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The worst products we tested in 2021

Alarming personal alarms, dangerous change tables and air purifiers that don't purify… these are a few of our least favourite things

worst products of 2021
Last updated: 06 December 2021

Need to know

  • Our lab experts review thousands of products to find the best and worst in their tests
  • Overpriced coffee grinders, alarming personal alarms, unsafe Bluetooth trackers and a dangerous baby change table are just some of the duds we discovered
  • CHOICE members can access our full test results and compare products side by side

Heard the story about the noise-cancelling headphones that make music sound worse? What about the tracking device that doesn't track? Or the air purifier that doesn't purify the air? These are just some of the stories our product testers told this year. 

Every year, our experts assess and review thousands of products from hundreds of brands to help you buy better. As always, they found some excellent performers (including some surprising budget buys) in 2021 – and some serious shockers too. 

To make sure you don't land one of the latter, here's our rundown of the biggest duds we tested this year. Purchase at your own peril.

samsung galaxy buds live

All style, no substance: these Samsung Galaxy buds are disappointing, especially for the price.

The headphones that won't be music to your ears

They may be beautiful to look at, but these in-ear headphones are all style, no substance. Scoring a dismal 41% overall, they're borderline with the noise-cancelling feature turned off, and even worse when it's turned on. (How is that even possible?)

With an RRP of $319, they're not a great deal cheaper than Apple AirPods Pro ($399), so if you have that kind of money to spend on in-ear headphones, maybe save up a little more and buy yourself something that works well. Or don't spend that much at all – two of the products we recommend cost less than $200. 

To find the best buy within your budget, check our noise-cancelling headphones review

The expensive coffee grinders that aren't worth it

Most of us are prepared to pay a little extra for a quality product, but paying extra only to get a poorer performance? That's just rude. 

Our 2021 coffee grinder test delivered some unpleasant surprises, including a $370 model that doesn't do what it's supposed to do, and a $99 grinder that was outperformed by a $14 model. 

The background

When it comes to coffee grinders, there's a lot to learn. But, in a nutshell (or a coffee bean), there are two types: blade grinders and burr grinders. 

  • Blade grinders tend to be cheaper and can be used for things like spices, but they'll give you an uneven coffee blend that could damage your coffee machine. 
  • Burr grinders produce an even grind (and therefore a better coffee). They're more expensive, but widely regarded as being well worth the extra money. 
smeg 50s style cgf01pbau

The $369 Smeg burr grinder – beaten by a $50 blade grinder in our tests.

The expensive, ineffective burr grinder

In our most recent coffee grinder testing, we were surprised to find a $369 Smeg burr grinder that failed to outperform a $50 Breville blade grinder. (Remember how burr grinders are meant to be better than blade grinders?)

And not only did it perform worse than the cheap blade grinder, it also didn't do what it was actually supposed to do – grind coffee to make espresso. Our expert testers found that it was unable to achieve a grind fine enough for a true espresso. They speculated that the coarser grind might work for a pressurised basket system instead. 

And who do you think makes a coffee machine with a pressurised basket system? Smeg, of course! And how much do you think you'll have to pay for the privilege of owning the matching coffee machine? Nearly $500, that's how much. But at least your kitchen will look pretty…

This was definitely a 'style over substance' marketing move

Adrian Lini, CHOICE expert tester

"This was definitely a 'style over substance' marketing move," says CHOICE expert tester Adrian Lini. 

"The Smeg machine could only grind the beans fine enough for the more consumer-friendly machines while still charging you the same amount you'd pay for a barista-level grinder. You're essentially paying more for less."

kitchenaid spice and coffee grinder 5akcg111ob

Beaten by a budget product: the KitchenAid Spice and Coffee Grinder.

The expensive blade grinder outclassed by a $14 product

Another day, another high-end brand beaten by a cheaper product. In this case, it's the $99 KitchenAid blade grinder that scored 62% versus the $14 Kmart Anko blade grinder that scored 63%. 

Not much else to say here, really. If you're after a blade grinder, take that KitchenAid blade grinder out of your cart and head to Kmart instead. 

cocoon allure change table

At $999, this change table is the most expensive we've tested this year – but it's potentially dangerous for your baby.

The baby change table that could hurt your baby

Parents and carers go to significant lengths to keep babies safe, and Australia generally has some of the strictest safety standards in the world for baby products. But strangely we don't have any standards for change tables – even though they're something that caregivers use multiple times a day for changing babies' nappies. 

So to test whether change tables are safe, we use a combination of Australian standards for other children's furniture and the US standard for change tables. 

The Cocoon Allure well and truly failed our safety tests – our experts found two serious failures and one minor failure

The Cocoon Allure well and truly failed our safety tests – our experts found two serious failures and one minor failure with this change table. It has several hazardous pinching and crushing points, and it failed our roll-off test, which means your baby could fall over the side barrier. 

And not only is it unsafe, it's also expensive at $999 – the most expensive change table we've tested this year. For that price, it's reasonable to expect that, at the very least, you're buying a change table that won't hurt your baby. 

For a tenth of the price of the Cocoon Allure, you could buy a truly safe change table that scored 100% in our tests. To find the safest change table for your bundle of joy, check our expert baby change table review

guardian safety pendants lingo

Terrible tracker: this personal alarm couldn't locate our tester.

The personal alarm that's… alarming

Personal alarms are intended to give peace of mind to the person using them and to their carers and loved ones. Unfortunately, with so many disappointing products on the market, this is very often not the case. 

When we tested the Guardian Safety Pendants Lingo this year, we gave it a score of zero for tracking. Expert CHOICE tester Scott O'Keefe says, "Once I left home, it never once reported my location correctly for the entire day."

That is alarming – and not in a good way. If you care about the safety and wellbeing of your loved one, then avoid this at all costs. 

It never once reported my location correctly for the entire day

Scott O'Keefe, CHOICE expert tester

In fact, we suggest you just avoid personal alarms altogether. We no longer recommend any personal alarms, following feedback from members about products that were faulty or didn't work as advertised. 

To find out more about the problems associated with these products, read our personal alarms buying guide

orbit stick on

Poor performance and a safety risk: give the Orbit Stick-on a miss.

The Bluetooth tracker that's a safety risk

Hailed as a remedy to losing your keys all the time, Bluetooth trackers aren't quite all they're cracked up to be. Our testing has found that the Bluetooth signal can be affected by innocuous (and ubiquitous) things like walls, vehicles, buildings and even people. 

More concerning than poor performance, though, are the safety issues these products present: many of them use button batteries, which have caused many deaths and serious injuries in small children who have swallowed them. 

We've campaigned hard to improve safety regulations for products that use button batteries. Because of our position on these batteries, we don't give any Bluetooth trackers a recommendation, regardless of performance. 

Because of our position on button battery safety, we don't give any Bluetooth trackers a recommendation, regardless of performance

A mandatory button battery safety standard was introduced in 2020 and manufacturers have until mid-2022 to comply. We hope the next generation of Bluetooth trackers will meet the button battery safety requirements, so we can make recommendations when we next test them. 

The worst Bluetooth tracker we tested this year was the Orbit Stick-on. With an average outdoor range of just 7m, it performed really poorly. Our experts scored it just 41% overall. 

radic8 hextio h 100

The Radic8 Hextio: an expensive, noisy paperweight.

The air purifier that's full of hot air

Our experts have seen some dodgy air purifiers in their time – a case in point is the GreenTech PureAir 500 that earned a Shonky Award in 2020

Although the most recent dodgy air purifier we found didn't win any awards, we think it's still pretty ordinary. 

When we tested the Radic8 Hextio H-100, we found it was very poor at removing dust, smoke and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air – all the things an air purifier is meant to do. It was also terrible on energy efficiency and was very noisy on its lowest setting. 

Basically it's a $500 paperweight that'll keep you awake at night and inflate your electricity bill

So basically it's a $500 paperweight that'll keep you awake at night and inflate your electricity bill. 

"This is a very small model, and our tests show that small air purifiers often don't have the same air processing power as larger models," says Chris Barnes, CHOICE household products expert. 

"But some other models not much bigger in size than the Radic8 performed much better in our tests."

Want an air purifier that actually works? Check our expert air purifier reviews to make sure you're not making an expensive mistake. 

Who is the Shonkiest of them all?

Every year, we call out the dodgiest products on the market with our Shonky Awards so consumers know what not to buy. 

This year, there were two appliances that stood out: first, a $499 composting machine that uses electricity and frequently requires replacement filters to achieve the same result as a worm farm or compost bin; and, second, an ineffective bladeless fan that's sold under a range of names. 

Sugar shocker

We tested more than 450 food products this year, from hummus and hot chocolate to Christmas shortbread and cheddar cheese. 

But the worst of all the products we've tested is a fruit-based toddler snack that had more sugar per 100g than actual confectionery. Despite being marketed as "thin strips of real fruit" that are "made with real fruit", Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles are actually just jelly strips made from concentrated fruit sugars. More than two-thirds of each wriggle is sugar!

Want to learn more about why these shonky shockers got their gongs? Read on. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.