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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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Comments

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.

I have a Panasonic cordless phone with multiple handsets and numbers have to be programmed into each handset, which is time consuming and really annoying, since I’m the only user.

I have two small Lumix (Panasonic) camera that look very similar. On one, the battery compartment is opened by sliding the catch to the right and on the other you slide it to the left. The batteries and chargers from these cameras look interchangeable but they are not.

These are the only Panasonic products I own but I have seen many other examples that illustrate that their designers are not very clever. It’s a pity because Panasonic is a large company and their products are generally good from a technical point of view.

Perhaps Panasonic should employ someone who has worked at Apple and knows about design and user interface.

Hi Liz – It is a Panasonic KX-TGA6521 and was bought several years ago, so is now obsolete. It annoys me every time I have to add or change a number and I should have given up on it, especially since I’m often told that the sound quality of my calls is poor.

The only cordless phone I have owned before was a Philips one, where a number stored on one handset was immediately available on another handset. It gave me many years of good service.

I know some people find it useful to store different numbers in different handsets – perhaps a family with different contacts – but I’m the only user of mine. The most intelligent solution would be to give the option to save a number on one or all handsets.

The last time I mentioned my annoying cordless phone on Which? Conversation I think I was told that number sharing could be mentioned in future Which? reviews of cordless phones, but I don’t believe that this happened.

Musse says:
19 July 2014

I happen to have three different Panasonic cordless phones, though none is KX-TGA6521. It is a doddle to copy numbers stored on any one phone, to the others. Have you R.T.F.M? Should you not have a copy of the manual, it might be possible to download it from the Panasonic, or another, website. http://panasonic.ca/english/support/operatinginstructions/query.asp#

This is not a problem with all Panasonic phones. I have a KX-TG8122E. This has a ‘copy’ facility whereby you can copy a stored number from one handset to another (or copy all numbers).

Thanks very much Musse and Eric. I did learn about about the other designs some time after I bought mine.

As I have suggested, the obvious solution is to be able to choose to save a number on one or all handsets and that would keep everyone happy. Until this happens we need Which? reviews to explain how different models handle saving numbers.

Marj jones says:
19 July 2014

Morphy Richards 48401 Food Slicer and Shredder , retails for £49.99, although I paid £19.99 for a special offer in a magazine.
It just mashes and mangles up what ever you put into it, wouldn’t even slice cucumber. Total waste of money !!

Built in Sat Navs. I have used a TomTom for many years and rarely have to check the manual – it is just intuitive. Our last two main cars have built in Sat Navs – a Land Rover Freelander and a Lexus RX450 – both totally user hostile. A 20 page “quick start” manual? Reasonably accurate when finally set up, but a nightmare to use, and possibly a danger of distracting the driver as they are so awkward,

I’d love a car with a built in Tom Tom.

The built in sat-nav in my 3-year old Prius is very user friendly as a navigator, but updating the maps is complex and very badly explained. Despite being fairly computer literate I have not yet managed it. Garage wants about £100 to do it for me!

Robin says:
19 July 2014

Tivo box. Embarrassingly, I’ve never had a clue how to use it. Used to use video regularly but now have to rely on catch-up TV.

Sorry, Robin, but even my wife finds it easy. Too easy! The recorder is nearly always 80% full of her favourite programmes! Maybe Tivo should have an option to divide the recording space into two and have “his and hers” record buttons!

I gave up on an Ipad 4, just found Itunes such a pain to use and Apple puts so many limitatiions on how I like to do things. It was MY Ipad not Apples! why should I be restricted from accessing my files. I sold it and now have a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 which is beautifully superb and lets me set it up to work in the way I like to work, such a joy to use after that auful Ipad.

percy bracewell says:
19 July 2014

panasonic HDD & DVD recorder too complicated to operate .

I often get asked to help friends who are struggling to get new electrical products and computers working. One of the hardest struggle I’ve had was a Panasonic DVD-recorder. It was a three cup of coffee problem as Sherlock Holmes should say. The manual seemed to be well written but I went round and round in circles. The recorder is still working five years later but I know its owner does not make full use of its capabilities.

Confused says:
19 July 2014

I bought a Canon bridge camera to replace an Ixus that I had lost. The new camera is capable of all sorts of clever things but it had no printed instruction book and I cannot cope with sitting at my computer trying to read the thing. It also has no viewfinder so that when shooting I cannot steady it against my face and nor can I see what I am shooting in bright sunlight. I have persisted with it but can be quite disgruntled.

Val says:
19 July 2014

My Samsung Galaxy Tab doesn’t understand me! Given it to the 9 year old grandchildren.

Rachel Henderson says:
19 July 2014

I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab2, my first tablet, and I love it!. One of the first things I did was to download the User’s Manual on to my laptop so that I could read the instructions on screen whilst carrying them out on the tablet, but I didn’t need it that much as the Galaxy’s Android system was so easy to use. I know there are many features and apps that I don’t use, but that is because I am a 71-year-old woman, not a twenty-something with a busy work and leisure lifestyle.

I bought a blue-tooth earpiece for legally answering the phone in the car. I don’t get many mobile calls and found it a real nuisance to put on each time I used the car, mostly for no purpose. Then the battery ran out! Haven’t used it since.

NHS behind the ear hearing aids, one year old. A, the low battery warning is so loud and repetative that the only course of action is to remove the aid and replace both batteries ASAP. This must be adding about 20% to the battery budget. B, the volume control wheel spins so freely that it is easily knocked off setting when putting the aid in or say, straightening windblown hair. The technicians suggestion is to immobilise it with surgical tape ! The wheel, not the hair.

Hi Paul T. My wife and I both have NHS behind the ear hearing aids. The volume is pre-set so no fiddly wheel. We don’t find this a problem so could you get yours changed? The battery low sound is not too loud but the battery does run out completely not too long after so it shouldn’t be much of a waste to replace the battery straight away. No need to replace both batteries at once as there can be quite a time difference in how long each one lasts.

The make of NHS hearing aids varies throughout the country and the models are frequently updated. Ours have “+” and “-” controls for the volume with one aid linked wirelessly to the other. The buttons also control the “loop ” and “concert or omni” settings The “low battery” warnings sound about every 20 mins for about 2 hours beforehand individually for each aid. It all works very well and doesn’t require undue dexterity, I cope with the controls despite carpal tunnel syndrome. Ask to change your aids, particularly if you have had them for a couple of years or more.

I’ve just bought an Alcatel 4G mifi hub. The device works fine – BUT the info displayed on the devices screen is miniscule and so dim that it’s impossible to see in outdoor daylight I just switch on and cross my fingers. If I needed to see the display I would need a magnifying glass in a darkened room. Even more annoyingly, the display shown when the battery is charging is relatively bold and bright. Incidentally, I do NOT need a trip to specsavers…. 😉

The original Three MiFis were the same, which was annoying. The newer ones have clear bright icons.

Pat says:
19 July 2014

Roberts digital radio alarm, Which best buy. The controls are a block of 12 or 15 flat rectangular buttons with no separation between them, making it very difficult to distinguish by feel which button you are pressing. Have had it for 2 years now and only regularly use 4 buttons but still find it awkward. I can’t imagine that either the designers or the Which testers tried using it while lying in bed in the dark.

I’ve just stopped using a recommended Bosch kettle as it was clumsy to tip forwards when full of boiling water. My hand mobility is restricted so I’ve changed to a Dualit and it pours easily – except I can’t get the lid off, so I fill it with a jug!

We have a Dualit toaster and kettle (support British Industry!). The clockwork timer got unreliable on the former but it is repairable and spares are available! The kettle was not a Which? best buy but we are pleased with it. I agree with the comment that the lid is stiff to operate. However, it does get much easier with use. Not much help for people with hand mobility problems, though.

My Panasonic G5 DSLR camera is almost impossible to use without the right thumb brushing against the White Balance and ISO buttons causing the settings to change. Within 6 months Panasonic rushed out a replacement model, the G6, but users have experienced the same ergonomic problems. Despite this, Which? recently gave the G6 a “Best Buy” rating.
NB My hands are normal size – a medium glove.

Product no doubt modelled with dainty oriental digits in mind.

I bought a Canon PIXMA MG7150 printer about 3 months ago and am still struggling to understand its controls. The problem starts with juggling the contents of no less than 3 instruction manuals (2 of which are online) and guessing which one covers the problem needing a solution. I’ve had several computers and printers since 1980 and thought I knew something about how they worked. The Canon is by far the cleverest printer I’ve owned but also the most complicated to use. Even the terminology used in the operating instructions is weird. As we advance we seem to go backwards – at least Canon does.

irwin says:
19 July 2014

I find vacuum cleaners in general to be unwieldy, don’t clean well in corners and edges and have cables that get in the way. Why can’t cylinder ones that retract the cable do so gently so that you could pull out the cable as you move away from the power socket and it would retract if you move nearer again?

More specifically the Dyson DC24 hose for the tools is too short to reach much easily and is springy so you always seem to be fighting against it.

Finally, why do so many garden appliances have stiff power cords that easily twist into knots even after they have been wound on something for storage. Untangling can take a while!

I share your views on garden appliance power leads. Every time I get the Bosch lawnmower out I curse the stiffness of the cable which defies all my attempts to loosen it up and allow me to make a sensible coil of it. It was packed in a sort of triangular formation and tightly gripped by cable ties. I expect Bosch import the power lead from somewhere in the east but it mars an otherwise excellent product.

The orange cable normally found on garden appliances varies in stiffness. I think there is a need for 2-core ‘arctic cable’, which would be much more flexible. Unfortunately, I have seen only 3-core 16 amp arctic cable, which is quite thick, albeit nice and flexible. It’s great for extension reels and leads.

It’s best not to coil cables by hand since doing so puts a twist in them and makes them tangle.
Loop them backwards and forwards between your two hands so that each bend reverses the twist from the other.

Also, if mowing backwards and forwards in the garden, turn clockwise at one end then anti-clockwise at the other. This avoids that twist and also helps keep the cable to the same side.

bechet says:
19 July 2014

Incompatibility between gadgets drives me up the wall. Most modern gadgets have built-in obsolescence although, to be fair, there is a limit to the number of different shaped holes a manufacturer can punch in one piece of kit. Soon there’ll be no holes and the gadgets will just wave to each other; old fashioned machines, even those with the essential perforations, will be useless if they haven’t been taught to wave. Then different kinds of wave will become incompatible and off we go again. And then there’s the software….