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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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I have a Pure Evoke-1 radio with a 12V power supply and a rechargeable Pure Evoke-3 radio with a 9V power supply that looks almost identical and has the same power connector.

I wonder what would happen if I plugged the 12V supply into the 9V radio.

That’s my nomination for dodgy design.

Ben Clark says:
19 July 2014

I have a Sharp combination microwave that I purchased mainly because of the large cavity – passing-on a perfectly good Panasonic combi. Frankly, I am considering selling it off, at quite a loss, and getting a new Panasonic. What drives me up the wall? It is the stupid feature that switches off the display – after only a minute or so of lack of input. After 5 – 10 minutes might be acceptable, but I ask you – How much electricity does a display use running 24/7/365? Certainly not as much as my GEC Nightstor electric boiler takes charging (overnight) for one minute.

Pol says:
19 July 2014

A store brand food processor. It does all the things it says it will do, but bloomin ‘eck, cleaning it’s a nightmare.

Also, stopped using my bluetooth earset as it kept falling off my ear.

Also, i keep hitting the caps button instead of ‘a’ on this ipad!

My old and cumbersome Murphy Richards Coffee Machine has sadly almost reached its final days and I need to replace it. I have looked at the new models on display in various stores with some disdain as to me they slightly resemble something I would expect to find in a sci-fi movie so the new purchase has been put on hold for the time being.

However, during a recent spring cleaning session I came across an old Cona Coffee Maker I had kept because of its beautiful and elegant design with its two glass bowls and arced handles I had been reluctant to throw it away. I set about cleaning it up and it now has pride of place on the kitchen worktop and still makes a perfect cup of coffee. Fortunately I had kept the instructions as it is quite complicated and a bit scary to use with its hubble bubble action but it is a joy to watch the whole coffee making process through the glass bowls from start to finish. I doubt very much whether it would pass today’s stringent Health and Safety regulations though.

pol says:
20 July 2014

it may be just me, but car clocks are a pain to reset. there are these tiny controls that never seem to move if one can actually get hold of them between finger and thumb in first place. I give up each time the clocks change and what ever the first time it gets moved on to is the one I end up using so am always having to work out what the real time is with deducting or adding on so many minutes. I actually tried again to alter it before seeing this subject on here and now know my clock in the car is about 15 minutes slower now.

Marie says:
23 July 2014

You are so right. My car clock is right for 6 months of the year, the remainder I add an hour. Life is just too short to suffer the pain of changing the clock

I guess that Pol and Marie may have Toyotas. I end up doing the awkward job of correcting the clock in a friend’s car, otherwise it would remain an hour out until the next time the clocks changed.

My disappointment of the year has to be the You View box that Talk Talk persuaded me to have. It promised to do all sorts of things that my Humax recorder could not do. So long as I use it regularly it is OK up to a point, but it will not let me do catch-up on BBC or the commercial channels for more than an hour. And it is so slow to get started. It has to wake up for a start and it is slower even than I at that! Once it has woken up it then takes ages to get “ready”. I have often given up trying to receive channels through the box and reverted to the remote that came with the TV. Do not be talked into having one of these boxes.

I bought my husband a Nokia Windows phone and the writing was so small and in either red or blue on a black background that he could not read it. He hated it. He now has a Samsung galaxy ace,and loves it.

I can’t get the back covers off mobile phones – why are they so difficult?

. . . because they are designed for three-year olds who can do it easily.

Not really a consumer product problem, but definitely a niggle caused by bad design: Why is there always gulley grating right alongside the air line at motor service stations? If there’s one thing guaranteed to drop on the ground and roll into the gutter it’s tyre inflation valve caps; their route to an after-life is via the drainage gulley. Not by chance, the service station shop has a handy packet of four replacement tyre inflation valve caps for sale at an exhorbitant price. Of course, on pulling apart the packaging they all fly out and head for the drain. Well who has a pair of scissors in the car for neatly opening valve cap packets? In-built perpetuality – it’s the new obsolescence.

daphne hole says:
21 July 2014

My two year old Ferguson digital dab/fm radio.,has no details in the window, and the preset buttons do not work. not repairable as in a sealed wooden case.

Love ironing says:
22 July 2014

I used to moan about ironing days until I bought a steam generator (one recommended by Which) and there are no problems with ironing now.

Sheila Pepper says:
23 July 2014

My only, wish I hadn’t bought it product, is a Morphy Richards steam generator “Power Steam Elite”, elite it is not, I thought I would try a steam generator after years of using a Tefal steam iron, which has a wonderfully smooth ironing surface, little did I realise all irons aren’t the same, the Morphy Richards felt like it had something on the sole plate that required peeling off it was so hard to iron with. I gave up on it after about 6 ironing sessions. They always say you get what you pay for and maybe this is the problem because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something that I might not get on with I did go for one on the less expensive side.

Marie says:
23 July 2014

Both my daughters struggle with can openers. They are left-handed. We have bought many designs over the years and have yet to find one they can use with ease. I can’t believe we are the only household to experience this.

Can openers are notoriously difficult to use, I have even tried two electric models but some types of can defeat them. Why hasn’t Which? tested them recently?

So many products used regularly in the kitchen are badly designed ergonomically. Two I will mention here are kettles and water filters. Many kettles are narrower at the top with lids which do not open fully, so filling them at all is difficult, and from a water filter, impossible. I bought a cheapish Tesco kettle which I had to send back for this reason. I’ve now bought their Basic kettle, which is fine for opening, but the lead comes out at the front of the base making it awkward in my small kitchen.
Lookiing at kettles in general, there are so many to choose from, but very llittle difference between them.

Water filters – I have always used Brita, but will not buy them again. The jug designs differ mainly in colour and small details such as handle shape. They are all shaped to fit in the fridge door, altfhough I don’t know anyone who keeps theirs in the fridge, using them mainly for filling the kettle. The narrow shape makes them top heavy, easy to knock over, and they feel very heavy to lift. On the first one of the maxtra jugs I tried (Marella) the handle was not filled in all the way down, so the edges near the bottom cut into the hand. That went back to the shop My current jug (Fjord) has a strip of rubber around the base. I thought this was a good idea until I knocked it – instead of sliding along the worktop, the rubber strip gripped the surface, it fell over and onto the floor where it broke. I replaced it with the same design as I’d bought a year’s supply of filter cartidges, but am looking for an alternative ready for when that one breaks.

Joy says:
24 July 2014

My big niggle is NOT with a gadget. It is with the nearly all the duvet covers on the market now. WHO’s idea was it that we should go back to using BUTTONS to fasten them up with? What was wrong with poppers, velcro or zips. Being of a certain age my friends and I have arthriticky hands or at the very least stiff fingers and find BUTTONS fiddley and therefore time consuming, especially as some of us do the fastening up again before putting our duvets into the washing machine to prevent everything else getting caught up inside the duvet. Please, please can we have a campaign to change this awful old fashioned way of fastening up duvets?

I have two internet radio’s including a Which recommended “Pure” brand. Worked great till it updated.
I have long suspected that the in-house reviewers of modern tech gadgets do not realise how difficult some menu’s are, with oft-required features hidden into several layers. I then have to go and find a manual – rarely paper – that tells me how to do things, or contact a helpdesk online. And it all takes time, when all I want to do is listen to a specialist online radio station.
I’ve ended up using my pc with the speakers on loud.

Diane says:
3 August 2014

I can’t remember the brand but had a juicer that was so difficult to clean I free cycled it. I did warn the collector but he was happy to try it. I never replaced it as feared the same but it would be useful when I get a glut of apples.

Agree about juicers !
I work in a charity shop and we get a steady stream of donated Juicers which are not saleable and are obviously difficult to clean ! Also chocolate fountains.

Hi all, thanks for your comments. We’ve rounded up some of them in our latest debate, which also includes links to easy to use products 🙂 https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/difficult-to-use-products/

Ulla Wiberg says:
19 October 2017

I can’t find a steam cleaner with an adjustable handle. All the ones I’ve owned have had fixed handles which are too short and give me backache. I’m 6 feet tall.