Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Specially Selected Sweet Mustard, Kale and Bacon Frozen Pizza (Aldi)


Don't be put off by the ingredients...this is a tasty little pizza.

My mind sometimes works in odd ways. For example, I think most people who would see a pizza in a store's advertisement consisting of sweet mustard, bacon, potatoes, kale, and mozzarella would probably sour their nose at the idea, maybe make a gagging noise out loud, vow never to try it, and move on. I pretty much did all of those things, but with one big difference: I wanted to try it.

It honestly sounded gross to me too, but I guess I'm more of an...”optimist” (at least as far as food is concerned): Unless the combination is completely disgusting (like all of those shitty “tastes like Thanksgiving dinner” novelty items, like “turkey and stuffing” potato chips, or “mashed potatoes and gravy” soda pop), I like to approach it more from a “I don't see how this could work...but let's see if it does” kind of angle. (I guess that's not really that optimistic after all, because I'm not completely ruling out the idea it could be an abject failure, but I guess my point is I'm usually willing to at least try it.)

Coloring my opinions of this one was the “sweet mustard” leadoff: I actually had a pizza from a local pizza place (that has since closed down; RIP Bono Pizza) that had (sour) mustard instead of pizza sauce, along with capers, green and white onions, tomatoes, herbs, and for the “meat”, tuna. (It was supposedly inspired by “authentic” pizzas in the Nice region of Italy, although I can neither confirm nor deny that given my lack of geographical knowledge of anything beyond a ten-mile radius of my house). I would never have tried that at a normal place, but since we had tried several of their other eighteen specialty pizzas and had yet to be disappointed, I decided to trust them...and was blown away. It was a combination of flavors that, on paper, had no chance to succeed, and yet it was not only completely edible, but good.

Obviously, a wood-fired pizza made from obviously fresh and locally sourced ingredients is completely different from a frozen pizza mass-produced in a factory setting, but the point was, from experience I knew mustard could actually be a viable pizza “sauce”. And that helped to allay my fears, at least somewhat, as I found myself actually starting to look forward to eating this one.

Well, after three weeks of waiting (couldn't do it on a night my wife was home, because she wouldn't go near it due to the bacon), I finally got that chance. Initial impressions: It looks pretty good, with loads of toppings scattered across the top; if you didn't know any better, you'd think it was just a “normal” pizza. The crust takes up about 25% of the whole thing, which seems to be par for the course with their flatbread-style pizzas, but is kind of disappointing to see nonetheless. It looks inviting overall, and despite the extra crust, I was eager to dig in.

Wow...this pizza is absolutely bursting with flavor. The mustard, which actually comes in the form of crème fraiche, tastes like a honey mustard, and goes well with the deliciously light, crunchy crust. It's very sweet—almost shockingly so—but in the context of all the other savory toppings works better than it should. It's almost addicting, begging you to take the next bite so you can re-experience the explosion of honey mustard-ish notes that dance upon the tongue; I don't usually care for mustard all that much, something makes it even more impressive.

My only complaint is that the mustard is so flavorful on its own, that virtually everything else just kind of gets lost in the shuffle. The entire pizza works overall, but I had to specifically pick out pieces of the toppings and eat them individually to see what exactly they were bringing to the table, because there was no way to really taste them given the strength of the sweet mustard. And, in all honesty, I don't even think most of the accompanying ingredients are really all that necessary: the bacon, for example, is pretty bland on its own, serving up a slight bit of smoky flavor that I didn't really detect in a typical bite; ditto that for the potatoes which, like all unseasoned potatoes, are dry and boring when taken out of context. (I will make a case for them, however, because they do add a nice bit of softness to the overall texture.)

Another (somewhat minor) gripe I have with this flatbread-style pizza line in general, is something I alluded to earlier: the crust. Don't get me wrong, it's actually light and crispy—almost like a cracker—and has a nice, buttery flavor that doesn't need accouterments (like ranch, my pizza go-to) to be edible. However, look at the borders in this poorly-lit and underdeveloped picture: there's a good three or so inches of just crust. And as good as it is, I think I'm in the majority when I say, I want pizza. No one buys pizza for the crust—I wish they would spread the toppings out a little further to make you at least feel like you're getting more. 

Too much crust.

When all is said and done, though, this is one of the better pizzas I've had from Aldi recently, and is one that I'm virtually guaranteed to get again, at some point. It's not a flavor that most people would want all the time, but it's a nice counterpoint to the standard “pepperoni” and “cheese” pizzas of the world, and a good example of mostly non-traditional ingredients (at least for us American folk) coming together to create an unexpected symphony of flavor. It's one of the more unique-tasting ways you can spend $4 at an Aldi, that's for sure.

Overall: 8/10. Don't let the weird combination of ingredients fool you: this is one tasty, one rich pizza. The sweet mustard crème fraiche lives up to its name, with a very sweet initial blend of flavor and creamy texture that immediately lets you know what you're in for. And while I don't think all the other ingredients are necessary (all the other tastes seem to get lost in the mustard's wake), they at least help to give the pizza an inviting appearance and texture. Another minor gripe is the crust: while it's actually really crispy and better than most frozen crusts, there's simply too much of it; I'd like to see the toppings spread at least a little farther to the edges. Minor issues aside, though, this is a highly recommended pizza that I'd recommend to just about anyone looking for something different.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Millville Frosted Strawberry Toaster Tarts (Aldi)

These are good, especially for the price.

Well, after having another brand’s pop tarts a couple weeks ago, and realizing just how much I like the strawberry version, I was kind of excited when my son had me grab some during a recent shopping trip to Aldi. While I’ve had a couple different kinds of their pop tarts, I don’t think I’ve ever had the strawberry, so it was going to be an enlightening experience, to say the least! It was also a bittersweet one: My son refused to eat them because he meant to ask for toaster strudels, not pop tarts. So I’m stuck with the whole box either way.

The first thing I noticed, besides the fact that the “sprinkles” on top seem to be paler and duller than the national brand’s, comes in the form of the filling: it, too, is very pale, almost sickly looking. Whereas the main brands feature vibrantly red filling, this one is very pale, like a light pink. I’m sure this is due to Aldi removing all of the artificial colors from their products, but I have to confess that it isn’t very appetizing.

Thankfully, though, the taste is on par with other brands, featuring that same over-the-top fake strawberry flavor to go along with a rather boring pastry. It’s a rather strong, and sweet, flavor that clearly shows this is targeted toward kids. I happen to like it, although part of that might be nostalgia; I’d venture to guess that most fans of the original will like Aldi’s version as well.

As par for the course, the icing is sloppily thrown in, and only covers about 75% of the actual top. What’s the deal with that? You’d think they’d have it set up to be a perfect science, but there’s always a few bites you have to dread because there’s no icing in the corners, and that’s where the dry pastry is least inviting. This isn’t just Aldi’s brand, but across virtually all of them that I’ve had. They need some serious recalibrating of their machines.

The last piece to this puzzle is value: as usual, Aldi delivers pretty well in that regard. Each box contains 12 total pastries, and is offered for less than the national brand (and even some store brands’) 8 count boxes: in our case, it’s $1.49 per box. That’s more pop tarts than I really need, because I tend to get sick of these rather quickly, but you can’t argue with the price.

They're not outstanding in any way, but they're a good enough knockoff (complete with artificial colors removed!) that taste slightly better considering the value proposition. If you or your family enjoy the national brand, I would think this version would win most of them over, and for a buck or so less than the name brand. That's what one would call a "win-win"!

Overall: 7.5/10. These are pretty tasty imitators of the national brand toaster tart product, though they are muted in colors, probably due to Aldi’s removal of artificial coloring in most of its products. The strawberry flavor is fake, but is in strong abundance, and tastes much better than it looks. The same downsides to the national brand apply here – namely the icing barely covers up the top, and the pastry itself is pretty dry and boring – but for fans of the national brand, this is a good knockoff for a much better price.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Essential Everyday Frosted Flakes Cereal (Various)

Pretty good and a reasonable value.

BORING STORY TIME! Everyone gather around, because I know these intros are your favorite part of this blog! We were in Cincinnati celebrating our anniversary when we stumbled on a place we'd always wanted to visit: Jungle Jim's!

For anyone not in the loop, it's a small chain of supermarkets in the Cincinnati/Kentucky area that offer a wide variety of international foods and goodies. It's marketed as more of an “experience”, with samples throughout (though of course none were available when we went because of COVID), exotic fruits you can't find just anywhere, over-the-top displays, fountains at the entrance, and even their own events center, complete with an executive chef and monorail that can drive between indoor and outdoor venues. Clearly, this isn't just a typical supermarket!

Of course, being as large as it is—not to mention all the exclusive and hard-to-find items they carry—means that they aren't really interested in being “affordable”; by going with the “experience” angle, they can mark up their prices without facing much backlash because, hey, “we have a train”! While that's all well and good (and the place is cool—we spent at least three hours there and I don't even think made it to every aisle), that can wreak havoc on people looking to grab some goods on a budget.

At first, I didn't think they had their own store brand—and as it turns out, they don't. But my investigation did lead me to discover some products they carry made by a company called Essential Everyday, which make private label versions of name brand products, and then distribute them to a variety of retailers. So while it's not Jungle Jim's “own” stuff, they still seem to be cheaper than buying the national brands (which, in some cases, isn't entirely true).

Moving onto the product itself, this is a pretty decent impostor of the national brand for the price. The flakes are pretty lightly frosted, which you can tell by looking at them...there's a light coating on the outside, kind of similar to a glaze, which appears to wash off pretty quickly after milk is added. The sweet flavor takes a little while to dissipate, but I will say, by the end of the bowl (I add a lot of milk) I was basically eating corn flakes with sweet milk instead. That's not entirely a bad thing, but I'd definitely prefer getting the sweetness from the cereal itself.

While the cereal is still crunchy, though, these are pretty good, especially for those who enjoy their cereals lightly sweetened. Once you take a bite, the sweetness takes a little bit to kick in, offering up a tasty, almost powdered sugary style taste that gives way to a finish that consists mainly of corn flakes. I would expect this more later on, as the sugary coating wears off, but it is kind of disappointing that it basically happens from the first bite.

One thing I did like a lot is that these seemed to stay crunchy longer than some other brands; even when they did get mushy (inevitable considering the amount of cereal I eat in one sitting paired up with the amount of milk I add) they didn't get as disgusting as some other knockoffs I've tried. Some just kind of wither away into an almost gelatinous glob that can almost become difficult to force down, but these at least seemed to retain some of their original structure even after they broke down.

Now comes the one variable where past Everyday Essential products have failed incredibly in my past experiences: price. Well, by “products” I mean the two other ones I've tried, but in both cases, they were priced higher than even their national brand counterparts. Here, though, the good quality of the cereal is matched up with a price point of $1.99 (per 15 oz. box), which is about a dollar under what you can expect to pay for the national brand. It's nowhere near Earth-shattering savings, but it's substantial enough to be worth it...which isn't something I can say about some of the other things they offer.

Overall: 7/10. At least there's one product from Everyday Essentials that isn't an Everyday Ripoff: this cereal is pretty close in flavor and texture to the national brand, and for about a dollar less than the comparable national brand product (which also offers 1.5 fewer ounces!) The “frosted” in the title comes in the form of a glaze that reminded me of powdered sugar; it does wash off of the flakes rather quickly after adding milk, leading to bites of mostly plain flakes in overly sweet milk, but at least the tastes are still there. It's not the best example of frosted flakes that I've ever had, but it gets the job done and for a reasonable price.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mama Cozzi's Veggie Delight 16" Take and Bake Pizza (Aldi)

"Veggie Delight"? I think "Veggie Boredom" would be more appropriate...

If there's one thing you can't accuse Aldi of not carrying enough of, it's pizza: in a typical week, there seems to be at least a half-dozen new frozen varieties to try, and usually at least one or two take and bakes. And that's just via special buys; they also offer a growing selection of year 'round ones, both in frozen and refrigerated form. Hey, it's a versatile, “all-American” meal, so I guess it makes sense that it's probably the most available food product that discount chain offers.

This week, we have a “veggie delight” pizza, courtesy of Mama Cozzi. Based on its appearance, it literally looks like a “works” pizza, with all the meat picked out: whereas most of their pizzas are pretty well-covered with toppings, this one has huge gaps between small pockets of vegetables. It's like they picked off the meat, re-covered those areas with sauce and cheese, and then packaged it up and sent it out the factory door. Based on initial appearance, I have to say it looked rather disappointing, but we were hungry, and looking for something we hadn't tried before, so we gave it a shot. Besides, Aldi pizzas are usually pretty reliable, so we figured it would be better than it looked; maybe there was a different sauce, or surprise vegetable in there that would liven things up. 

Doesn't it just look boring?

Unfortunately, that isn't the case: this is one of the blandest take and bake pizzas that we've ever gotten from Aldi. I guess, in theory, that being “bland” is better than being “gross”, but...no, the more I think about it, it's not, because the end result is pretty much the same: we each only ate a couple of slices before throwing in the towel. At least if something is “gross”, it inspires some kind of passionate emotional response: it might be a seething, boiling hatred, and it might be completely negative, but in that way, it's “memorable”, so to speak. But when something is just...boring, it's not even bad enough to stir up any emotion; it's just...there. That's how this pizza made us feel: indifferent. There was no joy to be derived from eating any of it, no strong feelings of anything: we were just like robots going through the motions of obtaining nutrients—no matter how few—to sustain our body and keep us going until the next meal. 

At least there's one thing you can count on: value. Each 16” pizza (which equates to an “extra large” at most pizza chains) is just $6.49. That's definitely not a bad price at all for a pizza that could feed probably four people of average appetites, and well under what you would expect to pay from a chain.

I'm aware it could have been “livened up” with various other ingredients we might have had laying around—like pepperoni and some grated mozzarella cheese that probably could have given it some much-needed flavor—but right out of the box, this is a huge letdown. We definitely won't be grabbing this one ever again.

Overall: 4.5/10. This is a “works” pizza, just with the meat removed; while that might sound like an appetizing proposition for vegetarians, the execution is rather...boring. There are no added veggies, or boost of spices, or change in sauce to make up for the missing meat, which leaves just a very uninspiring shell of a pizza. It's like they lobotomized it, removing every ounce of its character, while replacing it with nothing. Of course, it can be livened up by adding your own ingredients—something you'll most likely need to do to get through it—but right out of the box, this is one of the blandest take and bake offerings we've ever had.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Toast'Ems Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop-Ups (Dollar Tree/Various)

Fun fact: this was actually the original toaster pastry.

It seems as though I’ve reviewed quite a few toaster pastries over the last month or so—moreso within that timeframe than the entire decade preceding it (which is kind of an interesting factoid); well, let’s just continue that trend, shall we? Today, we’ll be taking a look at a private label version of toaster pastries that are sold at Dollar Tree stores nationwide (as well as other retailers). They’re called Toast’Ems, and they have a fascinating history that I’ll force you to read through to discover, for once.

Getting down to the pastries themselves, one thing I feel is worth mentioning—mainly because I chastised another brand for the practice—is that, even though the box appears to be the exact same size as the box for the “national brand” product, there are actually two fewer pastries in here. Obviously, some costs have to be cut to hit the dollar price point, but it’s kind of a shady practice to give it the exact same size; obviously, I know that’s the point, but it’s rather shady nonetheless.

There's that all-too-familiar wrapper!

Regardless of the missing pastries, this still serves up some solid value. The reason I harped on the other brand’s missing pastries, is because that box was already more expensive than $1. In fact, if you added in the two missing pastries (based on the average per-pastry cost), it would have taken the cost of the box above even the national brand. Here, it’s more forgivable, because even factoring in the extra two, it still comes in at around $1.33 per 8 ct. box—that’s quite a bit cheaper than the $1.99 retail price of the national brand, and close to the price of Aldi’s 8 ct. boxes.

As I always mention in reviews of Dollar Tree food products, I still get nervous to try them: I’ve been burned by quite a few things that just don’t quite match up to what they promise. True, I could probably say the same about the rest of the store, but I think if I were to break it down, I’ve been far more disappointed by their food products than any other single category. Hell, I’ve probably been more let down by their food products than the rest of the store combined.

Those feelings are unwarranted, however, because these are fantastic. I’d swear it was made by the national brand, if I didn’t learn that this basically was the national brand years ago (intrigued? Keep reading…). The pastry is nice and soft, as it should be, and features a thin layer of the expected hard frosting on top; the icing only seems to take up about ¾ of the top, which is something I hate to see out of these, since the bites without icing are usually pretty dry, gross, and boring.

Dig that trademarked zig-zag pattern!

Flavorwise, though, and we’re back on track: these are very moist and delicious. The brown sugar flavor comes through in spades, but the cinnamon is definitely noticeable—everything comes together to create an appealing harmony of sweetness that goes down easy. Somewhat surprising to me is how much filling there is in the middle: I feel like this is the area where other off brands tend to skimp; here, there’s a pretty thick layer of the titular combination that somehow never becomes too sweet (at least for me). 

Sadly, this is one of those product that gets falsely perceived as an off-brand, when it was actually the first to market: Back in 1964, production began on a product called Post Country Squares, per an agreement between Schulze and Burch Biscuit Company, and General Foods (aka Post). Supposedly, Post announced the product in advance, giving those greedy slobs at Kellogg’s time to formulate a rip-off; sure enough, they rushed their own version out that same year, overtook the market, and have enjoyed tremendous success with a product that they weren’t even smart enough to create themselves.

You know, the typical American success story.

Overall: 8/10. These are fantastic toaster pastries that, despite being the first one released to market way back in 1964, had their ideas stolen by Kellogg’s, who would go on to virtually rip the idea off verbatim, and make millions doing it (isn’t capitalism grand?) So, in an ironic turn of events, these aren’t private label knockoffs after all, but rather the original toaster pastry! Having tried them, I can see where some people swear by these over the “name brand”, as the pastry is moist and there’s ample amounts of filling in the middle. There does seem to be less icing on the top, which only covers up about ¾ of the surface, but that’s just a minor quibble. In the end, these are fantastic pastries, especially for the price, from a brand that deserves to be more well known. There are many products you should be nervous to try from Dollar Tree; this definitely isn’t one of them.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Stacker 2 Berry Xtra Extra Strength Energy Shot (Dollar Tree)

Good value done in by poor flavor.

I’ve already written many prefaces about Stacker 2 energy shots and how they’re available in Dollar Trees nationwide, and how Dollar Tree has quite a few to choose from and how they’re hit or miss and a couple of them really suck blah blah blah, so let’s just move ahead, shall we?

This smells almost expired. It’s like the juice of a fruit – that’s not a berry, ironically – was left sitting in a basement for too long and has started to ferment. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “pungent”, but it’s not really all that inviting; it kind of smells like something that should get you drunk, instead of amped up.

You know what else isn’t all that inviting? The taste, the experience of which is actually pretty close to what the scent insinuated. Unlike most energy shots, this one isn’t very sweet at all. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I’m sure there are many people who find the taste of most shots to be too saccharine for their palate, and who might welcome one that’s less “in your face”. Unfortunately, this one just isn’t it, because it has an incredibly medicinal taste that is just…pretty disgusting.

How anyone at Stacker 2 tried taking a sip of this and thought “Mmmm…yep, I’m definitely getting a berry flavor,” is beyond me. I’m not very good at explaining tastes, but I’d say there’s almost a “raisin” note in there somewhere—maybe not exactly raisin, but something with a similarly dry, lifeless profile. That pairs up with other unidentifiable, non-sweet, non-fruity flavors to combine something that’s truly something to behold—for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve mentioned in a previous review that some Stacker 2 products taste like their formulas have remained unchanged ever since the early 2000s, when they broke out onto the scene. I’m sure back then they were revolutionary—I still remember kids in high school getting excited over their dieting pills, because they contained high amounts of caffeine—but a lot has changed since then: energy drinks, even sugar free ones, can actually taste good. It used to be that people drank them because it amped them up, and they just learned to tolerate the flavor (or ignore it entirely) in order to gain the energy provisions, but now, there are far too many alternatives on the market. They’re like the uncle that was once so cool, but now is just a washed-up drunk, who clings to his stories of the past, and is married to a woman who looks like a drug addict, and who came straight from the trailer park. This is definitely one shining example of that theory.

On the upside, I did notice an increase in energy that’s more or less on par with other shots that I’ve tried; and the lack of sugar once again means that there is no debilitating crash afterwards. So at least it works. But as I mentioned before, there are far too many other options on the market to have to settle for something that tastes like this. I don’t care how inexpensive it is.

Overall: 3.5/10. Dollar Tree’s—and by extension, Stacker 2’s—energy offerings continue to be a hit-or-miss affair. Exhibit D: their Xtra Extra Strength Berry shot, which is a certifiable miss in almost every sense of the word. On the positive side: it works. I did notice a nice increase in energy shortly after taking a swig that matched the intensity (and length) of most other energy drinks I’ve had. So at least there’s that. Unfortunately, it smells like a fermenting fruit of unidentifiable origin, and has an equally off-putting taste to match, that not only doesn’t even come close to resembling any type of fruit—much less a berry—but that has nary a trace of sweetness whatsoever. There are far too many other options out there to have to settle for something that tastes like this.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Unbranded Battery-Operated LED Projector Light (Dollar Tree)

UPDATE (Nov. 2020): Our local store finally got in a new shipment of these: I picked up one of each design (four total). We'll have an updated review in a month or so as we see how long these manage to last!
Cool when it works, junk when it breaks after a day.

This review doubles as both a look at the product, and a heartbreaking tale of childhood innocence lost; a tale of one three year old's sudden realization that the world can be a cold, heartless, cruel place, where happiness can be destroyed in the blink of an eye. (And yes, the titular product does play a large role in this story.)

My wife and I were “on vacation” in Cincinnati (more a weekend getaway, celebrating our anniversary), when we decided to check out the local Dollar Tree for a reason that escapes me at the moment (I'm sure to grab something we forgot to pack). The closest one to our hotel was rather large—we live within 2 miles of two small DT stores that are frequently short on inventory—so I decided to wander around a bit and see what kind of things they had that neither of our stores carried. And there, in the electronics aisle, is where I saw something that caught my eye: a small LED projector that projected the included image on a wall, ceiling, or any other surface you might have lying around. There are four images to choose from: a dinosaur scene, a starry night sky, a solar system, and fish in an aquarium. While our son would have been happy with any of them, after a little bit of deliberation, we decided on getting the “solar system” design, figuring it would be the one he would like the best.

Honestly, the product itself is kind of pointless—I expected the image to move, or do something besides just sit there, but I suppose that would require moving parts that would push it out of the dollar price point. Also something that apparently would drive up the price: including batteries. It requires 2 AAA batteries to operate, which are not included. That one wasn't a biggie for us, though, as we have a few of those lying around. 

Terrible picture, but you get the point.

The image is actually pretty clear, under the right conditions...namely complete darkness. Unlike “real” projectors, which obviously are larger and infinitely more powerful, even the smallest amount of light can render the projected image hard to see, assuming you're projecting it from a distance of about 7 feet away (roughly the distance from our floor to ceiling). If you're closer to the surface than that, the image tends to be much clearer, but also much smaller. Beyond eight or so feet (maybe a little bit longer), the image starts thinning out, becoming hard to see in even pitch black conditions. Depending on what you're going for, it can be a pretty tough balancing act trying to get a large, crisp picture, but it's possible with some noodling around (and, perhaps, a tempering of expectations).

One good thing about it, which the packaging curiously touts, is that it has “manual” functionality...that's apparently marketingspeak for an “on/off” switch. I wasn't aware that being able to turn something off and on was a special feature, but I guess anything can be considered an amenity when it only costs a dollar. 

Anyway, we showed it to our son, who immediately took a liking to it. He would pretend it was the moon, shining it all over the place, and then quickly turn it off, as apparently his version of the moon liked to hide. Then he repeated that same idea over and over again, the way kids do, forcing us to look for it in the darkness, and giggling as he turned it off to make it disappear again, leading us to feign shock at where it possibly could have gone.

His cackles and giggles were enough to keep it entertaining for longer than it should have been, but after what felt like 3 days (but was actually probably closer to 20 minutes), the “game” was finally over and the projector was set aside for a little bit, so he could rest and start the bedtime process. When he grabbed it an hour or so later to take it up to bed with him (he likes to pick one thing to sleep with, either a toy or stuffed animal, which continually rotates out), he was dismayed to discover that it wouldn't turn on.

I figured it was just out of batteries...while we only had it a total of about five days at this point (with only one days' worth of use), he did turn it off and on an awful lot, so I didn't think much of it. I replaced the batteries with a fresh set of rechargeables...nothing. Okay, so maybe the batteries weren't properly charged, so I replaced them with a fresh set of alkalines...still nothing. By now, this kid is flipping out—you'd think he was crying over the sudden loss of a family pet, or something. After about 30 minutes of inconsolable crying, my wife was finally able to gradually talk him down, under the agreement I would get him one on my way home from work the following day. (Little tidbit of unnecessary info: they were sold out at both locations by us, leading to even more sadness, though much more controlled than the previous night's tantrum.) 

Ignore the sloppy hotel room setting...the projector was placed on the floor in this image

Moral of the story: This thing died after just a single day of strong use. Now, to be fair, he did turn it off and on a large number of times within a relatively short time frame. Also, while I never actually witnessed him dropping it, or otherwise being rough with it, he is a young kid, so it's very possible that he was a little harder on it than he should have been. Still, there's nary a scratch on the outside of the product that would suggest something that could have caused a complete shutdown of the internal circuitry, so it's rather disappointing that it died so quickly.

At the end of the day, though, it is a cheap dollar product, presumably from China, and these things are unfortunately known to happen. We usually have pretty good luck with our Dollar Tree products, but a lot of these companies are pretty lax when it comes to things like quality control, so it's also possible we just got a faulty projector. I'm not ready to completely write these off, as we do intend to grab another one (or two, or three, like we should have when we saw them in-store), so I'll update the review accordingly once we manage to score one. In the meantime, though, all we have to go off of is the performance of this one, which unfortunately, was pretty dreadful.

Overall: 2/10. Long story short: this projector crapped out after a single day of use in the hands of our three year old son, who was absolutely devastated. He did turn it off and on an awful lot, and might have dropped it once or twice by accident, but he genuinely liked it, so it's not like he was carelessly flinging it around, or attempting to cause damage to it or break it. That being said, it was pretty cool while it did work, and he really liked seeing the image “attached” to the ceiling, or wall, or any other surface he would randomly place it on. Despite its quick failure, we're not quite ready to write them off completely just yet: there are often quality control issues with inexpensive Chinese tech (an unfortunate side effect of getting goods for such a cheap price), so it's very possible we got a faulty one. We plan on getting a few more as soon as we find a DT store that carries them (the two by us were both conveniently sold out), and will update this review once we see how long those last.

SIDE NOTE: These have apparently been available for quite some time, although I've never seen them in our local stores, and also have seasonal variants for Halloween and Christmas. That means they must be fairly popular, which probably wouldn't be the case if all of them broke almost instantly.