I stumbled upon this site yesterday Googling for "best knife for X", which I now understand is a very naive question. It looks like this forum has several knowledgable folks who don't seem to mind helping newbies like myself over and over, so I thought I'd just jump in and ask away. :) I'll try to fill in some of the details that I see get asked below, but if it would help to know more, I'm happy to try to answer.
Background - I would not even really consider myself an amateur cook; rather, I find myself cooking more meals at home than I used to and would like to get better at it. (Up until a few months ago, the only things I knew how to "cook" involved plastic wrap or pre-made mixes.) Most of my knife use at the moment is either slicing/chopping vegetables or boneless meat (chicken breast, salmon, etc.). The most arduous thing I do regularly with a knife is skinning fish fillets I get from the grocery store.
Current equipment - My wife and I have a horrible, old, cheap set of kitchen knives. What started my search for new knives was trying (!) to use our largest knife to cut a mini watermelon in half - the knife was so dull I was worried about it slipping the whole time I was using it. We also have one good knife: a Wusthof Classic 4.5" utility knife. I use this for basically everything, although it doesn't seem all that sharp. I have no real background to really judge this, but I have to use more force than it seems like I should with a quality knife. Perhaps my biggest issue is that I don't really know how to sharpen a knife correctly - one thing I've been searching for is a "fool-proof" knife sharpener; Amazon reviews lead me to http://www.amazon.com/Presto-08810-Professional-Electric-Sharpener/dp/B000TYBWJ0/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=39TDKI5VHZWUF&coliid=I28WPDMXARDTR8. Is this sort of thing really useful, or do I need to dig in and learn how to use some other equipment?
Other - Having gotten by with bad, dull knives for a long time, I don't know that I'm in any particular hurry to have an entire knife set. I think I'd like to get a small paring knife and a chef's knife for sure, and possibly a knife that's well suited to skinning fish fillets (if neither of those is). Budget is somewhat flexible; I'm okay spending a few hundred dollars but have no need for top-of-the-line or "style" or anything like that. Unfortunately I am unaware of any stores nearby where I could actually feel any of the brands that I see recommended here with some regularity.
What I think I want - I have little kids. I won't intentionally mistreat good knives (e.g., always handwash, never dishwasher), but I can't always tend to proper maintenance in a timely manner. It would be good if "wash and dry when finished" was all the immediate attention a knife required. My wife and I will share any knives I get and she has the same outlook toward care. Given that my Wusthof "feels" not sharp enough, I think I lean towards the Japanese style blades, but this could also be just because the knife I have isn't sharpened correctly.
Thanks for any advice!