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Difficult-to-use products: the niggles that let you down

Some products are great at the job they’re designed for: microwaving food evenly or helping you get every crease out of your ironing. But if the product’s awkward to use, it could make your life a nightmare.

Problems with products, such as fiddly buttons or hard to manoeuvre handles, can make using them more of a pain than a pleasure.

Looking through the comments made by Which? members, niggles with the usability of products are a common complaint.

Which? member product reviews

Frustrated with an iron they’d purchased, one member commented:

‘I find that even on the highest heat, I have to press so hard to try and iron out creases that it makes very hard work. I also have to refill it very often as the steam depletes quickly on highest setting.’

Another member left feedback on a tablet, saying:

‘The tablet is sluggish and slow, has a worse battery life than the worst smartphone, has a nasty habit of turning itself off in the middle of an action and cannot multi-task to save it’s life.’

Another member, who had bought a digital radio, told us:

‘The buttons are small and close together so it’s not easy to operate, and I can’t see the time on the screen as it is too dark and not adjustable.’

And unhappy with a vacuum cleaner, one member said that:

 ‘It blocks every single time I use it, the filters have to be washed almost every week and it blows out more dust then it collects. I spend more time cleaning filters than cleaning floors!’

 What makes appliances a pain to use?

To help you avoid these and similar issues, we recently selected the most easy-to-use home and technology products. It includes the easiest to use washing machines, vacuum cleaners, toasters, televisions, tablets, steam irons, simple phones, microwaves, laptops, kettles, digital radios and more (phew!).

But before you check out our selection of easy-to-use products, we want to know what gets your blood boiling about the gadgets that are horrid to use. It might be a kettle that’s awkward to pour, a tablet that’s confusing and complicated to use, or maybe a vacuum cleaner that’s difficult to manoeuvre. Whatever it is, we’re keen to hear your comments on what really frustrates you about your home and tech gadgets.

Have you stopped using a product altogether because it was difficult to use?

Yes (68%, 740 Votes)

No (32%, 356 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,097

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Some small radios have tuning wheels for station selection that are so small and fiddly, and with very little ‘gap’ between each station, that they make it difficult to change from one programme to another easily and sometimes they do not hold on the selected channel. I believe there are a number of makes with this problem but Roberts spring to mind as particularly awkward.


I suggest buying a radio with presets, as I expect you have in your car.

Presets were introduced in the days of larger valve radios, manually moving the tuning condenser to the right position. Or nearly to the right position. 🙁

The narrow gaps between stations are to maximise use of the available bandwidth. In the 60s it was common to have a ‘bandspread’ button which made it easier to select programmes broadcast at the higher frequencies of the medium wave band. My 1967 Bush transistor radio has this feature. It is a treasured possession from my teenage years, but I rather prefer modern DAB/FM radios with presets.


Thanks Wavechange. Three of our radios are Bose with presets and these are very convenient and easy to retune after the power cuts we get here every few weeks. The car radio has presets as well but they all went haywire last week and its a lottery what programme you get when you press a button – perhaps there is an electronic interface fault between the dashboard console and the up/down toggle on the steering wheel [the one that doesn’t shoot you up to seventh gear, I mean]. A job for the next wet Sunday perhaps to reset the presets. The radios with the fiddly tuning wheels have been consigned to obscure places where they stay on Radio 4 and Radio 3 for which they give excellent reception.

Your comments brought back memories of the wooden-cased Philips valve radio that we had in the living room when I was growing up. This beautiful wireless had preset buttons as well as a large dial and I quickly learnt that for the Home Service I had to turn the dial to the frequency marked Algiers and for the Light Programme it was Hilversum. Correct tuning was achieved when a little green light above the dial glowed consistently and brightly. Using the preset buttons avoided the need to peer at the little green light; there were eight presets but only three of them wre ever tuned in properly I recall. When I left home in 1968 I bought myself a British-made Hacker Sovereign portable VHF radio that had presets and was the equal of the Bose radios for sound quality and fidelity. They are now sought after by collectors but they probably don’t compare so well with the best radios today. So sad that the British radio industry, even good names like Roberts, has declined to its present low level unless you have bottomless pockets.


Wonderful John. I’m fascinated by old radios and my username was inspired by an old wireless. I still have a Hacker Hunter RP38A, a late model dating from 1975.

Presets should not need retuning after a power cut, any more than a TV does. It’s all a matter of good design. Likewise, it should not be necessary to set a clock after a power cut or after changing batteries on a camera etc.


The older Bose radio loses its presets when power fails but the later models hold the time and the stations. The 1948-vintage Smiths Electric Clock on my desk needs resetting after a power cut and I have to “prime” it by oressing a knob on the back until an image in a little window on the dial starts rotating; it keeps perfect time and has been working continuosuly throughout its life. I can forgive it’s little flaw and wish all modern products were as reliable.

I was tempted to introduce our Hoover Constellation vacuum cleaner and the Hoover Keymatic washing machine into this Conversation but thought better of it. In their time they were THE state of the art.


My parents had a Smiths electric clock that would sometimes run backwards after a power cut. How we have moved on.


For me it was the first mobile I ever bought myself. I had always had Nokia phones but I was given promotion at work so treated myself to a new Sony Ericsson W880i (because someone who I liked had the same phone), but just could not get the hang of it at all so after 3 days boxed it up and gave it to my little sister, she was over the moon with it and i went back to Nokia’s.

Had the same problem when I bought a new laptop and was so used to windows 7 that I could not get used to windows 8.1, luckily after making a few changes it’s just like how windows 7 used to look so it’s all good again. (I dread to think what would happen if i moved from Windows to a Mac lol)

Karen says:
15 July 2014

The Tassimo coffee maker that you have to move all the way across the worktop to access the water tank. The Bosch instant cup machine that you have to twist to get the water tank off.