If you think smart appliances are part of some futuristic pipe dream, think again. Home appliances that can communicate with each other and the wider world are already on showroom floors. A few of them are pretty impressive, and many of them are quite affordable.
That said, we've yet to find a smart feature that makes any appliance a must-buy, and the ecosystem surrounding them hasn't developed enough to justify a total smart-home renovation. These machines can't do your laundry for you, and they can't auto-magically manage your food inventory and order your groceries—at least not yet.
But the current crop of appliances can make your life a little easier, depending on your needs. If you're on the lookout for a new refrigerator, dishwasher, or laundry machine, we've tested a few models with smart features that we think are worth your money.
The Early Adopter
Did you own a shoebox-sized CD player way back in 1982? Is there a clickwheel iPod stuffed in the back of your desk drawer? Congratulations: You're an early adopter! You have to have the latest tech, regardless of how much it costs or whether the tech is really ready for prime time. For you, there's an exciting slew of smart appliances already on the market—though you might have to hunt for them.
For high-tech kitchens, we're fans of Samsung's suite of smart appliances that can connect to the internet, and to your smartphone. The RF4289HARS fridge has a touchscreen control panel that can display Twitter updates, link with a Google calendar, and even stream music off Pandora. An update announced at this year's CES will also let it connect with the popular Evernote note taking platform.
As far as fridge-related functions are concerned, a food-manager app lets users enter in reminders about when food expires. The app is more labor-intensive than some fridges in South Korea that can import information about food just by scanning a barcode on a receipt. But fastidious folks who also love gadgets might appreciate a fridge that tells them when the milk has gone bad. The downside to a feature-laden fridge like this, though, is that it costs an outrageous $3,699—the fridge performance is solid, but doesn't quite live up to the price tag.
Over in the laundry room, Samsung's WF457 washer and DV457 dryer pair also have touchscreen controls and internet connectivity. Each can download custom cycles to tackle any load of laundry, and both can be controlled remotely by a smartphone. Since washers and dryers can't automatically load themselves, the smartphone app is more useful as a remote timer than as a remote control. Like the Samsung smart fridge, these are solid laundry machines that cost a bit more than a comparable conventional machine with similar clothes-cleaning performance.
The Hassle-Free Homeowner
You've got kids to pick up, a presentation to prepare, and you had to work late last night. You need an appliance that saves you time. While plenty of washers and dryers are designed to work as a pair, GE's CleanSpeak communication system allows the washer to tell the dryer just what cycle to prepare for the load of wet laundry it's about to receive.
There's no WiFi password to add, just an ethernet cable that links the two machines. When your washer is done cleaning your clothes, it'll signal to the dryer exactly what cycle time and temperature is ideal for getting them ready to wear again.
We tested CleanSpeak on the new GE GTWS8650DWS washer and GTDS820EDWS dryer, and our results reminded us of an '80s buddy-cop film: Though the washer and dryer each had its foibles, they put aside their differences and worked together as a team. Both machines earned middling scores in our performance tests, but the CleanSpeak feature works as advertised. If you're a clock-watching clothes-cleaner, it'll actually save you some valuable time—up to 10 minutes, according to our tests.
The Technically Challenged
The dishwasher's leaking. You're not handy enough to fix it, but you also hate taking a day off to wait for a repair person, only to have him or her tell you that the part your dishwasher needs isn't on the truck and will take two weeks to special order. That's when you'll wish you had an appliance that could diagnose itself.
Most modern appliances contain a self-diagnostic module, usually an inscrutable code that appears on a control panel and must be decoded by a technician. In the case of LG appliances equipped with Smart Diagnosis, however, anyone can unlock that code with just the help of a smartphone.
The latest iteration of Smart Diagnosis works with a smartphone app that gives detailed information about repairs. When something goes wrong, just enter the app and hold the phone up to a tiny speaker that emits a sound. The app deciphers the code and will tell you whether you can repair the problem yourself (like changing a water filter), or offer the option to call up LG's repair service, in the case of a more serious malfunction. The feature is available on many LG appliances across plenty of price points, making this one of the most accessible (and practical) ways to get your first smart appliance.
Despite these examples of real, live smart appliances, we're somewhat cautious. In fact, if we were looking to renovate our kitchen today, we wouldn't make smart features a top priority. Some of our favorite washers, dryers and fridges happen to have smart connectivity, but that generally isn't why we like them—core performance is still our most important factor for deciding what to recommend. Smart appliance technology is certainly progressing rapidly, but we think it'd be smart to wait a few years and see what develops before you try to build your own kitchen of the future.
This wraps up our five-part series on smart appliances. Check out the other entries here.
Photos: Reviewed.com; GE