Thousands of products are reviewed in GHRI's labs each year. Many are problem-solving. Many perform well. And quite a few are innovative. But the winners of GH's First Annual VIP (Very Innovative Products) Awards meet all three criteria.
Kindle e-Reader, $359
Imagine carrying around more than 200 books or newspapers in your purse. This paperback-size 10-ounce tablet lets you make an electronic library from 28 national daily papers (less than $15 per month each) and 200,000 books and counting (about $10 each) to wirelessly download from amazon.com. The Kindle's size-adjustable type is easy to read, and you can bookmark your page, make notes, use the dictionary and wikipedia.org, and read the first chapter of a book before deciding to buy.
Scotch Fur Fighter, $10
Win the war against pet hair with the Fur Fighter, which has a textured pad that grips and removes virtually every hair - even ones deeply embedded in the fabric. Once a sheet is full, just throw away and replace. We found it safe to use on most upholstery, even silk, but spot-check your furniture first in a less visible area.
Tide Total Care, $13 for 100 ounces
We're all tired of buying new clothes that quickly fade with repeated washings. The formulation of Tide Total Care, which claims to help slow pilling, stretching, and fading, seems almost too good to be true. Except that we proved it: After 15 washes with Total Care, a navy-blue top was still almost a brand-new navy-blue. Washed with a competitor, an dentical shirt faded to purple and looked worn.
Wii Fit, $90 (plus $250 for the Wii basic console)
Exercise can be fun - and for the whole family. With Nintendo's Wii Fit, the most committed couch potatoes enjoy standing on the Balance Board and following on-screen instructions for yoga, aerobics, strength training - even walking a tightrope and hula hooping. You earn points for good performance, and get feedback on how you can improve.
Custom Creations Foundation, $14
Each bottle of this smooth, lightweight SPF-15 makeup contains two hues: Turn the dial to one of the five shade settings, and some of each is dispensed in the right proportion to match your selection. This facial fine-tuner was especially loved by the beachgoers on our panel, who liked dialing up a darker color after a day in the sun. $14, Revlon; drug and mass retailers nationwide
Versus Bare Floor Vacuum, $80
Why didn't someone think of this sooner? This slim vac's V-shaped head gets into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, in the corners, under baseboards, and around furniture legs, channeling the mess in. In our tests, it picked up 98 percent of dirt from tight spots regular vacuums tend to miss.
UConnect Web, $499 plus installation
Cross the car off the list of places where there's no Internet access. Now passengers in new Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles can sign up for wireless Internet service and use their laptops to check directions or weather reports, make dinner reservations, send e-mail, watch streaming movies, or play video games. And, if the driver pulls over to the side of the road, she has one more way to stay connected - particularly helpful if she's lost or stranded.
Satellite GPS Messenger, $170 (plus $100 per year service)
For anyone who loves the great outdoors, this GPS rescue device can make a lifesaving difference. With near-total global coverage, it works where cell phones don't and has a 911 emergency signal that transmits every five minutes for up to 14 days until rescue. (At press time, it had aided over 65 distress calls.) Other controls share trip progress and let you send messages to check in with the folks at home.
Share SD Card, $100
Now when relatives ask you to e-mail photos, you have no excuse. With Eye-Fi's Share memory card, each photo you take can be wirelessly transmitted to your PC or Mac and uploaded to an online photo site like kodakgallery.com or snapfish.com. Just change your current SD card with this Wi-Fi enabled one, and goodbye, cables. For $30 more, the Explore card uses geo-tagging to record the location where you snapped the picture. A 2GB card holds up to 1,000 2MB images. $100, Eye-Fi; eye.fi
Portobello Mushrooms, $3.50 for six ounces
Most of us don't get enough vitamin D - a real concern, because low levels are linked to cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. What's more, very few foods provide much of the nutrient. Enter Dole's Portobello mushroom caps and slices: One package contains 800 IUs of D, the daily amount experts suggest. The secret is a simple flash of light during the growth process, which helps the mushrooms synthesize more D, without changing the taste.
Our Hall of Fame Award goes to Spanx's Original Footless Pantyhose. In 1998, 27-year-old Sara Blakely of Clearwater, FL, cut the feet off her pantyhose so she could get the benefits of shaping and an invisible panty line under slacks while wearing sandals. Two years later she introduced a comfortable, body-slimming, toeless garment to the market. Throngs of happy customers later, the line now consists of over 100 figure-enhancing garments from bras and panties to full-body shapers. "Over the years, we've tested virtually every brand of shapewear, and Spanx always comes out on top," says GHRI textiles expert Kathleen Huddy. "That's because it gives women a great shape without asking them to sacrifice comfort."
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