I got the below response when I polled my colleagues to ask how I should go about putting a $30 toaster into context. The man makes a good point. Breakfast foods don't get much more ubiquitous than toast -- and that makes toasters relevant to just about all of us. And yet, who spends time thinking about toasters? I mean...they're toasters. They toast.
Maybe that's the point, though. Nobody wants to waste time thinking about toasters, but that doesn't mean we don't want one that works well sitting on our kitchen counter. To that end, the CNET Appliances team is here to help. We spent a good work week with these things, and we've got plenty of toasty insight to share, all in the name of a better balanced breakfast.
In that spirit, let me tell you that you can do a lot better than the Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome 2-Slice Toaster. At 30 bucks, and with no distinguishing features to speak of, it's about as ho-hum as toasters come. I'd characterize the performance as "good enough," which really just isn't good enough given how many well-reviewed, equally inexpensive alternatives there are out there, including ones that look a lot less dated, and that put more effort into punching above their price class. Shop around -- there's better bang for your breakfast buck.
Design and features
The Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome Toaster sports a shiny, chrome-bodied build and a fair amount of classic appeal. Points for truth in advertising.
That classic appeal only gets you so far, though, and gets undercut by ugly, black plastic trim and cheap red LEDs. It isn't "classic" in the 1950s sense, as some might hope (KitchenAid does a much better job of capturing that period's design aesthetic). Instead, it looks like a cheap countertop appliance from the 1980s, the kind of toaster Marty McFly might have used to make a quick breakfast before zipping off to class on his skateboard.
Also classic: your choice of presets. You'll get the usual suspects here, with a button for bagels, a button for frozen items, and a button for reheating things. Pressing a button before depressing the lever won't do anything -- they'll only turn on after a toast cycle has begun. That seems a bit backwards to me.
For manual toasting, you get a smooth-turning doneness dial arbitrarily marked with nine settings. Other toasters might offer less -- the $100offers just seven, for instance. If you're wondering if this gives Hamilton Beach an advantage, consider that nine settings doesn't necessarily mean nine distinct, usable settings. More on that in the next section.
That, as you might expect, is about it. No toaster is going to wow you with its features, not this $30 Hamilton Beach, nor even a $500 model like the. At the end of the day, it's just going to toast your bread, which doesn't leave much room for a feature-rich experience.
If anything, that puts a stronger emphasis on design, and indeed, you'll find toasters of every size, shape, and color trying their best to stand out from the crowd. A well-designed toaster should make your kitchen look a little classier, or perhaps a little cooler. Despite a slight degree of Brave Little Toaster-esque charm, I can't say that the Classic Chrome does it for me.