Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Smart fridges come with a hefty price tag for features you already have access to on your smartphone or tablet.
  • Many smart fridge functions, such as food tagging, can be easily replicated with apps on an iPad or Android tablet for a fraction of the cost.
  • The versatility of an iPad in the kitchen outweighs the limited usefulness of a smart fridge, offering more functionality and value in the long run.

Smart products are taking over our homes, whether we like it or not. Fridges with computer screens on them are nothing new, but they’ve yet to see widespread adoption in our kitchens. There’s a good reason for that.

The Problem with Smart Fridges

Smart fridges integrate the sort of functionality you get with a tablet or smartphone into a fridge door. They started as simple internet-connected concepts in the 2000s, later incorporating full Windows-powered PCs. Most current models are likely to be running the Android operating system.

Beyond simple touchscreen functionality like a notes app, a web browser, and access to media like YouTube and Spotify, some smart fridges go a step further. You can find smart fridges with cameras inside, or some vague promise of AI-powered features.

You will pay dearly for a smart fridge, even though you probably already own a device that can accomplish 95% of the same tasks without being stuck in your kitchen. You almost certainly own a smartphone, but you might have a tablet or a wearable. These devices can do what a smart fridge can do, and more.

An iPad Mini with an Apple Pencil on a lap desk
Kris Henges / How-To Geek

It’s typical for smart fridges to incorporate smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, just like smart speakers, smartphones, wearables, and computers. Smart fridges can play music and stream video, some may even be able to take calls or selfies. Ultimately, you’re paying a premium for a solution that’s still looking for a problem.

Sure, you can check the internal camera while you’re at the store to see if you need milk. You could also just check the fridge before you leave the house, or buy the milk anyway. Spending a few dollars on surplus milk once in a while is still the cheaper option.

And those internal fridge cameras can only see so much. The space inside your fridge is tight, and the camera needs an ultra-wide lens to see anything. If you keep your milk in the door, this feature might not even work for you.

Smart Fridges by the Numbers

Smart fridges from the likes of Samsung demand quite the premium compared to their dumb counterparts. Comparing a Samsung Family Hub smart fridge with a regular old Samsung French Door fridge for sale on Best Buy reveals a premium of $1,140 when comparing the retail price, a real-world difference of $850 when adjusted for sale prices.

Both fridges are the same size (25 cubic ft), feature the same stainless steel finish, and can dispense chilled water. Both models have some smart connectivity, but the “dumber” fridge only features Wi-Fi connectivity to send alerts when the door is left open or your filter needs changing.

Samsung Smart Fridge with Family Hub.

This is just one example, but it’s indicative of the overall trend. You’ll pay more for features you might not need, functionality that’s not yet available, and one more device to worry about in terms of security and device updates. Smart fridges aren’t even an option if you’re on a budget, or if you’re looking to squeeze a fridge into an especially tight space.

Take a look at the cost of an iPad or a cheaper Android tablet that accomplishes many of the same tasks. A basic entry-level 10th-generation iPad starts at $349. A magnetic mount to secure your iPad to the fridge can be had for less than $30. Android tablets from Samsung and Google are comparably priced, while Amazon’s Fire tablets can be had for under $200.

Throw in a good quality Bluetooth speaker or a smart speaker for less than $100, and you’ve got an infinitely more versatile setup that sounds better and can do so much more. I’d say that even if the cost of an iPad and a few accessories was more than the difference between a regular and a smart fridge, it would still provide better value.

Your Kitchen Could Use an iPad

Almost all of the selling points for a smart fridge can be found in a tablet like the iPad, except for the internal fridge camera. Being able to position an iPad anywhere in your kitchen immediately makes it more versatile. Tablets are perfect for following recipes since recipe apps are plentiful. Tablets also have built-in note-taking apps and web browsers, ideal for following along as you cook.

I keep my recipes in Apple Notes, and I tweak them as I make changes or discover variations. Sometimes I use my device camera to scan a recipe from a book I’ve borrowed. Other times I take a picture of dishes that I’m particularly pleased with, and store it right there in Notes so I have something to aim for next time. I can’t imagine this working very well on a fridge.

I don’t need to keep running back to the fridge or asking the smart assistant to dictate my recipe aloud over and over again. You can keep an iPad on your benchtop, safely away from spills in a dedicated tablet stand, or propped up in an old recipe book holder.

Samsung smart fridges have a “food tagging” feature that effectively functions as a reminder app for expiry dates. As you add food to your fridge you’re expected to log it (manually), and then the fridge will let you know when things are expiring to prevent food waste. Apps like Pantry Inventory, Fridgely, and Smantry do the same thing. You could get similar functionality with a basic reminder app.

People using iPad in Logitech Rugged Folio while cooking

Apple’s work on making the iPad a multi-tasking machine doesn’t go amiss here either. With Split View, you can pin a recipe to the side of the screen while you watch a YouTube video or control music playback on the other side. You can even have a FaceTime call without losing your place, and Center Stage will keep you in shot while you dash around the kitchen.

Siri isn’t the strongest assistant, but it’s good enough for quickly converting units like cups or fluid ounces to milliliters and grams or setting timers with labels. Google and Amazon’s smart assistants are better, and an Android tablet might allow you to pick between them. All of these assistants have hands-free trigger phrases that rely solely on your voice.

The iPad Can Do Other Things Too

Having a computer glued to your fridge feels wasteful. Having an iPad that you can leave on the fridge when you’re not using it makes more sense.

A tablet can venture with you to other mystical realms, like the living room or bedroom. You can hand it to your children so that they can watch videos or play games. You can use it to control your smart home. You can use it for music production or buy a cheap stylus and doodle in your spare time.

Use SideCar with a Mac and turn your iPad into a second display. Install Netflix or another streaming app and download content to watch online. The iPad is the perfect antidote to long plane journeys, train rides, and road trips. It’s also perfect for all those little things you do on your phone: browsing social media, taking notes, skimming the news, and so on.

For a kitchen gadget, any cheap iPad will do. The cheapest 10th-generation model is only $349, but the last generation 9th-generation model can still be found at retailers like Best Buy for $249. It’ll be covered in flour and pancake batter before long anyway.

Will Smart Fridges Ever Be Worth It?

Smart fridges are a gimmick. They cost too much considering the functionality that they provide, and they lack enough technology to make them truly smart. Things may improve as AI makes its way into these devices, but I’m still having a hard time imagining a smart fridge that I want to buy.

My fridge is overloaded with vegetables, condiments, hot sauce, miso paste, dry goods that I don’t trust outside of the fridge, sparkling water, and leftovers. I can’t see what’s in my fridge when I open it. A camera would not be helpful even if HAL-9000 was on the other end of the feed.

Maybe I need a better system of organization. Maybe I need a bigger fridge. Given the choice between “smart features” and more room for hot sauce, I know what I’m going to pick.

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By John P.

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