiling Fan)
Car Cleaning with James
Before I had kids, I probably cleaned the interior of my car every six months but for all you readers with young children, you know just how quickly the inside of a car can turn into a wasteland of biscuit crumbs, squished raisins and old bits of sandwich. I have owned cordless stick vacuums inthe past that had attachments for car cleaning but the suction power was always too low and the results disappointing. So I was really excited to test out James in our car, which is overdue a good clean.
The cable length came in handy when it came to reaching the car with the James, although our drive is quite small. However, with an extension lead you can straddle a long drive without much extra effort. The first attachment I used was the soft dusting brush, which I found to be really useful on the dashboard, between the air vents, down the cup holders and for the seats themselves.
Next up I attached the upholstery brush, which to remind you has some really thick bristles around its circumference. I used this attachment to really agitate the stubborn mud on the floor of the car, as well as on the floor of the boot. I found the bristles really effective but it did require quite a lot of elbow grease to get good results.
My absolute favourite attachment for car cleaning however, was the crevice tool. The long, thin shape of this attachment meant that I could funnell all of that suction power into the very narrow gaps that I couldn’t even reach with my fingers. This included the gap between the seats and the side of the car, as well as down the seats themselves. The sound of bits of food flying up the hose, from the darkest depths of the car, was incredibly satisfying.
All in all, great results from these three attachments when it came to cleaning my car and the suction power of the James was really evident.
As I moved around my house, I dragged James behind me using the hose, which is tough and strong. I did find that James would bump against sofas, chairs and door frames and it did concern me a little that the machine might get damaged. However, I was pleased to spot a rubber buffer that runs around the entire circumference of James, that must be there to prevent any damage to either both James and the contents of my home.
Furthermore, there is more rubber to be found on the rear wheels and casters, which will protect your wooden/ laminate floors from scratches. The small casters don’t look like they have a rubber coating, but believe me they certainly do.
The shape and size of the James don’t really make it the ideal vacuum for stair cleaning because it is too big and wide to fit on a regular stair tread. This means that you will have to either carry James with you as you move up or down the stairs, or leave him at the bottom and use the hose to reach approximately half way up, then move him to the top of the stairs and work back down. If you choose to carry him (which is what I did) then the good news is that he is better suited for this than the Henry or the Hetty because he is 1.5 kg lighter. I really did notice this weight difference when it came to stair cleaning, so if you struggle with any strength issues I would definitely opt for the James over the Henry. That being said, there are much lighter vacuums on the market than the James, so it may be worth shopping around if this is going to be a concern for you.
Quick Release Power Cord
James has another feature that is unique to him, which is a quick-release that allows you to replace the power cord without having to open up the machine (such as with the Henry and other Numatic models). This is a very practical feature for professional cleaners or those that are going to be doing a lot of heavy use with the James. If the cord is damaged in any way, a replacement can be purchased and easily fitted, simply by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place.
Henry vs. James Power Cord Comparison
How Well does James Remove Pet Hair?
James comes with the same combi floor tool than the Henry and Hetty and it is not really suited for removing pet hair. For this job, you will either need a different vacuum cleaner with a rotating brush bar or if you want something similar to the James, go for the Henry Pet or Henry Xtra. Both of these Numatic machines have such a floor head and they are great at removing even the most stubborn pet hair.
Center Parcs Validation
Two weeks after finishing this review I visited Center Parcs Longleat with my family and what did I stumble across in the storage/ boiler room? A James vacuum! Furthermore, upon a quick peek at the same room in my parents’ separate lodge I saw yet another. For me, this is a clear validation of the James being the go-to vacuum cleaner for professionals. When you consider that Center Parcs Longleat has over 900 lodges, there are likely at least 900 James vacuums on that site, being used each and every week.
Final Verdict on James
Before testing out James, I wasn’t really sure why it existed. I was aware that it had a manual cord rewind function but I didn’t know why anyone would choose this over the easier auto-rewind feature that the rest of the Henry machines have. However, it strikes me that this makes it a better choice for commercial or professional cleaners because it is just one less thing to go wrong, when you are using a vacuum cleaner multiple times a day. Furthermore, the huge weight saving that this allows (along with the lighter choice of aluminium for the wand) means that this machine is noticeably lighter to lift and operate. I was actually surprised at how quickly I got used to manually wrapping the cord up and unwrapping it and how quickly I was eventually able to do it.
Therefore, James is a great choice for those that want the reliability, durability and longevity of the Henry who also think they would benefit from a lighter machine that they can use more often, or for more intense cleaning jobs. The replaceable, quick-release power cord also makes it more suitable for those who want a vacuum cleaner for heavy use.
The suction power is impressive and the attachments are well thought out and practical, with excellent results. That being said, you need some strength to use this machine, so once again if you do have any strength or mobility issues, you should opt or something ultra-lightweight instead and not the James. For my money, it matches up to the performance of Henry and exceeds it when it comes to its commercial cleaning capabilities.