The cure for a cold office

Heaters as art.

When you think of sexy gadgets, it’s usually phones and tablets that come to mind, but never, ever space heaters. Those ugly black bricks, with the glowing orange insides that smell like dead squirrels after nearly a year in the closet, are the furthest thing from sexy.

That’s changing, though. Last year, the wife and I bought the Dyson Hot+Cool—the latest appliance to be revolutionized by vacuum and hand-dryer enthusiast Sir James Dyson—and we’ve been feeling measurably hipper since. Eschewing conventional design, the Dyson is a two-foot-tall elliptical loop in a pleasing iPod-white colour. Guests who see it for the first time sitting on our end table usually mistake it for modern art.

And it works too. The little heater, which I’ve taken to calling R2 (it reminds me of the Star Wars droid) uses Dyson’s air-multiplying effect to shoot warm air all over the room. It’s a complicated technology that involves airplane wings and foils; suffice it to say there are no glowing coils and, since it doesn’t accumulate dust inside, no dead-squirrel smell.

There’s only one problem: the Hot+Cool retails for $450. That’s cheap for modern art, but it’s borderline insane for a heater. Still, it’s proving popular. Go into a Future Shop or Best Buy and the only space heaters available are likely to be Dysons.

This success must be forcing competitors to up their games, right? Surely others are selling decent heaters at reasonable prices that are perhaps even a little sexy? It certainly looks like they’re trying.

Sunbeam’s LED ceramic heater, which sells for a modest $70 (fig. 1), comes closest to meeting the criteria. This small-room heater had my home office toasty within minutes, yet the wife claims it warmed the whole floor. If her abnormal heat sensitivity is right, that’s good. But is it sexy? With its flat meshed front grill, it’s certainly reminiscent of a Bose SoundDock. I kept looking for a place to plug in my iPod. I guess that’s somewhat sexy.

For bigger rooms, the Honeywell Model HZ-435—which immediately loses points for its uninspired name—is a more direct descendent of your old ugly heaters (fig. 2). It looks like a condo tower the evil lord Sauron might rent a studio in. To a certain crowd, that might be a draw. Still, at $60 it does the trick. If you can put up with its constant clicking on and off, the Honeywell also heats a good-sized room, albeit in a slower and subtler way than its competitors.

Both the Sunbeam and Honeywell heaters have mesh fronts guarding their toasty innards. That means this year’s dust is likely to become next year’s squirrel stink. Both do the job, but neither is as pretty as the Dyson, which remains the Porsche of space heaters, with price tag to match.

As far as finding a piece of modern art that actually exudes warmth, the Dyson Hot+Cool stands in a category by itself.

Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based tech writer who keeps warm by the glow of his gadgets.

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