The Insider: Nifty features and value the toast of the town

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The Independent Online

Although it gets you more features, paying more doesn't guarantee better performance, as Which? has found that you can get good and poor toasters at all price levels.

"We replace our toasters every three years on average," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? "As a result, you're more likely to be interested in style, versatility and some useful functions when you choose a new toaster, rather than whether it's great quality or will last for a long time."

The perfect toaster has slots that are long and deep enough to accommodate large slices of bread, and a heating element tall enough to ensure that both the top and bottom of each slice gets browned evenly. If you like home-made bread, bagels, teacakes or crumpets you'll want to choose a toaster that makes it easy to cope with these different kinds of bread.

Toasters might appear to be fairly simple appliances, but they can come with a variety of additional functions. Defrost settings, removable crumb trays and "extra lift" facilities which make it easier to remove small items like crumpets, are standard options on most toasters. One of the newest features on the block is "pause and check" which allows you to let the toast pop up so you can see how brown it is. If it is not brown enough, pressing the lever down within five seconds will start the programme where it left off, not back at the beginning.

Some other features add little extra value. Reheat settings allow you to re-warm your toast if it is ready too soon, but you can achieve the same effect by popping the toast back down on a very low setting. "Bun warmer racks are handy, but you can heat croissants and the like in the oven, so you probably wouldn't miss it too much if your toaster didn't have one", says Hocking.

In Which?'s tests, the highest-scoring model is the two-slice Krups Toast Expert FEM 231, from £39. Which? gave it a test score of 82 per cent and rates it highly for being easy to use and toasting fresh and frozen bread quickly. Its three high-lift positions mean that you won't burn your fingers retrieving smaller slices of bread or crumpets, and handy features include reheat and defrost settings and an integral bun warmer.

At the other end of the table is the four-slice Comet Proline PT4S, which scored just 43 per cent. It only toasted the central band of fresh bread, and left large areas of frozen bread un-toasted while others were virtually burnt. Which? found little to recommend it other than the fact that it was easy to clean.

Where to buy

You can pick up a budget toaster (£5–£15) from supermarkets or some electrical stores and more expensive models can usually be found in electrical stores, department stores or online. You can check stockists and compare the latest prices using Which?'s price comparison service at www.whichcompare.co.uk.

Five questions to ask

Two slices or four?

Consider whether you make enough toast in one go to warrant the extra space you'll need to accommodate a four-slice model. There are fewer styles of four-slot toasters available.

Chunky or slim design?

If you opt for a four-slice toaster, think about whether a chunky four-slot model or a slim model with two longer slots suits the space you have available. Some come with independent controls for the left and right-hand slots.

Will it toast your choice of bread?

If you want to warm bagels, teacakes or crumpets then you'll need a toaster that can cope with different kinds of bread. Look for a long, deep slot that adjusts to the width of your bread and a good high-lift facility.

How easy is it to empty the crumbs?

Most crumb trays slide out and slot back in, but some fancier versions are spring-loaded.

Are the extras worth it?

Bun warmers, bagel settings and digital countdowns are only worth it if you'll use them.

The Insider is written in conjunction with the consumer group Which?. For more information on toasters, visit their website at www.which.co.uk/toasters. To get three issues of 'Which?' magazine for £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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