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In my house, we've had all sorts of kettles. We've had big ones and small ones. Cheap ones and expensive ones. Quick boil and takes-3-hours-to-boil. Plug in and even proper hob-top whistling kettles. So I feel like I am at least qualified to comment on our current kettle, the snappily named Kenwood SJM280 which has had pride of place in our kitchen for a couple of years now. Our kitchen is very matchy-matchy and I'm sorry to say that rather than doing any major research on the best kettles, we chose this kettle because it fits in with the metal toaster and the microwave!
Well, first things first: appearance and design. The kettle is medium-sized and quite neat-looking, with a brushed steel main section and black plastic handle and top, and fits onto a nice round black plastic base which plugs into the wall. The power cable is thick and strong, but very short - which could be a real pain if your plug sockets aren't in really convenient places. One of the best things about this kettle is the 360-degree swivelling base, which means you can plonk the kettle down at any angle on the round holder and it will fit; it also means that you can twist it round to grab it once it's boiled. It's a really nice touch which does make using it that little bit easier. Unfortunately, opening the kettle to fill it can be a real pain - the lid 'locks' when you push it down, so sometimes getting it open can be a case of yanking it really hard. I've broken nails on it before, which is very annoying, so sometimes if I don't need to put that much water in I do fill it through the spout (naughty!)
At the back of the kettle, near the handle, are two clear plastic strips which show you how much water is in it - helpfully the measurements on it are done by cups (ie 2 cups, 4 cups, 6 cups or a maximum 8 cups) which help you to calculate exactly how much water you're using. I do try to save as much water as possible, so I find it helpful to know how much I'm putting in and that I'm not wasting loads just to make a cup of tea for one. In total, it can hold 1.7 litres, so despite it looking medium-sized, it actually has quite a big capacity and, as I've said, can handle up to 8 cups at a time for when friends and family are round. The on/off switch is a little bit like a pedal bin lever and is found just underneath the handle at the back, it has a light which comes on when you push it down to switch on and which goes off automatically once the kettle's boiled. All in all, it's a well-designed kettle; the lid and the short cable are annoying but are balanced out by a couple of really nice features.
What with the near constant cups of coffee, plus the fact that boiling water for pasta takes so much less time in the kettle first, the Kenwood SJM280 sees regular heavy use in my house - on an average day it's probably used 4 or 5 times. With that in mind, I'd say it's lasted really very well and still works perfectly: this might have something to do with the fact that the element inside isn't one of those coiled ones but is actually just a ring which heats up when you switch it on. After two or so years, there is a little bit of limescale on the element ring and a small amount around the spout, but it's not much at all and certainly not gone really disgusting and flaky like some kettles we've had.
When you're pouring boiling water around, safety has got to take priority and I'm always concerned about how well kettles pour - nobody wants a dribbling kettle which splashes you as it pours. Thankfully this kettle is great in this regard, as it has a really effective metal spout which gets the water quickly and efficiently into the mug or saucepan. The handle is easy to grip and although this isn't the lightest of kettles, it's easy to manouevre even when it's full to the brim. However, it's worth noting that the body of the kettle gets REALLY, REALLY hot to the touch once it's boiled - I mean scaldingly hot, as it's metal and has no plastic coating. This is fine in our house as there aren't any small children around, but I'd be very wary of having it around little hands which might grab it while it's hot.
Electricity-wise, it's a 3kw kettle so is not that energy efficient, but then again, it's balanced by the fact that it is fast-boil - it takes about 2-3 minutes to boil enough water for 3 cups of tea, and 4 or so minutes to boil the full 8 cups I need when I'm putting water for pasta on. Once it's boiled the water stays hot for about 5-10 minutes, but re-boiling doesn't take long once it's hot. It's not all that noisy, either; you can hear it coming to the boil when you're upstairs or in another room but it doesn't screech or jerk around. We bought ours in the sale at House of Fraser for about £25, but a quick internet search shows that it's available from loads of places priced between £21.99-ish and £32.50-ish, so although it's not exactly a proper budget kettle, it's not ridiculously expensive.
Overall, this has been a great kettle and it's still going strong. I'm going to dock one star for the minor irritating issues of the cord and the tough lid, but I'd still very much recommend it.