From driverless vehicles to OLED displays, we at Reviewed.com have been thinking a lot about the future lately, particularly as it relates to consumers. As a review site, we have to keep a constant, objective eye on the technology of today. But having a keen understanding of promising technology and design can yield insight into what one should expect from the gadgets and gizmos of the future. For that reason, we’re always on the look out for “what’s next."
With all the hubbub surrounding things like high-density supercapacitors and zero-gravity 3-D printers, it’s easy to overlook the simpler, more practical innovations of the modern home, like appliances. Recently, we took a look at some of the most interesting innovations in the dishwasher and toaster oven markets. Now it’s time to take a look at what is arguably the most important home appliance—the refrigerator.
The door-in-door fridge
The door-in-door fridge is exactly what it sounds like: a fridge with a door that includes a smaller door within in it. At first grasp it seems like a bit of a yawn, but these designs are all the rage in Europe and Asia right now—and for good reason.
There are a few reasons for their appeal. First, by opening a smaller fridge compartment to remove items you're not exposing the interior fridge to outside temperatures. This also makes the machine more efficient. Refrigeration efficiency is all about space and capacity—the more empty space a fridge has, the harder it has to work to maintain a uniform temperature. A door-in-door consumes more space without substantial loss to storage capacity. At least, that’s the argument.
Finally, augmented doors are ideal for storing foods that are consumed less frequently than other items in the fridge, such as condiments. Aside from simply being convenient, this may help prolong shelf life. In America, though, these kinds of fridges are rare, and it remains to be seen if the trend will catch on at all. Either way, it’s pretty nifty.
The fridge with a wine cooler
Similar to the door-in-door concept, a few European manufacturers have taken to fitting their fridge units with separate, temperature-unique wine coolers. We really like this idea, not only for its space-saving solution, but also because is just looks so awesome. There’s something really inviting about the rustic glow of a wine cooler, but they’re usually located at knee level or in some hidden kitchen nook. While a fridge with built-in wine cooler may consume vital storage space, it ensures an optimal temperature for wine storage, and it adds an attractive design element to you kitchen.
The fridge with a hot water tap
As of this writing, the hot water fridge tap is exclusively the realm of GE. And it’s quite the innovation. While it’s not exactly the unceasing fountain of piping hot water you might hope for, it is nonetheless one of the most practical fridge concepts we’ve seen in a while.
We recently had the privilege of testing the GE Cafe CFE29TSDSS, and it was one of the best fridges we’ve ever tested. Performance aside, the fridge delivers hot water in a variety of temperatures—from 90ºF to 185ºF. While it’s only about as fast as an electric kettle for most circumstances, it’s easier, saves counter space, and the water is prefiltered. $3,000 is a lot for such a convenience, but remember that the CFE29TSDSS is an exceptional fridge—hot water or no hot water.
The fridge that connects to the web
Smart fridges have been the subject of as much acclaim as they have derision. It’s not the efficient, utility-optimizing aspect of smart technology that has skeptics throwing a fit; it’s the connectivity—a knock most commonly expressed through the idea of a “fridge that tweets.” All the same, manufacturers have plowed ahead with prototype fridges and mass market releases that do just that.
In a March feature, Whirlpool senior director of connectivity and sustainability Warwick Stirling told us outright, “We don’t think it makes any sense to take a tablet, which has an innate benefit to being mobile, and glue it to the front of a fridge.” The comment was most likely in response to Samsung’s RF4289HARS, which includes an app-enabled front LCD display that allows you to tweet directly or listen to Pandora.
A more interesting possibility of a web connected fridge is one that itemizes its contents. Last year, Peapod launched a virtual grocery store in the form of a public interactive billboard. The idea is that consumers can shop for goods remotely and have them delivered to their homes, but the more promising extrapolation of this idea is a connected smart fridge that coordinates with online retailers to autonomously deliver goods to your home whenever something expires or runs out. That’s all still a ways away, but it’s exactly what manufacturers are envisioning.
The fridge with a camera
The interior camera is an extension of the smart home concept, providing your fridge with a key tool for keeping track of what's inside. A number of major manufacturers and third-party startups are finding ways to put cameras and other gadgets in your fridge. At this year’s IFA conference, Siemens unveiled a prototype fridge that includes two Microsoft web cams. In combination with an app, the cameras snap a new picture every time the door is opened or closed, which is then sent to your device. The idea is that it can stand in for your shoddy memory at the grocery store, or when you're sitting at work wondering what to cook for dinner.
A startup called Quirky has a camera gadget called Insider that does more or less the same thing. LG’s Swedish division took a more experimental approach by building a prototype fridge that tweets video each time the door is opened.
But the ability to remotely peek inside your fridge solves a fairly marginal problem. After all, what about pantry goods? Are you going to put a camera there, too? It seems silly to start outfitting every part of your kitchen just because you’re too lazy to make a grocery list.
The Blast Chiller fridge
This was one of our favorite products of last year, even if it is something of a party trick. LG’s Blast Chiller is a shoebox-sized console in the fridge that’s meant to rapidly cool lukewarm beer, wine, or any other beverage. By sucking in cold air from the freezer and quickly circulating it, the Blast Chiller is able to chill a single 12-ounce can from room temperature to 42ºF in just five minutes. The only question is, do you want to spend $3,500 on the fridge it’s housed in (the LG LFX31935ST)?
Another option will be available late next year in the form of Enviro-Cool’s V-Tex, which is a standalone beverage chiller that’s capable of cooling a 12-ounce can to 41ºF in less than 45 seconds!