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SideKIC: Cheap sous vide circulator.

Modernist

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207 replies to this topic

#31 ChrisZ

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 03:57 AM


The SideKIC looks nice as a SV-to-go solution. Personally, I'm not too fond of using ghetto SV for reheating purposes and for longer distances, taking bagged & cooked food with you is often not possible due to cooling issues (dry ice is not readily available in Europe). I know it's probably a bit early, but have you got any plans for a 230 V/50 Hz version?


Plans, yes, but not in production yet. (Sorry about that). Actually there's not a lot we have to change, but unfortunately we can't do everything at once. If the US version goes well, we're definitely going to put together an EU version.


If the price point is the same in Australia I'll get one. I agree with Nick & Chris about not relying on the heater to bring the water to temperature, but any chance of a more powerful heater to take advantage of the beefier current outside of the US?

#32 cbread

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 03:28 PM

Duncan,

Thanks so much for coming on to our forum here with good information!

Could you give any estimate of max capacity of one of your units if water is pre-heated before going into the cooking vessel, and assuming the cooking vessel would be well insulated on sides and bottom, and partially insulated at the top? I know those descriptors are pretty wooly, but I'm looking for a ballpark volume.

I'm thinking of a stainless tank with 1 1/2 or 2" foam insulation added to the sides and bottom, and a floating foam lid covering maybe 90% of the water surface to reduce thermal and evaporative losses.

Would you recommend any different max capacities at the 175-195 F temperatures used with vegetables?

#33 Shalmanese

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 11:36 PM

Duncan,

Thanks so much for coming on to our forum here with good information!

Could you give any estimate of max capacity of one of your units if water is pre-heated before going into the cooking vessel, and assuming the cooking vessel would be well insulated on sides and bottom, and partially insulated at the top? I know those descriptors are pretty wooly, but I'm looking for a ballpark volume.

I'm thinking of a stainless tank with 1 1/2 or 2" foam insulation added to the sides and bottom, and a floating foam lid covering maybe 90% of the water surface to reduce thermal and evaporative losses.

Would you recommend any different max capacities at the 175-195 F temperatures used with vegetables?


It's a 300W heater so it can pump out 491 Quart * F of heat in an hour. Put the water of the desired temp in your vessel, let it cool for an hour, measure the temperature difference in F. divide 491 by that number and you have your maximum number of quarts that it can maintain in the ideal state.

eg: If you measure a drop of 10 F over an hour, that means you can at most heat 49 quarts. Note that this is the maximum capacity which means if you drop cold food in there, it will never recover.

edit: note that heat loss decreases as the vessel gets colder so if it's an uninsulated vessel, it would be better to measure the heat loss after 15 minutes and multiply by 4 rather than wait the full hour.

Edited by Shalmanese, 06 February 2012 - 11:42 PM.

PS: I am a guy.

#34 Duncan Werner

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:07 AM


Duncan,

Thanks so much for coming on to our forum here with good information!

Could you give any estimate of max capacity of one of your units if water is pre-heated before going into the cooking vessel, and assuming the cooking vessel would be well insulated on sides and bottom, and partially insulated at the top? I know those descriptors are pretty wooly, but I'm looking for a ballpark volume.

I'm thinking of a stainless tank with 1 1/2 or 2" foam insulation added to the sides and bottom, and a floating foam lid covering maybe 90% of the water surface to reduce thermal and evaporative losses.

Would you recommend any different max capacities at the 175-195 F temperatures used with vegetables?


It's a 300W heater so it can pump out 491 Quart * F of heat in an hour. Put the water of the desired temp in your vessel, let it cool for an hour, measure the temperature difference in F. divide 491 by that number and you have your maximum number of quarts that it can maintain in the ideal state.

eg: If you measure a drop of 10 F over an hour, that means you can at most heat 49 quarts. Note that this is the maximum capacity which means if you drop cold food in there, it will never recover.

edit: note that heat loss decreases as the vessel gets colder so if it's an uninsulated vessel, it would be better to measure the heat loss after 15 minutes and multiply by 4 rather than wait the full hour.


This is an excellent answer, thanks for pitching in. Doing this experimentally would be a good idea, because Shalmanese's calculation refers to optimal conditions while in practice conditions will be sub-optimal. (And not to quibble, but 4.18J is the heat capacity at 25C; at 90C I think it would be around 4.20. That doesn't significantly impact the calculation).

However I want to note one other limitation, we cap the cooking temperature at 185F / 85C. This was an arbitrary limit but it does mean that it won't hold temperature over that number.

Officially, we suggest no more than 10 quarts, and I should stick to that number. I think given the responses that I'm hearing here, we should probably build a "pro" version with more power; but for now, the 300 Watts will limit the size of the container you use.
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#35 Shalmanese

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:17 AM

(And not to quibble, but 4.18J is the heat capacity at 25C; at 90C I think it would be around 4.20.)


4.205 :raz:
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#36 Chris Hennes

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:39 AM

However I want to note one other limitation, we cap the cooking temperature at 185F / 85C. This was an arbitrary limit but it does mean that it won't hold temperature over that number.

I'd suggest that capping the temp at 194°F/90°C would be more useful, if the cap is truly arbitrary: Modernist Cuisine recommends that a number of fruits and vegetables be cooked sous vide at that temperature, and capping there would allow us to use the SideKIC for about 99.9% of the sous vide recipes out there. With vegetables you can usually simply increase the cooking time to compensate for the lower temperature, but obviously it's easier to use the time/temp specified in the recipe.

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#37 weinoo

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:56 AM

I think given the responses that I'm hearing here, we should probably build a "pro" version with more power; but for now, the 300 Watts will limit the size of the container you use.

If you could build a "pro" version for another $100, I think you would be flooded with requests.

My question is what would a "pro" version entail? And could you do it for that price?
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#38 cbread

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 01:43 PM

Hmmmm.... A pro version? I don't know about "pro" but the things that come to mind that I'd be looking for are:

1. A clamp to secure the tool to the edge of the vessel.
2. 195 F capability.
3. Have the bottom reach deeper into the water so that it would be less likely to run dry during prolonged operation; a greater waterline differential between too full and too empty.

You see where this is heading? My first circulator hasn't yet arrived, and here I am specifying details for the next one, a device as yet not even in production... Oh, Duncan, this site is like quicksand. You were just trying to be helpful and here I am working up a scheme that will cost you tens of thousands in tooling etc... Others soon will be chiming in with requests for chamber vacuum sealers for $300 and rotovaps for $500. Next will be the chorus of those seeking an affordable centrifuge. The gadget quest never ends. You're in deeper than you knew.

Seriously, thanks for producing the SideKic! I'm looking forward to it's arrival.

#39 Duncan Werner

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 02:06 PM

I'd suggest that capping the temp at 194°F/90°C would be more useful, if the cap is truly arbitrary: Modernist Cuisine recommends that a number of fruits and vegetables be cooked sous vide at that temperature, and capping there would allow us to use the SideKIC for about 99.9% of the sous vide recipes out there. With vegetables you can usually simply increase the cooking time to compensate for the lower temperature, but obviously it's easier to use the time/temp specified in the recipe.


That is an excellent point. I'm going to run this through testing and see if there's any reason we can't do it.
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#40 Duncan Werner

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 02:10 PM

1. A clamp to secure the tool to the edge of the vessel.
2. 195 F capability.
3. Have the bottom reach deeper into the water so that it would be less likely to run dry during prolonged operation; a greater waterline differential between too full and too empty.


All good suggestions. I'm thinking more heating power, larger pump.

Please don't interpret this as my indicating we're underpowered - I think the existing one is really good for what it does. But there's no reason we can't introduce a bigger-brother machine. As long as the first one does reasonably well.
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#41 Todd in Chicago

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:25 PM

Well done Duncan!

To be honest, I'm a fairly impatient person also and almost ALWAYS empty my hottest tap water into my SVS to "assist" getting up to temp quicker. I'm assuming that is fairly common practice.

Cheers...

Todd in Chicago

#42 jeroen_kb

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 01:25 AM

Probably in US dollars a bit pricier, but you can get this in Europe for 270 euro ex. VAT. 1300 watts and heats to boiling point. link

#43 dcarch

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 05:34 AM

A 300 watt heater can do a lot in an insulated vessel.

I started out with a 300 watt heat in a beer cooler, (I don't know how many quarts) and it worked fine.

Many pumps use a brushless rotor design, and the rotor/impeller is always lubricated by water. They can last a long time.

The one thing that can be worn out perhaps are relay contacts from cycling on and off, unless it is a solid state relay.

I noticed that the unit is not electrically grounded. I think it may be a good idea to advise users to use a GFP electric outlet. Just a suggestion.

dcarch.

Edited by dcarch, 08 February 2012 - 05:41 AM.


#44 weinoo

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 05:50 AM

Probably in US dollars a bit pricier, but you can get this in Europe for 270 euro ex. VAT. 1300 watts and heats to boiling point. link

That's fairly impressive. Doesn't appear to come in US voltage, however. I especially like the vacuum sealer.
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#45 Chris Hennes

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 12:13 PM

Well, the first thing I can tell you is the shipping is quick...

It was shipped USPS (not my favorite option, but hey, it arrived...)
1 of 6 - Outside box.jpg

Inside the box (after removing the documentation and a thin foam sheet):
2 of 6 - Inside box.jpg

Here it is with a Thermapen for size reference:
3 of 6 - Size reference.jpg

A close-up of the screen (which is a plastic material of some kind, and reasonably fine)
4 of 6 - Innards.jpg

The controller is basically just a screen and a clickable wheel: not many moving parts to break
5 of 6 - Controller.jpg

And courtesy of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, here is a better sense of the scale. In particular, the hook part is 1.25 inches wide, so should fit over the rim of most beer coolers:
6 of 6 - Ruler.jpg

I've just fired the thing up, user interface info coming soon.

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#46 Chris Hennes

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 01:25 PM

The first time you plug the device in it gives you a quick tutorial and asks you what temperature units you want:

Setup 0.jpg

Setup 1.jpg

Setup 2.jpg

Setup 3.jpg

Setup 4.jpg

Setup 5.jpg

It can't get much easier than that. Subsequent power-ons jump straight to that last screen there, showing its set temp, actual temp, and how long it has been running. The bottom line can be changed to a countdown timer as well.

The next step was to turn it on and start playing. I hung it over the edge of a 6-quart stockpot and added five liters of water at 18.3°C (groundwater temp here right now). I set the temperature to 50°C and turned it loose: it took 27 minutes to come to temperature. It overshot by 0.7°C before decaying back down to the set temp. According to my Thermapen, however, when the reading on the device was 50.0°C, the actual temperature of the water was 50.4°C. It held that temperature within 0.2°C while it was running, however, in an uninsulated stainless steel vessel sitting on a countertop (basically a worst-case scenario). It think the device is probably useful for most high-precision cooking provided that you check the temperature with a more accurate thermometer and compensate accordingly before adding your food.

The device itself it basically silent: the hum of the pump is very quiet, and is mostly covered up by the actual splashing of the circulated water. It does not appear to have a buzzer of any kind—it does not make a noise to indicate that the set temp has been reached, or that the countdown timer has finished, so I am assuming this means it does not have the means of doing so. I would strongly recommend to Duncan that future iterations of the board include a piezo device so that you can make a beep of some sort.

Physically the device requires that your water level run relatively close to the top edge of your cooking vessel, and there is not a great deal of margin to accommodate level changes when adding food. The best way to deal with this is to use a relatively wide, shallow cooking vessel, rather than a deep, narrow vessel, to minimize the water level change when adding the food (of course, then you will definitely want a lid of some kind to minimize evaporation). The pump is strong enough that in my standard stockpot the water is pretty close to the rim when it's running: I'd prefer a little more margin.

The countdown timer has a minimum five-minute granularity when being set: the minimum time you can set it for is five minutes and a maximum of 59 hours and 45 minutes. When the countdown timer reaches its conclusion the timer flashes on the screen for five seconds, and then begins counting up to tell you how far over you have gone (the pump does not stop running). It appears that it will only count up to the initial value of the timer: when I tested it I set it for five minutes, and when it had gone over time for five minutes, it reset to zero and started counting up again. I'd guess this is a software bug that has to do with how the device is checking for the timer completion, and is obviously very minor. However, in my opinion, without an audible beeper the timer is basically useless. In addition, it lacks sufficient granularity for cooks that last under 30 minutes (when a one-minute granularity is necessary, IMO), and cannot be set for longer than 59:45 so you can't do a 72 hour cook based on the built-in timer.

Finally, I killed the power externally to simulate a power failure: the device turned back on and remembered the set temperature, but not the cooking time or countdown timer. It did not turn the heater or pump back on when power was restored. If power failure is a concern you will want to take additional measures to deal with it.

My initial impression of the device is that even as it stands right now the SideKIC is worth the $175 it costs, when compared to the alternatives: it has some flaws, but if you have a decent thermometer and your own cooking timer most of them can be easily mitigated. I also think that with some very minor changes (some just software) it could be made an even better value. Obviously this is not a final verdict, since how well it holds up over time will clearly be important.

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#47 dcarch

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 01:41 PM

Peaking thru the screened housing, I think I see the outline of a typical inexpensive coffee cup immersion heater. I hope not. Those heaters don't last very long.

You should check the temperature setting. Typically PID temperature controllers suggest you not to get the thermalcouple wiring too close to the power line because of possible interferences.

dcarch

#48 Duncan Werner

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 02:47 PM

Wow, that is a comprehensive review. Thanks so much for taking the time. All your criticisms are definitely valid; and I really appreciate that you think it's a good value.

We certainly have some things to improve. While we can make software updates pretty quickly, unfortunately that won't help people who've already got one (perhaps we'll do an update service). I won't defend all of our hardware decisions, but I will say that we made tradeoffs where we thought appropriate; nevertheless I'll take these into consideration when we design a new version.

I really do appreciate your thoroughness here. Tough but fair.

---

Let me clarify a couple of things that people have wondered about:

- It is a simple electric immersion heater, but it should hopefully be beefier than the $5 jobs you can get on Amazon. We've had very good results with it, but time will tell I suppose.

- The thermometer is not a thermocouple, it's a digital sensor with an embedded thermistor. These are factory tuned; I'm a little concerned about the differential you're seeing, I'm going to have to look into it.

- And we're not using a relay or an SSR, we use a non-ZC triac.

Cheers,

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#49 dcarch

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 03:13 PM

Let me stressed that this is a well-designed item (for the price you pay). I didn't mean to critize. Just asking questions.

One good thing as a result of asking questions; I mentioned the possible need for electric grounding, and possible relay contact wearing out.

The use of a non-ZC triac device to control the heater I believe eliminates the contact issue as well as giving a much better isolation of power to ground leak problem. Not bad!

dcarch

#50 BadRabbit

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 03:24 PM

Duncan,

Are you offering a warranty of any kind? I didn't see it mentioned on the website.

#51 cbread

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 03:26 PM

Mine arrived today too. Well, Chris beat me to an initial review, and with his thorough photos, and testing in water, has given a better review than I could so far.

Duncan should be commended for impressively fast shipping! I haven't even put mine into water yet, so I can't comment yet on operational aspects, but my responses so far: I was immediately impressed by the shipping, simple and effective packaging and by the forthrightness of the instruction manual.

I really want to see some sort of clamping mechanism so that it will remain level. The substantial width of the "hook" that hangs it from the side of a cooking vessel is a mixed blessing. That's one of those design decisions that no maker can ever satisfy everyone with. Too narrow and people won't be able to hang it off the thick rim of a beer cooler. Too wide, and the unit won't set level on a narrow rim.

If it is hooked on the rim of a narrow edged vessel, the unit hangs down so that it is quite a bit off level. Since there is only a modest difference between the too empty and too full indications, and since it is important not to run it too full or too dry, on a slant it becomes more difficult to determine what would be the correct water level.

Regardless I discovered that if I hang it on the corner of a 8 Qt Cambro, it sets quite well. Maybe I need to get a small beer cooler so I can see how it works hung on a cooler.

Photos will follow as soon as I can make them. I'm posting my immediate responses in a brief window of opportunity.

Anyway, so far I am impressed. I believe I have received a very good value. I will have more to say soon.

#52 emannths

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 03:32 PM

I really want to see some sort of clamping mechanism so that it will remain level.


You could stick a chunk of thick foam in there to act as a shim.

#53 Chris Hennes

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 03:38 PM

Here's how I've got it set up right now (making some soft-boiled eggs a la Modernist Cuisine):

Eggs and SideKIC.jpg

I tried tucking it into the corner like cbread suggests, but that puts the nozzle too close to the side of the container and creates a substantial vertical wave that threatens to overtop the container. In the end I decided to just let it hang however it wanted to. I might concern myself with it later on for long-time cooks, but for 35 minutes I'm not going to stress out here.

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#54 Duncan Werner

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:42 PM

Duncan,

Are you offering a warranty of any kind? I didn't see it mentioned on the website.


Sorry, that _should_ be on the amazon page but I can see that it's not. We're offering 45-day return for any reason. We should have that visible by tomorrow but if it's not on Amazon I'll make sure it's on our page.
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#55 Duncan Werner

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:49 PM

Let me stressed that this is a well-designed item (for the price you pay). I didn't mean to critize. Just asking questions.


Hey, I knew what I was getting in for by jumping in on this forum. You guys are tough, but you're also obviously knowledgeable. You will be the toughest critics that I can face. Frankly you guys aren't really even the target market, but I really want to win you over - even if the current machine isn't good enough, I'm going to keep trying.

The use of a non-ZC triac device to control the heater I believe eliminates the contact issue as well as giving a much better isolation of power to ground leak problem. Not bad!


There's a minimum 5kV of optoisolation on the triac and the ZC detector (via separate optocoupler).

Cheers,

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#56 Shalmanese

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 11:41 PM

Is there any issue with running this in anything other than a water bath? For example, if I wanted to do a stirred custard, would this work? What if I wanted to do beef stock?
PS: I am a guy.

#57 ScoopKW

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 02:37 AM

And more for the "Let's make Duncan cringe about retooling costs" angle:

The heating unit looks basically like an inverted J.

I think it should look like an inverted U, and it should be deeper. And there should be knobs akin to C-Clamp screws on both the X and Y axis* to accommodate differently-shaped containers. I don't want to have to worry about evaporation.

Currently updates to the software appear to be using the "send it back to us" model. How about a USB plug and downloadable updates?

I'll echo the sentiment that a beeper of some kind is a key feature -- especially warning beeps if temperature goes out of range. Some kind of battery backup to save the elapsed time might be nice, too.

Finally, the heating element should be connected to the controller via a plug. That way, if something goes wrong, the end user only has to replace the broken part, not the whole thing. That would also lead the way for a do-all controller, and various heating elements suited to the user's cooking requirements.

Of course, I realize that these suggestions will increase the cost of the unit. But when you get down to it, there isn't much of a market for entry-level sous-vide contollers. The concept hasn't yet trickled down to America's soccer moms.



* A knob at the bottom of the U to change the depth of the unit, and one at the side of the U to lock it to the container.
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#58 Shalmanese

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 03:26 AM

Hey, I knew what I was getting in for by jumping in on this forum. You guys are tough, but you're also obviously knowledgeable. You will be the toughest critics that I can face. Frankly you guys aren't really even the target market, but I really want to win you over - even if the current machine isn't good enough, I'm going to keep trying.


Who *is* the target market? There's not that many people interested in Sous Vide and I reckon we have a pretty representative sample of those who do on this board.
PS: I am a guy.

#59 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 08:07 AM

I'm going to disagree with ScoopKW on a few points:

I think it should look like an inverted U, and it should be deeper. And there should be knobs akin to C-Clamp screws on both the X and Y axis* to accommodate differently-shaped containers. I don't want to have to worry about evaporation.

I agree completely that it ought to stick deeper into the water, but I don't think I'd find any use for adjustable depth (do other units on the market have such a thing?), and upon actually using the device I'm not sure the addition of another moving part and another point of failure to make the unit clamp better is actually a good tradeoff. The simplicity of the current design is an asset, I think, I just wish it went deeper. I should also note that evaporation is always a concern, regardless of the pump depth: you can't ignore it on long cooks no matter what device you are using.

Currently updates to the software appear to be using the "send it back to us" model. How about a USB plug and downloadable updates?

The software is very simple: I think once the unit has been shipping for a while and they've made a few revisions it will stabilize completely. I don't want an electrically conducting hole in an appliance that sits next to a big splashy pot of water. And a plug to cover the hole is yet another part to fail. Again, I don't see this as being worth the tradeoff.

Finally, the heating element should be connected to the controller via a plug. That way, if something goes wrong, the end user only has to replace the broken part, not the whole thing. That would also lead the way for a do-all controller, and various heating elements suited to the user's cooking requirements.

Having observed water droplets trickling down the cord that connects the two again I'm in favor of the one-piece design that minimizes failure points and connections where water might infiltrate the controller. The unit isn't big enough to worry about whether I have to send both pieces or just one in for repair.

In my opinion there are two physical non-software changes that should be considered: the addition of a noise-making device of some kind for alarms and the like, and increasing the depth that the circulator reaches into the water by perhaps 5-10cm. Otherwise, keep it simple.

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#60 gfweb

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 08:26 AM

Why not just direct the water flow downward, rather than making the thing deeper? The beauty of this thing is that it is small and simple and cheap.





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