Cool new products make life easier

It’s not always easy to part with your trusty old computer or fridge. Sometimes you have to make the tough choice between getting it repaired and replacing it, notes ShopSmart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports.
ShopSmart’s general advice: Don’t fix it if the repair would cost at least half as much as a replacement. Other times, you know that it’s time to get a new one — you just need a good excuse.
“Appliances are getting faster, smarter, and more energy-efficient,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “Best of all, many upscale features are now available on lower-priced models. “
Below is a sampling of ShopSmart’s advice.
Ranges
— More double ovens: Ovens are being made big enough for turkeys, roasts, and multiple dishes with the added bonus of an additional oven designed for single frozen entrÇes or pizza.
— Convection for less: Ovens with convection help reduce roasting time, and instead of the usual $1,200 and up, you can now find the feature on ranges for $800 to $900, such as the Kenmore 9745 and Amana AER6011VA.
Microwave ovens
— More shortcut keys: Besides old standbys like popcorn and pizza, there are now some models with more than 100 automatic options.
— Oven capabilities: Some units combine the browning and baking abilities of a convection oven with the speed of a microwave. GE’s Advantium, about $750, uses microwaves and high-powered lights to bake, broil, grill and brown like a conventional oven, but in about a quarter of the time.
Clothes washers and dryers
— Bigger capacity: Some new washers are now big enough to hold hefty 18-pound-and-up laundry loads and bulky comforters — they haven’t gotten wider, just a couple of inches deeper.
— Smarter detergent dispensers: These hold six months’ worth of detergent and figure out how much you need, based on the load size, water level and hardness, and even the kind of fabric. A ShopSmart top pick is GE’s Profile steam washer WPDH8900J, $1,000.
TVs
— 3D: The quality is movie-theater impressive. Watch for 3D programs on ESPN and other channels and 3D movies on Blu-ray discs.
— Internet connectivity: You can get streaming video from Netflix and others; photo albums from Flickr and Picasa; and access to YouTube, Twitter, and Skype.
— Energy-saving features: Look for LED backlighting on LCD sets, motion sensors that shut off power in an empty room, and new Energy Star 4.0 certifications that meet stricter government guidelines.
— Better LCDs: Many sets now have 120Hz or 240Hz frame rates, which reduce motion blur in fast-action scenes. ShopSmart likes the Samsung LN46C630, a 46-inch, 120Hz LCD, $1,000.
Cameras
— Digital SLRs that shoot high-def video: Don’t juggle a camera and camcorder; take both photos and video with an SLR, using a telephoto or wide-angle lens.
— Super-tough shells: Some of the newest cameras are waterproof, drop-proof, freeze-proof and shockproof. ShopSmart’s top rated is the Canon’s PowerShot D10, $400.
Phones
— Touch screens: Many new phones can be operated with the pinch, poke, or swipe of your finger.
— Improved GPS: Phones with higher resolution, larger screens — up to 4.3 inches — and improved maps and features might make separate GPS devices a thing of the past.
— More iPhone-like models: Android phones are now offered by all major carriers. The HTC Droid Incredible, $200, even has a larger display and a higher-megapixel camera than the iPhone.

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