Old v. new: which home gadgets are worth splashing out on?


iRobot-Roomba - Credit: Archant

Manufacturers often promise to save us time and make our boring everyday tasks more fun. But how much help do we really need to keep on top of things? And most importantly, which gadgets are worth splashing out on, and when might you be better off sticking to the old faithfuls?

iR?obot-Roomba 880

iR?obot-Roomba 880 - Credit: Archant


It seems like an ideal scenario, a robot that you can programme to vacuum your home whenever you want. The Roomba iRobot was first launched 13 years ago and now, after adaptations and new models, the 800 series has arrived. It looks good, rather like a mechanical ice hockey puck with clear buttons and a stylish handle that sits flush on the top. There is also a chunky lip that pushes down to release the easy-to-empty bin and small stylish brushes for cleaning corners and round edges. It comes complete with a remote control, a recharging docking station, an ‘auto virtual wall’, ‘virtual wall lighthouse’ and – a real thumbs up here – a complete set of batteries.

The first bonus is that it’s easy to use. Press “clean” and it sets off, while you can get on with other things. There is a sensor to avoid it falling down stairs and although it is quite noisy it seems amazingly resilient. The iRobot detects obstacles and glides past them and can also move from room to room, although a large open plan space would no doubt be its favourite habitat.

Since it only glides, it can’t clean stairs, but it can slide effortlessly underneath tables and chairs and can be programmed easily to clean on a regular basis or to spot clean, for just one dirty area. In fact, it’s designed to vacuum once a day, rather than the once or twice a week that a (tidy) human might manage. When the vacuum is full, the red bin signs lights up to show it needs emptying, and the iRobot will return to its base. This will happen more often the less frequently it’s used. iRobot also returns to base when it’s run out of battery and when it finishes a clean.

Also included is a virtual wall, like a robot restraining order, which sends out a signal to stop the iRobot coming within a certain radius of the transmitter. It can be easily set up so particularly fragile areas – they use the example of bowls of pet food, but it would be just as useful for a fragile or wobbly piece of furniture – can be cordoned off.

It seems that there are just three notable drawbacks: not being able to clean stairs, although it would be ideal for apartment living; it can’t move things that are blocking a carpet, so it needs a clear run; and it’s not cheap. Yet the overall results were surprisingly good and it’s great to sit back and let the iRobot just get on with it.

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Is it worth it? Yes, especially in stair-free homes. You feel like you’re being looked after while iRobot whirs around at your feet

The Roomba iRobot 880 costs £575 and is available from various online retailers

The JML Phoenix Gold iron

The JML Phoenix Gold iron - Credit: Archant


The Phoenix Gold ceramic iron from JML promises to banish creases on everything from shirts to soft furnishings.

The iron has a dual function: learning the lessons of the new breed of snag-free hair appliances, it has a ceramic plate, which promises to glide across fabric with precision, while the addition of a pump-driven steam generator means that it can also function as a garment steamer. Steamers are a pleated-skirt wearer’s best friend. They are also a dream for delicate items, including silk, or embellished clothes, all garments that tend to require frequent trips to the dry cleaner for a professional touch.

The question is, does it actually work? Is it worth eschewing your regular iron in favour of this new turbo option?

To use, the Phoenix Gold is as simple as your regular iron – fill with water, plug in and go. It irons well and feels lovely and smooth, but that could just be the difference between a slightly older model, with its build-up of calcium and time-made scratches. It’s also a little leaky at first until the steam and heat settings are adjusted, but once this is done it all works fine.

More interesting is the steaming option – can you save on dry cleaning fees for rumpled or smelly delicates?

It certainly works wonders on a silk dress that has been sitting in a suitcase for a few days and it’s so simple to use. Just set the dial to a high heat setting and press the steamer button on and within seconds, bursts of steam are shooting out of the tip of the iron, smoothing the fabric in an instant, without the use of an ironing board. Not only is it successful but there’s also a certain novelty value in playing with a new gadget. For black trouser wearing pet owners, the brush fitting will also prove a blessing.

Is it worth it? Sort of. It’s not worth replacing an iron you’re happy with, but is worth buying if you need a new iron anyway

The Phoenix Gold is £49.99, available from JML

Fetch My Keys

Fetch My Keys - Credit: Archant

Finding your keys

For some people (namely men who like to strew the contents of their pockets at random throughout the house), losing one’s keys is so much part of life that a gadget designed to retrieve them should be a godsend. Fetch My Key is a small, dog-shaped keyring, designed to put an end to those morning panics.

The idea is that if you mislay your keys somewhere in the house, you just whistle and the keyring emits a bleeping noise, and the nose-shaped red light flashes on and off, so you can track the pesky things down.

Placed within arm’s reach, a good strong whistle set the bleeper and light merrily off. Sadly the packaging lacked instructions to turn them off again once ‘found’. After a few (maddening) minutes, the bleeping subsided and we decided to test it at long range.

In a different room with the door pushed to, the keyring struggles to hear even the most piercing whistle, but is then set off again by the sound of conversation. And again, it won’t stop.

Eventually the cursed item had to be buried far out of earshot. For all we know, it’s still down there, bleeping and flashing forlornly, hoping that someone will come and find their keys.

Is it worth it? No. Not even costing well under £10

Fetch My Key costs £5.75