Last Updated: June 15, 2021
At first blush, you’d think that a comparison and contrast between Polaris’ 280 and 380 pressure side pool cleaners would be a no-brainer. The 380 is a newer version of the 280, and the 280 is still a great product line. So unless the people at Polaris lost their minds, it would have to be an improvement, right? Sure. But there’s a catch, and the choice isn’t nearly as easy as it might seem.
We still give the nod to the 380. But there’s one difference between the two that nearly reversed our decision.
The Polaris 280 is fast. The 380 is just as fast. The Polaris can pick up a wide assortment of junk. The 380 can clean up junk nearly as big. The 280 has two jet nozzles to push it around the pool and help it go up and down like a lizard climbing the side of a house. The Polaris 380 has three jets, which helps it move faster and grip tighter when it climbs.
Both pressure side pool cleaners require a booster pump for proper operation. That will add another few hundred bucks to an already really high price tag. Cleaner-to-cleaner, however, the 280 is simply a lot less expensive than the 380. If you’re already investing the money in an inground pool, the difference might not be all that noticeable to you. But if you look at the two side by side, the difference is pretty clear.
We were tempted to call the contest for the 280 based on the price difference. But in the end, we feel that most pool owners wouldn’t really notice the extra costs and that the added extras probably pay for themselves.
The only difference in durability is that the Polaris 280 operates on a shaft drive mechanism. The 380 switched over to a belted system. In theory, that should mean fewer moving parts and, since rubber belts are cheaper than metal gears, cheaper replacement parts. In reality, neither represents any clear long-term advantage in durability.
As mentioned with regard to durability, the Polaris 380 has a belted drive mechanism while the 280 has a shaft drive. While that doesn’t deliver obvious tangible results, it’s also simply a better design. We’d add to this that the 380 also has three jet nozzles instead of two, which allows it to move more robustly around the pool. That’s a tangible difference in design.
Tried and true, fast and effective, the Polaris remains a very popular model for pressure side pool cleaners. It can clean most pools in less than three hours and it does a great job. It’s designed for a long life—its own and your pool’s pump. By using pressure already pushed by the pump on the outbound side of the circulation cycle, it reduces strain on your pump. It also has a bag to filter out debris before it gets into the cleaner itself.
Additionally, it has a slightly wider inlet and can pick up debris ranging in size from grains of sand to acorns. It can climb walls and clean those as well as the floor.
For our purposes here, what used to be a primary dragging point—its price—becomes a selling point. True, it still requires a booster pump, which can bump up the already high costs even higher. But the 380 also needs a booster pump, and that cleaner is already a lot more expensive than the 280.
An upgraded model of the Polaris 280, the 380 has three jet nozzles instead of two. This gives the cleaner a better grip while moving across floors, while climbing, and in accessing the area around stairs. This is something that the 280 lacks. It’s also got a belt driven mechanism, which is simpler to operate and maintain, and an inline backup feature that prevents it from getting piled into a corner until it’s rescued. We also like the Ziploc-style debris bag.
What nearly caused us to have a stroke was the price markup. This one is expensive—made more so by the fact that you have to buy a booster pump on top of what you’re already paying. That’s expense on top of expense. If you’ve already invested a ton of money in your pool, you might not notice the difference. But if you’re a frugal spender, you might have a stroke.
It was a tighter competition than we expected, but we tip our hat to the Polaris 380 as the superior of the two. It might be really expensive compared to the Polaris 280, but those added features compensate for the much higher cost. It delivers more complete cleaning. Let’s face it, if you’re paying a lot of money for a pool cleaner, you really want the entire pool cleaned and not just the part that the cleaner can get to. It’s also got a few other built-in extras that make it a great investment that will serve your needs for years to come.
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