You thought your 11-year-old clamoring for a Twitter account was a big deal? Now your fridge can get on Twitter, too. In its overall interior design, the Internet-connected Samsung RF4289HARS is a fairly standard refrigerator. There's nothing too surprising about its exterior, either, until you experience the 8-inch, Internet-connected LCD looming over the water and ice dispenser.
This model has actually been on the market since June 2011. Samsung has added a few new apps to the screen since it launched, but the basic experience represents the company's first attempt at an Internet-connected refrigerator. Given the $3,699 price tag on this fridge, Samsung, like other vendors, is clearly using high-end shoppers as a testing ground for smart appliance technology. Samsung previewed another LCD touch screen refrigerator at CES this year, the T9000. That version is not available in the United States yet (although you will find a touch-screen-free T9000 for sale here, by way of the RF32FMQDBSR).
The touch screen teases some interesting possibilities, but it's easy to see how it could improve. And of course, to recommend the RF4289HARS, it still needs to shine as a luxury refrigerator.
A large-capacity refrigerator (28 cubic feet, per Samsung) this unit includes a few elements that put it on par with other high-end fridges. Samsung's FlexZone Drawer, a short, 4-cubic foot drawer is useful for chilling things like wine, party trays, or setting up a kids-only section, even if it's not entirely unique to the category.
Samsung has also tucked some useful features in unexpected places. The freezer has a slot to house a 16-inch pizza flush against the door. In the refrigerator compartment, in addition to adjustable shelving, you can also slide the front portion of one shelf to the back, clearing out space for taller items on the shelf below.
The water and ice dispenser is not dramatically different than others, but with one key difference. Rather than sitting side by side, the paddles are nested on top of one another, making it easier to dispense ice and then water in one, nearly fluid movement.
This brings us to the 8-inch LCD touch screen.
The good news is that the screen is aesthetically pleasing and can play samba music from its Pandora app as you unload your groceries. I just wish it did a little more.
The screen doubles as both a lightweight information and media hub, as well as a control center for the fridge itself. Neither function is category-transforming, but you can also forgive Samsung for playing it safe with these functions. This is still early days for connected appliances.
The home screen displays internal temperatures of both the refrigerator and freezer compartments, the ice maker mode (crushed or cubed) as well as the time, the local weather, and an AP news feed. None of those features is especially surprising, but I also appreciate their simplicity. Putting the weather on the main screen spares you at least one check-in with some other device for that information, and all you have to do is walk into the kitchen to get it.
An icon dock lists the various apps along the home screen's bottom edge. The full list includes a memo program, a calendar, a photo viewer, Epicurious, Weatherbug, AP News, Pandora, Twitter, and Samsung's Grocery Manager app.
Most of the apps feel like either identical or stripped-down versions of their mobile device equivalents. WeatherBug, the AP feed, and Pandora all work as expected. The audio quality won't challenge a basic desktop speaker set, or even the sound output from a decent tablet, but Pandora at least sounds clear enough to enjoy across an average-size kitchen.
The Memo and Photo apps provide some utility, although programming a slideshow screensaver to replace the home screen overrides any hands-free, passive consumption benefits you get by displaying the weather and the news instead. I can imagine a well-meaning parent working to bring voice memos into the family routine, but a non-virtual Post-it Note and pen are still easier.
From here the apps begin to feel more like missed opportunities.
Receipt or in-home bar code scanning isn't ubiquitous enough to justify that function in an inventory control app right now, so I'm willing to forgive any manual entry. But Samsung's Grocery Manager app is overly simple. It only lets you input food by category (Beverage, Vegetable), not by specific type. The drag-and-drop icon-based interface is effective enough, but the grocery app that comes with LG's LFX31995ST is much more robust, since it offers you a grid with multiple categories, and then specific food items when you drill down (bacon bits, brisket). You can then check off multiple items at a time and log them in all at once.
One other gripe is that Samsung's fridge can't transmit information to another device. Sending an automated grocery list to your smartphone would be useful, for example. Its Epicurious support also suffers here. Imagine if you could synch your food inventory with Epicurious to generate recipes, or even a weekly dinner menu. Right now you can search Epicurious for recipes (independent of your inventory) and display them on the fridge. But to actually prep and cook from that recipe, you'd presumably need to open up Epicurious and search for the same recipe on another device. Without some kind of mirroring function, or at least the ability to send a recipe link from the fridge, you might as well just start on your phone to begin with.
Finally, in keeping with Samsung's apparent "no data out" policy, you can't tweet, retweet, or otherwise do anything but read from the fridge's Twitter app. I can't seriously be upset by read-only Twitter access on a refrigerator, but it did thwart my perfect vision of a jaded refrigerator novelty account.
As stated earlier, I can't fault Samsung for taking a measured approach to this early generation of smart refrigerator design. The company is surely gobbling up customer feedback in anticipation of a new revision, and competing efforts from LG, Whirlpool, GE, and others will have an impact as well. I will give the RF4289HARS the full review treatment once we have our tests up and running. Right now, I can't recommend it for its smart functions given the alternatives, particularly LG's LFX31995ST, which costs less. Samsung's unit could still impress us for its core fridge functions. It won't be long before a fridge in this price range will need to nail everything, though.
With an MSRP of $3,699, the RF4289HARS isn't a casual purchase but just barely outprices its only market competition. I'll report back in the coming months with a full review of the product and have more specific details about its overall performance.