Buy Now! Putting As-Seen-On-TV Products to the Test
By Teri Goldberg, special to MSN Tech & Gadgets
Do these revolutionary new gadgets really make life easier?
The Vidalia Chop Wizard chops “an entire onion in just one swift motion.” The One Touch Can Opener is “the last can opener you’ll ever need.” And the secret to the One Sweep broom is its “rubber bristles,” constructed of indestructible space-age polymers.
These gadgets, constantly advertised on television, always have a secret—whether it’s the design, the construction or the composition. A secret that by buying them will change your life forever by making it easier, sort of like Staples’ red Easy Button. Ironically, the As-Seen-On-TV logo, shaped like an old cathode-ray-tube screen, is a bright Easy-Button red.
Consumers still can buy the latest gizmo by calling the toll-free number listed during the TV commercial. But these days, the indispensable novelties also are sold online. Rochester, N.Y.-based AsSeenOnTV.com calls itself the “official site” and stocks more than 1,200 products. (Nothing, however, is official in this business. See “Tricks of the As-Seen-On-TV Trade.”) Cyber 4asseenontv.com, which also has set up shop on eBay and Amazon.com, fills 1,500 orders a day out of its warehouse in Atlanta. TVOverstocks.com touts about 100 products.
But do these products make life easier? An MSN editor and I decided to put a few to the test. We settled on five household gadgets selling for about $19.95 plus shipping, which is a reasonable amount to spend on a product sight unseen.
Vidalia Chop Wizard
I own several chopping contraptions, but none of them chops an onion in one movement. Nor do they have the Vidalia Chop Wizard’s sleek design—an avocado-colored “blade” sandwiched between a clear plastic storage area and a white lid.
Although they’re expensive at $1.29 a pound, I bought Vidalia onions to test the chopper. As instructed, I cut the onion from top to bottom and placed one half on the metal grid, a 3 3/8-inch-by-3 3/8-inch section of the blade. (The video shows a whole onion, but the instructions suggest half an onion.) I didn’t want to break the flimsy plastic device, but I had to apply a fair amount of pressure to get it to close. The first onion half chopped up nicely, but a few layers remained uncut. I tossed them aside and tried the other half. I had a similar experience. I had planned to test Spanish, yellow and even purple onions but decided to move on.
Video: Vidalia Chop Wizard
I had slightly better success with green pepper and celery. There was less bulk for the blade to cut through when I shut the lid. I still pretty much had to slam down the lid to get the veggies chopped.
Disappointed but determined, I watched the infomercial again and realized I’d made a mistake—I was using the grid with ¼-by-¼-inch holes rather than the one with ½-by-½ inch gaps. A second round of tests yielded better results. I could easily close the lid when I laid another onion half on the larger grid. All the onion went through the grid and produced rather uniform squares of onion.
Apparently, the small grid is designed to chop smaller fruits, nuts and veggies. And the larger blade is intended for bulkier items. Personally, I prefer produce chopped finer than either grid could provide. But if you like chunky salsa or plump bits of onion in your tomato sauce, it may be the device for you.
Prices vary online, from $17.81 plus $5.22 shipping at QVC.com to $19.99 plus shipping at Linen n Things.
Like many As-Seen-On-TV products, there are other models and distributors on the market. Progressive, a kitchen gadget company based in Kent, Wash., imports and sells the Progressive Chopper, which comes with one blade and sells for as little as $11.89 at Amazon.com.
One Touch Can Opener
Once again, I can see the appeal of the One Touch Can Opener’s stylish design. A hybrid of those clunky old ’50s-era electric can openers and a modern-day ergonomic tool, the relatively small, elliptical-shaped gadget wouldn’t take up any more space than a traditional can opener in my utensil drawer. I also was impressed with the device’s sturdy construction and the heft. I was, however, skeptical of any product that operates on its own, or “hands-free,” and worried about the exposed blade cutting off more than the can’s lid.
Now to opening some cans. I read the user manual and loaded the batteries. Nothing happened when I pushed the reset button, which meant the blade was in the right “start” position.
Video: One Touch Can Opener
To my surprise, the device bounced along the top of the 2 ¾-inch-diameter can of evaporated milk and made a clear cut just below the rim. The lid, however, remained stuck in the can opener. I tried to resolve the problem by pressing the “release button” and turning the “stall release screw” manually with a Phillips screwdriver. Neither technique worked.
I contacted Marlboro, Mass.-basedCricket, the company that imports One Touch from China and distributes it here. “The unit may have been defective,” said Scott MacKinnon, vice president of new product development. One Touch was more than happy to send me another one. I also was told to keep in mind only 1 percent out of 4 million sold since April 2006 has been returned by customers. You do the math. That’s 40,000 defective can openers.
Advised to use fresh batteries, I tried the other can opener with new batteries on four cans—two tuna cans, a 4 ½-inch-diameter can of diced tomatoes and a 2-inch-diameter can of Italian tomato paste. The first three opened successfully. The tomato paste lid stuck.
One Touch Can Opener retails for $19.95 plus $7.95 shipping. In addition to the usual As-Seen-On-TV channels, it can be found at Wal-Mart for $18.44.
Pasta Pronta and Pasta Express
“Tired of the waiting for a big pot of water to boil and then breaking the pasta to make it fit?” says the perky pasta maker in the Pasta Express infomercial. “Love spaghetti and meatballs but hate the spaghetti and mess?” asks the vivacious voice over in the Pasta Pronta infomercial. Ah, the lure of perfect pasta every time. Watch these infomercials enough times and it’s hard to tell the products apart. So I decided to put both to the test.
First, Pasta Pronta. As instructed, I boiled water in a kettle on the stove to pour over the pasta I had placed in the clear plastic 12-inch tube. I sealed the container with the strainer and thermal lids—and then wrapped it with the thermal grip.
Video: Pasta Express
Since no cooking times are listed on the box, the infomercial or even the instructions, I waited. The first time, I cooked Ronzoni spaghetti No. 8 for 10 minutes; the next time, Ronzoni tri-color radiatore No. 67 for 18 minutes; and then spaghetti again for 14 minutes.
The result invariably was the same: Whether undercooked or overcooked, a cold, mealy, starchy substance that proved to be almost inedible.
Then I tried the Pasta Express. Following the directions carefully—as instructed by Vernest Kazer, who produced the TV spot for Tri-Star productions, the Fairfield, N.J.-based company that imports (from China) and distributes the product—I warmed up the clear plastic tube with hot tap water to prime it for use. I also used the suggested cooking times posted on the Web site. The result: The same. Both pasta makers unequivocally made the worst pasta I’ve ever tasted.
Pasta Express comes in a one cylinder model for $9.99, available at Bed, Bath and Beyond or a two-cylinder version that retails for $19.99 plus $9 shipping at SkyMall. The two-cylinder pack of Pasta Pronta sells for as little as $12.99 at iKitchen.com to as much as $17.95 at 4asseenontv.com.
As advertised in the infomercial, the Clever Cutter—a knife-and-cutting board-in-one gadget—did cut an avocado in half, “pit and all.” But I also cut my finger when trying to wipe the scissor-like tool clean.
Despite the injury, I tested other fruits and veggies. When cutting bananas, the soft ripe fruit stuck to the blade. Positioning mushrooms on the tiny cutting board took more time, energy and patience than was worth it. Perhaps it’s my technique, but I also noticed that when chopping carrots over a bowl, the cut-off pieces went flying in random directions—landing on the stove or the floor.
The Clever Cutter worked well with celery and sweet potatoes. I concluded it could “save hours preparing food in the kitchen” if you’re making something that requires cutting up raw potatoes and celery stalks into chunks or slices.
The infomercial also claims you can separate the blade from the cutting board by pulling the handles apart. There’s a knack to doing it but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty clever. There should be something in the instructions about pulling the blades apart before cleaning it.
Clever Cutter retails for $19.99 at San Jacinto, Calif.-based Ronan Tools, whose founder invented the tool. It’s available at independent kitchen specialty shops, such as Bitchin Kitchin, in Pentwater, Mich., as well as Sears, True Value and Ace Hardware stores nationwide.
As promised by handsome infomercial star Anthony Sullivan, the One Sweep broom is easy to assemble. The handle, comprised of separate pieces, snaps together with little effort. The broom head screws into the last rung of the handle without a hitch.
“The world’s best broom” also picked up crumbs, dust mites, hair and other particulate matter on several surfaces including the tile floor in my kitchen, the wood flooring in the living room and that musty old communal carpet on the staircase.
Video: One Sweep, 'The world's best broom'
The problem with the broom and its rubble bristles—in lieu of the standard corn or vinyl—is its weight, size and shape. Despite its mod look with a metal handle and rubber head, the One Sweep required a lot more energy to push around the room than a regular household whisk. The width and inflexibility of the broom head also made it hard to maneuver in corners.
The One Sweep may be better suited for patio, outdoors or some industrial use, such as cement factory floors.
Two models are available. The basic model sells for $9.99 plus shipping. The deluxe version, which has twice as many bristles and a larger surface area than the standard model, retails for $19.99. With shipping that’s about a $30 for a broom! Telebrands licenses and sells One Sweep on the Invention Channel. It’s also available at several As-Seen-On-TV product Web sites, Amazon.com and J & R Music World as well as at Bed Bath & Beyond and Linens 'N Things stores nationwide.
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