The holiday season is a time of nonstop socializing and celebrating. But therein lies the rub — or rather, the mess of crumbs under the buffet table.

Fortunately, a new wave of cordless hand vacuums can solve the problem. Unlike the handy but not-quite-powerful-enough models of a previous generation, the new models not only promise to up the suction factor, they also bring some styling into play, so that the vac need not be banished to a garage or storage closet. Last year, Dirt Devil released its Kone cordless floor vac designed by Karim Rashid; it proved so popular that it paved the way this year for the Kurv cordless hand vac. ("A simple, elegant shape that you can proudly display in any room," the company touts.) Another heralded model: the Dyson DC16 Root 6, which was introduced a year ago. Its patented Root Cyclone Technology promises "no loss of suction." A company spokesman says sales "exceed our expectations."

To see if the latest vacs lived up to the hype, we bought five models and put them to the test both in our home (on carpeted and tile surfaces) and car. To make matters more interesting, we came up with our own "holiday dirt mix" — bits of potato chips, torn wrapping paper and other detritus — and sprinkled it around the house.

We quickly learned that styling and suction will get you only so far in cleaning a holiday mess. The Dirt Devil Kurv, whose curvaceous design may turn heads, failed to win our vote. Its nozzle wasn't wide enough, forcing us to go over areas again and again. And the Dyson DC16 Root 6? Yes, it's got the suction, but we found it somewhat impractical because of its bulky shape and bothersome on/off mechanism (you have to keep your finger on the trigger if you want the unit to operate continually).

Another model that proved frustrating: the Black & Decker Cordless 18 Volt Hand Vac. It's a behemoth of a machine, powerful and feature-rich (we liked the fact that it folds for easier storage). But its weight isn't distributed evenly enough — it's too heavy in the back — so it had a tendency to slide around in our hands. With the ReadiVac 14.4 Volt Cordless Hand Vac, a model that's more streamlined but still plenty strong in the suction department, one of the main drawbacks was something altogether different — an unpleasant smell (like burning rubber) coming from the motor.

In the end, our pick for Best Overall and Best Value was the Shark Cordless Hand Vac SV736 ($34.99 from Goodman's). It may have not been as sexy or as powerful as some of the other models, but it did the job, thanks to a motorized brush head (the only tested unit with such a feature) that worked very well on carpeted surfaces, and a crevice tool that let us clean hard-to-reach places such as in between sofa cushions or in the tracks of our sliding doors. The holiday crumbs never stood a chance.