Tried and tested - beauty, kitchen and tech gadgets

It's Christmas We tested beauty, kitchen and tech gadgets and appliances that claim to be the best, easiest to use or most innovative of their kind

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 12:02

Prices as quoted by Power City (which supplied the gadgets for testing) but will vary elsewhere

KITCHEN

Tefal 2 in 1 Actifry, €279.95
*****
We are not entirely sure this would make a great Christmas present in all circumstances – ‘Here! Santa got you a fryer, make us some chips to go with the turkey would ya? Gift reservations aside, it is still rather brilliant. Chip your potatoes, dump them in the non-stick bowl, sprinkle no more than a tablespoon of oil over them, push a button and wait 35 minutes before eating the best chips you will get outside of your favourite chipper. It’s as far from the deep-fat fryers that took the nation by greasy storm in the 1980s as a chip maker can go.

A second cooking plate can sit on top of the main one to allow you cook meat, fish or poultry at the same time as your chips. There is no smell, steam or smoke thanks to the powerful filters and no grease thanks to all the hot air.

The machine does hum ominously , imagine a quiet Nespresso machine and it is kind of massive – you’ll need about two feet of counter space for it. But cleaning’s a cinch and all the component parts are dishwasher safe. Conor Pope

Sensio Masha, €39.95
****
The secret to a good mash is to achieve lump-free smoothness without breaking down the starch, which leads to a glue-like consistency. As the owner of no less than three mashers, I was sceptical as to whether any tool could beat my beloved potato ricer. My first go left me in no doubt that this was a well-designed gadget that is simplicity itself to use and clean. A big bonus is that the texture of the potato was creamy and needed far less butter than usual. It’s versatile too – I’ve used it for hummus, guacamole and pancake batter and it would also be perfect for making baby food. A big hit in our gadget-free kitchen. Can I keep it please? Phyl Clarke

Dolce Gusto (EDG200), €69.95
****
Delonghi’s Nescafe Dolce Gusto is another in the line of pod coffee makers popularised by brands such as Nespresso. The main claim is that it makes a coffee that’s as good as you’d get in a coffee shop from a barista. So does it? Well not quite but I’d say it’s 90 per cent there. It’s slimline so it doesn’t take up much counter space, attractive and the pods are easy to come by and cost about €5 for 16 pods. The main drawback of this maker is that it has no automatic dispenser so you have to manually watch the amount of coffee that’s pouring so you get the strength right and it’s not too watery. Eamon McGrane

Kenwood JE720 Continuous Juicer, €149.95 
****
"Don't drink more than three 230ml glasses of juice a day unless you're used to it," says the guide to my new juicer, ominously. Not much chance of that considering the amount of effort that's involved in getting one glass. But don't get me wrong: that's not the juicer's fault.

This is a pretty slick piece of machinery, once you put it together. Those who excel at Buckaroo! will have no problem assembling the seven or eight bits and bobs needed to get it going, and after the first couple of goes even I am getting the hang of it (brute force is the key).

The manual comes with a guide to juicing fruits and vegetables, how to prepare them, what speed to zap them at, whether to combine them (this is available on Kenwood's website, and I'd recommend printing it off rather than having to use the whole manual). The biggest revelation is how little peeling you have to do, and so I start lobbing in carrots, apples, celery– it's all very satisfying. The only disappointment comes with citrus fruit – with the labour involved in peeling them (pith and all) before chucking them down the shoot, I won't be throwing out my trusty old lemon juicer any time soon.

Even the clean up isn't too bad. Once you've emptied the pulp collector, everything else just needs a rinse, aside from the filter, which takes a little more elbow grease. And there's the re-assembly... All in all, a great piece of kit for anyone serious about juicing the living daylights out of their five a day. Emma Somers


BEAUTY

BaByliss New Big Hair, €59.95
****
One of the peculiarities of a job in print journalist is the byline picture – the mugshot that goes above your name in the paper. Mine shows me with a sleek hair do, the sort that polished, groomed women have. Of course I rarely look like this in real life. Mostly it’s frizzy hair pulled back in a careless and not very attractive bun. No more – because BaByliss New Big Hair is a gadget that actually works. It’s basically a hairdryer with a big rotating brush attached and even on the first slightly ham-fisted attempt it left my hair sleek to the point that my teenage son who never notices these things (other than to be slightly mortified by the frizzy bun look) thought I’d been to the hairdresser. After three gos (including a lesson from a Youtube clip) I’m a convert. The trick is to make sure your hair is about 80 per cent dry and you have to divide your hair into sections or else it gets too messy. It worked fantastically on my medium-length not very thick hair, less so on my daughter’s very long, very thick hair. Bernice Harrison


Elle Macpherson The Body by Homedics 3-in-1 Luxury Foot Spa, €39.95
*
The (deep breath) “Elle Macpherson The Body by Homedics 3-in-1 Luxury Foot Spa” comes in a massive box with a bikini-clad Elle frolicking across the side on her lovely feet. So far, so good. It’s a beast of a thing, but weighs very little. It’s incredibly easy to use: plug it in, fill with warm water (it won’t heat the water for you, but says it will maintain the temperature of the water you pour in) then just sit back and let it do all the hard work . . . except that it doesn’t.

I’m promised a vibrating massage, which is barely perceptible. There are two moveable rollers under each foot for a “penetrating” massage, but their movement is jerky and inconsistent. I’m also promised “double the bubbles” to boost my circulation – and maybe they do, but by then the water has gone cold so I’m not feeling it.Two interchangeable pumice stones that slot into the centre partition are a good idea. Unfortunately, the slightest rubbing of a heel is enough to send them flying into the water. Rachel Collins

BaByliss For Men Super Stubble, €89.95
**
Is it the 1980s again? Are Tubbs and Crockett keeping Miami free from vice? Do we need a pricey machine that will deliver designer stubble which it thinks is ‘super’? No, no, and just no. This is not a bad product. In fact with its sleek ergonomic design and 15 precision settings and blue LED display, it is quite a funky one. But is it perhaps just a bit pointless? We are promised the “ultimate in stubble control” but surely stubble stems from laziness and this shaver makes that lazy-boy grooming seem too much like hard work? It will chop your stubble to 0.4mm – around two days without shaving – or can be extended to a beard trimming length. It is waterproof so can be rinsed clean or used in the shower and the blades are very sharp. Conor Pope


TECH

Samsung Galaxy EK GC100, €499.95
***

Fans of Samsung’s Android phone will feel right at home with this camera, which is the same base size as the mobile, but about three times thicker to allow for its excellent 21x zoom lens. As it uses the Jelly Bean OS, it offers all the connectivity options you would associate with the phone – 3G, wifi, bluetooth – meaning you can quickly snap and send images, store contacts and use apps. Its touchscreen is large and gorgeous, with all settings and controls on screen. This means you can essentially use this as a mini tablet; the only thing it doesn’t do is make calls. The phone is too bulky to be pocket friendly, the white design is a touch Miami Vice, and it won’t replace an SLR (it can’t shoot RAW files), However, for more mobile photography, its 16MP is powerful and effective, with plenty of onboard editing options as well as full manual options. Laurence Mackin


Belkin Netcam, €99.95
****
The Belkin Netcam is a great fun way to keep a close eye on what’s happening at home. It’s quite easy to set up and allows you to monitor your home from your smartphone or any other web-enabled device, across wifi. It has a microphone so you can hear what is happening too. It’s not a security camera though, you would need to invest a bit more for that. I found the best use of it was keeping an eye on my dog when he was home alone. You could also use it, for example, to keep an eye on an elderly relative in your home but it’s no replacement for human contact. It has a night vision feature but this is limited in the detail it reveals and I much preferred to use it in full daylight. The colours were sharp. It’s big enough so that it couldn’t be hidden too easily for covert filming but small enough to move around the house really easily. Gary Quinn
 

 

Prices as quoted by Power city which supplied the gadgets for testing


Slica Sensio,
** 

€39.95

The Slica Sensio was good value for money but it might be wise to invest in something a little more expensive. When it came to soft vegetables like aubergine and courgette the vegetable turned into pulp with no slices in sight. I tried both thick and thin cones but unfortunately had the same result.

However, grating hard foods like cheese, carrot, onion and parsnips were fine and came out perfectly sliced. Using small amounts worked better for me and taking your time is always key.

On the plus side I found cleaning and handling (plus using the instructions) very easy. The Slica Sensio is a nice neat shape and size that doesn’t take over your whole kitchen counter top. Lucy Clarke


Babyliss Curl Secret
****
€159.95

The wording on the packet of the BaByliss Curl Secret is slightly off-putting for anyone with thin hair. “It draws the hair in” will make anyone with weak hair more than a little nervous. I watched the “how to” videos on YouTube before putting it near my own hair, and rather unsurprisingly the model started with fabulous straight glossy locks and ended up with even more fabulous curls in a couple of easy stress-free steps.

On the first attempt some of the curls came out really well, but I didn’t spend enough time on it. The second attempt, however, was more frustrating, possibly I put aside more time for it and the expectations were higher. The curler refuses hair for unpredictable reasons... too much, too little, not smooth enough. In fact I think that straightening your hair before using it (ridiculous as that sounds) would produce better results . I might just need a little more practice as my daughter has mastered it and can looks fabulous with her wavy curls. Anna Kenny


Tassimo T40 coffee maker
***
149.95

Tassimo, which claims to be Britain’s leading hot beverage system has launched in Ireland. The company hopes to capitalise on the “vibrant” coffee culture across Europe which it says it is also witnessing in Ireland.

Engineered by Bosch, the system offers a range of branded coffees, teas and hot chocolate, at literally, the touch of a button. It is stylishly designed, unobtrusive , extremely easy to use and very fast. The manufacturers claim it makes a drink in two minutes – this is a conservative estimate. Coffee brands available include Kenco, Costa Coffee and Carte Noir.

For this writer, although the coffee was good, it did not quite attain the standard of what’s available in restaurants or coffee shops. One of the machine’s attractions is that you can adjust the strength of the drink while it is brewing, if you feel it may be too strong for your tastes.

The machine also makes Cadbury’s hot chocolate. Two purveyors of hot chocolate, Beth (12) and Lucy (11), declared the drink “very tasty”, and of a very high standard.The unit self-cleans and there is no transfer of flavours after each drink, which is a welcome feature.

Be warned: the T- discs which contain the drink ingredients are as not cheap as conventional coffee or hot chocolate. The price of the discs start at around €5.15. Barry O’Keeffe


Samsung Galaxy Note 3
****

€649.99 on pay as you go

It’s over iPhone ... it’s not you, it’s me. Well not quite true, there is a third party involved – you probably know them: the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I’m sorry Apple iPhone I thought I was yours for life but this beauty has come along. Maybe it’s the bigger 5.7 inch Amoled HD screen, making it a cross between a phone and a tablet – a Phablet as the “kids” call it or maybe it’s a “Ginormophone” . Although bigger it’s also slimmer at 8.3mm and has a whopping 3gb of RAM, it’s fast and it’s powerful. And it’s mine. Well, until I have to give it back. But it’s not all bad news, Apple. I still like your style and intuitiveness. But for now we’ll have to go our separate ways. (Not available in Power city but available in mobile phone shops) Eamon McGrane


Samsung Galaxy Gear
***
€349

The Note 3 comes with a partner: the Samsung Galaxy Gear – a stylish-looking smartwatch. While the Gear hasn’t swept me off my feet and carried me over the threshold like the Note 3 has, it is still a nifty little device that my children refer to as my James Bond watch. Though being of an older vintage I think of it more as a Dick Tracy device. It has a camera (embedded into the wriststrap) that has surprisingly decent resolution and you can make and take calls on it as there is a mic on the clasp of the wrist strap. Though talking into your wrist could make you self conscious or fool others into thinking you’re in the secret service.

Other bells and whistles include notification alerts for text messages and a pedometer to keep track of your daily step count. On the downside the watch needs to be paired with the phone to be effective and the range of the Bluetooth that connects watch and phone has not got a great range at the moment and disconnects if you wander too far from your Note 3. (available in Power city from 2014)Eamon McGrane


Tefal OptiGrill (701D40)
****
€149.99

Another in a long line of ‘lean mean’ grilling machines except this one uses a few more bells and whistle to get your meat, fish or poultry cooked the way you like it. You can set the grill to cook rare, medium or well done and the machine also senses the thickness of the meat do it give it a uniform fully cooked piece of food. Burgers, steaks and fish cooked well and very were quite tasty. We also found there was less smoke and food smell in the kitchen as opposed to use a frying pan or grill. Also it’s dead easy to clean. Remove the cooking elements from and grease drain tray from the OptiGrill and pop them in the dishwasher. Job done.

On the down side, while it’s not a huge device by any means it has a big enough footprint and in an already crowded small kitchen you might be stuck for space. Nonetheless, if you want to take the hassle out of guessing if your food is cooked right this could be for you. Eamon McGrane

€149.95


Phillips Mini Speaker (SBA3010)
**

(€14.95)

This is a wired speaker -- not my favourite of the ones I got to test out but at €14.95 you can’t complain too much. Portability is always handy and this small device can be brought anywhere you wish and can be connected to a variety of audio devices including iPod, iPhone, smartphones and other MP3 players. There’s also no need to worry about losing cables as the wired connection is housed in the device and retractable. When you turn up the sound you can hear the speaker start to distort but it packs a decent punch for a small, budget device. Eamon McGrane


Jam HDMX Classic Wireless Speaker (P23ORD)
****
(€29.95) Impressive, small, wireless Bluetooth piece of kit with a big surprising sound. The speaker can connect wirelessly from up to 30 feet away, and it works with most Bluetooth-enabled Smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktops, including iPad, iPhone and iPod.

It doesn’t have as rich and full a sound as the more expensive end of the wireless speaker spectrum but an unexpectedly powerful sound makes up for the subtlety lost in the sound spectrum. We cranked up the volume and got no major distortion.

Its portability is a major boon and would be particularly convenient in a car. It also looks quite elegant its red metal body and black top make it very appealing on the eye. Good things do come in small packages and very good value at €29.95. Eamon mcGrane

 

Revlon Chrome Illuminated mirror,
****
€39.95
 When our family was being endowed with eyebrows, there was a shortage and we each received only one. My brothers remain related to Sam, the Muppet Show eagle, but the rest of us were introduced to tweezers early on and so, even if mine aren’t quite symmetrical in their natural state, they are usually of similar shape and density.

And then I was asked to test Revlon’s Luxury Illuminated Mirror, a tall, chrome and handsome pedestal with a normal mirror on one side and a three-times magnified mirror on the other, swivelling smoothly through 360 degrees.

That mirror cracked, from side to side, all my illusions about my dewy complexion, my intact capillaries, my unwrinkled twinkles, my lack of blackheads, my paucity of pores and my eyebrow-taming skills. Out shone my imperfections, through the “diffused soft surround lighting”. And out came the tweezers, flat, slanted and pointed; an invitation to obsession. The mains plug renders it unsuitable for a bathroom, so wet-shaving is not an option, but it could be used with an electric razor, with a laser-pulse-epi-ultrazapper, or for applying and removing make-up. Buy the mirror for yourself, but not for someone who might prefer not to see the light. Joyce Hickey

 

Remington Keratin Therapy volume and protect air styler
***
€49.95

I have got to the stage that I am sick and tired of getting my thick, unmanagemable hair blowdried professionally and if I find the product/styler that will save me the time and expense it will be a breakthough moment. I don’t think this is it but it definitely helped tame my frizzy mane. It took me a couple of gos to get the hang of it and the first time my hair got slightly mangled in the rotating brush . After a bit of practice it gave my hair some bounce and volume although it didn’t look as if I’d been to the hairdressers. The trick is to dry the hair until it’s 80 per cent and then use it to finish off the style. Edel Morgan

Prices as quoted by Power City (which supplied the gadgets for testing) but will vary elsewhere