The units with big wheels and handles–Bosch, Craftsman, Makita, Milwaukee, and Porter-Cable–were easy to move around using that method, particularly when full; however, those wheels and handles take up a lot of room going through a door, around a corner, or into the truck, so I'd often reach for the smaller Fein or Hitachi when space was at a premium.

Cord Length. Cord length is important on vacs; you pull them around entire jobs and all over the shop, so the last thing you want to do is search for outlets. Kudos to Craftsman for its 35-foot-long cord and to Milwaukee for its 30-footer. The Bosch, Festool, and Porter-Cable have 24- to 26-footers, which can cover a big room or get you out of a small room and down the hall before you have to find a new outlet. The Festool unit's 12-gauge cord is impressively thick, as is Milwaukee's extra-heavy 14-gauge. The Fein, Hitachi, Makita, and Shop-Vac have 16- to 18-foot cords.

Hoses. It's also nice to have a long hose, but except for Fein's 16-footer, the hoses stretched only 10 to 13 feet. Those extra few feet may not seem like much, but I often used the Fein just because of that feature. All the hoses range in diameter from 11/8 to 11/2 inches and there were no noticeable differences in flexibility and stretch.

All connections between the hose and tank are solid–which is a nice improvement over my older vacs. None of the hoses pulled free during testing.

Nozzles and Wands. Unless a vacuum is dedicated to dust extraction from a power tool, a set of wands and nozzles is crucial. The Craftsman, Hitachi, Makita, and Shop-Vac units ship with sets of cleaning tools. Bosch, Fein, Festool, Milwaukee, and Porter-Cable sell their nozzle sets as accessories. Of the accessories that come standard, Craftsman's and Makita's seemed the toughest; however, they were stiff and often difficult to yank off the hose. The Milwaukee wand that shipped with the tool was too long for some jobs, like cleaning a countertop, but worked fine for most tasks.

Storage. The Bosch, Craftsman, Hitachi, Milwaukee, Porter-Cable, and Shop-Vac models all have standard onboard tool caddies, or at least clips, for their wands. The Fein, Festool, and Makita have no built-in accessory or hose storage, although Festool offers a clever optional toolbox that clips on top of the vac, which I would get.

The Milwaukee's roomy canvas caddy is outstanding. Craftsman's and Shop-Vac's caddies are also roomy and convenient. One problem I encountered with tool storage was that emptying the tanks on the Bosch, Hitachi, and Shop-Vac units causes everything in the tool caddy to fall out. On the Milwaukee, Craftsman, and Porter-Cable that isn't a problem: Milwaukee's tool caddy snaps off, the Craftsman tank lifts off its cart, and the Porter-Cable uses clips to hold wands and tools in place.

Filters

Several types of filters are available for wet/dry vacs: a pleated HEPA filter for general use, a foam filter for wet pickup, and a paper containment bag for fine dust or convenient emptying. Changing the filter on all units except the Bosch and Porter-Cable requires lifting or removing the motor head. The Bosch and Porter-Cable, on the other hand, have access lids on top of the motor housing, making for swift filter changes. Festool is not far behind with its hinged clamshell-like design: lift the top, pull a lever, and the filter-holders drop down.

Vacuuming fine particles like wood and drywall dust clogs any filter quickly unless a filter bag is used. But many of us can't be bothered with the paper bag filters (one bent framing nail or shard of ceramic tile usually does them in anyway), so an in-use cleaning method is a nice feature. Except for the Bosch, Festool, and Porter-Cable vacs, once the filters are caked up, you have to fully remove and clean them.

Bosch's solution is a pulse-cleaning feature that shakes the dirt off the filter. Simply turn the switch and the vac pulsates for about 10 seconds. The Festool and Porter-Cable have manual "filter shakers." Both systems work well, even on the fine sanding dust. They don't prolong the life of the filter forever, though. You still have to remove them for a good cleaning.

Tool Trigger

The Bosch, Festool, Fein, Porter-Cable, and Shop-Vac vacuums have outlets attached to the vacuum's hose to plug in a tool. For me, it's usually a sander. When you switch on the tool, the vacuum power comes on too. Tool triggers are immensely convenient on big sanding jobs, especially in an occupied, remodeled home. The Porter-Cable unit's trigger automatically activates when the lid covering the outlet is open, which is very clever. The other machines require that you turn on the outlet via a second switch position. Festool adds a feature here: a static-protected hose. It's perfect for long sanding/dust extraction jobs.