Archive | Consumer Products RSS feed for this section

Product Review: Verismo by Starbucks

Verismo by StarbucksVerismo (a poorly named product pronounced like ‘gizmo’ preceded by the ‘ver’ as ‘vurr’; vurr-izmo) by Starbucks produces a nicely brewed cup of strong, black coffee.

Bought on sale at a Starbucks near me, and the basic model, pod-based coffeemaker periodically goes on sale for $99, it came with a box of 12 brewed or 12 espresso coffee pods. The instruction manual is well-written, including an easy set-up guide – I’m fairly low-tech and need to read things twice to catch on so I don’t press the wrong button – regular use steps and cleaning guide. I haven’t done the monthly cleaning and maintenance yet and will update accordingly. I like the fact that the machine requires a short cleaning after each idle time. In other words, it shuts down automatically after idle time and then needs a quick cleaning upon startup. This maintains the machine.

I’ve previously used a basic Keurig coffee machine, which I think clogs more easily. In my experience, Keurig customer service is awful. With Verismo, I’m taking any problems to my nearest Starbucks. So far, I’ve found (and Verismo may prove to be a hassle, too) Verismo design superior to Keurig. It’s true that Verismo has fewer pod options than the Keurig-based line of variously branded K-cups (including a wider selection of Starbucks’ own K-cups). But convenience is a plus for me and I am happy with the dark roast choices. Still, I hope they add the French Roast as a brewed pod. Verismo also offers espresso, Americano and milk pod for latte options that lack with the other machines. Tea is also possible with Verismo. Pods are pricey, of course. I buy what I like in greater volume on the Starbucks site for price breaks and I also use coupons, specials, deals and other coffee products such as Starbucks’ Via and free in-store refills with my gold card through Starbucks Rewards program.

Essentially, after initial set-up, here’s how Verismo works: fill the removable water container, turn on the machine and place a cup on the tray. Wait for go signal, pull the silver lever down in one swift motion without a pod inserted, run a short cleaning discharge, then empty the cup of dispensed water. Replace and repeat after inserting a brewed, espresso and/or latte pod this time. Prepare coffee to taste. Voila, enjoy. The whole thing takes a few minutes tops.

Brewed pods (I’ve tried Verona, Sumatra and Pike Place) require removal of a silver tab on bottom that keeps freshness until ready for brewing while espresso and milk pods are ready to drop right in. Spent pods fall into a separate, removable container upon lifting of the silver lever for next use. Empty the spent pods every so often. If it sounds complicated to new single use pod customers, then Verismo will take getting used to. The process gets easier, though. The biggest advantage besides convenience is easy clean-up. The downside so far? A small discharge of water upon lifting the lever and closing it again and a little splatter. Mostly removable parts make using the machine easier and I like the simplicity. I’ve also used Soft Brew and French press systems and I love those for really strong cups of coffee but they’re a major hassle for prep time and cleaning the used coffee grounds. In this sense, I think machines using pods are a major advancement in coffee production. I prefer Verismo to Keurig.

Taste is excellent, though not as robust as a freshly brewed cup at Starbucks, but close and equal to or better than Starbucks’ K-cups. Some Verismo users complain about coffee not being hot enough and this is not a problem for me. I don’t always accept, let alone like, what Starbucks does (as I wrote here) but Verismo is a fine entry-level product for premium coffee drinkers.

App Review: Starbucks

Starbucks2014AppThough it comes at a premium price, and there are aspects of doing business I don’t like, I choose Starbucks for a conveniently mobile cup of coffee, snack and place to meet and work. The coffee is dark, strong and brewed fresh and there are many choices of beverages. Food is convenient. Cafes are generally clean, well-kept and conducive to writing or story conferences, which makes Starbucks an attractive option. I patronize Starbucks often enough to use the mobile app for payment.

I use both Starbucks’ app on my iPhone and as part of Apple’s Passbook. After loading a dollar amount onto my Starbucks account, I walk up to the cashier, activate my app, place my order and put the device in front of a scanner and that’s it; the transaction is complete and my order has been received and paid for. I get my order after it’s made and, as they say, I’m good to go (or stay). The app calculates how much is left on my account or “card”. When I get enough gold stars for a free salad or coffee, I just inform the cashier and swipe the iPhone app. With my gold card app status, coffee refills are free and I use the app for that, too. The app, which also allows free downloads of games and songs, kept track of my favorite stores and order combinations, items and drinks.

In recent days, Starbucks upgraded the app. The interface is streamlined, though Starbucks has eliminated the personal preferences option, and a tip option is available for the first time for those customers who choose to add a tip to their Starbucks transaction.

Herein lies the app’s problem. The tip amount is pre-designated by Starbucks. There is no free choice; Starbucks provides a few amounts as tip options, starting at 50 cents, and leaves the customer no choice to decide for himself exactly what amount to tip. The lack of control gets worse. In addition to losing the ability to choose, Starbucks has applied the same presumptuous principle to its reloading feature. When the customer goes to reload a dollar amount on the app, such as $25 (the minimum amount is $10), Starbucks smuggles in an auto-reload function that presumes the user wishes to designate that amount for an automatic reload that will automatically charge to one’s credit card every so often. This sneaky feature, which is deceptive at best, is not clearly communicated or disclosed. So when one goes to add the new amount, it’s easy to mistake the auto-reload for a regular reload. One must select ‘Never’ which is not readily apparent as an option.

This is a systemic problem with today’s technology. The default technological position, such as accessing a live operator, is too often designed or intended to discourage or deprive the user free choice and control – look at Facebook – in the name of convenience or automation. As a business model, this makes no sense. Such an approach presumes the customer deficient without evidence, never a good idea unless producing an inherently deficient product, and by diminishing free choice, ultimately chases the loyal customer away. In my case, I attempted to manage the account online without success – discovering another Starbucks flaw on its Web site; the inability to deactivate auto-reload – and had to call customer service to correct the error. Starbucks did ultimately resolve the dispute. The upshot: a loyal customer was given reason to doubt and distrust trading with Starbucks. The app upgrade with the dubious feature backfired, at least as far as I’m concerned. Starbucks app users are hereby forewarned about inadvertently activating automatic reloading. As always in any trade, and especially in an increasingly anti-capitalist society, which discourages good business practices, buyer beware.

Product Review: Harry’s Razor

HarrysRazorKitResponding to an advertisement on Twitter, I spent $15 on a new shaving product bundle made by a new company called Harry’s. I shave often, found the simple marketing campaign appealing – it centers on the high cost of those replacement cartridges we used to call razor blades – and figured that trying a new razor, shaving cream and a couple of replacement blades would be worth the cost. Shipping was free and the Web site for ordering reinforced my initially positive impression; it did not require the equivalent of an arm, leg and first-born child in personal identity information.

The package pictured here arrived soon thereafter. The packaging is as flawless as the marketing. The Harry’s shave is pretty close to perfect, too. The razor blade hugs the facial hair without tugging, which is a welcome change from the drag from Gillette’s and Schick’s mid-range products, which are overpriced, and the shaving cream is an eye-opening fresh cream that sufficiently lubricates the hair. The razor itself, the anchor product of this series, is perfect with one exception: it does not conform to that area between the upper lip and lower nose. There’s no backblade or single strip as on other razor blade models. That’s too bad because Harry’s razor is surprisingly light and perfectly contoured for precision shaving by hand. If only it had a means of getting that patch under the nose.

I will re-order from Harry’s, which thankfully does not include heavy-handed charity agendas, lines and pitches in its marketing, though I will keep other shaving tools on hand for that certain area, too. But I recommend Harry’s as an option for those who are fed up paying exorbitant prices for razor blades on quality razors.