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Side-cut electric can openers remain a somewhat iffy proposition

If you have limited hand strength or dexterity, electric can openers may be your best choice. The West Bend Electric Can Opener (Est. $40) is our top pick. It operates hands-free -- starting and stopping automatically once you lock the can in place -- and a built-in magnet keeps the lid from falling in the food once open.

Most reviewers find the heavy-duty West Bend tall enough to open large #10 (commercial size) cans but stable enough you don't have to worry about it tipping over. On the downside, the piercing tooth is not long enough to open cans with deeply recessed lids. We also found a few scattered complaints that the can opener tears the paper labels off cans, although this doesn't appear to be a common occurrence.

Another great can opener, the Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch 76606Z (Est. $30) , cuts around the side of the can just below the lid. Most reviewers adore this design because the tool never touches your food, and both lid and can come away with smooth edges, making cut fingers a thing of the past. The bad news is the Smooth Touch isn't the most reliable. One Walmart.com customer describes her disappointment when her unit began to malfunction: "It makes SO-O-O-O much noise it wakes up my neighbor's baby and makes dogs howl, not to mention that you have to go around and around about three times and then it leaves little shavings behind."

Both can openers are covered by one-year warranties, but we found quite a difference in opinions regarding customer service. Users say West Bend's customer service is prompt to replace defective units during the warranty period, and the entire cutting unit (Est. $25) pops off easily for replacement if needed. (It's also top-rack dishwasher-safe, which makes cleaning easy.)

However, Hamilton Beach doesn't sell replacement parts for the Smooth Touch, and customers say they were asked to pay at least part of the cost for replacing defective units, even during the warranty period. Both models have a plastic trigger that users consider a potential weak spot (though it is rarely an actual problem).

Extra perks

As a secondary note, both models come with a couple of nifty extras. The West Bend has a knife sharpener and bottle opener on the back, along with space for storing the cord. The Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch 76607, which is otherwise identical to the Smooth Touch 76606Z, has a scissors holder in the back. (One user warns the holder only fits fairly slender scissors; it's not meant for kitchen shears.)

A third electric can opener worthy of note is the Hamilton Beach Classic Chrome Heavyweight (Est. $25) . It comes with a knife sharpener, bottle opener and internal cord storage, and like the West Bend Electric Can Opener, you can pop the Chrome Heavyweight's cutting unit off for cleaning. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that replacement cutting units are available. If the blades dull, bend or break, you have to buy a new can opener.

Users say the Chrome Heavyweight is easy to use if you have arthritis or other hand issues and has enough power to open large, heavy cans -- but they will tip the appliance right over if you don't hold on to them. It comes with a one-year warranty, and we found complaints noting poor durability and performance. One owner explains such an instance on Amazon.com: "Every time I would try to open a can, I would get the grinding noise as if it was going to grab the can and start opening it but all I would get was chewed up paper from the can cover." We're also a little hesitant about Hamilton Beach's service after the negative comments we encountered for the Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch.

If you want the convenience of an electric can opener without giving up counter space, Hamilton Beach also offers the compact and portable Hamilton Beach Walk'n'Cut Compact , which is small enough to fit in a kitchen drawer. It takes some practice -- and sometimes both hands -- to get the can opener clamped onto the edge of the can correctly, but once you've got it reviewers say it works well, automatically shutting off when done. It has a magnet to hold onto the lid for easy disposal. Again, the biggest concern here is durability; we're wary of the one-year warranty. Overall, the West Bend Electric Can Opener remains our top choice for its reliable performance, backed by solid customer service.

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West Bend 77203 Electric Can Opener, Metallic
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from Amazon.com
New: $45.99 $38.05   
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Hb Compact Can Opener Black
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from Amazon.com
New: $60.09 $21.74   
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Hamilton Beach 76606Z Smooth Touch Can Opener, Black and Chrome
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from Amazon.com
New: $29.99 $26.76   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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New - Classic Chrome Heavyweight Can Opener by Hamilton Beach
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from Amazon.com
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