When it comes to electric kettles, the Breville BKE820XL Variable-Temperature Kettle (Est. $135) is a standout performer. Expert sources The Kitchn.com and Good Housekeeping praise the Breville BKE820XL for how quickly it brings water to a boil, and its five clearly marked temperature settings for different types of tea (including a 200 degree Fahrenheit setting that's good for French press coffee, too). The Breville's "Hold Temp" button, which maintains the water at the set temperature for 20 minutes so it's ready when you want a quick refill, is also a popular feature.
That said, if anything is going to go wrong with this kettle, it's that much-loved variable temperature feature. The most common frustration users express is that the kettle keeps on boiling past the set temperature, defeating the point of a variable temperature setting in the first place and raising concerns about whether it'll shut off as well.
Praise for the Breville hot pot far outweighs those concerns, however. Experts and users particularly like its easy-to-use features, including a beep (instead of a whistle) when the water is ready, and one-handed operation that lets you both open the lid and hold/pour with the same hand. A clear window with easy-to-read measurement markings on both sides and a base that swivels 360 degrees make this a great choice for lefties. The 1.8 liter (7.6 cup) capacity is plenty for families or those entertaining a group, and the opening is big enough to get your hand in for a thorough cleaning.
We found lots of user praise for the Breville variable temperature kettle's handsome stainless steel construction and simple, easy to read controls. Those with concerns about plastic, however, complain that the viewing windows and an additional insert are both plastic. Although it's all BPA-free.
If you don't need a full 1.8 liter of capacity, consider the best cheap electric kettle we found, the Adagio Teas 30 oz. utiliTEA Electric Kettle (Est. $52). This petite electric kettle holds about 3.75 cups of liquid and adjusts from 160 degrees Fahrenheit for green tea, to a full rolling boil at 212 degrees. The Adagio utiliTEA draws praise from pros like Lindsey Goodwin, About.com's coffee/tea expert, for its good value and subtle perks, like its 360-degree swiveling base and an auto shut-off that keeps it from boiling dry.
Users really like the adagio too, praising its sleek, stainless steel body, fast boil times and reliable operation. A few say they'd prefer having more exact temperature controls (you set the adagio's temperature by adjusting a dial that's coded for the type of tea you're brewing, not the actual water temperature), but several users took thermometers to the water in the Adagio and found that it heats to within a degree or two of the right temperature for each tea type.
If you want something a little more striking on your countertop and aren't worried about specific water temperatures, the Hamilton Beach Stainless Steel Electric Kettle (Est. $31) looks like a traditional stovetop kettle. It draws diverse user praise for its quick boil time, automatic shut-off, easy-to-read window for gauging the water level, and striking appearance -- it comes in traditional stainless steel as well as candy apple red. However, some say this kettle requires gentle treatment if you want it to last; they also say that you'll need to empty the kettle between uses to cut the risk of it rusting on the inside. Still, most owners love this Hamilton Beach kettle's performance and appearance so much—not to mention its value—that they leave it out on the counter, where it's always accessible (and decorative).
The Hamilton Beach Stainless Steel Kettle won't pierce your ears with a whistle to signal that it's done, something that the noise-adverse appreciate. Others say that you can hear the click of the kettle switching itself off once it boils, but they'd prefer a beep or other audible indicator that the water is ready. That aside, the only major complaint we found is that steam sometimes escapes from the lid, which is located just beneath the handle. Like all metal kettles, the body of this Hamilton Beach stovetop kettle gets very hot, but users say the handle remains cool.
It's worth noting that all three of these top electric kettles are cordless. In other words, the cord is attached to the base, not the kettle, so you don't have to worry about hauling the cord along with you or unplugging it before you pour. Nowadays that's more the norm than the exception, but you'll still occasionally find hot pots that have a cord built right into the kettle's body. This is far less convenient because you have to unplug the kettle before you pour -- both for safety reasons and for the sake of being able to reach.