Home Appliance Update Spring 2010
Bosch Vision 300 and 800
In the November 2009 issue of AccessWorld, we reported that Bosch Vision 500 clothes washers and dryers offer a control design that many readers may find accessible and convenient. Recently, Bosch has expanded the new design to include its Vision 300 and Vision 800 washers and companion dryers. The new control panels have far fewer buttons than is customary in today's high-tech laundry equipment.
The controls on both washers and dryers resemble the traditional controls of yesterday's washing machines in that they use a single rotary control with click settings to select both fabric type and washing temperature. Bosch appliances may not be as widely available as some other brands. In a recent phone conversation, we found the Bosch representative to be very well informed and able to discuss the behavior of the appliance controls in detail. Bosch can be reached at 1-800-944-2904, Monday-Friday from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST.
Oven, oven in the wall, which is the most accessible of all? While accessibility of free-standing ranges remains elusive, a third option for those who want a wall or under-counter oven may be available. As with the Vision laundry equipment mentioned above and in the November 2009 AccessWorld, Bosch has replaced touch controls with much more traditional rotary controls. In the case of the Bosch oven 2425SS, two very tactile rotary knobs are used to select baking options and temperature. On the upper left face of the oven, an easy-to-feel 13-position turn knob selects among bake, broil, roast, convection, and a number of other "preset" options. A small but very distinct pointer has a contrasting texture. When a specific option is selected, the temperature is set to a default associated with the preset. For example, selecting "bake" results in a 350 degree setting, whereas "broil" is associated with a 475 degree setting. The oven temperature can be adjusted with a similar rotary knob on the right-hand side of the control area. Both controls are very easy to discern, and clicks indicate changes in the control position.
According to Bosch, these temperatures can be reprogrammed by the user if the factory defaults are not to the customer's liking. We plan to test the product at a Bosch showroom to confirm our optimistic assessment. If the oven performs as we hope, it joins the Frigidaire Pro and GE wall ovens at the top of our list for first consideration in this category.
If a microwave oven is on your shopping list, you may want to consider a new Panasonic offering. The NN-SN778S is a full-featured, 1.6-cubic-foot countertop model. We ran across it at Walmart and were intrigued by the control design.
The microwave's control panel features a combination of easy-to-feel buttons and flat-touch controls. The top-most row of controls includes four buttons, whereas the bottom-most row uses two oblong buttons. In between, a customary touch pad comprises the majority of controls. An interesting feature of this microwave is the three clearly identifiable raised lines that separate the rows of numbers.
The raised lines are molded into the face of the oven and are dipped slightly in the middle, making locating the 2, 5, 8, and 0 buttons quick and easy. The remaining numbers are equally easy to locate at the right or left end of the raised line. Only four touch pad controls are not situated immediately above or below one of the tactile dividers, but they are directly below the four conventional buttons across the top of the control panel, making it possible to reach down from each button to locate a control.
A Panasonic microwave oven that has physical push-button controls has been at the top of our list of first choices for accessibility for some time. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find. We hope that availability at Walmart will bring the NN-SN778S to a retailer near you. The Panasonic NN-SN778S is available for $139 from Walmart.
Not all of the news from the appliance department is good. We must report the departure of the Sears HE-5 clothes washer and its companion dryer from our top picks list. You may recall that these machines, along with the Whirlpool Duet full-size laundry appliances, were the first to include distinct tones to indicate menu selections. For several years, we were able to point to both Whirlpool and Sears Kenmore as the premiere examples of accessible design.
However, in a move that ends a long tradition of partnering with Whirlpool to manufacture its laundry equipment, Sears has switched to the Korean manufacturer LG to provide its current generation of front-loading washers and dryers. We rank most LG-branded equipment in the middle of the pack for accessibility. Sears' Kenmore brand front loaders now rank at the bottom of the list. The new flagship HE-6 is the first washer and dryer we have encountered to employ totally inaccessible flat-panel touch controls. Offering no more accessibility than the typical microwave oven, the smooth control surface is interrupted by only one control that can be identified by touch.
We hope this is not a trend, but given the propensity of the Asian manufacturers to include controls that convey a "high-tech" sensibility to their product design, we may find some of our worst fears confirmed in the next year.
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