More war stories from the home appliance front

9 Jun

 

Barbara Hillier’s Whirlpool Duet washer – shown here on its way to the dump – is identical to the model our columnist discussed in his previous column. (Photo submitted by reader)

Barbara Hillier’s Whirlpool Duet washer – shown here on its way to the dump – is identical to the model our columnist discussed in his previous column. (Photo submitted by reader)I received a deluge of responses supporting my observation that modern appliances are not built to last. More to the point, they seem designed to break down soon after the warranty expires, forcing consumers to purchase new appliances. In short, they win and we lose.

June 9, 2014 – In my last column I outlined problems with my Whirlpool Duet front-loading washer, and invited readers to share their stories via email.

I will summarize a few of those responses, but there isn’t space to publish them all. I was startled with how many had an experience roughly similar to mine.

Barbara Hillier’s husband, Dave, was in the process of trucking their six-year-old Whirlpool to the dump when she read my column. She said the repairman advised her to scrap the washer as it was too expensive to fix.

“It gave up the ghost last week because of the same problem you encountered (a failed bearing in the drum),” Barbara said. “The only nice feature of the front-loader is the look of it. They’re really expensive, but the quality isn’t there. I have gone back to the top loader, which the sales person said many people are doing, but it definitely isn’t a Whirlpool.”

Heather Roche purchased the Whirlpool Cabrio front-loader in June 2013.

“Right away it was making a funny noise so I called Whirlpool and was told that the noise was normal and to continue using it,” Roche said. “After another week or so I noticed the clothes were coming out with stains on them that looked like they were ground right into the material.”

When Heather called Whirlpool she was told that such staining was normal and that the stains would come out in the dryer.

“I told her that I don’t put my clothes in the dryer on fine days, that I put them out on the clothesline and she didn’t know what I was talking about.” (A quick Internet search shows Heather’s problem is not unique, nor is it normal, and the staining is permanent.)

Heather said she called Leon’s, the retailer, who said that once a product is sold there is nothing they can do about it, adding that they had received several calls about the same problem. “It was still under warranty but they wouldn’t send a technician because everything I was saying was because I didn’t know how to use the washer properly.”

Soon after, Heather visited a relative and noticed a funny sound coming from their laundry room. “I asked what kind of washer it was and sure enough it was a Whirlpool and they had the very same problem with the stains on the clothes. I called Whirlpool again and registered another complaint and they said I was using too much detergent. They were going to take the problem to one of their meetings. It is not a year old yet and it is still the same. I have to wash some of the clothes twice.”

Allan Russell of Wabush purchased a Whirlpool washer and dryer from Fitz’s Country Wide about two-and-a-half years ago.

“Exactly one year plus one month later, the timer went on the dryer,” Allan said. “I called the dealer and was told my warranty had run out a month ago.”

Allan saved some money by purchasing the part and installing it himself but, needless to say, he was not impressed by such a major breakdown after 13 months of use.

Most complaints I received involved Whirlpool, perhaps because that brand was the subject of my column, but consumers also had roughly similar issues with late-model GE Profile, Kenmore, Samsung, and more.

Gerry Dalton’s Maytag Performance Series front load washer and dryer suffered a “catastrophic failure” after just three years of use.

“We contacted a repairman and were told the drum needed replacing at a cost of around $500 as there was a bearing failure. He said these front-loading machines are well known for this. Unfortunately we did not opt for the extra warranty as normally any household appliance we have ever owned lasted at least 10 years, some well over 20 years.”

What happened next is instructive. Dalton’s wife contacted the manufacturer and “after some heated discussions and threats to go public the company decided to replace the drum at no charge as long as we pay the installation fee which was around $160.”

Some may dismiss these stories as anecdotal; isolated incidents that don’t prove anything. Well, the astonishing experience of a Topsail resident, who asked not to be identified, does prove something.

“We have lived in our home for 15 years now and we purchased all brand new appliances when we moved there. We are now on our third dishwasher, third front loading washer, second stand up freezer, second wall oven and second cook-top. That’s seven additional new appliances purchased in that 15-year period. The only remaining originals are the refrigerator and the clothes dryer. The reason for the replacement each time? The repair guy says “the parts and labour will cost more than the machine is worth.” He charges us $100 dollars for the visit and tells me to buy a new appliance. I don’t even call them anymore. Keep pushing, maybe somebody will take notice. Incidentally, I visited my aunt’s home in Corner Brook last year and she still has all of her original appliances from the 1950s. They look dated but work fine. They certainly don’t make them like they used to.”

These stories are the tip of the iceberg and there are too many to keep publishing here (though I do want to continue hearing from you). In fact, my experience with short-lived appliances motivated me in 2012 to launch a blog to draw attention to this issue. You can find it at namingbrands.wordpress.com.

 

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com. Reach him at geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net.

Respect for front-load washer goes down the drain

26 May
After just two years of use, this Whirlpool front-loading washer suffered a catastrophic failure. That’s not good enough, Geoff says. (Geoff Meeker photo)

After just two years of use, this Whirlpool front-loading washer suffered a catastrophic failure. That’s not good enough, Geoff says. (Geoff Meeker photo)

By Geoff Meeker

May 26, 2014 – I first reviewed my Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer combo back in January of 2012, when it was brand new. I was impressed with how both units saved energy, cleaned larger loads and operated so quietly.

There was a learning curve along the way – we used too much detergent at first, and sometimes the laundry loads were too small – but the machine settled in quite nicely and worked wonderfully.

Until recently, that is. For me, that washer’s credibility has gone right down the drain.

A few months back, the normally quiet washer started making more noise. One of the ways it saves energy is through a superfast drain cycle that spins the drum at a mind-numbing 1200 rotations per minute (rpm). That’s 20 rotations in a second. The centrifugal force drains almost all moisture from the clothes, requiring much less dryer time (where the savings really kick in).

However, the washer suddenly started making loud bumping sounds when it tried to enter the spin cycle, so we shut it down and called the service people.

The appliance comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty but the salesperson at Smith’s Furniture – bless his heart – strongly recommended that we get the five year extended warranty, pointing out that the machine, with its fast-spinning motor and more fragile electronics, was more prone to breakdowns than other appliances.

Here’s how things went down. I contacted the warranty company, Phoenix AMD, on April 14. It took a few days for the claim to be approved and the service technician showed up on April 19.

The news was not good. The bearing that enables that 1200 rpm spin was gone. We would need a new drum assembly and related equipment. The repair was serious enough that they raised the possibility of replacing it with a new machine – something we were fine with – but a day later they decided to order the parts and perform repairs.

Whatever. Just get it done. The clothes were already piling up.

It’s difficult to make a long story short, because that story was so nerve-wracking and irritating, characterized by back orders, apparent lost shipments, calls to the local repair company, Phoenix AMD and even Whirlpool. Oh, and a lot of waiting, punctuated with numerous trips to the laundromat to keep ourselves in clothes.

It wasn’t until May 20 that the parts arrived and we were able to schedule the technician’s visit. The next day, a full five weeks after making contact with the warranty company, I watched as the repairman started up the washer, stood back and watched it spin. It ran smooth, quiet and with barely a trace of vibration, even at 1200 rpm.

So, putting aside the five-week wait for repairs, I should be happy, right?

Not at all. The machine works fine, at long last. But I was lucky to have purchased the extended warranty – this appliance would have been too expensive to fix without it. I’d be left with a shiny new piece of junk in the basement.

What’s going on, when a washer barely two years old breaks down with problems as serious as this? In April of 2012, I wrote a column about this subject, angered when my newish refrigerator broke and was not repairable. When I asked Facebook friends if they’d had similar experiences, I received a groundswell of responses.

The upshot? We used to expect a 20 to 30 year lifespan from our appliances, but manufacturers have quietly reduced that to five to seven years – sometimes a little more or less. The sad fact is, they just don’t make them like they used to.

I asked the service technician if this was a common problem with Whirlpool. He said it wasn’t limited to one manufacturer – all front-loading washers are having problems – but it’s unusual to see a failure after just two years.

A search online for ‘Whirlpool reviews’ yielded loads of dirty laundry, much of it on the Duet combo (yes, these posts need to be taken with a grain of salt, but a theme did emerge). The problem boils down to this: the front-load washers are a great idea but the technology is not robust enough to endure the rigours of its own high performance.

I sent a message to Whirlpool Canada’s public relations people, explaining my experience and asking how common this situation is. I received a fairly generic reply just before press time that emphasized the company’s commitment to quality and service, but did not address my question specifically.

Have you had an experience with a new appliance that suffered a major failure too soon in its life cycle? If so, please send a message to geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net. I’m going to keep following this one.

 

 

Be aware – and wary – of SLAPP lawsuits

12 May
Mandy Woodland is a lawyer in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Mandy Woodland is a lawyer in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

May 12, 2014 – Do you occasionally post product reviews to Amazon and other sites? If so, choose your words with care – you just might get slapped with a lawsuit for your opinion.

It’s known as the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP for short, and it really is designed to slap down and intimidate those who express controversial opinions.

There have been a number of apparent SLAPP actions in Canada, the most recent being a $7 million lawsuit launched in September 2013 by Resolute Forest Products against Greenpeace, for its criticism of that company’s forestry operations in Canada. The suit, Greenpeace said at the time, is “a typical bullying tactic meant to gag critics and divert attention from important issues.”

That suit was launched in Ontario, despite the fact that Resolute is headquartered and most active in Quebec. The reason? Greenpeace suggests it’s because Quebec amended its legislation in 2009 to allow courts to summarily throw out SLAPP actions. Ontario currently plans to introduce similar legislation of its own, through Bill 83. A majority of states in the U.S. have enacted similar statutes.

In 2011, a Quebec court tossed out a SLAPP suit, brought by Barrick Gold against three authors who had written a book about the company’s mining practices in Africa. In rejecting the suit, the judge said “Barrick seems to be trying to intimidate authors” and that its conduct was “apparently abusive.” So the anti-SLAPP legislation is working in that province.

The ability of a court to review and reject a legal action at its discretion is critical to keeping SLAPP suits to a minimum. Otherwise, an individual, business or organization could be put through the expense and anxiety of fighting a lawsuit against a larger, richer opponent. Even if the suit is frivolous most defendants can’t afford the fight, and many are forced to retract their comments to make it go away.

So here’s where the plot thickens and SLAPP tactics descend to the consumer level.

In the U.S., the tech company Mediabridge threatened a person with a lawsuit for writing a critical review of that company’s wireless router. Here’s an excerpt from the letter the individual received from Mediabridge’s lawyer:

“I am writing to you in connection with your illegal campaign to damage, discredit, defame and libel Mediabridge and/or engage in other tortious, wrongful and/or illegal conduct directed against Mediabridge. Mediabridge learned that you made and posted on amazon.com blatantly false, defamatory, libelous and slanderous statements about Mediabridge…”

I don’t know about you, but receiving a letter like that would ruin my week. Standing behind my review would suddenly seem quixotic in the face of such legal action. You can see why most would take their remarks down – as this guy did – rather than get drawn into a legal battle. And that seems to be the intent of SLAPP action: not so much to win, but to intimidate the other party into full retreat. As such, it is a none-too-subtle assault on freedom of speech. (Update: Mediabridge has since been booted off Amazon, so its attempt to silence the reviewer has backfired bigtime.)

Mandy Woodland is a lawyer and the proprietor of Mandy Woodland Law in St. John’s. In an interview, she said that anti-SLAPP legislation like that introduced in Quebec is the best solution and it seems inevitable that other provinces will grant their courts similar protections.

“It’s pretty well understood that these suits are very detrimental to the general public and generally not used in a legitimate or reasonable way,” she said, adding that the suits had their beginnings largely for legitimate reasons.

“Initially, many people were posting anonymously to be malicious. It wasn’t truthful, it wasn’t factual and people were hiding behind anonymity… for a lot of different reasons that are not reasonable.”

That’s understatement, to be sure. I have seen comments posted by anonymous trolls that were so over-the-top, they actually deserved to be sued. Woodland agreed that this malicious intent is common, “and more so on the Internet where people can very much appear to be anonymous.”

The point of anti-SLAPP legislation is to protect people who are expressing honestly-held, legitimate points of view, whether anonymously or not. And there are steps you can take to avoid such a suit when posting comments online.

“State the facts, tell the truth and, if you have an opinion, make it clear that it is your opinion,” Woodland said. “And don’t make malicious statements. People sometimes think that if they say, ‘in my opinion, someone is taking bribes,’ well that is not going to protect you from a suit if you have no facts to back that up.”

You can state the facts, and offer fair comment on those facts.

“It’s okay to say negative things. It’s okay to say I had really bad service and here’s what happened, or the food was bad because of so-and-so, or the service I received from this company was poor, or they damaged my suitcase, or whatever – those kind of things are legitimate if they are based on fact… As long as you express a legitimate opinion and can say ‘here’s why I have that opinion’ without going over the top with it, then you should be prevented from having a decision against you in one of those suits.”

Bottom line: keep stating your point of view but explain why you feel that way, and don’t say anything malicious. Anonymity will not protect you against a lawsuit if that suit is warranted.

Electric cars are now within your reach

28 Apr
ConsumerTech #169 photo low res

John Gordon of Green Rock E.V.S. sells used, late-model electric cars at a price that is more affordable than new models. (Geoff Meeker photo)

April 28, 2014 – That’s correct – you really can afford to buy an electric car. There is a dealer in town who can put you behind the wheel of an almost new electric car for just $25,000.

That’s still a lot of change, but it’s substantially less than what electric cars cost new. And with the money you save on fuel, they start paying for themselves immediately.

The owner of Green Rock E.V.S. (Electrical Vehicle Solutions), John Gordon is a reseller of electric cars. He keeps his eye on auction sites, classified ads and so on, looking for good buys on ‘like new’ electric vehicles across North America. He services a small but growing demand for ‘green’ vehicles, from his home-based business in St. John’s.

Electric cars can be expensive, perhaps a little out of range for many of us. However, by purchasing used newer vehicles, Gordon takes advantage of depreciation and passes on those savings to customers.

I first reached out to John several weeks ago after seeing his company’s Facebook page, which raised a whole bunch of questions. Are the cars really cheaper to operate? Would they work in our climate? How about all those hills? How far can they go on a single charge? We agreed that I should take a couple of cars for a test drive, though it was hard to pin down a time that worked for both of us.

Last week, John called out of the blue and said, ‘let’s go right now!’ Spontaneity always works for me and soon John was at my gallery door on Duckworth Street, in a 2012 Nissan Leaf SL. He drove at first, heading for the top of Signal Hill where I would hop in the driver’s seat. At the base of the hill, he pointed to the fuel indicator, which showed 47 km of power remaining on the battery.

On the way, I was full of comments and questions, first about the car itself.

How many moving parts does it have? Not many. The AC motor connects straight to the drive shaft, with no transmission.

What sort of fluids does it take? No gas or oil, just a bit of brake fluid.

How often does it need service? Just a check-up once per year. Because there are so few moving parts, there is less to break down or require service.

Finally, the big question: what does it cost to run, in terms of electricity? The answer – and you’d better sit down for this one – is just $384 per year.

Yes, per year. We all know people who spend more than that in a month for gasoline. Later that day, I challenged John on this, asking if the energy cost was based on manufacturer spec’s (and U.S. utility rates) or personal experience.

“Electricity rates in Newfoundland are $0.12 per KWH,” he said. “The Leaf has a 24 KWH battery, with 150 km range per charge. So 12 cents x 24 = $2.88 to fill the Leaf for 150 km, which breaks down to $0.0192 per km. So if we used 20,000 km per year the energy cost would be $384.”

We arrived at the top of Signal Hill, with Cabot Tower cloaked in fog, and I jumped behind the wheel. When I pressed ‘start’ there was a pinging sound – like an incoming email alert – and the car was powered on. But then… silence. Not a sound. You don’t really notice this until you’re in the driver’s seat. In the distance, I could hear the foghorn. Suddenly, I was infatuated with this car.

I touched the accelerator and the car took off – peppy, but quiet – and drove down Signal Hill. Because of all the batteries on board, the car weighs about as much as a small truck, but it handles nicely and has a great suspension (it glided smoothly over all those potholes). Drive and handling is comparable to that of a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.

The car had 34 km left on the battery when I started down the hill (it uses more going uphill). But get this: at the bottom, there were 41.

Which brings us to one of the car’s more interesting features: regenerative braking. You are consuming power as you accelerate but when you coast along the wheels are generating power and sending it back to the battery. Going downhill generates more power and braking even more again. The power that you burn going up the hill is partially refunded on the way down.

Infatuated? Don’t be talking. Now I was in love.

The Chevrolet Volt is electric with supplementation from a gas generator. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Chevrolet Volt is electric with supplementation from a gas generator. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Next, I took the Chevrolet Volt for a drive. This car is electric with gasoline back-up. Its battery stores about a 50 km charge, sufficient daily driving for many, and a gas-powered generator that tops up the battery when it runs low. The generator runs at peak efficiency – no slowing down, speeding up or idling – so it’s not too costly to operate. Gordon said it costs about $40 to fill, which is a small tank, and can last for weeks, depending on how much you drive in a day.

The Volt is a nicer, sportier car, but it’s also pricier, at $29,500 (they are about $40,000 new).

Purchasing the Leaf incurs the one-time cost of about $1200 to install a 240-volt line from the fuse panel to the driveway or garage. The Volt doesn’t need this because its smaller battery can charge adequately from a 120-volt line. It’s the better choice if you take frequent extended trips out the highway.

Whatever your preconceived notions of an electric car may be, if they are negative I can guarantee that driving one will change your mind. Gordon’s used models put the cars within reach for more of us, and the fuel savings are incredible.

To find out more, contact john@greenrockevs.com or visit http://www.greenrockevs.com/.

Fact and fiction about your cell phone battery

31 Mar

March 31, 2014 – I have to admit, I was surprised by this one. For years, I subscribed to the belief that cell phone batteries should be well drained before recharging. The thinking was, if you didn’t train the battery by taking it from full to empty almost every time, eventually it would forget its own capacity and thus slip into decline.

You’ve heard it too, right?

Well, it’s wrong. It’s a myth. In fact, you can damage the battery if you run it from full to empty all the time.

I learned this at gizmodo.com, a credible technology site that I graze fairly frequently.

“Battery memory is a real thing,” the article states, “but it applies to nickel-based batteries. Your trusty (phone) doubtlessly has a lithium-ion battery, and it needs to be treated a little differently.”

To extend the life of your lithium-ion battery, you need to keep charged at 40 percent or more as much as possible. Never, ever run the battery to zero percent, as this can cause serious damage. And if you can help it, don’t charge the battery all the way to 100 percent every time. Apparently, the ideal is to charge it to 80 percent, run it to 40 and then recharge. It is advisable to drain it almost completely once a month for “calibration,” but that’s it.

And that is the exact opposite of what I’ve been doing. How about you?

One other thing: lithium-ion batteries don’t like heat. This includes running heat, so keep the phone well ventilated if you’re using it constantly (that is, don’t keep it cupped in the warm palm of your hand). It also includes recharging heat, which is another good reason to stop the charge at 80 percent. And it even includes ambient heat, like being left in a hot car – one of the worst things you can do to your phone’s battery.

To read this article for yourself, go to gizmodo.com and search for ‘How to take care of your smartphone battery the right way.’ And if you Google ‘How to care for lithium-ion batteries’ you will find a variety of sites that support the above – most notably batteryuniversity.com – and even a few that repeat old myths.

Consumertech #164 photo low res

Antenna up

On February 3, I told you about the Tivoli tabletop radio and the issues I encountered with AM radio reception, which was not good, both at home and my place of work.

Soon after that column appeared I received an email from Tivoli’s publicity people, who were “interested in looking into this further and rectifying your unhappiness with your purchase.”

There was some back forth – they had questions about where it was positioned, did I try moving the radio around, was I in a metal building, and so on – but the problem was not resolved. There was talk of bringing the radio in to have it looked at, or even returning the product for refund.

In the end, they came back with a solution that I had already figured out: I needed to buy an external AM antenna. I placed one on back order at West End Electronics, where I purchased the Tivoli.

The antenna arrived two weeks later. I planked down the $12, brought it home, plugged in and switched on.

It was better, to be sure, but not perfect. I tried repositioning the antenna (and radio) several times, but there was still a slight crackle in the background. I took it to work and tried it there, with the same result: an improved signal, but not quite perfect.

It would be easy to blame CBC’s broadcast signal for this, except I have other, much cheaper radios at home and at work and both pull in CBC with perfect clarity.

I’ve decided to keep the Tivoli because it works and sounds great on Bluetooth, both for iPod tunes and streaming radio. But I have to say, I’m disappointed in the quality of radio reception. If you are an avid CBC listener and live in St. John’s (I can’t say this is an issue everywhere), I suggest passing on the Tivoli.

 

New Dyson wireless vacuum sucks it up

17 Mar

DC62

By Geoff Meeker

March 17, 2014 – Early in February, I previewed the new Dyson DC62 wireless vacuum. A demo unit was on its way and I promised to get back to you after I’d put the machine through its paces.

The Dyson, of course, is a great machine – arguably the best vacuum cleaner on the market. My only complaint up to now – and it’s a minor one – is that they are heavy and cumbersome to lug around the house, especially up stairs.

So when Dyson announced the cordless, much lighter DC62, I took notice.

“Forget pesky cords and bulky cleaners,” said the Dyson media release. “The latest Dyson… DC62 vacuum is lightweight, cordless, and boasts three times the suction of any other cordless vacuum in use. With 26 minutes of fade-free cleaning performance, (it is) light and easy to maneuver between high, low and hard to reach spaces. No more fiddling with plugs or tripping over cords. Simply remove from the docking station and go.”

This reminded me of one other thing I don’t like about vacuums: that annoying cord, which never seems long enough to reach the far corner of the room. So I was quite intrigued.

When the parcel arrived, the first thing I noted was how light it was, box and all – a promising development. Thanks to clearly illustrated instructions, the vacuum snapped together quickly. Following directions, I plugged it in to start charging, a process that takes about three and a half hours.

While waiting, I pored over the accessories and owner’s manual, learning that the 26-minute running time is reduced if you use the power nozzle. I was impressed to find a wall-mount bracket that allows you to hang the vacuum out of the way. And it comes with two powered brush heads – large and small – plus two snap-on attachments. The rigid extension hose is removeable, creating a compact vacuum ideal for cleaning vehicle interiors.

Once charged, I took the DC62 to my workspace, a studio measuring about 800 square feet with a carpet that had not been vacuumed in several weeks, and set to work.

After its first use, cleaning 800 square feet, the DC62 canister was full to the max line. (Geoff Meeker photo)

After its first use, cleaning 800 square feet, the DC62 canister was full to the max line. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The vacuum was a pleasure to use – lightweight, easy to steer and simple to operate (using a trigger switch that conserves power). I moved quickly, determined to cover the entire room in 26 minutes. I succeeded, but only barely. The vacuum’s light weight makes it easy to remove the power nozzle head and lift the device high, wand-like, to magically remove dust from air vents, cupboard tops and other hard to reach areas. And any questions about suction power were answered by the canister, which was filled pretty much to the “maximum” line. The Dyson passed the most important test – cleaning power – with flying colours.

The wireless DC62 is light and easy to use, but has the suction of a regular vacuum – though running time will be an issue for some. The dog mistook it for a regular vacuum cleaner and barked as loudly as ever. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The wireless DC62 is light and easy to use, but has the suction of a regular vacuum – though running time will be an issue for some. The dog mistook it for a regular vacuum cleaner and barked as loudly as ever. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Should you buy this device? If the idea of a lightweight vacuum with no cord appeals to you, that’s a selling point. If you own a motor home, trailer or small cottage – where space is at a premium – that’s another plus.

On the other hand, the 26-minute running time is too short for most households. Whether this will work for you depends on how you are wired. In my case, I’m perfectly fine with setting the machine down to charge and returning to finish the task later. My wife had a different reaction. When the battery died, she picked up the older, plug-in model and carried on, determined to get the job done.

Whether the DC62 will work for you will hinge on which reaction you most identify with. Oh, and the $549 price tag may also be a determinant.

In most technology, batteries have a limited life. Eventually, they fail to hold their charge and need to be replaced. How long will the battery last? Is it replaceable by the user, or does it require service? I emailed these questions to my contact at Dyson.

“DC62 uses a re-engineered nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery that has been customized to deliver the level of constant power and battery life that the machine needs, whereas with some competitor machines the power will start to drop-off when still in use,” the spokesperson said. “At Dyson we take testing seriously, our prototypes are subjected to months of repetitive and rigorous testing, a different rig for every part. That’s why we’re proud to offer a two-year guarantee on cordless technology. Should anything happen to the machine before then we would offer a fix free of charge. Having said that, the battery is replaceable by the user.”

The DC62 works like a charm and delivers on its promise of powerful suction, but some people may have an issue with the limited running time.

An app a day keeps the boredom away

3 Mar
The App of the Day keeps a running tally in the upper left corner of the value of all apps you’ve downloaded – for absolutely free.  (Screen grab)

The App of the Day keeps a running tally in the upper left corner of the value of all apps you’ve downloaded – for absolutely free. (Screen grab)

By Geoff Meeker

March 3, 2014 – I don’t spend a lot of time browsing and buying apps for my iPhone. While they add functionality and offer some great gameplay, apps can be major time sinks – just browsing them is time-consuming and I cringe at the number of hours squandered on Angry Birds.

Though cheap, generally .99 to 2.99, apps can also be a waste of money. It’s true: how many apps have you purchased but hardly ever used?

However, in the last few months I have found a way to stay in touch with apps new and old, and download what I like without having to purchase a single one.

It’s called App of the Day, a free download on iTunes. (The same app is also available for Android users.) Every day, it offers a new, often best-selling app for free download. If you like what you see, click the install button and away you go. It’s as simple as that. Just be sure to enable push notifications so that you are notified when the new app is available (otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you’ll likely forget to manually check it every day).

How do they do this? The App of the Day has 20 million users so developers are lining up to take advantage of its promotional reach and are only too willing to give their app away for one day. After all, several million new users are going to chat about the app to their friends – assuming they like it – resulting in more sales.

I have downloaded at least 30 apps through this service and will offer mini-reviews of the more notable ones here. They aren’t free anymore but are definitely worth the asking price.

Split Lens

Split Lens

How many times have you wanted to merge two photos into one, before posting to social media? It could be a before and after hairdo shot, a random bunch of party scenes or just two or three images that would work better fused into one. The Split Lens app will do this for you, with 57 photo templates that allow you to combine two, three and more photos, vertically, horizontally or a combination of both. And get this: you can merge video clips into split screens too, with 13 templates to choose from, plus a number of filters to change the look and feel of your collages. At just .99 cents, you can’t go wrong with Split Lens.

Tasty Tadpoles

Tasty Tadpoles

For me, a good handheld game is fun, easy to learn and immediately addictive. Tasty Tadpoles is such a game. You simply navigate your tadpole through the pond, picking up points while avoiding predators and other dangers. It’s easy at first but the difficulty ramps up fast. The interface requires you to navigate by plotting a series of angles, so it’s great mental exercise. The game is fun for adults and children and a decent buy for $2.99.

Node Beat

NodeBeat

This one brings out the musician in all of us.  NodeBeat allows you to start playing music as soon as you open the app – a new-age kind of sound where all notes sound good together – but you can change octave and rhythm, or let the app create its own music for you. You can save compositions and even output as MIDI files but, really, this is just a bit of fun – especially for children, who will love the interactivity of it. Recommended at 1.99.

Nighty Night

Nighty Night

My boys are too old for this, one of the top-selling children’s apps, but I had to download just to experience the graphics and user interface. I was not disappointed. Nighty Night is truly special and proves that children’s stories can be enhanced by the digital medium. The relaxing music and narration is perfect for bedtime and – like any good story – children will want to come back to it again and again. A fabulous buy at 1.99.

So what are you waiting for? Go now and download the App of the Day, enable push notifications, then prepare to explore a new app every 24 hours. If you don’t like it, don’t get it. If you’re not sure, download it anyway and delete at your leisure.

In the upper left corner of the screen, the App of the Day keeps a running tally of the value of your downloads. Thus far, I have saved more than $67 – and I’ve been selective in my choices. That’s pretty good for an App that’s free to download.

Trunx extension

I wrote in my last column about the Trunx cloud-based photo storage app, which offers free unlimited backup of all files uploaded by February 28th. And I have good news: the service is now available for Android devices, and the unlimited free storage offer has been extended to April 30, 2014. Search for the Trunx app in iTunes or Google Play and get the desktop uploader at trunx.me.

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