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October 7, 2004

Microwave oven-embedded appliances - an idea whose time has come?

Toast

Kara Swisher recently evaluated appliance-maker LG's newest entries in the kitchen appliance combo sweepstakes.

You may recall this company brought us the first refrigerator with a built-in internet-connected computer and television.

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At $8,000 a pop, it might not have sold too well.

Now they've chosen to focus on a more mundane appliance: the humble microwave oven.

Last year heralded the introduction of their microwave/toaster ($119-$149); recently, they've unveiled their microwave/radio/recorder ($109) and microwave/coffee maker ($149-$179).

Swisher's verdicts on the tricked-out microwaves?

She liked the coffee maker version; was ambivalent about the toaster feature because it could result in a burned hand due to poor design; hated the radio/recorder model because of its terrible sound quality.

Here the full story.
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Microwave, Meet Toaster

We Review Combo Devices Designed to Save Space; Burnt Fingers, Fallen Bagels

There was no one who entered my kitchen over the last few weeks who didn't have a vociferous opinion. Thankfully, it wasn't about the long-ago military service of presidential candidates but an unusual trio of microwaves lined up on the counter.

Some loved the space-saving concept of ridding their kitchen counters of a traffic jam of appliances.

Others hated the idea, considering it just another marketing ploy.

Ed, my vigilant assistant, was worried about what would happen when one of the two-in-one appliances broke down over time and required fixing - a problem that is likely to occur.

Still other friends tried to imagine how many kitchen devices you could meld together to create the ultimate mutant appliance that someday would conquer your kitchen.

I took a more sociological view: Appliances like LG's microwaves are just part of a long-term trend toward inventing the perfect all-in-one device.

Such efforts are mostly seen in consumer electronics, with the constant introduction of such things as hand-held devices that serve a number of functions, like cell phones that also have Web access, calendars and address books, cameras, videos, radios and music players.

While their convenience and ease of use often is touted, one persistent issue with these types of products is that what often is created is a device whose parts are never as good together as alone.

That is why I took a wary approach to LG's efforts.

The South Korean company got a lot of ink (and only so-so sales) for its effort to embed an Internet-connected computer and television in a refrigerator.

But it is in the microwave area that LG has been most active of late. It is an effort with some promise - especially for those with limited space in their kitchen - but with some problems, too.

The radio-embedded microwave, for example, which sells for about $109, is a solid miss.

Radio

This is largely because the FM radio and speakers used in the unit were about as bad as the portable radio I had as a child.

It has scratchy fidelity and hard-to-tune stations, and even the pre-programming option was useless and seemed antiquated in a digital age.

Also included is a voice recorder, on which you presumably can tape messages to other family members.

The buttons to use the recorder were hard to decipher, and Ed and I kept recording each other saying: "Is this on? Which #!?*&# button do you push to make it work?"

Well-designed, the microwave works fine, with a number of convenient auto-cook buttons and a nifty dial you can spin to set the time you want to cook an item.

I had a much better experience with the toaster unit, which sells for $119 to $149, depending on the finish - although it had a considerable safety issue.

On the plus side, the handsome unit looks compact, even though it has a spacious microwave and a two-slice toaster capable of handling the largest bagel I could find to shove in.

The microwave operates easily, with a number of helpful speed buttons and an easy ability to switch to manual.

The toaster, too, is terrific, with intuitive controls that determine how dark you want your bread and a separate setting for bagels, as well as the cutest crumb tray ever invented.

Every toasting I tried came out just as requested.

Unfortunately, the toaster opening is set vertically on the front, meaning you pull down a small door to open it.

This caused a number of problems, including a tendency for the bagel to roll onto the floor when I pulled the door open too hard.

Most problematic is the metal plate that sits on the inside of the door to help with toasting.

It gets hot and radiates up uncomfortably at your hand as you pull toast out.

Several times, I nearly put my hand on it and a child almost certainly would do so, which might cause a nasty burn.

While a hand with a line drawn through it is on the plate to warn users, LG needs to find another solution.

There is a similar problem with the coffee maker/microwave, which sells for $149 to $179.

Coffee

A thin opening right in front on top of the unit vents steam from brewing.

I managed to parboil my hand three times as I touched the unit to pull the coffee carafe out.

Other than the safety issue, though, I could find nothing else wrong with this appliance - which makes the most sense to me as a combo.

Again beautifully designed, this microwave is the largest, with excellent touchpad controls and a spacious rounded cavity.

The coffee unit is well integrated into the appliance, situated unobtrusively to one side.

Over it, a pullout drawer for the water and the coffee is light and easy to fill.

You can adjust for stronger or weaker coffee, and there are settings for however many cups you like (to as many as seven).

There is an autotimer, a brewing-temperature choice, and an option that can keep the pot warm for as long as two hours.

It also made a very decent cup of coffee quickly.

Best of all, you can reheat your coffee right at the microwave.

This might be a small convenience, but it underscores the pluses of the all-in-one concept when it works.

October 7, 2004 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


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