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What should Which? test this Christmas?

Summer’s not over yet, but the Which? Product Testing team is already thinking about Christmas. What do you think we should be testing this year?

A few weeks ago, a small team of researchers got together and identified some new product areas that we’ll be testing this Christmas.

We based these areas on products that have typically trended in recent years around Christmas, looking at feedback from our members on areas they’d like us to test, and by anticipating what types of products, including toys, might be popular this year.

We can reveal that this Christmas our members can look forward to new product reviews on: 

🎁 Advent calendars

🎁 Meat thermometers

🎁 Christmas crackers

🎁 Salt and pepper grinders

🎁 Remote control cars for less than £100

🎁 Kids drones for less than £100

🎁 Electric carving knives

🎁 Polaroid cameras

🎁 Kids cameras

🎁 Gingerbread house kits

🎁 Christmas table sauces

Which of the new product areas are you most interested in?
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There will also be a few more that we’ll keep under wraps until closer to the time.

These new review areas will be in addition to the steady stream of core lab based tests on products such as vacuum cleaners, TVs and ovens that you’ll already be very familiar with. 

But which extra product areas would you like us to test? Have you ever been disappointed by the quality of a Christmas present? Underwhelmed by the contents of an advent calendar?

Or is there anything else Christmas-related you would like us to look into?

If so, we’d love to hear about it – let us know in the comments and we’ll consider it for testing before Christmas this year.

Comments

I’d like to see gifts for smaller children that are well made and have purpose – help their development and give more than just brief use. I struggle to find much in shops that is not just plastic junk but with a little effort find wooden walkers, musical instruments, talking books and construction kits. My 2 1/2 year old grand daughter has a crane lorry kit, large pieces held together with large nuts and screws; she enjoys taking it apart and reassembling it with the battery operated nut and screw driver that came with it.

Wendy Ellis says:
25 August 2021

Agree with Malcom

Rather than Champagne and mince pies (again), how about suggestions for alternatives to the turkey for Christmas dinner? Producers are already warning of shortages for this season. I’m not looking forward to paying even more than sirloin steak for an inflated chicken, as already happens every year.

Maybe from your trade contacts, you could predict the “must have” toys that need to be in Santa’s sack this year to help members beat the price scalpers and inevitable shortages they cause.

I’m not a great fan of buying goods because its Christmas or January “sales” – when prices are actually higher – so please go easy on the tests of consumer durables.

I’ll be interested in the Polaroid camera review; only because I don’t see how that could ever be a “Best Buy” in the digital age. Bulky, expensive to buy and expensive to run. Even if you can affort it, are film supplies now assured for years to come and are third parties able to compete, or will it become a born-again white elephant? I think Polaroid film prices will knock spots off anything Which? have to say about the high cost of inkjet printer cartridges.

Chris Bend says:
25 August 2021

Totally agree with the above comments. Toys made sustainably for my slightly older grandchildren too – 6+. No plastic and preferably no batteries.

Kevin says:
25 August 2021

Perhaps the time has come for Which? to test Which?

There are many longstanding regular contributors here who could provide a framework for such an examination

Having recently cancelled my decades long subscription upon discovering I’d been paying about twice the best rate, I then received emails offering various inducements to return. At no time during my membership was any effort expended to inform me of cheaper subscription options, and trying to determine what was available on the Which? website (which I had done several times) was an exercise in futility. Strangely although anyone can sign up online, cancelling requires a trip down technology memory lane with a phone call, since it’s not possible to unsubscribe online.

As this discussion is about product testing rather than membership, let’s shift any replies on this one over to the Which? Membership section: https://conversation.which.co.uk/which-membership/which-discussion/

Kevin says:
26 August 2021

Jon
I used membership as an example, I felt let down by Which because it seemed to be engaging in subscription practises which it is meant to campaign against.

There are lots of other topics relating to subscriber engagement, test methodology, product selection, attribute selection and weighting etc which, from reading some of the regular comments here, would make a nice Christmas present to your regulars should they be formally acknowledged and perhaps even acted upon by Which?

So early happy Christmas and thank you to the entertaining and informative regulars.

I’d be interested to see the best Christmas Wreaths, especially as a keen gardener. It would be interesting to see the difference between shop brought ones and perhaps home made ones using natural material you might find out walking.

Now that we’re back into early and longer darkness, I’d like to see Which? testing stuff like outdoor floodlights, and other outdoor mains powered lighting. And I’m asking this because some time ago a friend of mine bought a small 20 watt LED floodlight from b&q only for it to fail rather feebly some time later, but for some unknown reason he didn’t take it back and complain like he should’ve done with it, but instead he put it away for a while and then more recently he gave it to me, and I took it apart and soon found the cause, it had leaked rainwater inside the motion sensor housing, just like so many cheap tatty mostly chinese made outdoor light fittings currently on sale which often have multiple condemning reviews for the same reason. But what I also found which I find really worrying is that despite this thing having a metal case, AND being made for outdoor use where it gets wet, it wasn’t EARTHED! Even though it had a three core cable attached the earth lead wasn’t connected to anything, but was simply chopped off right back to the cable’s outer sheath inside the casing and this is illegal, as it effectively makes the thing a death trap, and it’s supposed to be a class 1 appliance which NEEDS earthing. So I’d like to see Which? start P.A.T. testing these things as it looks like there’s some deadly examples out there.

Crusader — I agree it would be a good idea for Which? to test exterior floodlights, but there are so many on the market it might be an enormous exercise. They also come and go in short succession as brands and designs change within the multitude of suppliers. This is a problem with so many small electrical appliances these days.

B&Q are responsible for the safety of the products they sell and if only the purchaser had returned it to the retailer it might have led to the product being withdrawn but, unfortunately, there is no guarantee they would have done so or would even have examined the floodlight. It is only because you took the fitting apart that it was possible to see that it was not earthed. There is the possibility that the unit bought by your friend was an individual defective example and good practice would have ensured other samples were examined.

I would recommend anyone installing an exterior floodlight to employ a Part P-qualified electrician. Hopefully that would ensure the correct form of circuit protection was in place for the fitting.

I put up two bright rechargeable solar floodlights with PIR movement sensors for a friend a couple of years ago and they are still working fine. They seem well made, unlike some of the cheap products available and have the advantage of needing no mains supply. The drawback is that they need to be mounted where the solar panel has reasonable exposure to sunlight.

Having seen videos showing mains-powered floodlights with poor or non-existent earth connections I would be very wary.

B&Q provide a list of product recalls and safety notices on the homepage of their website – something other companies could emulate.

In the past, Which? have reported finding unsafe examples of products during testing, so I hope that they do routinely check the safety of products they test.

Back in the day when Which? had it’s own testing facilities electrical safety was an important part of all and any testing of electrical equipment. There was a department devoted to doing nothing else and they had rigs for testing for water tightness (I built them!). An outfit like B&Q should’ve done better. It really sounds like a case for trading standards as someone could get killed.

Light fixtures become an integral part of the electrical wiring and so must be tested in situ and after installation. This would include checking that the L N conductors are correctly wired and the switch is in the line (L) conductor.

For a fixture that requires earthing, continuity and resistance of the E (earth) conductor is also necessary. Normally about 0.2 – 0.8 Ohms back to the CU or via an alterative path (like a ring main) if you don’t have the full test kit. It is essential to measure the impedance (resistance) of the earth connection. If too high, it will not do its job in protecting you or the wiring from a fault, since a large live to earth current could still flow for a time without tripping the circuit breaker or blowing the fuse.

The fact that there is a yellow/green earth wire and it is mechanically connected means nothing without a proper test, since the earth wire performs no function under normal operating conditions.

So whilst the B&Q fixture “helpfully” comes with a fly lead attached, the faulty earth should have been established during installation. It is not sufficient to wire up and go, hoping that the rest of the internal connections (including the up-stream household wiring) are all sound and correct.

This is different from a portable lamp with a plug attached. In that case, the integrity of the internal wiring may be assumed. The purpose of a Portable Appliance Test (PAT) is to ensure that the power cord is still intact and there is no internal damage, after some period of potential use and abuse. The integrity of the household wiring up to and including the switch plate is assured independently during installation and inspections.

So PAT is not appropriate for anything that needs to be hard-wired and fitted by a competent person. I can’t see that it is a good use of Which? time to test thousands of electrical fixtures and fittings, other than to put out an appropriate warning and maybe push for tighter regulations on the import and sale of such items in DIY sheds.

B&Q is the retail arm of Screwfix who are owned by Kingfisher plc. They sell a lot of good quality items, but some of their own brand stuff is a bit tacky and doesn’t last so well. If in doubt, look for the postcode BA22 8RT on the packaging to see if it is an own-brand.

Water ingress into exterior lighting is not necessarily due to a defect in the product and may be caused by poor installation. It’s worth inspecting exterior lights for condensation because this could identify a forthcoming problem.

My son bought some electric panel heaters from Screwfix (Kingfisher) with no earth and marked Class 2. The housing was painted steel, the incoming terminal block was close to the housing and single insulated wires. Were a wire to come adrift it could have contacted the casing. I see no way they could be Class 2. They were exchanged for another make that was earthed.

This was reported to Kingfisher. I have just been reminded by Em’s post that my son never had the promised response from Kingfisher. I must ask him to follow it up and, if necessary, involve Trading Standards; he did photograph the electrical arrangement.

Keeping an exterior light free from water requires careful design. If, for example, water can lie on the seal of a part removed for wiring, or on the cable gland seal ( that may not be correctly assembled after wiring) it can be drawn into the light simply by the slight difference in pressure between inside and outside caused when it cools after switching off by the heat from the light source, or cooling after a sunny day.

We used to demonstrate the partial vacuum created by chilling, with cold water, a sealed light after it had reached operating temperature then switched off. The clear cover on the underside could simply not be opened, and even a modest pressure difference could allow a 50kg weight to be hung from the cover. Any slight pinhole gap in the gasket would allow any lying water to be sucked in.

I have seen some horrors such as two cables through a gland and light fixtures upside down, with the cable entry at the top rather than the bottom. Thankfully rain water is not very conductive.

It’s amazing how much water can ingress by capillary action through a narrow gap if the seal has deteriorated or been damaged. Some of the modern floodlight designs do not look very robust even when brand new. I have noticed that many installations also have the luminaire set at an unsatisfactory angle. Apart from causing nuisance light spread this can compromise the watertight properties of the fitting.

I know which light fitting it is by it’s appearance, it’s a 20 watt LED fitting with the sensor housing unusually fitted above the light housing and it had a little nickel plated brass inlet gland for the short length of black 3 amp cable attached to it, so I’ll have to have a look on b&q’s site and see if there’s any still on offer there. And there’s no brand name or model number on the label, but just a rather long barcode and it’s voltage and wattage rating, and a claim of “waterproof IP65” which it’s obviously not. And on screwfix’s site there’s loads of tradesmen giving various condemning reviews for various other outdoor light fittings which rapidly fill up with rainwater. And surely it’s a simple matter to connect the short flex of such a fitting to a “safe block” type connector of the type normally used for testing some appliances with a flex but no plug and then plugging the safe block into a PAT tester and clipping the tester’s earthing clip to the fitting’s metal casing at a suitable point, although the paint on it might cause a problem. And screwfix might be offering it too, and I’m having to self isolate at the moment so I’ll have to wait a few days yet, and I might take the remains of this fitting along to the local b&q branch in my local area and show them the deadly fault, which looks like it’s been deliberately done during manufacture which surely amounts to criminal negligence at least.