CHOICE has a long history of helping consumers avoid wasting money. Whether it's through our reviews that help shoppers find the best appliances or our Shonky awards that warn consumers about problematic products and services, we help Australians make better choices every day.
Our advocacy work also helps strengthen regulations and makes markets better for everyone.
But despite our decades of work, our many hours of lab testing and our tireless campaigning, there are still products appearing online and in stores every day that make us scratch our heads and ask: "How on earth did that get made?".
Here are five gadgets and gizmos that we recommend you think twice about buying.
1. The robot vacuum cleaner
Category: Invasion of the robots
If the sci-fi of the 1970s taught us anything, it's that robots are pretty cool. R2D2 and C3PO could be quite handy for the Star Wars protagonists and the housekeeping Rosey the Robot from the Jetsons seemed like a worthwhile addition to the household. Who wouldn't want a helpful mechanoid companion to take on the drudgery of daily life without complaint?
Alas, so far the robot appliances on offer show promise but often come up short. Sure, the robot lawnmower might be good if you hate mowing but there are plenty of downsides, not least the price tag which can stretch into the many thousands.
They struggle with carpet, aren't great at picking up pet hair and don't manage corners and edges terribly well
We've also seen robot window cleaners, but far more common are robot vacuums which have been around for more than two decades. Despite this, they still have plenty of shortcomings. While they usually perform well on hard floors they struggle with carpet, aren't great at picking up pet hair and don't manage corners and edges terribly well.
Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?), none of these robot appliances seem smart enough to emulate the 1950s B-grade baddies. Is my vacuum cleaner bot plotting a rebellion against its puny human overlord? Given it regularly sends messages to let me know it's caught on a power cable, I'm confident I can win that battle. For now.
When Dyson launched this product they had to clarify it wasn't an April Fool's joke.
2. Air purifying headphones
Category: Multitasking, but doing it poorly
Readers of a certain age might recall a kitchen gadget from the 1970s called the Veg-O-Matic. It was sold on TV with exaggerated enthusiasm by a spruiker using the catchphrase, "it slices, it dices!", a line that was satirised in popular culture many times in the following decades.
Not only was the marketing memorable, the product was notorious for its lack of reliability, with many users complaining that it quickly became too blunt to use for either slicing or dicing. Like a lot of gizmos that promise to do a lot, it wasn't particularly good at anything.
Case in point, Dyson's air-purifying headphones. Not only is the air-purifying mechanism noisy, with the sound of the fans audible even with the noise-cancelling feature turned on, but they're also heavier than most over-ear headphones. And at more than $1000, they're seriously expensive.
The fact that when Dyson launched this product they had to clarify it wasn't an April Fool's joke says a great deal about this product's ill-conceived start.
The Minecraft 'fridge' is probably best avoided if you want to actually cool anything
3. Novelty "fridges"
Category: Fans will buy anything
Brand loyalists can be passionate people and there's nothing wrong with that. If you love your local footy team, a movie franchise or a particular video game there's probably a good chance that you've been gifted or even bought for yourself a themed item in the past.
A Tiger's beanie or a Marvel mug might be pretty low-risk, but some of the video game-themed items we've seen are definite duds.
Case in point is the Xbox Series X Replica Mini Fridge which was a deserving winner of a Shonky Award in 2023. This "fridge" – it's actually a thermoelectric cooler – has several problems, but the most concerning is that it fails to make things cold, despite using as much power as a full-sized fridge.
It fails to make things cold despite using as much power as a full-sized fridge
And it isn't only Xbox fans who get to be disappointed by this sort of product. The maker of the Xbox fridge, Ukonic, also does Minecraft fridges, a Spiderman fridge and a Hello Kitty fridge. Why disappoint only one tribe of fans when there are so many more out there?
4. All the smart things
Category: So smart, it's dumb
Across the decades we've seen innovation spark the wholesale embrace of a particular technology, sometimes in a very ill-advised manner.
When X-rays were first discovered, a device that could be used to evaluate the fit of your footwear found its way into shoe stores, leading to unnecessary radiation exposure for unwary customers. Less frightening was the advent of nylon. Sure, it was great for stockings, and nylon shirts might have been fast to dry but boy, did they make us sweat.
Sometimes manufacturers are so keen to jump on the new tech bandwagon that they don't stop to ask if they really should. Such is the case with the widespread adoption of "smart" technology in an ever-increasing range of devices and appliances.
Sometimes manufacturers are so keen to jump on the new tech bandwagon that they don't stop to ask if they really should
While there are certainly some smart products out there that can be of real benefit, others are questionable. Do you really need a smart kettle that lets you boil water from an app? Probably not. What about a smart toothbrush that will monitor your brushing technique and advise improvements? No thanks.
But perhaps the most ridiculous "smart" appliance we've seen is a smart scent dispenser. I'm not a big fan of adding fragrances to my home anyway, but even if I were, I struggle to think why I would need to operate such a device via an app.
Many products for new parents – such as baby wipe warmers – play on our inevitable anxieties.
5. Baby wipe warmer
Category: Stuff for anxious parents
Has there ever been a group of people more susceptible to outrageous marketing claims than new parents? The knowledge that you'll soon be in charge of a vulnerable human and the natural anxiety that results can make soon-to-be mums and dads easy to sell to.
Some downright hazardous products continue to be flogged to unsuspecting parents. For example, baby walkers are notoriously unsafe but are still easy to buy. Cot bumpers can cause suffocation and have been linked to cases of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) but they're still on sale and featuring in many an Instagrammable nursery.
Just this year our bassinet testing found that four out of 10 products in our test failed key safety requirements. The list goes on.
Other products are just a ridiculous waste of money, which brings us to our final item on the list: the baby wipe warmer. When I first heard about this product I truly thought it was a joke. As one ticked-off parent told us, "It's very cynical because it appeals (expensively) to pre-parents' hope/delusion that there's a way to skip the whole crying baby thing. Downright useless at best."
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.