Over 15 years ago, I bought my maternal grandmother a toaster. I think this was a Mother's Day gift, although it could have just as easily been her birthday. She was an extremely thrifty woman who would never buy anything beyond the least expensive version of any item. I knew she needed a new toaster, and I knew that the one I bought her - while not exactly a high-end model - was of much better quality than anything she would have bought for herself. It was a GE brand in stainless steel, and it seemed like it would be quite durable.
It turned out to be very durable indeed. I know this because my mother gave it to me after my grandmother died. Strangely, I did not even have a toaster at the time. It was nice to have one, and it held up well over the years. But nothing lasts forever, and I recently had to replace it. Even when turned up to its highest setting, it just wasn't toasting anymore. A single piece of thin bread would require at least 2 full rounds of toasting on the highest setting to be acceptable. That took forever and was getting worse. It should take 10 minutes to toast a piece of bread. It was time for a new toaster.
When I set out to find a replacement, I had two requirements. First, I didn't want to spend much money. It is just a damn toaster, after all. While I briefly considered spending more to get a toaster oven instead, I decided I wouldn't use the oven features enough to be worthwhile. Second, I wanted to make sure that whatever I bought would handle bagels well. That is, I wanted a toaster with a setting to make sure that bagels could be toasted on only one side. Surprisingly, this ruled out several models that had bagel settings that still toasted both sides. I chose one of the better-reviewed inexpensive toasters I could find, a Krups KH732D50.
When it I got it home and out of the box, my initial impressions were that this was a nice-looking toaster (brushed and chrome stainless look) that seemed far less solid than my old one. This was a clear case of "they don't build these things like they used to." The new toaster probably weighed less than half what the old one weighed, and it was clear that the finish was not real steel. The controls felt flimsy compared to what I was used to. I realized I was going to have to treat this toaster gently if I wanted it to last.
How did it work? The first several pieces of toast I made were awful, but I recognized that it would take some trial-and-error to find the optimal setting for the bread I was using. The first few pieces were barely toasted. I then managed to burn a couple pieces before finding the right setting. Once I found the right setting, it was apparent that this toaster toasts much faster than my old one had in a long time. The primary drawback is that it does not toast both sides to the same level. One side is always quite a bit darker than the other. From the reviews I read, this seems to be a common complaint with this model. It made me wonder whether I should return it. It isn't like the lighter side isn't toasted at all, it is just toasted to a lesser degree than the darker side. I have not tried the bagel setting yet.
Would I recommend this toaster? Probably not, but it depends on what you are looking for and willing to live with. The inability of the Krups to toast both sides of the bread to the same degree is going to be a deal-breaker for many. Based on the build quality, I don't predict great long-term durability either. If your toaster is going to be heavily used, I'd look elsewhere. If a bagel setting that only toasts one side was not important to me, I would have bought an Oster Jelly Bean toaster instead. They get great reviews and are slightly cheaper, but their bagel setting still toasts both sides. If I thought I'd use the oven functions enough to justify the extra cost, I probably would have gone with a Panasonic Flash Xpress toaster oven. They also get great reviews and take up little counter space.