Our favorite stuff of the year

The top 10 things we loved, plus our Loser List

Published: January 2011

The year 2010 was filled with some of the coolest new products we've seen in the past decade: TVs that give you a theater-quality 3D experience, the addictive Apple iPad, and lots of supersmart phones. Advances in technology like "green" paints also wowed us. This year was the first time that an environmentally friendly brand beat out all the other paints. We were also awed by fast, sleek induction ranges that now cost a third less than they did about a year ago. Those products and several others made our first annual hot list. To pick those items, as well as all of the other top products shown on the next eight pages, we sorted through thousands of appliances, electronics, foods, beverages, health and beauty products, and other stuff that passed through our labs this year. In addition to innovative products that performed well, we included items with great designs (Dyson's bladeless fan and Levi's slimming jeans) and ones that were simply outstanding in their class (Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, for instance). We also saw our share of clunkers, which you can check out in The Loser List.

Beauty, fashion, and fitness

Asics Gel-Tech Walker Neo, $100

These Asics aced our lab tests and got the thumbs up from staffers, who logged 132 hours in 13 pairs of sneakers. They're not cheap but they're excellent for fit, breathability, and stability.

Clairol Textures & Tones, 2N Dark Brown, $7

Though it's targeted at women of color, this kit did a great job turning all of our hair samples a deep, warm brown. Plus it's cheap, easy, and ammonia-free.

Levi Strauss & Co. Perfectly Slimming Jeans 512, $44

During our fit tests using female staffers, we were wowed by the figure-flattering effects of these tummy-flattening, curve-smoothing jeans.

Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle, $20 for 1 fluid ounce

It's no miracle worker, but this drugstore wrinkle fighter smoothed lines in almost as many users as the top-rated Dermasilk serum that cost twice as much.

Oral-B Triumph Professional Care 9400*, $130

It keeps teeth sparkling with three cleaning modes, a sensor to help you avoid brushing too hard, and a smiley face to let you know that you're done. (*Tested model has been discontinued and replaced with Oral-B Professional Care SmartSeries 4000.)

Tanita HD-357, $65

Need a reminder to think thin? This flashy little red digital scale can help get you on track. It was consistently more accurate than the old-fashioned dial types we checked.

Cars

Ford Mustang, $28,680 (V6), $36,310 (V8)

New engines have made the American sports car even more fun to drive. If you'd prefer the wind-in-your-hair Mustang experience, go for the V6 convertible, $27,000.

Hyundai Sonata GLS, $21,800

Redesigned for 2011, this sleek, swoopy-looking sedan is a head turner. It also impressed our test-track drivers with its much-improved performance. It gives you a lot for the money, including an impressive 27 mpg overall.

Kia Sorento EX, $32,390

With its new design, the 2011 Sorento now ranks among the best of the small SUVs. It has a comfortable and roomy interior and offers an optional third-row seat. That seat is tiny, but it extends the seating to seven.

Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited, $30,099

This all-wheel-drive, SUV-like wagon gives you a comfortable ride. It also offers a roomy interior, with plenty of cargo space, and gets good gas mileage of 24 mpg overall. Plus Subaru has a good overall reliability record.

Volkswagen Golf TDI, $24,764

Fun to drive and fuel efficient, this versatile hatchback is among the best small cars we've tested. Its cabin is roomy, the ride is smooth, and its diesel engine delivers an outstanding 38 mpg overall with a manual transmission.

Electronics

Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi, $190

The best e-reader got even better this year. Amazon's latest version of its Kindle is lighter and has faster page turning, plus its batteries can go for 10 days of frequent use.

Apple iPad, $500 to $800

It won't replace your laptop, but it's pretty cool—and more portable, which is why we like this e-reader, Web surfer, video and music player, and digital picture frame all rolled into a slim tablet.

Apple iPod Shuffle (2G), $50

We love its tiny price tag, its simple, easy-to-use design and the handy clothes clip. And although it's just slightly bigger than a postage stamp, it holds hundreds of songs.

Canon Power Shot D1400 IS Elph, $220

This cute Canon gives you top-quality photographs and packs a lot—14 megapixels, 4x zoom, and very good video—in its slim little package.

Magellan Maestro 4350, $150

It will get you where you want to go for a lot less than most GPS units. Plus it has vivid graphics and fab extras such as spoken street names and Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free driving.

Motorola Droid 2 (Verizon), HTC Evo 4G (Sprint), Samsung Vibrant (T-Mobile), each $200 with two-year contract

There are so many new phones, it was hard to pick just one. These three computerlike models won over our testers with their easy-to-use touch screens, e-mail tools, music and video capability, cool apps, and a lot more.

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT20, $2,600

Most big manufacturers have come out with 3D sets, but the eye-popping viewing on this 50-inch plasma HDTV blew us away. It's also great for watching regular TV, and the price is reasonable.

Food

Allegro Kenya Grand Cru, $17.32 per pound

It's a bit of a splurge, but out of the 15 popular gourmet varietals we evaluated, this Kenyan brew from Whole Foods was the only coffee that rated excellent with our expert taste testers.

Bob Evans Original Mashed Potatoes, 67 cents per serving

For quick, easy comfort food, pop these refrigerated spuds into the microwave. Their creamy, buttery flavor put them ahead of 11 others we taste tested.

Bolthouse Farms Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothie, $1.41 per serving

Of the 12 ready-made smoothies we taste-tested, this was the top bottle, a yummy blend of fresh-tasting fruit that provides your vitamin C fix for the day.

Cedar's Roasted Red Pepper Hommus, $3.30 per 8-ounce package

At only 50 calories per 2 tablespoons, it's diet-friendly. Plus it has 3 grams of fiber, the most of any of the 48 dips we rated for nutrition.

Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean, $1.13 per half-cup serving

It was so creamy, dense, and flavorful that tasters dubbed it a top vanilla. Too bad the best ice creams also tend to have the most calories; this one's no exception!

Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve 2008, $12

For a special white, look no further than our top chardonnay pick. The rich mix of buttery, vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch flavors, balanced by crisp acidity, won over our professional wine tasters.

Toscolo Chianti, 2008, $10

The straw flasks are long gone, but great, inexpensive Chiantis live on. This bottle was excellent. Thanks to its delicious fruitiness and food-friendly acidity, it outshone seven other Chiantis we tested this year.

Home

Behr Premium Plus Ultra, $34

This paint scored highest of all 51 tested, and it was the first that was low in volatile organic compounds (linked to pollution) to earn the top spot. Plus it primes and paints in one coat.

Bissell OxyPro Carpet Spot & Stain Remover, $4.85

Besides the vacuum, you might want to keep a can of this foamy carpet cleaner on hand to tackle stains. In our tests, it worked best on splotches of red pasta sauce and French dressing. It was also pretty good on coffee and red wine.

Black & Decker Brew'N Go DCM18S, $25

Single-serve coffee machines are red hot and even starting to become office staples. This maker brewed a cup closest to the joe from a regular drip machine.

Breville Ikon BBL600XL, $200

It whirred up smoother smoothies and purées and was great at grating and crushing ice. The touchpad controls are easy to clean, and it gets style points for a sleek design and brushed-metal finish.

Clear20 CWS100A, $30, plus $60 per year for replacement filters

It excels at getting nasty stuff like lead and chloroform out of tap water and filters up to 2 gallons a day; that's more than a dozen small plastic bottles.

Cuisinart CPT-170, $70

If all you want from a toaster is toast, you can find cheaper models. But if you want consistently even, perfecto toast, plus eye candy for your kitchen counter, this toaster is the one to buy.

Dyson Air Multiplier, $300

Though it's crazily expensive, this fan is a standout for its sleek loop design and lack of exposed blades, which makes it fun to look at and safe for little fingers. And test panelists said it felt great, too.

Ecosmart 14W 60-Watt 423-599, $6 for four bulbs

Some early CFLs had flickering, harsh light, but this bulb has none of those problems. It casts a warm glow and saves about $6 a bulb per year in energy costs.

Finish Quantum, $5.93 for box of 20

Until now, many phosphate-free, eco-friendly dishwashing detergents have been a wash, but these Finish tabs got the toughest stuck-on glop off our dishes without leaving spots.

GE WCV600J[WW], $750

This front-loading washer caught our attention for its great price (it performs better than machines costing twice as much) and its primo water and energy efficiency, which can trim your utility bill.

H20 Mop Ultra, $100

Steam technology is being built into all kinds of appliances, including washers and dryers, and it doesn't always make a big difference. But the combo of heat, steam, and water was really powerful in this floor mop. It was the best of 10 models at removing our tough, sticky messes.

Hefty Ultra Flex, $8

This household staple really lives up to its name. It held all the bits and pieces of wood and metal that we threw into it plus 25 pounds of weights without breaking and spilling everything.

Hoover WindTunnel Anniversary Edition U6485-900, $230

For the second year in a row, a Hoover model has been our favorite vac. This one aced our carpet- and bare-floor cleaning tests and was great on pet-hair pickup.

KitchenAid Architect Series KHM920A[AER], $80

No room for a hefty stand mixer? This hand model packs speed and power, beating stiff dough almost as easily as billowy cream. And it's surprisingly quiet.

Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe BVMC-FM1, $80

You can spend a lot on frosty drinks at the java joint or whip up your own in this combo blender/coffeemaker. It's a first of its kind for home use and works great.

Ove Glove, $13 to $17 per glove

This glove can take the heat. It held out twice as long as regular mitts in our flame tests before melting or igniting. (Don't try this at home!) And it briefly handled pots right out of a 540° F oven.

Pro-Iroda O-Grill 3000, $180

It comes in six colors to brighten cookouts, is a light 24 pounds, and does a great job of grilling. It consistently turned out juicy salmon and chicken with nice sear marks in our tests.

Samsung FTQ307NWGX, $1,800

Until recently, you had to pay a few thousand dollars for superfast induction and convection technologies. This well-priced range combines those features, and it excelled in most of our cooking tests.

Viva Kleenex, $2.47 per 100 sq. ft.

We soaked, scrubbed, and loaded wet paper towels up with little lead balls to check their strength and absorbency. Viva Kleenex was the cheapest of our four winners.

Wamsutta 1000, $200 (queen-size)

OK, we know they're a splurge, but there's an innovative design touch that makes us love these fitted sheets: They have an extra-wide elastic band (like men's boxers) that keeps them in place.

Store brands

America's Choice (A&P) Beef Franks, $2.64 per 16-ounce package

Oscar Mayer might have a memorable TV jingle, but these store-brand franks were tastier—juicy and slightly smoky—and 10 percent cheaper!

Kirkland Signature Daily Multi Vitamins, $14.99 for 500 pills

It's simply the best deal in multis we found. They were the only ones we tested with the USP seal (meaning they were checked for quality, purity, and potency.)

Kirkland Signature Environmentally Friendly Ultra 2X HE (Costco), 12 cents per load

This green brand was great at cleaning for half the cost of top-scoring Tide 2X Ultra. It works best in an HE washer.

Kirkland Signature Handcrafted Lager and Ales, $18.99

Our testers are always on the lookout for great new store-brand products that can save you money, but even we were surprised when beer made the list. This variety pack of 24 bottles is cheap, but it doesn't taste that way. In blind tests, untrained tasters liked the brews about as much as pricier name-brand beers of the same styles. Cheers!

Market Pantry Chicken Nuggets (Target), 53 cents per serving

Target says that the recipe might change; we hope not too much! These nuggets were so crispy, tender, and chicken-y, we didn't need dunking sauce.

Up & Up Sport Sunscreen Continuous Spray SPF 30 (Target), $5.25 per 6-ounce bottle

Its UVA and UVB protection rivaled those of big-brand sprays for half the price, and it met SPF claims even after our water tests.

The Loser List

Ab Coaster, $250

Using it correctly isn't easy, and some testers had lower-back discomfort.

Andrea Air Purifier, $200

It didn't clean the air, and it kind of looks like a urinal with a plant in it.

Augen The Book, $120

The price is nice, but that's the only nice thing we can say about it.

Black & Decker QuickPress F975, $20

It ran out of steam and dragged on our clothes.

Burt's Bees Naturally Ageless Intensive Repairing Serum, $25

Prepare to age, naturally.

Calphalon XL HE650C, $200

It doesn't add much oven space; it won't fit a 4-pound chicken.

DeLonghi DTT312, $100

This toaster doesn't consistently make good toast, but it can do paninis!

Glad Force Flex, $8

Glad's heavy-duty claims were trashed by the competition.

Hamilton Beach 44601, $50

It's voice-activated, if it likes your voice. If not, no joe for you!

Hormel Compleats, Sesame Chicken, about $2

Easy to prep, but the flavor was hard to swallow!

Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer Pro E-1189, $150

We had to juice slowly or it would jam.

Jaguar XF, $54,075

This pricey Jag got the worst score of all the cars in our latest reliability survey.

Jupiter Jack, $23.98 (for two)

This purchase is a bad call with its spotty reception.

Mister Steamy, $20 (for two)

The de-wrinkling dryer ball isn't so hot; you still need Mr. Iron.

Off Clip-On Mosquito Repellent, $10

It clipped on but didn't keep bugs off.

Purex Complete 3-in-1 Lau,ndry sheets, $7

Just stick with regular detergent and fabric softener.

Sharp SuperSteam AX-1200[K], $900

Don't pay $900 for a micro that steams; steam on the stove.

Slap Chop, $20

It cut unevenly, and all that slapping made our testers' hands hurt.

Taylor Scale 4832, $18

If you'd rather not know the truth, you should pick this scale.

Toyota 4Runner, $37,425

This rough rider doesn't let you forget you're driving a truck.

Toyota Yaris, $16,423

It's cheap, but you get what you pay for: a noisy and uncomfortable ride.

Viking VMOR205, $1,200

Leave the slow cooking to slow cookers, not microwave ovens.


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