Tried & Tested: Portable Heaters - Hot competition

When the central heating can't compete with the wind-chill factor, you need extra help. Our panel loses its cool
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The Independent Culture
IT'S NOT just the elderly who crave a little extra warmth during chilly winters; most of us, at one time or another, have looked for a heater which you can carry into a favourite-but-frosty spot and safely leave unattended. And who hasn't cursed a heater which threatened to send the curtains up in smoke, or scorched a hole in a favourite dressing gown, or phut-phutted to a halt just as the thermometer level plunged? So which of the models on the market deserves the warmest reception?

THE PANEL

Our panel included housekeeper Christine Conroy-Jones, student Rie Raffing and Charles Hanley, all of whom are residents at the Christian Alliance Centre hostel near Waterloo, in whose rooms we tested the heaters. They were joined by computer programmer Kevin Harnett, who wanted a heater to toast his inactive toes.

THE TEST

We tested the heaters in a succession of cold rooms, seeing how long each one took to make an appreciable difference to the air temperature. Points were awarded for good design, ease of use, size and portability. Testers also took into account the amount of electricity used, the noise factor and any built-in safety features.

***GLEN 3000 FAN HEATER

pounds 24.95

Out of the three fan heaters tested, this won points for its convenience (it was the smallest and lightest of the lot) and for the fact that you can adjust both the fierceness of the blast and the tem- perature, ranging from cool to hot air. In addition, its thermal cut-out mechanism operates if the heating grille is blocked. "Doing my old geezer's leg test, it responded really quickly in changing temperature," reported Charles Hanley, hauling up his trousers from his ankles. "It also cools down very fast, and I like its compact design." Kevin Harnett agreed: "It definitely throws out lots of heat fast. It's not very exciting looking, but it's functional." Christine Conroy-Jones recommended it for pensioners: "It would keep someone warm two feet away if they couldn't put the heating on. But it is quite noisy and I would worry about the amount of electricity it uses."

****PHILLIPS HD 3346 FAN HEATER

pounds 26.99

The panel found the number of dots, arrows and dials confusing at first, but soon discovered that this was a powerful little heater which fitted niftily into most spaces. Chosen as our winner, it got top-rating as a nice, chunky all-rounder. Two settings allow you to heat up a room either gradually or instantly: "You could put this on for 10 minutes while you were in the bath, and you wouldn't worry about it overheating," remarked Christine Conroy-Jones. Kevin Harnett thought it looked "a cross between a handbag and a Frisbee" but then decided it had "nice curves". He also thought the see-through grille was cool: "You can watch how it all works". Rie Raffing's verdict was: "Powerful - but too noisy to forget it's there." The larger HD3348 does have the option of a background "quiet" setting, though - good for keeping a room from getting cold overnight. Unfortunately, neither has a cold air option.

**DURACRAFT TURBO FAN HEATER

pounds 39.99

Although the lads on the panel were impressed by this heater's rather sexy black-and-red design, fingers were soon burnt - literally. After Charles Hanley's initial quip "Has it got handlebars?" and an admiring comparison to a stereo system, there was an "ouch!" from Christine Conroy- Jones, who had inadvertently touched the metal grille just half-a-minute after the heater was switched on. "You can't work out which end the heat comes from at first, and it doesn't warn you that the metal gets hot so quickly. An old person could quite easily burn themself," she complained. The heater was commended for diffusing heat throughout the room instead of blowing in one direction. But panellists were less than enthusiastic about the red light which comes on if the machine overheats. "You'd have to stare at it all the time to check it was safe," pointed out Rie Raffing.

***HONEYWELL OIL-FILLED ELECTRIC RADIATOR

pounds 49.95

The main drawback to this otherwise popular plain pale grey radiator was the potential for little fingers to get trapped between the bars. "You'd have to check constantly, if you had young children, that it wasn't turned up too high," noted Christine Conroy-Jones. It took around 10 minutes for the radiator to disseminate any heat, but it also kept hot for several minutes after it was switched off, which could be either a drawback or an advantage. "You could flick a little fan heater on and off in that time, but it depends how much electricity you want to use, and for how long. If you're looking to heat the room cheaply, it would be fine, and it's silent too," commented Charles Hanley. But he found it less than portable: "It has wheels, but it would be like dragging a Hoover around." Kevin Harnett, who liked the fold-away plug facility, added: "It's not the sort of machine you'd carry in one hand. It's like one of your old school radiators."

**DELONGHI DRAGON OIL-FILLED RADIATOR

pounds 69.99

This heater, which comes with a five-year guarantee, is the Rolls-Royce of radiators. Its quality and finish were evident, but it fell down heavily on portability and the fact that it took a good 10 minutes to get even vaguely warm. "You wouldn't move this one around. It's very heavy and the feet obviously have to be fitted properly before you can use it. But after a slow start, at least it comes to the boil well," said Christine Conroy- Jones, who was impressed with its cosy, solid glow. Charles Hanley, meanwhile, was confused about which way up the radiator was designed to stand, and hopped around shivering while waiting for it to heat up. "It's no good for a quick blast of hot air," he moaned. Rie Raffing pointed out that, as with the Honeywell radiator, it took a while to cool down. She added: "I wasn't sure if it was working at first. But its size and stability make it handy to dry your socks on."

***GLEN SLIM-LINE CONVECTOR HEATER

pounds 34.99

A rather off-putting burning smell accompanied the warmth emitted from this otherwise inoffensive heater. Nevertheless, it had the advantage of heating up quickly and spreading heat more widely - and quietly - than the fan heaters. It was certainly lighter than the radiators, although its design makes it less easily transportable once hot: "It needs a little handle on the top so you could carry it around, instead of burning your fingers on the sides," suggested Charles Handy. Christine Conroy-Jones was a fan, voting this her favourite. Meanwhile, all the panellists were impressed by its reasonable price.

STOCKISTS

Glen 3000 and Phillips fan heaters, Glen convector heater and Delonghi Dragon radiator are all available from Comet, tel: 0500 425425 for branches. Delonghi Dragon and Phillips heaters available from branches of John Lewis, tel: 0171 629 7711 for prices. Ryness stocks the Turbo, Glen 3000 and Phillips heaters, tel: 0171 437 8833. For details of Honeywell stockists, including most leading electrical stores, tel: 0345 660349. !

NEXT WEEK: CHILDREN'S LUNCH BOXES

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