Even though it's not the most commonly used gadget, I've always thought that there was a fairly essential place for a mandoline in every kitchen. The question is, when you're shopping for a gadget that you're not going to use often, how worthwhile is it to invest in a quality product versus a budget buy? There seemed to be one particularly obvious way to find out, so I followed my intuition and brought home a gently priced, user-friendly version of the ever-dangerous tool: the Progressive International Folding Mandoline Slicer.
One of the reasons that this particular mandoline comes in at such a reasonable cost (under $20 at amazon.com) is that its body is made of plastic rather than metal. This almost seemed like an advantage to me--it meant less space for rust and an easier clean, even if that perfectly sleek look was somewhat compromised. However, I quickly came to learn that there were lots of other pros and cons to the machine.
Rather than having an adjustable slicer, the Progressive International model features three plates that can be interchanged for different results: thick, thin, and ultra-thin slices, along with the same options for julienne cuts. Easy as they are to configure, I was admittedly a little afraid when popping them in and out required me to apply pressure right near the blade, and winced when removing one plate almost seemed to nick or dent it. That couldn't be a good sign. And the pegs that hold your vegetables to the finger guard are temperamental too, which meant that my patience ran out just as I stopped fearing the machine (this, in turn, made my friends bite their nails in concern over my safety).
Even still, the mandoline works well enough when all the parts work in unison. It's kind of a big "if" to deal with, but once you get going, you're good until you're done. And a compact carrying case that keeps all parts (body and gadget) safe is a feature that should be made standard for any such tool.
Unless you're planning on doing some serious cooking with a mandoline or have the expendable budget, I probably wouldn't recommend going for a top-of-the-line model, but I'm not sure I'd recommend this one either. Looks like we're back at square one.