Monday, November 07, 2005

Of toaster ovens and clock radios

Sometimes, accomplishing even the simplest things can can be a great task. One of these chores can be finding an "ordinary" appliance, the fashion these days being to drive every product towards either the low or high end of the spectrum. A case in point is our recent searches for a replacement toaster oven and a new clock radio.

Previously, we had purchased Black and Decker toaster ovens, because they were reasonably priced and had the features we wanted, primarily being the ability to toast bread (with the occasional cheese or other topping), heat small servings (those too small to justify the use of a regular oven), and clean up fairly easy (primarily a slide out tray and a door that dumps any crumbs on it into the tray rather than onto the counter). But Black and Decker's products seem to have sped their way to the cheapest end of the appliance heap. (I wonder if there's a connection between licensing the company name rather than doing the manufacturing and this?) The most recent toaster oven of their's that we owned had metal parts that fatigued, presumably due to heat cycling, and their current products seemed even cheaper, so we did some more extensive shopping around.

We quickly found that there are almost no "simple" toaster ovens around anymore. If it's primary feature isn't rock-bottom cheapness, then it's an array of dubious features that we'd use once in a blue moon. I suppose if you cook a lot of frozen pizza, then you might want one of the very large ovens that abound that can hold an entire pizza, but that's not a selling point for us. We probably searched for a month before we found a Hitachi toaster oven at Fry's at an acceptable price (more than we originally wanted to pay, but we could live with it, given the unit's quality). We still have to wipe the crumbs off the counter after using the oven; it seems that none of them have the door hinged any more so that the crumbs are dumped into the oven.

More recently, we went on a search for a new clock radio. Our old radio hasn't been receiving radio so well lately: I believe that this is a result of its aging analog tuner. It was about 13 years old, so there was no reason to be upset. I've got some homework for you: try to find a clock radio with a digital tuner. Despite the fact that they come with CDs and a thousand other features, clock radios still by and large come with analog tuners. You'd think that, given the word "radio" in their name, clock radios' tuners would be the subject of major refinement. Why then the analog tuners? And God help you if you don't want a CD player. Often, clock radios being electronics, the products have raced to both the feature laden and cheap ends of the spectrum simultaneously, and so you end up with clock radio CD players that cost $25 and yet have the look and feel of something that should cost $5. Eventually, we found a Sony clock radio on with a digital tuner that was, again, of acceptable price.

I tell you, it's enough to make me not want to go shopping anymore. Oh, wait, I don't like shopping anyway. Well, another reason, then.

Topics: , , .


  1. Myself, I like very much to listen to the radio, so I've always been looking for high quality radios. Well, these things just don't exist in my experience. If you just want the radio, no CD... just a high quality box to listen to the radio... it is very hard to find.

    I finally bought something recently, but it doesn't really meet my needs. I wanted a radio with speaker jacks and it doesn't have it. I didn't want a CD-player, it has a CD-player. We have a digital tuner at least. There is no remote, but I always loose these things.

    The only thing that's true is that prices have kept dropping. The same box I bought, back in 1990, would have costed $400 and I got it for $80. If you take inflation into account, the $80 is ridiculous.

    What hasn't improved is diversity. If you have slightly custom needs, forget it.

    This is interesting since Popper was predicting a wave of industrial personalization. It isn't here. Try buying a "custom" PC these days... Even Dell is cutting down on the flexibility...

  2. I think this is part and parcel of the "race to the bottom" exemplified by Walmart. Cheaper trumps everything else. Even if the end-to-end cost of a customized product were exactly the same as a non-customized one, it would be sold for more for marketing reasons. So, you have a choice of an OK radio with a CD player for $80 or a very cheap radio-only for $5, with little in between. Who would pay $20 for a radio when you can get one for $5? What company would sell a radio with CD for close to the price of a radio only; it would cannibalize the less feature-laden product's sales?