The Beacon Journal's three-person panel consists of Lisa Abraham, our food writer; Mary Beth Breckenridge, our home and garden writer; and myself, the consumer writer.
We went to some local shops to find products we've seen advertised on TV or in the store that made us wonder, ''Does that really work?'' or ''Is it worth the money?''
We tried to test items that could be given as gifts, but there were also some products that might be purchased for use around the house.
Today's installment will be followed by more products in the Food section on Wednesday and then the Home section next Saturday. In all, we tested 14 products.
These tests are not scientific in a lab; we're just three regular people testing the products in everyday use.
Maybe we'll save you some money by telling you to ''Skip It.'' Or we'll find you a great product with a verdict of ''Snap It Up.'' Still other times, we might neither love nor hate the product, and give it a rating of ''It Depends.''
We're three people with opinions of our own, so we won't always agree.
But that's good for you, so you can see our opinions and then make up your own mind.
But enough talk. Let's get to the results:
I've been looking for something that works great on the dust and everyday spills that come with having an active family, including two kids. My dark, hardwood kitchen floor seems to show everything.
I really wanted to find something that was an all-in-one machine that would both pick up the dust and things that end up on
floors, and also wash the floors.
But I haven't had any luck finding something that is not extraordinarily expensive or cumbersome. The best thing I've settled on is a washable microfiber pad/broom that I use after spraying some hardwood cleaner. It's worked well, but it can get tiring with all of the spraying, then wiping, spraying, then wiping.
So I was excited when we decided to test out the Shark Steam Mop, which promises to sanitize floors, loosen, lift and lock in dirt, and be safe on wood floors. At $79.99, it wasn't something I was willing to splurge on without knowing whether it worked. We'd also received several requests from readers to test the product.
The Shark uses no chemicals, so after your $79.99 investment, you won't have to buy any products. The lightweight mop (three pounds) uses water (tap can be used, but filtered is recommended if you have hard water) to create steam that comes out of the bottom of the mop to clean the floors.
The three of us came up with mixed reviews. Mary Beth liked it, I didn't and Lisa's verdict was ''It Depends.''
I found the mop very hard to maneuver. The cord seemed to get in the way — even after we put it on a cord clip — but it's no different from the annoying cord when I use the vacuum. The friction of the mop on my hardwood floors was very very hard — one time I used it, I practically broke out in a sweat. This would be very hard for someone elderly to push and pull, I thought.
Another time, my husband used the mop and seemed to get a lot of steam out of it. By the time it dried, we had water streaks on the floor. So I had to pull out my microfiber pad and cleaner to clean up after the mop. To be fair, I tried it again, and that time, it didn't leave water marks, so I don't know whether the other time was a fluke.
The mop will clean the floor, but it won't pick up the dust or bigger particles — you'll still have to use something else to get those before using the Shark.
Mary Beth liked that the mop didn't require cleaner; it was all-in-one and the pads were reusable (machine washable). She did find it hard to maneuver on her old vinyl floor, but said it worked really well on her tile.
Lisa said she found it equally hard to push on linoleum, tile and hardwood floors.
''It did pick up dirt, but it does not take up scuff marks,'' Lisa said. ''If you have tile everywhere, you can zip it along and you can do a good job on cleaning.''
Lisa was concerned about whether the steam would be enough to disinfect or clean a floor. Mary Beth said she wasn't bothered by that and steam heat would clean just fine.
In the end, I was bothered by the price for what the Shark promises to do. It didn't really do anything more than the microfiber mop I bought for $15, though I do acknowledge that I'll have to buy cleaner (I could also use my microfiber mop with just water if I wanted). Mary Beth and Lisa said they weren't bothered by the price and figured eventually, the Shark would pay for itself in the materials you won't buy.
Betty: Skip It.
Lisa: It Depends.
Mary Beth: Snap It Up.
The Lint Wizard
I'm always looking for economical and good ways to clean up hair from my two cats — especially on my furniture. Vacuuming couches is too cumbersome, so I usually resort to using lots of sticky lint rollers.
Lisa, Mary Beth and I were pretty skeptical of the Lint Wizard, which I picked up at Gabriel Brothers. (I haven't seen it at other local stores, though you can order it at http://www.lintwizard.com for $14.99 plus $6.99 shipping and handling.) To be fair, Gabriel Brothers' prices tend to be cheaper than other places and sometimes their items are not found readily in other stores. The Lint Wizard cost $4.99 there.
The Lint Wizard promises to clean lint, pet hair, dust and more. It claims to be a ''self-cleaning lint brush'' that will mean ''no more refills'' since you can reuse it.
The Lint Wizard was only OK in picking up the hair — it probably wasn't any better or worse than using a sticky lint roller. But Mary Beth and I were amazed at the ''self-cleaning'' part. When you move a switch on the Lint Wizard, it essentially grabs the hair from the brush and puts it in a compartment in the middle of the contraption. Open it, and the hair is there for you to throw away and the roller is clean again.
''I loved that it was self-cleaning,'' Mary Beth said. ''It wasn't the best lint roller I've ever used, but the fact that you could keep using it was a plus.''
We were going to say ''Snap It Up'' if the price was as cheap as I got at Gabriel Brothers, but for essentially $20 with shipping and handling online, it makes us pause.
Betty: It Depends.
Lisa: It Depends.
Mary Beth: It Depends.
Automatic Jar Opener
The Automatic Jar Opener claims to ''open stubborn jars at a touch of a button.'' It says it's small enough to fit in your kitchen drawer and opens lids 1.2 to 4 inches wide. It's operated by two AA batteries. We picked it up at a local drugstore for $19.99.
Again, being skeptics (we're journalists, after all), we weren't sure this was going to work. I'll just say: It was pretty darn cool. Beyond the cool factor, most people who don't have trouble opening jars are probably not going to want this because it'll be faster for you to open the jar than wait for the machine to do it. (It took 39 seconds).
But if you're someone who has arthritis or has trouble with grips, this would be a godsend, Mary Beth said.
You push the button until the outer prongs and inner prongs catch onto the lid. Then the cool part happens: the jar opener twists the lid off and then resets the lid back onto the jar.
When we tried it on a new pickle jar, the lid opened nice and quiet. Lisa was impressed that the jar itself doesn't shift on the table.
We then tried a few older jars that had been sitting around in the work fridge. One jar of opened ice cream topping, which probably had dried or gotten sticky around the lid, did open, but only after popping loudly and kind of jerking the lid (temporarily startling us). Another opened jar of ice cream topping didn't have the same problems.
Betty: Snap It Up.
Lisa: Snap It Up.
Mary Beth: Snap It Up.
The Wallet Pix claims to be credit-card size that ''fits in your wallet, purse or pocket.'' It says it's easy to use with no software required and is designed to carry up to 58 pictures.
The item is not thin enough to be put in your wallet at a quarter-inch thick.
It was fairly easy to install, though I had a few hiccups getting my computer to recognize it at first. Mary Beth had about the same experience. In total, even with having to reboot my machine as the software requested, it took me 16 minutes to load four pictures onto the Wallet Pix.
But the Wallet Pix is designed to be small and portable. The screen is really small at 1-inch wide by 1-inch tall.
''The screen is considerably smaller than what's on my cell phone,'' Mary Beth said.
With a screen that small, it's going to be pretty tough to see much detail — especially if you have some vision difficulties.
The picture quality wasn't bad, especially for a gadget that costs $14.99, but for instance, I loaded a picture of my husband and kids on Halloween night and we couldn't see any of their facial features on the Wallet Pix because it was so small. A scenic photo of a mountain and lake looked pretty good.
''The picture quality is fine. It's just so small that I frankly don't see the benefit,'' Lisa said. ''There are people who love gadgets, though. But I probably wouldn't recommend it.'''
If the goal is to have Grandma or Grandpa share photos of the grandkids, it's probably going to be better to give them an actual photo or load the photos on a cell phone so people can see the faces.
Betty: Skip It.
Lisa: It Depends.
Mary Beth: It Depends.
Prices vary. Online or TV orders might incur extra charges for delivery.
Have you seen an advertised product and wondered if it really lives up to its claims? You can suggest items to be reviewed by Lisa Abraham, Mary Beth Breckenridge and Betty Lin-Fisher. Send an e-mail to labraham@ thebeaconjournal.com or call 330-996-3737; e-mail mbrecken@ thebeaconjournal.com or call 330-996-3756; or e-mail email@example.com or call 330-996-3724.