TechTalk: Toasty Handwarmers

TechTalk: Toasty Handwarmers

Posted by tbg | February 28, 2013 | TBG Wired Blog

I credit Pinterest for a lot of things. It was Pinterest that taught me the name of hair color that goes from dark to light (incidentally, it’s ombre), Pinterest that showed me the right way to fold a fitted sheet and Pinterest that schooled me on the awesomeness of an adult tree house.

It was also Pinterest that introduced me to Smoko USB Toast Handwarmers, these adorable little toast-shaped pillows that slip onto your hands like fingerless gloves. For roughly $30 (we paid $28.99 on Amazon, but I’ve seen them priced higher elsewhere) you get two of them, including detachable USB cables that plug into your computer or other USB device. Because fingerless gloves have been one of my signature pieces since I moved to Colorado in 2011, they seemed like the perfect way to launch the product review portion of TBG Wired.

When they arrived at TBG headquarters and we opened the box, the first thing we noticed was how quickly the novelty wore off. While we’re all pretty easily entertained by cuteness, it still takes a lot to impress us as a group, and after about five or ten minutes we were ready to find out why these were worth the price. “No, really. What else do they do?”

At that point I decided to check the box for instructions, which is something I never bother with when I’m buying for myself, but in this case I figured I would take all the precautions. One part of the description read “USB handwarmers keep your hands warm and toasty while you type, browse or assemble your troops”, which gave me a fantastic mental image of wearing these while leading a toast army.

Now that I was fully informed of the capabilities of this product, it was time for the test drive. I should probably point out here that the description on Amazon said “adjustable wrist straps”. This isn’t entirely accurate. While the strap at the base of the wrist is secured with Velcro, the strip is too short to make it any tighter. So really, these are more of a “one size fits all” item.

I work on a laptop, so I could only plug in one at a time (that’s the first real drawback; if you want to wear both, you’ll need a splitter). When it was set on the lowest heat level, I had a hard time discerning whether it was actually the power of my USB port keeping my hand warm or the fact that I was wearing a pillow. That’s drawback #2 – even with the backs of my hands relatively toasty, my fingers were still freezing. Although it did encourage me to type faster, so I suppose “increased productivity” could be an added, albeit unexpected, benefit.

I wore one toast pillow on my hand for a few hours straight with no major problems. I was pleasantly surprised that unlike other heating systems (for example, a space heater or a heating pad), it never became uncomfortably hot, and I barely noticed I was even wearing it after awhile. The downside is that the luke-warmth of the pillow never reached my fingertips.

Drawback #3 came whenever I stood up to leave my desk. At first the cord was tangled in just about everything, but after awhile it was easy to forget that I was plugged in and that my mobility was limited. So far I’ve knocked over a coffee cup, my phone and a Brian Wilson bobble head, and several times I’ve nearly sent my laptop crashing to the floor.

The entertainment value (of the cuteness, not my klutziness) might have made up for the lack of function if I still shared my workspace, but since I was primarily entertaining myself, these ended up being somewhat of a frivolous investment. Compared to my signature fingerless gloves (one of which I wore on the other hand for comparison) they just weren’t that effective. Overall, those ratty old knit gloves covered more of my hands, retained better heat, and overall, kept me warmer as I worked.

That being said, it still doesn’t seem fair to write these off completely. After all, typically items that have this much invested in aesthetics aren’t supposed to be the most functional, so it’s not like people won’t know what they’re getting into. At their best, these serve the same function as a novelty coffee mug or those light-up sneakers everyone had as a kid – they’re not completely necessary and they don’t really improve upon the original. They’re just more fun to use.

Pros:

  • Ridiculously cute – smiley faces, feet and hands (or ears; could go either way)
  • Soft and comfortable, flexible fit
  • Steady heat output didn’t cause discomfort with prolonged use
  • A fun, kitschy conversation starter
  • Increased productivity as an indirect result of cold fingertips
  • Later on in the product test, inadvertently realized that these made a very comfy place to rest a cheek. Bonus: No unsightly sleep wrinkles.

Cons

  • Pricey ($30 per set, S&H not included)
  • At 5.5” x 5.5”, somewhat bulky and awkward at first
  • Cord(s) took up a lot of space on a laptop, but may not be long enough for a tower
  • May require a splitter if you work on a laptop
  • Heat settings aren’t very powerful
  • The realization that you are, literally, bound to your computer
  • Hard to take yourself seriously if you’re wearing these by yourself. Also, most people entering your office will require an explanation that will never, ever sound legitimate, no matter how hard you try.