FULL STEAM AHEAD

Corded or cordless, traditional shape or jug - how do you choose the right electric kettle? We sampled seven
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The Independent Culture
KETTLES are a good example of how manufacturers are forever tweaking the design of a simple, traditional product to provide never-ending refinements. On the heels of electric kettles came the cordless version, with the advantage that you no longer have to unplug it to fill it up (but with the electrical connection on the bottom and thus more exposed, you do have to be extra careful not to get it wet). Then, having turned from traditional metal to polypropylene (which tends to make water cloudier, as calcium salts don't stick to it as they do to metal), manufacturers had to invent kettles with filters to stop scale floating in your tea. Other devices to tackle limescale are elements hidden in the base, gold-plated elements and lights to tell you when descaling is overdue.

We tested a selection of kettles to see which was the easiest to use, had the most useful features, looked most stylish and was the best value for money. Our selection included both traditional-style kettles which, held from above, are more comfortable and balanced to carry when they are full, and jug kettles. The latter have the advantage that you can boil smaller amounts in them. Most took the same time to boil.

**DUALIT

Corded; stainless steel; 1.8-litre capacity; scale collector; pounds 79.79

This aesthetically beautiful kettle, in polished stainless steel, looks like the kind of thing Miss Marple might have used; in fact, it was designed five years ago with a deliberately retro look. The body has a satisfyingly rounded shape, which is echoed by the curve of the black plastic handle. It does not have a filter, but comes with a scale collector - a mesh of stainless steel to gather limescale (which can also be bought separately). Good points were that it was light (weighing less than the particularly heavy Philips stainless steel kettle) and that it has a very short, curly flex - a good safety feature. When filling it, water has to be directed through the spout very carefully to avoid spillage. On the whole, this kettle is great for style, but not particularly good value for money considering that it has so few features: for example, there is no water gauge, and no light to show that it's on and working (reassuring for doubters).

*ROWENTA SENSOR KE280 FILTERMATIC

Cordless jug kettle; white poly-propylene; 1.7-litre capacity; water gauge, descale warning light, filter; pounds 29.99

According to Rowenta, this kettle's unique selling point is a light that indicates when it needs descaling. In practice, I found it the most confusing of all to use. There is no indication on the switch to tell you if it's on or off. The light complicates matters; anyone using the kettle without knowing exactly how it worked might easily mistake the descaler light for an on/off light and assume it is not working when it is. The switch is also supposed to light up when the water level drops below minimum requirements, but it didn't always do this. In short, this seemed a gimmick that was more trouble than it was worth. I also thought the indented "dots" on the handle and lid looked naff. On the good side, it sits securely on the base, is easy to fill, and the cord storage facility is (unusually) simple to use.

***TEFAL

Classic, cordless automatic kettle; white polypropylene; 1.7 litres; water gauge; pounds 24.99

This kettle has a traditional shape,

albeit more flattened than usual. The handle, which is very chunky, could be a bit cumbersome in small hands, and the Tefal is also a fairly basic model with no on/off indicator light or filter. The manufacturers claim it takes less time to boil than others, but in practice it had only a few seconds' advantage (and none at all over the Tefal Gold kettle). It is easy to fill through either lid or spout, and has a clear water gauge marked in pints and litres. The lid needs to be locked tight by swivelling it to the left when pouring, or it flops open. It has a feature for shortening the cord (for safety reasons) by winding it round the bottom of the base, but this is fiddly. General verdict: a reasonably priced kettle, but not outstanding.

****TEFAL GOLD

Cordless automatic jug kettle; white polypropylene; 1.7 litres; water gauge, filter, gold-plated element; pounds 29.99

This jug-shaped kettle, our overall winner, comes with a gold-plated element. This is supposed to reduce the amount of scale build-up and resist corrosion better than ordinary elements. As a double defence against limescale, the Tefal Gold also has a filter. I liked this kettle design best out of all the polypropylene ones; the long, narrow base takes up little space on kitchen surfaces and, while clean-looking and unfussy, it has some subtle detailing that stops it being too plain. It was easy to pour, but tended to splash slightly when filled through the spout. Its only major disadvantage, particularly surprising in a kettle that is not cheap, is that it has no on/off indicator.

***RUSSELL HOBBS 3100/7P

Classic, corded automatic kettle; stainless steel; 1.7-litres; water gauge; on/off light; pounds 32.99

Though made of stainless steel, this lacks the designer look of the Dualit or Philips models. It has a narrow spout which, while good for pouring, means you have to take off the lid every time you fill it - a disadvantage for the ultra-lazy. The handle is very comfortable to hold, and it has an on/off indicator light. But a minus point is that the gauge, unlike the others, doesn't have a coloured ball bobbing about to indicate how much water is in the kettle. Instead, you have to peer at the water level closely. The Russell Hobbs is also available with a filter, and as a cordless model.

**PHILIPS PIROUETTE HD4601

Cordless; stainless steel; 1.7 litres; on/off indicator light, filter, swivelling connection in base, concealed element; pounds 42.95

This pricey stainless steel model, in a similar design to the Dualit, has a couple of unusual features. While other cordless kettles have the electrical connection at the edge of the base, this one has it at the centre. The kettle swivels around the connector, so people can pick it up and replace it from whatever direction they like. This should be particulary useful for left-handed people. I found that, once the kettle was sitting on its base, it was handy to be able to pivot it about (even for a right- hander). But the disadvantage is that, when you plonk the kettle down, you have to guess exactly where the central connector in the base is - a hit-and-miss affair. Another feature is the concealed element, hidden below a false bottom in the base, which apparently stops it furring up and allows the user to boil very small quantities of water. Perhaps because of this, it took the longest of all the kettles to boil. Other snags are that it has no water gauge, it is heavy, and the lid is tricky to get on and off (though the kettle is normally filled through the spout). It also has no cord storage facility.

***MORPHY RICHARDS FILTERMASTER 43232

Cordless automatic jug kettle; beige polypropylene; 1.5 litres; filter, on/off indicator light, water gauge; pounds 27.99

This scored as well as our winner, the Tefal Gold, in most respects, but its aesthetic appeal let it down. Another good kettle for southpaws - it has a water gauge on both sides, so it can be easily seen regardless of whether it is held in the right or left hand (though it would be even more useful if the water were measured in pints and litres, rather than just cups). This model came in a "Wild Bramble" design - blackberries and flowers on a pale beige background: not exactly tasteful, but admittedly less tacky than some of the other woodland-style designs beloved of domestic appliance manufacturers. Among its advantages are the fact that it's easy to fill through the spout or the lid, and it has a lipped spout that allows boiling water to pour out in a narrow stream, with less danger of spluttering. It's a fiddly business taking out the filter for cleaning, and the cord storage facility is tricky to use, too. But the features are good for the price. The Morphy Richards is also available in green, white or blue.

STOCKISTS

Dualit: Conran, Heals, John Lewis Partnership, Harrods, Liberty, Hanson, Divertimenti, and Jerry's Home Stores; Russell Hobbs: telephone 0161 681 8321 for stockists; Rowenta: 01372 277511; Tefal: 01604 762726; Philips: 0181-689 2166; and Morphy Richards: 01709 582402.

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