If you will indulge me for a moment, gentle reader, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs doing something relatively silly and perhaps even futile: reviewing a product that has already been redesigned and replaced. There’s a method to my madness, though, and I trust you will find some of my remarks about the Kenmore Toast 'N Wave instructive even if somewhat outdated.
About four years ago, Morgen and I moved from an apartment with a built-in microwave oven to one without, and consequently were in the market for a new microwave. Given that our new place had too little counter space, we thought the Kenmore Toast 'N Wave, which combines a microwave oven and a toaster in one relatively compact unit, might be an ideal choice. It was inexpensive and had all the features we thought we’d need, and though we obviously couldn’t test it in the store, we figured: how can anyone mess up a microwave oven or a toaster? The answer, it turns out, is: by combining them.
Allow me to enumerate the faults we’ve found in the design:
- You can’t use the toaster and the microwave at the same time. (You’d be surprised how often that need arises.)
- The toaster portion can handle thick slices (such as bagels) but not wide slices. It was designed to hold only sandwich bread-sized slices, and we never buy that shape of bread. We always buy wider loaves, whose slices have worked perfectly well in every other toaster—but not this one.
- When your toast is done, the toaster beeps…and keeps on beeping for a very long time. (I haven’t timed it, but I reckon it’s about a minute.) It won’t stop until you open the toaster door. If you’re not available to grab the toast at the very instant the toaster thinks you should, it’ll pester you until you do. (The microwave, on the other hand, just beeps and then shuts up, as it should.)
- The default darkness setting for the toast (5 on a scale of 1–10) makes toast so light you might has well have simply held it in front of a light bulb for a minute instead. That wouldn’t be so bad if a higher setting would stick from one slice to the next, but no: you have to readjust the darkness every single time.
- The keypad with which you enter the amount of cooking time for the microwave has the buttons arranged in two rows (1–5 and 6–0), rather than the more common and sensible rectangular arrangement of a calculator (1 on the bottom) or telephone (1 on the top).
- If you want to microwave something at other than full power, you must enter the cooking time first and then the power setting—never the other way around.
Yes, both microwave and toaster usually get the job done, despite these aggravations, but the point is that using this oven, especially the toaster part, is far more complicated and annoying than using a stand-alone device. And the complexity is needless: if the designers had given any consideration to the way the machine would be used, or done any real-world usability testing, they could have corrected every one of these issues.
Now then: I can see from photos of the current model that it has changed. The handle has a different shape, the controls are organized somewhat differently, and for all I know, any or all of the above issues may have been dealt with as well. Unfortunately, there’d be no way for me to know without trying out a newer model, and no way to do that without buying it. Unlike my computer or cell phone, I can’t download a firmware update or pop in a new chip to get new features; I’m stuck with what I got—and I have to guess whether even a new model would address my concerns. And yet, inexplicably, even before the redesign, the Toast 'N Wave won a design award! At the end of 2002, the Consumer Electronics Association named it the “Innovations 2003 Award Winner” in the Home Appliance category. Which shows that the CEA must also never have tried it out. Bah.
For what it’s worth, Samsung’s discontinued Toast & Bake Microwave featured not only microwave and toaster but toaster oven too. But it didn’t take off; perhaps Samsung discovered that separate appliances really do make more sense.