Looking for the perfect wedding gift? Trying to build a registry of your own? Either way, it's easy to feel overwhelmed...
Don't panic, though -- the CNET Appliances team is here to help you brainstorm. Whether you're looking for a great kitchen gadget or looking for something a little less traditional, like a smart-home device, we'll help you find the right gift at the right price.
/ Photo: Colin West McDonald/CNET
Let’s start with the most common wedding gift fodder: kitchen appliances. Specifically, we’re looking at the Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget Slow Cooker which, believe it or not, has been added to more wedding registries than any other small appliance listed on Amazon.com. What’s the appeal? For starters, this slow cooker features a built-in temperature probe that’ll let you skip the timer and cook your meal to the exact level of desired doneness, instead. Taking your dish to a party across town? The Set ‘n Forget features a lockable lid and a built-in spoon rest on the handle for easy travel.
Despite a slightly dated, Back to the Future-esque design, the Set ‘n Forget did a great job in our inaugural round of slow cooker performance tests, and at a cost of $60, it won’t break the bank, either.
Another $60 slow cooker option that performed well in our test kitchen is the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry Digital Slow Cooker. Like the Hamilton Beach model, it features a locking lid for easy travel, along with an analog temperature gauge so you can keep tabs on the heat while it's unplugged -- great for transit. It's the perfect gift for a couple that loves a good potluck.
Considering gifting a countertop cooker, but looking for something bit more high-end? Then consider the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System, which justifies its $199 price tag by amping up the versatility. Sure, this slow cooker looks like little more than a fancified hot pot, but flip it over to stove-top mode, and they’ll be able to brown meat, simmer soup, stir-fry veggies, or do anything else they might do in a pan on a burner. There’s also an oven mode, which will allow them to bake foods at temperatures up to 425 degrees F. Who wouldn't want to bake muffins in a slow cooker?
If the happy couple loves to cook but already owns a good slow cooker, then consider mixing things up and getting them a fast cooker. We like the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven, which combines the power of a pressure cooker with the convenience and versatility of a heavy-duty toaster oven. Seal that pressure valve on the top, and you’ll be able to cook meat and poultry in record time, including full-size turkeys in less than an hour. We tried it out in our test kitchen, and were amazed by how quickly we had a tasty bird worthy of a spot on the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Another countertop cooker that tested well was the Cuisinart CSO-300 Combo Steam + Convection Oven. Like Chef Puck’s Oven, it’s a high-end take on the toaster oven that retails for about $300, but instead of pressure-cooking capabilities, Cuisinart brings steam and convection settings into the mix. If the newlyweds fill that blue reservoir up with water and set the thing to one of its several steam modes, they'll be able to cook things like rice and delicate cuts of fish, along with recipes that sit even further outside of the toaster oven's wheelhouse, like homemade doughnuts or a New England-style clambake.
Most everybody uses a toaster oven, but it isn't the kind of thing that many people think to upgrade -- and that makes an upgraded toaster oven a sneaky good gift idea. Enter the Breville Smart Oven, a luxurious and powerful $249 toaster oven that promises to class up any kitchen. It won't steam or pressure cook anything, but with such excellent performance ratings, we have no problem endorsing this trusty toaster oven as a great go-to gift.
If the two lovebirds are moving into a cozy new place together, then there's a good chance that there's going to be a premium on counter space in the kitchen. If that's the case, then consider the $149 Panasonic FlashXpress, a cute and rather eccentric space-saving toaster oven that dazzled us with how well its dual infrared heating elements cooked our food. With a playful, quirky design and an effective, outside-the-box approach to toasting, it's an oddball couple's dream appliance.
Like toaster ovens, microwaves are another appliance that people don't always think to splurge on. But there's more separating bargain models from higher-end units than you might think. Take the $360 GE Profile Series Countertop Microwave, for instance, which boasts an impressive reheat sensor that'll automatically zap last night's dinner back to life at the touch of a button. If you know a pair of leftover lovers who are getting hitched, here's the perfect gift.
Another microwave upgrade that left us impressed was the Panasonic Genius Prestige, which, at $250, costs a little less than the GE Profile Series. With its inverter technology, it nukes a bit more evenly, and can also handle delicate foods like fish and even eggs (you'd be surprised how good a microwaved omelet can taste.) On top of that, the Genius Prestige showcases one of the most attractive microwave designs that we've seen, making it a perfect fit for the kitchen of style-conscious newlyweds.
Of course, not all cooking happens in the kitchen. If either partner loves to grill, then you can't go wrong gifting them the iDevices iGrill Mini, a nifty little meat thermometer that'll broadcast the state of the steaks straight to their smartphone via Bluetooth. And they don't even need a grill, since the iGrill Mini is perfect for oven cooking, too. In fact, at just $40, it's a clever and affordable way to add pseudo-smart functionality to a boring old stove -- perfect for a couple with dreams of a connected kitchen.
If you’re thinking about going with a blender, then you’ll probably at least want to consider the Cadillac of blenders, the Vitamix 7500. With a 2.2-horsepower motor capable of spinning its blades at 37,000rpm, this blender’s got power to spare, making it a go-to appliance for home chefs and food professionals alike. If the happy couple consider themselves foodies, then there’s a good chance that they covet one on their countertop, too.
Blendtec is better known as the "Will it Blend?" blender (spoiler alert: yes it will), and the $455 Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender is one of its most powerful models. Aside from being capable of pulverizing an iPhone into iDust, this Blendtec features nifty touch controls, multiple presets, and a sleek, sturdy build. It's probably more blender than anybody actually needs, but if you're looking to go big with your gift choice, it'll certainly make a splash.
At $259, the Ninja Ultima is a legitimate blender upgrade that won't shred your wallet quite so much as a Vitamix or a Blendtec. It even comes with a single-serving blade attachment and a pair of morning smoothie to-go jars -- perfect for spouses who love each other, but maybe aren't the best at sharing.
Breville's Hemisphere Control Blender is another solid gift option for smoothie enthusiasts and home cooks alike. At $199, it's a little less expensive than the Ninja (and a lot less expensive than the Vitamix or the Blendtec). It'll take up less counter space, too, making it another ideal gift for newlyweds who might be sharing a cramped kitchen.
Canning is a great way to preserve food, and with the BallFreshTech Automatic Home Canning System, Jarden thinks it has a better, faster way of doing it than the traditional water-bath method that your favorite aunt's been using all these years. With an easy, speedy process, this $300 appliance makes canning a lot less intimidating for newbies.
We were so impressed with the Bunn MyCafe MCU when we tested it last year that we bought one for our office kitchen, and after six months of heavy daily use (we like our coffee here at CNET), it's still going strong. Aside from the sturdy build, the Bunn's best feature might be the flexibility offered by its four interchangeable brew heads. If one half of the happy couple likes K-cups while the other prefers to brew from fresh grounds, neither one will have to compromise -- and that spells morning-time marital harmony.
Another coffee-making option that we like is the $299 Nespresso VertuoLine. True, it's more expensive than machines like the Bunn, and it only makes Nespresso-branded pods, but we liked the retro looks and the fact that it makes a mean shot of espresso. For the right couple, this machine could be a perfect fit in the kitchen.
Let's transition out of the kitchen and into the living room to take a look at another category ripe with wedding gift fodder: vacuum cleaners. We've tested dozens of them here at CNET Appliances, and our quest to discover vacuum perfection is still far from complete -- but we think that the Electrolux Precision Brushroll Clean comes pretty darned close, with high performance marks and a handy brushroll cleaning feature. It retails for $399, but I've seen it on sale for as low as $220, which is an absolute steal for a vacuum this good.
You might be familiar with the boring-looking Oreck vacuum cleaners of yore, but the $399 Oreck Touch Bagless Vacuum is a whole new breed. The design is downright futuristic, with thoughtful features geared for better performance. Plus, that handle looks like a old-school joystick, so if it's a gamer that's getting hitched, this vacuum might help inspire them to clean house a little bit more often.
If the either of the newlyweds suffer from allergies, then consider gifting them the $180 Hoover Windtunnel 3. It was a top performer with dust, and features a built-in HEPA filter. Their sinuses will thank you.
For carpet owners, the Bissell PowerGlide Deluxe Pet Vacuum is another solid, sub-$200 option. It stood out when we used it to clean small particulates like cereal, so if the happy couple is thinking about starting a family (or if there are already kids in the picture), it might be an especially good gift.
If it's versatility that the couple craves, then look no further than the Shark Rotator Pro Lift-Away. With a wide assortment of attachments and cleaning modes, the thing is essentially a transformer for the living room, ready to adapt to any housecleaning challenge that gets thrown at it.
The $180 Shark Rocket is another solid housecleaning option, packing that same sort of versatility into a convenient stick-vac design. It's probably better suited for a couple living in a smaller space like an apartment, since the cord gets a bit limiting.
For true stick-vac convenience, you'll probably want to stick with a cordless model. It's hard to go wrong with the Dyson DC59 Animal. Yep, it's expensive, but as functional, versatile, powerful stick vacuums go, it's one of the best.
If you're looking for a more affordable alternative to the DC59, look no further than the Hoover Linx, a cordless stick vac that kept up with Dyson in our tests -- and at $180, costs less than half of what the DC59 retails for. At that price, you might want to buy one for yourself, while you're at it.
Speaking of Dyson, the $299 Dyson AM06 is exactly the sort of high-end appliance that most people drool over, but would never get for themselves -- and that makes it a potentially ideal gift. With its ultra-cool design, near silent motor, and handy remote control, it's about as luxurious a fan as you'll find. Do the newlyweds a favor on their big day and splurge on their behalf.
Let's get back to vacuum cleaners -- specifically the robot variety. You'll almost certainly want to give Roomba consideration, and for a newly married couple, the well-rounded Roomba 880 makes a lot of sense. It's an attractive and feature-rich robot vacuum that aced our performance tests, and its new AeroForce cleaning system helps keep maintenance to a minimum.
Of course, that Roomba costs $700. If you're looking to spend a little bit less, consider the $449 Neato XV Signature Pro. It's admittedly more of a bore than the R2-D2-esque Roomba, but it posted impressive numbers in our performance tests -- particularly the pet hair tests, where it reigned supreme. If it's dog and cat owners tying the knot, then this Neato is a no-brainer.
Is $449 still too much? Don't worry -- there are still perfectly decent robot vacuums that might be within your gift-giving grasp. Take the Infinuvo Hovo 510, for instance. It doesn't come close to Neato when it comes to pet hair, but for most everything else, it does a perfectly fine job. At a price of just $230, it's a Roomba for the rest of us.
Have you considered getting a smart-home gadget as a wedding gift? The Nest Learning Thermostat could be the gift that keeps on giving, as it'll learn the happy couple's patterns, then adjust the home's heating and cooling accordingly, saving them money in the long run. Its $249 price tag definitely makes it a luxury thermostat, but it's a luxury that makes sense.
Light bulbs might not seem like an especially exciting wedding gift, but hear us out. The Philips Hue Starter Kit comes with a trio of top-of-the-line smart LEDs capable of changing color on demand. Using the Hue app, you'll be able to program the bulbs to shine as you see fit, whether that's soft white reading light or funky fuschia mood lighting. These lights are just plain cool -- and a lot more useful than you might think. For $199, you'll be giving the gift of a smart-lighting starting point, and there's nothing that isn't exciting about that.
If you're looking to give an even simpler (and more affordable) smart-lighting starting point, consider the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Kit. These bulbs don't change colors, but they do offer basic smart scheduling. You'll also be able to control them using the TCP app, or a handy physical remote. The three-bulb kit pictured above costs $109 at HomeDepot.com, or you can get a two-bulb kit for just $49. That's one of the best smart home deals currently available.
If you think the newlyweds would enjoy smartening things up at home, but you don't want to limit them to lights alone, then consider getting them a SmartThings kit, which will allow them to monitor things like motion and presence, then trigger an ever-growing number of smart devices when things change. As home automation systems go, SmartThings is one of the more robust and intriguing options currently available -- and it's completely fee-free (anything else would make for tacky gift-giving).
Another intriguing, fee-free starting point for a budding smart home is the Belkin WeMo Switch + Motion package -- an especially affordable gift at just $80. With the WeMo Switch, the happy couple will be able to automate anything with a plug on it, and with the WeMo motion detector, they'll be able to do so automatically as they come and go.
Belkin's family of smart home products keeps expanding, with WeMo LEDs and even a WeMo Crock-Pot coming soon. This gizmo, the WeMo Insight Switch, is available now. It operates just like the standard WeMo Switch, but it also tracks power consumption, making it a good fit for green-minded couples looking to lower their energy bill.
If the newlyweds are about to be newly moved into a new home, consider giving them the gift of peace of mind with iSmartAlarm. With a variety of sensors that they'll be able to monitor right from their smartphones, this DIY kit makes basic home security simple. Like WeMo and SmartThings, iSmartAlarm doesn't charge a monthly fee.
No, that's not an iSmartAlarm accessory -- that's Piper, and despite its small size, it's actually an all-in-one security device with a built-in camera, microphone, motion detector, temperature sensor, and Z-wave controller. Get it as a gift, and the newlyweds will be able to monitor all of it on their smartphones with -- you guessed it -- no monthly fees.
While we're talking security, why not give the gift of a smarter deadbolt? The Kwikset Kevo automatically connects with smartphones (or a handy NFC keychain), then allows you to tap to unlock. You can even send "eKeys" over email to friends and family, granting them access as well. While not necessarily a more secure lock, the $220 Kevo is an unquestionably more convenient one -- and it's downright cool, too.
I know, I know -- deadbolts don't exactly scream "wedding gift." Still, we use our locks every day, and as deadbolts go the Yale Real Living Touchscreen Deadbolt is one of our favorites. Unlike the Bluetooth-powered Kevo, Yale's smart lock uses a Z-Wave or Zigbee transmitter, allowing it to talk to a wide number of control systems and hubs. Plus, with its slick-looking touch-pad controls and Siri-like voice, it feels like something ripped straight out of the USS Enterprise. If your favorite geek couple is getting hitched, this lock could become the surprise hit of the gift table.
If you're shopping for newlyweds who are already inundated with automatable gadgets and gizmos, why not get them a hub capable of controlling all of them within a single, simple system? That's exactly what the Staples Connect Hub is promising. I wouldn't exactly call it flashy, and it doesn't work with everything, but still, it tested well when I tried it out, and at $99, with no monthly fees, I think the price is right, too.
Then again, if you really want to want to go all in on a master control hub as a wedding gift, you might consider upping the ante with the $299 Revolv Smart Home Solution. With a bold, red build and a fun, polished app, the Revolv hub marries next-level smarts with designer-level looks.