Performance and usability
There really isn't a whole lot to say about the usability of this toaster. You put the bread in, you select the desired doneness, you press the lever down, you wait a minute or two. Appliances don't get much more usable than that. For what it's worth, the lever mechanism never stuck or gave me any difficulty throughout dozens of tests, and the crumb tray was cooperative, too.
I wondered if the chrome build would get especially hot while in use. Sleek, perfectly flat metals tend to cause burns easier than coarse, brushed metal builds. Fortunately, the Hamilton Beach keeps things at a reasonable temperature. The top third or so definitely gets hot enough to burn (it is a toaster, after all), but I was still able to touch the body of the appliance without scalding myself.
Fingertips intact, I started taking a closer look at the toast I was making. At a glance, it looked fine as far as toast goes, but compared to what the other models in this roundup were making, it seemed to skew towards dark if set to medium or above. Additionally, I wasn't getting even results on both sides of my bread -- certainly not a deal-breaker for a $30 device, but something to consider if you're splitting hairs.
Additionally, the nine "settings" on the rotary dial didn't produce nine distinct levels of doneness. I could get light toast at the lowest few settings, golden-brown toast right below medium, dark toast right above medium, and burnt toast at the highest settings. In theory, the smooth selector dial should let you hone in on any preferred level of doneness, but the Hamilton Beach just wasn't consistent enough for that sort of exacting control.
All that said, toast is toast. Most people will just be happy if theirs isn't burnt. If that sounds like you, then you'll probably be perfectly happy with what your thirty bucks gets you here, performance-wise.
The same can be said for Hamilton Beach in terms of bagels, frozen waffles, and Pop-Tarts. I tested them all out, and came away more or less satisfied with the results. Nothing was ever totally even, but it wasn't ever badly overtoasted or undertoasted, either. As toasters go, the Classic Chrome is perfectly average -- and maybe that's all you want or need.
Hamilton Beach lands in the middle when it comes to toast time, too. With the medium setting averaging out to two minutes and forty-five seconds, it wasn't the fastest toaster we tested (that'd be the), but it also wasn't anywhere near our slowest toaster, the , which took a minute longer than Hamilton Beach to toast bread at the medium setting.
The Classic Chrome doesn't really excel at anything -- but it doesn't have any notable weak spots, either. That sort of middling performance actually makes it a safe bet, but not one that's easy to get excited about.
The Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome 2-Slice Toaster is tricky to criticize. Sure, on the one hand, it's nothing special -- but what are you really expecting from a $30 toaster? So long as it isn't a horrendous failure, it's tough not to be more or less happy with the thing. In that sense, the Classic Chrome actually delivers.
Still, there's too much competition out there at the lower end of the price scale. Even if you like the Classic Chrome's design, you'll find no shortage of decent, affordable alternatives -- both classic-looking and chrome-bodied -- that likely look better. The Classic Chrome is a perfectly acceptable toaster, but it doesn't do much of anything to stand out from the crowd. I say shop around.