Keeping Cool

Smart refrigerators are changing how you see your kitchen.

There are two schools of thought on smart appliances: those who can’t wait for the newest bells and whistles, and those who prefer to keep computer connectivity away from the kitchen. For either camp, improvements in technology keep food fresher longer, provide flexible door and drawer arrangements, and make a design statement in the kitchen. The refrigerator, after all, remains the hub of the home.

For the gadget enthusiast, whole-house connectivity is more possible now than ever. Bugs from earlier iterations of smart refrigerators are being addressed, and apps are becoming more user-intuitive. Voice-activated digital assistants such as Samsung’s Bixby can give a rundown on the day’s schedule, dial up the video doorbell, play podcasts or music through Pandora or Spotify on the refrigerator’s built-in speakers, or demonstrate recipes in video tutorials. 

Users can text notes or doodles that instantly post on the fridge’s screen. Cameras mounted inside the fridge can survey its contents and give use-by dates. The refrigerator can connect to other household appliances, controlling the washer and dryer, robotic vacuum, heating and cooling, music, and lighting. From command central, the user can search the Internet, hail an Uber, track a FitBit, order take-out delivery or fresh groceries, or access myriad other services. 

Some GE models have a built-in Keurig machine that can brew coffee, tea, or cocoa, activated by voice command and using filtered water from the refrigerator. Some Samsung models have a pitcher inside that automatically refills with cold water. Drawers operate at customizable temperature and humidity settings to allow deli meats, wine, produce, and defrosting foods to hold at the proper levels. Shelves can be raised and lowered with food on them. A KitchenAid fridge has an herb drawer that lets stems sit in water while leaves stay dry.

Samsung Family Hub 3.0 helps families post schedules, plan meals, and monitor what’s in the fridge. 

As demand increases, more apps and capabilities are coming, at price points near $5,000 and above. Who buys them?  A Virginia Beach Best Buy sales rep says large, active families with an interest in the latest technology want the Samsung Family Hub 3.0, for example, because it helps them post schedules, make meal plans, and monitor what’s in the fridge with lots of users.

For some, the screen is often a question of aesthetics and function. “You think of a refrigerator as a passive product,” Austin Holsten of E.A. Holsten, Inc. of Richmond says, “but some companies are putting in screens. We think looks and design are incredibly important. We don’t think, design-wise, a screen should be forced on an appliance.” Instead it can be connected to other devices already in the household such as phones and tablets. 

A caveat for smart appliance consumers comes from privacy and security experts, who warn that hacks remain a potential threat. Questions of who owns the user data that is gathered, and how it might be shared, are generating discussion in Congress. Manufacturers have built in some safeguards but still face vulnerabilities. As with all purchases, consumers have new questions to ask as they connect.  


This article originally appeared in our House + Garden 2019 issue.

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