iKettle: The Wi-Fi kettle review
Picture it: a lazy weekend morning in bed and all you want is a brew but can't be bothered to get and out of bed to boil the kettle. Now there's a solution: a Wi-Fi stainless steel kettle that can sync with your smartphone, aptly named the iKettle.
Despite the name there's not a hint of Apple afoot here, merely that iOS devices such as the iPhone will work in connecting, as will Android devices.
As the Internet of Things gets broader device integration we'll see more and more home products using networks and connectivity. But short of a robotic kitchen maid that will pour the hot water, let your select leaves brew for just the right amount of time and add milk to your liking, is there any point in a remote on-switch for a kettle? Is the iKettle a mere novelty?
Smart design, smart teas
Our iKettle came via Firebox where the retail price is £100. Given that an entry-level plastic kettle costs a tenner and a standard stainless steel one might cost somewhere around £60, the 1.8-litre iKettle demands a premium.
But the iKettle isn't a bog standard kettle. Just like the Sage Smart Kettle by Heston Blumenthal, the iKettle offers multiple temperatures designed for different drinks: 65C for green teas; 80C for white teas such as Oolong; 95C for coffee; and the classic 100C for black teas as we English Breakfast Brits love. The price point is much the same between those two devices.
There's also a "keep warm" option for five, 10 or 15 minutes which is - just like all the temperature options - available within the app. That makes a lot of sense, as the kettle can be at the perfect temperature when you reach it, no waiting around necessary.
Whether you intend to use the app for control or not, the physical controls on the kettle base are always be available. They're clearly marked and it's as simple as you'd hope a kettle to be: push the button to bring to temperature/boil and you're done.
We think certain elements of the design could be a little more high end: the plastic handle is constructed from multiple parts; there's a small notch out of the base that looks a little strange; the green-colour transparent circular top builds up condensation droplets that look odd.
Saying that our previous kettle was a couple of years old and given the hard water in London it has started to become a bit of a state. There's something delightful about a new, clean kettle and the drinks that you'll get from it.
If you fancy it then additional colour skins can be purchased to add a splash of colour to the iKettle. From blue to pink, through to yellow and taupe, each skin costs around £15 extra.
The iKettle app is available for iOS or Android and is easy to locate and download.
Syncing the iKettle with it, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish. While it was no problem to get a direct connection between app and iKettle, it took a lot longer to get a Wi-Fi connection on our local network. We wish we could say the reason is simple, but it seems to be a hit and miss install - perhaps it's fussy about certain networks.
You'll need to dip and dive between iKettle and home networks to get everything to communicate in the first instance and we often found the iKettle network was "disabled" or "out of range" despite router, iKettle and app on phone all being within centimetres of one another to ensure a good signal (once set up they needn't all sit so close).
Resetting the kettle is an essential to get the iKettle network back, which can be achieved by pressing and holding the 65C temperature for five seconds, then switching the kettle off at the mains.
Despite doing this numerous times, we would often hit the proverbial brick wall and be told in the app that the network couldn't be found or that "this is embarrassing" and instead presented with a phone number for customer services. So it seems this might happen a lot if a dedicated line is needed.
Nonetheless we persevered, got irritated and, following a day-long break when it wouldn't sync, came back to it later. Suddenly it worked and that was that, problems over, connection achieved.
Or so we thought. A day later the app crashed, the connection apparently severed and we had to go through the setup process all over again. "Oops! Something's gone wrong here..." became an all too familiar screen. We followed the instructions, repeatedly failing to strike up a new connection until, eventually, it would grab ahold again.
Problem is, some time later the same thing happened and we were back to the start line once again. The very feature made to sell the iKettle is its apparent shortcoming. We even pulled an iPhone out of the drawer to ensure it wasn't just the LG G3 Android phone that we were using, but the same issues were found here.
Hot and cold
When you do get the app up and running it's a rearrangement of the buttons visible on the kettle. Hit the virtual on button, then your desired temperature, and the kettle will let you know when it's boiled by an audible beep.
The iKettle is even clever enough to know when it's not got water in it. If it is empty then a first boil attempt will take a bit of time before it cuts out, while repeat attempts are almost immediate to alert that "your kettle is empty".
When the kettle activates it also beeps once, while when it reaches temperature it repeats this beep three to five times. It's understandable that a beep is used to confirm temperature, but it's rather loud. That can be annoying, like an alarm that you don't want, and there's no way to adjust this volume or switch the sound off that we can find. So gone is the possibility of stealth tea making at night.
There are other fun ideas built in within the app too, including a Wake Up mode. This is an alarm which can be set to repeat for given days of the week and prompt to boil the kettle. Great idea, but again there are bugs: it offers various alarm ringtones, but on Android none of these work unless your phone volume is set. So unless you leave your phone on loud overnight - we don't know anyone that does - then it's not an alarm at all, really, is it? All you otherwise get is a pop-up alert much in the same way a gaming app would ping an alert to your phone.
After the pains getting the app and iKettle to talk to one another, we thought we were in connected kettle heaven. But then we found the app on Android to be unstable and, despite clever ideas such as wake-up alarms, there are bugs that cause crashing issues. Then there's that compulsory beeping sound that we don't always want or need.
What's great about the iKettle, on the other hand, is the smart temperatures it offers. We generally used these without the app due to its ongoing connection issues which ultimately undoes part of the product's point. But if you're a tea and coffee aficionado who drinks green, white, black and beyond then the multiple temperature settings alone will appeal and make it worthy of purchase.
Is the iKettle a mere novelty? We seem to have told everyone we know about it, because it's a cool concept and the first footing into this world of the Internet of Things. We have to applaud it for trying, but it's the connected side of things that, in our experience, didn't work as they should have. Iron out the software bumps, add a volume control and we'd award this fun kitchen appliance another star to its score, because as a kettle it's got so much right, but as a connected one it falls short.