Samsung's super-fridge packs everything but the kitchen sink

The $5,000 refrigerator boasts a giant built-in touchscreen that lets you watch TV, as well as cameras to take shots of the stuff in your fridge.

Samsung's new Family Hub Refrigerator sports a 21.5-inch screen on the door and cameras inside to snap photos of your food.

Ry Crist/CNET

Forget making a list for the grocery store. Now all you need to do is pull up a photo on your phone that your refrigerator sent you showing all its contents.

Yes, that's right. Your new Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator just sent you a picture of what's on its shelves, confirming that you do indeed need milk.

This is no ordinary refrigerator.

Samsung's latest and flashiest appliance, unveiled Tuesday at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, has more bells and whistles than some mobile devices. The $5,000 fridge comes with three cameras hidden inside to take photos of all the foodstuffs on its shelves.

It also sports a 21.5-inch touchscreen built into the front door. You can mirror the video feed from your Samsung smart TV to the display as well as access certain apps, like playing music from streaming service Pandora, syncing your schedule to a family calendar with the Sticki app or one day asking Amazon's Alexa digital voice assistant to do things like set a kitchen timer. The Groceries by MasterCard app lets you order goods from FreshDirect and ShopRite, while Samsung's SmartThings home automation software lets you remotely adjust the fridge's temperature or get an alert if the door is left open.

Is it a little over the top? Sure. Has it already been mocked relentlessly on the Internet? Yep. Does it cost as much as a used car? Um, yeah. But for once, Samsung might have found a way to make a smart refrigerator that's actually, well, smart enough to be useful.

"The role of the kitchen has evolved quite a bit from when the first generation of refrigerator was introduced," becoming more of the home's center instead of just a place to store food, Yoon C. Lee, vice president of insight concept and portfolio for Samsung's digital appliances business, said in an interview. "We're excited and anxious and nervous about...what path this will go down."

Samsung has some reason for concern. The South Korean company, like many other tech giants, is making a big push in the market around Internet of Things, where everything from washing machines to TVs use sensors and other technologies to connect to the Web. If it's up to the tech industry, pretty soon every appliance and gadget you buy will be smart.

The display in Samsung's new refrigerator supports apps like streaming music player Pandora.

Ry Crist/CNET

Market research firm Gartner predicts the number of networked devices will surge to 25 billion units by 2020 from about 900 million in 2009. Researcher IDC estimates the Internet of Things market will hit $3.04 trillion that same year.

Samsung, hoping to capitalize on our interest in smart tech, vowed at CES last year that all of its products, which totaled 665 million units in 2014, will be able to connect to the Internet by 2020.

The problem with all of those smart devices, though, is they aren't really all that smart. While they connect to the Internet, there's still not much you can do with many of them, photos of your fridge shelves aside. It's unlikely you're going to turn on your washing machine while you're still at the office, unless you also have a handy robot maid to toss your dirty clothes in the first place.

Samsung's Family Hub Refrigerator isn't the company's first connected refrigerator, but previous models haven't won over consumers. For many, a smart refrigerator seems more like the punch line to a joke than something we'd actually buy.

"Smart refrigerators, like most smart home gadgets, often sound better in theory than they work in reality," said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research.

But the Family Hub Refrigerator aims to be different. CNET reviewer Ry Crist called the new fridge "the most ambitious appliance Samsung has ever launched" and dubbed it the "the most compelling appliance built for the smart home that we've seen to date."

Lee said that when making smart kitchen appliances, Samsung caters to four needs -- what you eat, what you see (family photos), what you hear (playing music) and what you manage (schedules and grocery lists). That focus helps the company make products that are simple to use yet let you do things that are helpful, like figuring out if you have enough milk in your fridge, he said.

In the future, Samsung will encourage more software makers to create apps for the refrigerator. It also plans to introduce a feature that lets you mirror the contents of your smartphones and tablets -- and not just Samsung devices -- on the fridge's display.

In the end, what really matters is what's in your fridge. "There is an inevitable human desire [to know] what the hell is in my refrigerator, how long has it been there, and what can I do with those ingredients?" Lee said. "We're just trying to give solutions to those three questions."

Check out CNET's full coverage of 2016 CES.

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