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The best tech enriches your day-to-day, adding convenience and peace of mind when you need it most. Unfortunately, not every product rises to that standard. Some gadgets actually complicate your life by introducing shiny solutions to nonexistent problems.
Of course, perceived value can vary a lot from person to person -- one look at the debate between me and my colleague Ry Crist about the merits (or lack thereof) of sous vide cooking proves that.
Occasionally, though, you come across an appliance that really (empirically) isn't worth it for most folks and the LG Styler -- a $1,999 plug-in closet-contraption designed to de-wrinkle, deodorize and "sanitize" your clothes in between trips to the dry cleaner -- is one of them.
Wrinkled clothes were still mostly wrinkled; smelly clothes were still mostly smelly and the steam-centric sanitize cycle doesn't actually clean anything. Instead, as LG reps told us, it "reduces allergens" like pollen and "refreshes" your clothes -- although they had trouble producing a definition of "refresh."
If you're a smoker who regularly wears stuff that's dry-clean-only, but hate visiting the dry cleaner, the LG Styler is a luxury product that can offer a slight improvement in the overall look and smell of your clothes. Or you could just spray your suit with some Febreze, hang it in the bathroom while you shower and call it a day. My vote's on the latter.
Here's the good news: the Styler delivers in terms of design. It is an attractive, vaguely refrigerator-shaped appliance with a premium reflective finish. It measures just over 6 feet tall, with a roughly 1.5-foot width and a 2-foot depth -- and it clocks in at about 100 pounds. It's equipped with a regular wall plug, so the install is as simple as putting it against an obliging wall and plugging it into a nearby wall outlet. The two potential challenges are getting it up stairs -- if you want it to go in a second-floor walk-in closet, for instance -- and finding a spot that can accommodate its height. Other than that, it's a breeze to set up.
In addition, the Styler boasts a pretty large capacity, but it's only supposed to handle three to five things at a time.
Specifically, it comes with three Styler-specific hangers -- two for blouses, jackets and other tops and one for hanging pants or skirts. And, it also comes with a removable rack where you can stash that old baseball cap or delicate sweater that you'd rather not hang. Depending on the length of the things you're hanging, you will be able to easily fit a couple of tops and one pair of pants in the Styler as well as one or two things on the included rack. But, if you're planning to steam a long coat or something else that hangs down, say, past your knees, you'll likely have to remove the rack to make room for them (which will limit the capacity to only three items).
The Styler also has two water reservoirs -- one that you fill for steam cycles (the max fill line can last for up to four cycles) and another that you drain after each steam cycle. The Styler also comes with a dedicated attachment for creasing your pants -- something I tried with limited success during testing (more on that later).
Glancing at the Styler's user manual before testing, I was all but ready to champion this thing as a genius hunk of tech. Similar to the supplemental cleaning a robot vacuum performs between your heavier-duty floor cleaning, the Styler is supposed to extend the life of all sorts of textiles.
It's especially geared toward items that are delicate, cumbersome or otherwise less-than-ideal to tumble in your dryer. Think: gnarly stuffed animals, sweat-stained gym equipment, hats, backpacks and anything you typically take to the dry cleaner. But, it can actually "refresh" pretty much any garment.
LG provides a detailed chart of optimal fabrics and settings in case you need further guidance, but the gist is that cotton is a stubborn fabric that's really touch to de-wrinkle with just a light dose of steam. Thinner materials, though, like rayon and silk, are supposed to perform much better.
The Styler comes with four main cycles:
It's a significant limitation that the LG Smart Styler app is only available on Android devices, but not surprising since LG's SmartThinQ app for ovens and ranges is similarly Android-specific. That's because LG appliances rely heavily on near-field communication (NFC), a feature available only on Android devices that requires very close proximity for successful pairing between phones/tablets and other devices.
The app itself is easy to configure -- just download it, make sure NFC is enabled in your phone's settings and then hold your phone up to the "Tag On" logo on the Styler's front display. This will take you directly to product registration, where you simply select your country before you can start using the app.
The problem is that every feature in the app requires an NFC connection. So, you have to be standing right next to the Styler to start a cycle "remotely," download Special Care settings, troubleshoot any issues with the app's Smart Diagnosis feature and so on. That completely defeats the purpose of "remote access" and makes the app's value questionable, even though it is easy to navigate and the NFC function does work well.
I'd much rather use the Styler's sleek and responsive touchscreen interface than the app. It has a straightforward power button as well as a play/pause button for starting and stopping cycles. You can also select the specific cycles you want straight from the display and it will show how many total minutes are remaining at-a-glance. The one thing you can't do from the display is access the Special Care cycles -- you really do have to access the app for that. Bummer.
There's really nothing in the US market quite like the LG Styler. One quasi-exception is the Whirlpool Swash, a $400 device that uses heat (not steam) to de-wrinkle one shirt or one pair of pants at a time. Whirlpool's between dry-cleaning product also comes with added odor removal benefits provided by Tide fragrance pods designed exclusively for Swash that cost roughly 60 cents per cycle. Overall the Swash did a better job of de-wrinkling clothes than the Styler, but it requires more active time since you have to attach clips to the shirts or pants before you can begin a cycle to stretch them out. On the other hand, the Swash only has two settings, one that runs for 10 minutes and one that runs for 15 minutes, whereas the Styler can take over 2 hours to finish one of its Sanitize cycles.
If the Styler were able to provide a true between-dry-cleaning boost, it would have a ton of promise, but that just wasn't my experience during testing.
I ran multiple tests with a wide variety of fabrics in Refresh, Sanitize, Gentle Dry and Special Care modes and was very disappointed with the results. Now, it's important to note that the Styler isn't designed to clean your clothes. Things that are heavily soiled and/or heavily wrinkled just won't work well with this appliance. But, I would expect a $1,999 appliance to do a better job of de-wrinkling a blouse I've worn once using a 20-minute Light "Refresh" setting than I could do ironing it, tossing it in my dryer or hanging it in a bathroom while the shower's running.
That wasn't the case, though. Everything I stuck in the Styler was only marginally improved post-cycle (or worse, as in the case of the pants pictured below).
Specifically, I followed the instructions in the manual to hang the pants in the "pants crease" attachment and downloaded the "Extra Pants Care" setting from the app. This cycle is supposed to press the pants and accentuate its crease line. As you can see, this did not work at all.
I also ran a 2.5-hour Gentle Dry cycle with a damp bathing suit and beach towel and a wool sweater that had been misted with water from a spray bottle (to mimic saturation from a light rain). It wasn't especially surprising that the towel was still wet, but the bathing suit and sweater were still damp as well.
Additionally, I ran a custom "Shawls/Neckties" cycle that I downloaded from the app with two slightly wrinkled ties, one very wrinkled cashmere shawl and one barely wrinkled wool scarf. The ties showed no difference whatsoever, the cashmere shawl looked somewhat improved and the wool scarf was better, but had still clearly been worn previously.
I also stuck two long wool coats in the Styler for a long Sanitize mode. Neither one was particularly wrinkled to begin with, but they did look slightly better afterwards and had a nice fresh scents due to the dryer sheet I put in the included aroma compartment. A second Sanitize mode with a wool-blend suit blazer and a well-loved baseball cap showed nearly no difference before and after the cycle. The cap, in particular, still had a noticeable odor.
One final test I ran was a Normal Refresh cycle with a moderately wrinkled rayon shirt (a fabric that's supposed to do well in the Styler) and a dress with a polyester lining that was very wrinkled (another fabric that's supposed to react well to steam). The rayon shirt performed the best out of anything I tested in the Styler, but alas, it was still wrinkled after the cycle and, as you can see above, the dress lining was still quite wrinkled.
It isn't exactly that the Styler failed. The LG reps I spoke with were very clear that this product wouldn't be able to handle extremes (anything that was very soiled or very wrinkled). At the same time, this thing costs $1,999. That's a lot of money to spend on something that can't even fully de-wrinkle a garment I've worn just once or dry a wool sweater that's been lightly misted with water -- after a 2.5-hour drying cycle.
I really think this product would work better in commercial settings. I can more easily imagine it in a business-centric hotel where weary, well-dressed travelers who really don't have time to iron or a dry clean a suit need something that's quick and at least moderately effective. But for most of us, the Styler doesn't really offer anything that I couldn't easily accomplish with some Febreze and either a dryer, a shower-steamed bathroom or an iron.