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Are you turned on by feature-heavy appliances?

Heston Blumenthal looking at his tea maker

Would you pay more for a kettle that boils to 80 and 90 degrees as well as 100 degrees? Appliances with lots of fancy features are making their way into our homes, but do we really need all the bells and whistles?

I don’t think I’d pay more for a kettle that boils to different temperatures. Boiling water has worked just fine for the 30,000 or so cups of tea and coffee I’ve brewed so far. So Heston Blumenthal’s new range of kitchen gadgets, which includes an automatic tea-maker and a smart kettle, are unlikely to make it to my kitchen. But am I in the minority?

Fine without the fancy features

I have pretty basic needs when it comes to appliances. They need to do their job well, whether it be washing my clothes or cooking my food. And they need to be reliable. But I’m not really interested in special programs or features.

But there are exceptions to this rule. For example, when I buy my next oven, I’ll definitely go for one with pyrolytic cleaning. I hate cleaning the oven, and paying a bit more for an oven that does it for me seems like a very good idea.

A recent episode of BBC Watchdog highlighted some of the more complex appliances out there, including a tumble dryer with a ‘cuddly toy’ setting, a microwave with a ‘chaos defrost’ function and an iron that offers ‘small steam particles for tough creases’.

Satisfied with extra settings

Making products with a raft of special features is nothing new for manufacturers, but many of those settings will languish unused. However, some of them are definitely useful. For example, Which? researcher Jess Carson told me:

‘The buttons on the new Heston Blumenthal range are actually really simple – the toaster buttons labelled ‘a quick look’ or ‘a bit more toasting’ strive for really plain, simple functions that add value.’

Products with the kind of features Jess mentions above are taking inspiration from the way we actually use our appliances, with positive results. My colleague Victoria Pearson owns a temperature-control kettle and loves it. She told me:

‘My husband loves a range of different Chinese teas, which all need different temperatures to steep. The more “fermented” your tea, the higher temperature you use. The black tea that you’ll find in a tea bag needs blasting to get flavour out of it, but green teas become bitter if overheated.’

Are you turned on by feature-heavy appliances, or can you live without them? Could the automatic tea-maker ever take the place of your kettle and teapot in your home?


I do not have any feature-heavy appliances, though I confess to being tempted by bean-to-cup coffee makers. I am not aware of any reliable products on the market, though I have seen, used and repaired ones that are not very good.


That was rather ambiguous. The bean-to-cup coffee makers made great coffee but the reliability was not good. For example, a Gaggia Titanium had to be repaired in the guarantee period and cost £200 to fix when it broke down after the guarantee period had expired. It lasted another two weeks if I recall. I managed to fix it but it developed another fault and was disposed of.

Em says:
27 May 2013

I’ve just bought a Which? Best Buy kettle – Bosch TWK8631GB – that heats to 70 / 80 / 90 / 100.

It seemed like a good idea to me, as filling a hot water bottle with boiling water is not recommended and I can get a bowl full of hot washing up water without risking serious burns.

OK, it could be a bit OTT, but why question your own recommendations?


I see that there are 36 reviews – both good and bad – of this kettle on the Which? website.

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

I have this kettle. It was incredibly expensive when you consider that I don’t use any features other than the “on” button. I bought it solely because I very much like the look of it, and being on show, that’s important to me.

It’s noisy when it the water is heating, but so is every other fast-boil kettle I have ever used, so that’s more a down-side of the principle of fast-boil kettles rather than a negative of this kettle. There is nothing I can fault this kettle on…it’s packed with options I never wanted or asked for, but I made the choice to buy it as it’s stylish and very practical (some kettles are soooooooooo hard to pick up when full of water, but this isn’t).


Perhaps after this they can come up with a kettle that can boil water silently and rapidly. I haven’t found one yet.


The current bunch of rapid boil kettles should be used to frighten off the nuisance callers. I often wander into the kitchen when I’m on the phone and as soon as I switch on the kettle they say ‘what on earth is that noise’.

Heston Blumenthal’s ideas are like the Emperor’s New Clothes.


Swan Automatic, 3 kW element, 3 pint capacity, made in Birmingham in 1976, still going strong, never had a new element, boils as near silently as you’ll ever get I think (very very quiet – you can’t hear it’s on if you are more than 10 feet away and boils the full 3 pints in less than 5 mins, or just enough to cover the element (about 0.75 pints) in well under 2 mins. and what’s more it has some wonderful novelty features that you don’t find on many modern kettles:
1) the lid lifts off easily and doesn’t dribble when you put it down to one side
2) it pours a smooth, steady, stream of water with no drips, dribbles or split-streams
3) it switches off pretty much the second it boils, rather than before boiling or after steam-stripping the wallpaper in the entire house and boiling nearly dry first.

I highly recommend it. Mine was my Aunt’s but I did see one new and boxed on e-bay recently …. it got over 30 bids and went for almost £70 in the end. The price ticket on the box off mine says Boots £9.75. In 1976 that was probably about equivalent to a £19.99 one these days I guess.

Alwyn Maynard says:
29 May 2013


A lot of these appliances are also good ways of saving energy.

Who really uses 100 deg boiling water these days, for coffee? or hot chocolate? Not unless you want 3rd deg burns on your lips.

Boiling the right amount of water at the right temperature for coffee and other hot drinks is common sense.

Anyone who has studied physics will tell you that it takes lots of energy to get water from 90 deg C to 100 deg C and once you turn the kettle off it’s back down to 90 deg within a few seconds anyway.

I like Heston’s new ideas.

Em says:
29 May 2013

Were you one of the ones asleep at the back of my class? 🙂

It takes no more energy to heat water from 90 deg C to 100 deg C, than for any other increase of 10 deg C. What is different is the rate of heat loss, the higher the water’s temperature from ambient.

So you are right that water near boiling point cools more quickly. However, because the rate of heat input in an electric kettle is so great compared to the losses, the difference is practically insignificant.

I agree completely there is no point in heating water to a higher temperature than you need, however.


We use the kettle mostly for making tea, so need boiling water. These newfangled kettles are just a waste of money; no more than a kitchen fashion accessory. They are no more efficient than cheap kettles. It takes the same power to heat 1 litre of water from a given temperature to boiling. Providing the kettles are designed so that the heat from the element goes only to the water, they are 100% efficient, so use identical power.

And if someone thinks that making hot chocolate at 80 degrees won’t burn your lips, be very careful. Eighty degrees can still cause serious burns. Please don’t experiment though!

As for using cooler water for washing up, why? If you need 2 litres of boiling water plus sufficient cold to provide just sufficient water for your washing up bowl, you will need more water at 80 degrees and less cold water to give you the same quantity of washing up water at the same temperature. Or to put it another way, a bowl of washing up water (say 6 litres at 60 degrees) uses the same energy whether the water was boiling or only 80 degree because you adjust the quantity of cold water to cool it down to 60 degrees. So no energy saved whatsoever.

They are just gimmicks. Save your money.


Why are people boiling water in kettles to wash up? Don’t they have these wonderful newfangled all-singing all-dancing combi boilers to provide washing up water? Or a Dishwasher?

oops, silly me… I forgot that these new boilers actually use more energy to heat a bowl of water than a kettle does and waste 2 bowls full before they run hot, and dishwashers, of course, are usually connected to the cold supply so heat the water electrically anyway … unless you have a Miele connected to your hot cylinder which is heated by solar panels and a 34 year old boiler that uses less gas than next door’s 2 year old SEDBUK A combo.

Oh dear …. do I sound a little sceptical of energy saving claims again? Sorry 😉

Busy Bear says:
31 May 2013

Just to nit-pick with the first line of the original article…”A kettle that BOILS to different temperatures”? Should that not be “heats” to different temperatures? I was given to understand that in the UK, water boiled at 100C…


Water would boil around 70C on the top of Mount Everest, so this kettle could be handy to take with you if you are planning an adventure holiday.

If you really want to nit-pick, it isn’t the kettle that boils. 🙂