There was the cordless phone with bad sound (should have taken it back). The external hard drive that wouldn’t wake up after three days of use (took it back). The wireless headphones with the proprietary rechargeable battery that wouldn’t keep a charge. The blender with a plastic spindle that broke shortly after the warranty expired. The kitchen hood fan with plastic clips to keep the filter in place; those clips broke shortly after the warranty expired and replacing them would have required removing the entire unit from the wall. I made do with glue and tape.
I have had my share of misfires in buying things.
But there have also been many gadgets that I’m glad I bought. I celebrate some of them here. (This is not a gift guide; most of these things are probably a little too prosaic to be gifts.) Some of the gadgets were bought years ago and I can’t remember how much they cost, but I’ve included some ballpark prices based on Internet searches and recent visits to local stores.
Osterizer Beehive blender
$50 to $70
Bought this after the debacle with the plastic-spindle blender. The Beehive has a metal spindle. Good for smoothies and making soups. But a review at cnet.com gives the Beehive a poor rating. It’s criticized for having a metal-look plastic base (instead of real metal) and for not being able to blend thicker concoctions, leaving clumps at the top. The review says the Ninja Ultima and Vitamix 7500 are better blenders, but they are also much, much more expensive. Our Beehive is a little different from the ones that are commonly available now; it has a metal base, a dial for speed instead of a switch and, while it occasionally stalls, tackles most of the chores I throw at it. And it doesn’t leak.
Koss Porta Pro headphones
$35 to $60
They have a clunky look but terrific sound at a modest price. The Koss Porta Pro came out in the mid-1980s and its design has not changed much since then. A musician introduced me to them 17 years ago. Because the family uses them so much, several pairs have suffered cable damage. You can send them back to Koss for repair; last I looked, the cost was around $10, plus postage. My first pair was bought at the now-closed A&B Sound. I recently spotted them at London Drugs. An article at innerfidelity.com sings the praises of the Koss Porta Pro.
La Crosse smart battery charger
$50 to $60
Charge one battery or charge three. Charging stops individually when battery is full. With lesser chargers, you have to charge in pairs, and charging continues even after a battery is full, which is not good for the battery. La Crosse also sells other smart chargers with fewer buttons at lower cost.
La Crosse battery tester
$12 to $14
Shows charge level for AAA, AA, C, D and 9-volt batteries. Helps to ensure batteries are charged before installing and to prevent tossing of good batteries.
Dexim Bluepack S3 smartphone external battery
This rechargeable battery has saved me and family members numerous times from the inconvenience (some would say horror) of a smartphone with an exhausted battery. It came with cables that connect to several types of smartphones, including earlier-generation iPhones and BlackBerries. The Bluepack was introduced in 2009, I bought it in 2010, and it now seems to be out of production. Despite its advanced age in technology years, it’s running fine, able to recharge a nearly-depleted iPhone to 100%. Many similar batteries are being sold for around the same price. Some of them also serve as cases. I opted for this style because of the flexibility to charge a variety of devices. Here’s a review from 2009.
Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector
The Nest Protect detector was recalled in the spring to fix a software problem where a hand wave that was meant to silence its alarm might also disable it for an extended period. Sales were halted. When an adjusted version came on sale, there was a modest price drop. I bought one because our existing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were annoying me. The smoke detectors would beep for low battery at awkward times, like 3 a.m. (This happened even though I’ve been changing the batteries annually.) Then, it would be a hunt for which detector was beeping. One of the carbon monoxide units wouldn’t stop beeping even with a new battery. So, I bought a Nest to try something different, and will probably buy another one despite its lofty price. The main attractions: it connects via wi-fi to my smartphone and will send notifications if there’s a problem (like a low battery or an alarm); in addition to a screeching alarm, a human voice (female) announces problems; it has a light ring that pulses yellow when the batteries are low, pulses yellow and makes an announcement if there’s a little smoke, pulses red and sounds an alarm if there’s a lot of smoke. It’s widely available; I’ve seen them in hardware stores all over town. More details here.
Panasonic WhisperCeiling bathroom fan
$130 to $150
This is the quietest residential bathroom fan I’ve ever encountered. I can’t hear it from outside the bathroom with the door open. Despite being quiet, it’s good at sucking away moisture-laden air. I checked using an unscientific test: putting a piece of toilet tissue against the grill, which was promptly pulled tight. I’ve seen the fans for sale at Lumberworld. An electrician installed ours.
Cree LED light bulb
$9 to $11
Bought it two years ago for a light fixture in the kitchen, which we tend to leave on for extended periods. Incandescent bulbs would burn out every few months. The light the LED bulb emits is like an incandescent’s. It uses considerably less power to provide a similar amount of shine, 6 watts instead of 40 watts. It’s supposed to last for years.
Niagara handheld low-flow shower head with hose and bracket
$20 to $30
B.C. Hydro offered these through a third party at a discount in the spring of 2012. That promotion is now over and I’m not sure where you can buy them. But similar low-flow shower heads are available at hardware stores. Our Niagara unit runs at 5.7 litres per minute, versus 9.5 litres for standard shower heads (9.5 is the highest flow allowed under the B.C. Building Code). Despite gushing less water, the Niagara shower head provides a strong, comfortable spray. I wrote about this back in March. B.C. Hydro has advice about shower heads here.
Asaklitt luggage scale
$8 to $10
I bought this at a Clas Ohlson store in Leeds, England after I got worried that my carry-on luggage was getting too weighed-down with British knick-knacks. I didn’t want to find out at the last minute that I was over the limit. (I wasn’t.) The scale runs on a battery and shows the weight on a little screen. It has proved useful for peace-of-mind. There are complaints that the hook doesn’t properly attach to some kinds of luggage handles. I’ve never had a problem. You can weigh whatever will attach to the hook, up to 40 kilograms. Like wrapped fish in a grocery bag with handles. I might have done that a few times. But do not hook live things; apart from moral issues, the scale is not accurate when it's wiggled. Variations on the Asaklitt are available at places that sell luggage.
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