COOL OPERATORS; TRIED & TESTED

If at the end of a day's work in the blistering heat of a stuffy office you feel like a piece of sweating, melting cheese, perhaps you need a fan. Our panel tests a selection looking for a breath of fresh air

Remember wind-chill factor? It can seem like a dream in the new British summer, when every heatwave brings talk of global warming and wilting days in the office turn into hot, sticky nights. And yet wind- chill is the same principle employed by portable air coolers and fans: one kilometre per hour of wind decreases land temperature by 1C. Unlike expensive air-conditioning, low-tech fans can never widen the gap between indoor and outdoor temperatures to the point where sweating turns to shivering; nor do they recirculate air within a closed system, posting on germs from one employee to another quicker than an insult by e-mail. Instead, they cool you down by helping perspiration to evaporate and lowering skin temperature, which is usually accompanied by a "Phew, that's better!" wherever a fan is switched on.

THE PANEL

Our testers were all office workers and keen travellers who have experience of both air-conditioning and fans, not to mention "just sweating it out and drinking lots of cold beer or hot tea" in the tropics. They were Donald Hudd, Andrew Simpson, Nicholas Allen, Claire Blezard, Robert Farlow, myself and baby Elliot Hudd (seven months).

THE TEST

Size was the major factor: bigger blades and faster rotation results in more cool air. We also took into account aesthetics, sturdiness, noise levels and versatility.

*0-FAN

pounds 3.99

This bright yellow and red, Chinese-made, battery-operated table or wall fan with soft fabric blades is clearly designed for a child's bedroom but also seemed good value to the adults without children, who enjoyed holding pencils in the blades as they rotated. "It sounds like a bee on a hazy summer's day," said Robert Farlow, who couldn't imagine buying one. "It's a lovely toy and makes quite a mild breeze in your face," reported Andrew Simpson, "but why you would bother to mount it on the wall is unfathomable." The sample supplied to Donald Hudd got a more rigorous testing, and he found a possible reason for the wall-mounting - baby Elliot, attracted no doubt by the movement and bright colours, put his hand in the blades. The 0-Fan stopped immediately, proving its safety potential. But after being switched off and on a few times with its natty press switch, it failed to start again. "It was fun while it lasted, though," said Hudd senior.

***LLOYTRON CAR FAN

pounds 5.95

This miniature (5in) car fan is popular with cab drivers, according to one retailer, so it's probably a good thing it's black to match their taxis. The 12-volt Lloytron plugs into the cigarette lighter, which is "no good for a classic car driver" like Robert Farlow, whose vehicle has six-volt batteries. A suction pad allows the car fan to adhere to the dashboard, "or perhaps your passenger's forehead," suggested Andrew Simpson, who said he preferred to open the window and let the exhaust fumes in. Donald Hudd said: "It works fine in a limited way, but I just can't be bothered with it. Nothing makes driving in hot weather pleasant except air conditioning, which guzzles fuel and is envi- ronmentally unfriendly." Nick Allen thought the Lloytron "dinky", but was puzzled by its market. "No self-respecting Cortina-driver could have this in the car. It would get caught up with the fluffy dice," he mused.

**PEN CLIP FAN

pounds 2.99

Yellow seems a popular colour with miniature fan manufacturers. This yellow and black, soft-bladed, battery pen clip fan comes with a detachable plastic base, so that it can stand on your desk too - a feature appreciated by Nick Allen, who said he was "quite impressed". Other testers thought the fan "a hilarious gimmick" (Claire Blezard) and pointed out that you can only wear it on a shirt when switched off, or the fabric catches in the blades. Andrew Simpson wrote that he had successfully worn the pen clip fan, suspended from the pocket of his linen jacket, at a stuffy concert. "But I had to switch it off because people were glaring." He enjoyed the experience, however. Robert Farlow thought it was "quite smart, but frankly something you would see down Pet-ticoat Lane for pounds 1 - with the batteries." Nick Allen discovered the this fan's most useful application: you can hang it on the shade of a bedside lamp "perfect for a cheap hotel room in the tropics".

GO POCKET-SIZED MINI-FAN

pounds 1.95

You see these miniature, banana-coloured, hand-held battery fans on racks at airports, alongside the manufacturer's other essential ballast for travellers all sold under the brand "Go". The panel was impressed by the "neat packaging" and most preferred it to all the other mini fans, since it creates "a powerful breeze in your face - really quite refreshing" (Claire Blezard). Andrew Simpson declared it perfect for a day's hard shopping, "but it sounds embarrassingly like a vibrator and the suggestion on the packaging that it's `ideal for a quick nail dry' is ludicrous." As with most mini-fans, the Go has no on-off switch - you have to unscrew the bottom to release the battery connection. "The twist on-off fitting is a bit naff," said Nick Allen. "It was still going when I tried to put it away in my bag, and since you have to hold the wretched thing all the time, it's like going into battle in the war of heat with a pea-shooter." Obviously, he's never heard of David and Goliath.

***CINNI

pounds 130

Despite being the only fan which any interior designer would deign to suggest (and I asked several), this cultish, black fan failed to engage the panel's sympathies, being too expensive and over-engineered for what it has to achieve. "This is to fan design what the Chieftain tank is to environmentally friendly car design," said Nick Allen, who concurred with other testers (bar me) that a fan doesn't need to be made of cast iron. The Cinni is made in India by the National Winder Company and is said to outrank other fans not only because it is more solidly and quaintly built, but because you can mend it, unlike most other modern fans, which you might as well throw away when something inside the motor wears out. "Its oscillation looks dangerous at full blast," said Donald Hudd doubtfully, adding that his experience of retro-looking things is that, "although they may be fixable in theory, in practice it is hard to find someone to do it for you."

***HONEYWELL 16 INCH OSCILLATING FAN

pounds 45

Universally described by the testers as "your bog-standard, keeps-the-workers-happy-and-is-terribly-ugly" office fan, this mains-driven, white plastic, 16in fan has two heights, depending on whether you assemble all parts of its stand or not. That it is self- assembly irritated most of the panel (especially me) and prompted Robert Farlow to summarise the fan's probable lifespan: "Only really anal types will take this fan apart again in the autumn. The rest of us will stash it in some cupboard or glory hole where other junk will fall against it and damage the grille or motor. It will go wonky, so that it looks as if it's having a fit as it oscillates, and after a while it will give up completely," he wrote cruelly, but with much truth. Claire Blezard noted that, "it starts to rock-`n'-roll on the third setting, like the Switchback or Waltzer at a fairground - quite unstable." But everyone said they wouldn't mind one - and indeed most had one - in the office though, not at home.

*****HONEYWELL 18 INCH HIGH VELOCITY FAN

pounds 99.95

This low-slung, immensely powerful 18in fan, which stands on the floor with the aid of a chrome bar, is super- efficient. People who live in loft apartments buy them. Usefully, this fan can be pointed at the ceiling for total air circulation through your home, avoiding paper storms. Most of the panel preferred the Honeywell to the Cinni, and several testers commented on its "pleasing" sound "like a light aircraft". "In fact, if you strapped one on to each arm, perhaps you could take off," said Andrew Simpson hopefully. "It's brilliant," reported Claire Blezard. "It reminds me of an Alessi product - form and function aligned, and yet it's quiet considering how powerful it is." "You feel its presence," Robert Farlow noted more cautiously, while Nick Allen said he "wouldn't give this one houseroom. It is frankly 1970s, and seems to have escaped from one of those James Bond films in which the hero used to flash across swamplands in a hovercraft - it's the same sound. It makes me nervous."

****GOLDAIR AIR COOLER

pounds 149.95

Half the panel thought this grey plastic, floor-standing air-cooler, which is basically a fan with the added cooling factor of water and/or ice tanks, was too ugly for consideration. The other half applauded its efficiency and thought the in-built air filter and humidifying effect of the water were features worth paying extra for. "It reminds me of the Kalgoorlie meat safes in Western Australia," reported Donald Hudd. I found the water cooling effect marginal, and had to agree with Robert Farlow that the Goldair logo, painted on the front in two inch-high red letters, "would have to go. But how?" Only Nick Allen said he would happily live with it - "Surely anyone who grew up with R2D2 would greet it as a long lost cousin," he said. The Goldair has a louvred grille with a swing mechanism which beats the oscillating fans for silent redirection of cool air: "You can sleep through it," conceded Andrew Simp-son, "and there are wheels to move it around. Useful - in an ugly sort of way."

STOCKISTS

The Honeywell 16in is available from the Innovations mail-order catalogue, tel: 0990 807060. The Cinni from Freud, London WC2. For local stockists and mail order tel: 0171 831 8641. All other fans are sold at Ry-ness Electrical stores, tel: 0171 278 8993.

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