We've all been mesmerized by the flashy demos and the fast-talking pitchmen promising that their gadgets will change your life — "but only if you act right now!" To get beyond the hoopla, we ordered the products, watched the ads, and visited the Web sites, noting all product claims; then we set out to see if they held water (or sopped it up, or helped it cook pasta faster ...). Here, the winners and losers.
Pasta N' More
$19.99 (plus $8.99 shipping)
The Pitch: "Cook perfect al dente pasta in your microwave ... every time!"
The Reality: Spaghetti, penne, ravioli, and lasagna noodles cooked evenly in the microwave, without the hassle of boiling water and using a colander. Pasta came out a bit softer than al dente, but the truth is, most of our testers still liked the taste. As for "n' More": The device nicely steamed carrots and potatoes.
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$19.99 (plus $8.95 shipping)
The Pitch: "The fast & easy way to mend, hem, and wear it again."
The Reality: This fabric glue works in a pinch to tack up fallen hems and reattach trims. It's a strong, but not always permanent, fix: Only one of our eight repairs (denim) lasted through a year's worth of washing. The others started to come apart along the way ... but you can always re-glue. Use with caution with some materials — in our tests, the glue bled through lightweight fabrics, drying as a dark stain that didn't wash out.
$14.99 (plus $7.95 shipping)
The Pitch: "Automatically waters houseplants for up to two weeks."
The Reality: At least they look pretty. Made of blown glass, Aqua Globes are hard to fill (the stems' diameters can vary by as much as ¼ inch — the narrow ones were most troublesome) and tricky to install, particularly in smaller pots; we had one pot topple under a globe's added weight. Plus, water didn't dispense evenly, in some cases pouring out all at once and in others not at all because the stem got clogged with dirt.
Point 'N Paint
$19.99 (plus $7.95 shipping)
The Pitch: "Paint an entire room in less than one hour. Get perfect results every time."
The Reality: Talk about a whitewash. Our two engineers were able to paint a very small room (12' by 7') in an hour using this tray and applicator-pad set. But while it worked well on the large, smooth expanses of wall, we then had to spend an extra hour cleaning up messy smears and using brushes and rollers to touch up around moldings and fixtures. The edges were not precise, and the swivel pole adapter for painting out-of-reach areas was very hard to control.
$39.95 (plus $6.95 shipping)
The Pitch: "Make and receive local and long-distance calls in the U.S. and Canada for only $19.95 a year."
The Reality: The $40 device easily connects a regular phone to a USB port on a computer and lets you call as advertised (the first year of service is included; it's $19.95 per year thereafter). But there are a few hang-ups: Sound quality varies widely, and in order to make and receive calls, the computer must be on and connected to a high-speed Internet service. Also, 911 calling may not be as reliable as with a landline; you'll want an alternate phone service in case of emergency. That said, it's a fine, well-priced choice for a second line.
$14.99 (plus $6.99 shipping)
The Pitch: "Easy, safe, and painless ... superfine crystals buff away unwanted hair...in moments."
The Reality: Not quite the miracle product we'd hoped for, Smooth Away removed hair with some success from legs and arms — but it took a lot of time and missed spots despite our testers' efforts. On bikini and underarm areas, it was largely ineffective, and even irritated sensitive skin. Some testers didn't like the way it left their skin ashy, and most concluded they'd stick to their regular hair-removal method.
$19.95 (plus $7.95 shipping)
The Pitch: "It's like a chamois, a towel, a sponge...and holds 12 times its weight in liquid."
The Reality: A good product, but with too many grandiose promises. The ShamWow held 13 times its weight in water in our tests, but lost some absorbency after 10 launderings. It sucked up cola from carpeting well, but didn't remove wine stains completely. On hard surfaces, it absorbed spills better when used dry (a wet one dripped and left liquid behind). It was also good for cleaning electronics, but for drying sweaters and blotting wet dogs, contrary to the claims, air-drying and a regular towel, respectively, were better.
$9.99 to 12.98 (plus $7.93 shipping)
The Pitch: "Gives you a workout that's up to 408 percent more effective than ordinary crunches. So you can sculpt beautiful abs fast!"
The Reality: Our fitness experts and consumers thought that the exercises were effective, but no more so than an ab workout on the floor or a regular exercise ball. Upon our request, the company provided a study involving 10 subjects supporting the "up-to-408-percent-more-effective" claim for the most intense moves. As mentioned on the site, placing an order enrolls you to receive new workouts every two months, at a cost of $46.97 per shipment — you must call to cancel.
$19.95 (plus $5.95 shipping)
The Pitch: "A professional-grade sealing system guaranteed to give your caulk edges a flawless finish, or your money back."
The Reality: We want a refund. While it was able to provide an acceptable seal with caulk, acrylic, and silicone on kitchen and bath surfaces (counters, tubs, tiles, etc.), the appearance was far from flawless. Unless the surface was completely smooth and straight with no divots or cracks, our caulking lines came out woefully uneven. And corners? Forget about 'em.
Save a Blade
$19.99 (plus $7.95 shipping)
The Pitch: Sharpens razor blades for "a smooth shave every time!"
The Reality: A close call. Save A Blade did sharpen and therefore extend the life of all the brands of razor blades we tested. But were consumer testers satisfied with the closeness and comfort of a shave with a blade that had been "saved"? Not really. While their results were better than with worn razors, testers said they would sharpen only if a new blade wasn't handy.
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