An exceptionally crummy year for worthy infomercial products

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Have I set the bar too high? Are my standards unrealistic? Am I just an incurable curmudgeon?

As the calendar flips to a new year, it is a natural inclination to take stock of the months gone by. But while others may feel compelled to ask tough questions about their relationships or career choices, I'm content to limit my introspection to my walk-in pantry - stocked with another year's worth of as-seen-on-TV products.

And from my perspective, what a crummy year it was.

I began testing infomercial products two years ago, and I'm continuing a tradition of taking a year-end look back at the highlights and lowlights. It's a good opportunity to consider whether the items I favored are still performing well over the long haul, and whether any of the products I panned have since been redeemed in my eyes.

But reading back through the archives for 2004 has led me to an unavoidable and harsh conclusion: Either I'm a tough guy to please, or there's a lot of junk out there in TV land.

In the past year, only two products received substantially favorable reviews on these pages: the Drill Doctor, an unlikely mass-market product that does a great job reviving worn, broken or rusted drill bits; and the OneSweep, an inexpensive, rubber-bristled broom that works well on grooved surfaces.

The rest? Much of it was head-shakingly bad. There was the Eggstractor, a goofy contraption that's supposed to peel hard-boiled eggs but doesn't. The woefully underpowered Micro Touch hair trimmer. The Calypso tanning spray that was more like leprosy-in-a-can.

The Shark Cordless Wet/Dry Vac? Dismantled in the basement somewhere. The Liquid Lense eyeglass scratch remover? Long ago tossed out.

I thought I might have limited use for a couple of other products: The AutoPilot "talking road navigator" and the Celltek hands-free cell speaker phone. But the novelty wore off instantly, and they're both gathering dust.

Although the Drill Doctor works exceptionally well, I haven't found the need to use it after my initial burst of sharpening. That leaves me wondering how long it would take a typical do-it-yourselfer to make back the $40 cost of the unit. Still, it's a quality product that performs exactly as promised.

And I am impressed with the OneSweep, which I learned is also a terrific choice for brushing snow off cars. The design of the bristles makes it far more effective than a typical snow brush, and the rubber material ensures that it won't scratch roofs and hoods the way a shovel might. With a $10 price tag at retail outlets, it remains a good buy in my book.

I'm making it a New Year's resolution to seek out some quality fare on the airwaves, something that won't be headed for the trash heap before the credit-card statement arrives. If you have any suggestions, drop me a line.

Matthew Kauffman is a columnist for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com. For a detailed review of other products, log on to www.ctnow.com/ontv.

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