What we loved and hated about the 2013 smart home
Four months after the launch of CNET Appliance Reviews, here's the best and worst of what we saw this year.
The CNET Appliances team has tested a whole bunch of stuff for you this year, from the surprisingly capable
"Smart" large appliancesSeveral manufacturers introduced new ways to incorporate "smart features" into large appliances in 2013 (the main large appliance categories include cooking, refrigeration, washers, dryers, and dishwashers). Now, "smart" is a broad, ambiguous term, but generally, we expect that to mean some form of connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) with an app and the ability to manage, monitor, or control something remotely and/or some sort of integrated tech like a touch screen.
It calls to mind the LG Smart ThinQ line, which includes a connected
Our take: The primary question we ask about the supposedly smart features in an appliance is "Will this feature help you get your chores done faster?" If not, you probably won't care about them. I'm not saying we don't find built-in 8-inch touch screens on refrigerators intriguing (a la the Samsung fridge), but they don't really impress us in practice.
I really think GE's double oven does "smart" features right. It comes with a well-designed app and a built-in LED status bar that gives you a clear visual indicator that displays how much more preheating time, cooking time, and so forth, you have left. That's helpful. The ability to read Twitter from my fridge? Not so much.
The smart home (small appliances)We've seen a lot of fantastic products come from the smart home category this year -- particularly in the areas of home automation, home security (systems and locks), gardening, and lighting. Many of them were innovation-focused crowdfunding success stories or start-ups, while others came from established companies. The latter in particular suggests that this whole "smart home/Internet of Things" thing isn't just a trend.
My favorite example of this is the Nest vs. Honeywell thermostat war. Nest introduced a "learning thermostat" that uses algorithms to study your usage patterns and help you save energy and money. Not long after, Honeywell introduced something very similar to the market.
Honeywell realized that Nest, a small company started by two former Apple employees, was on to something and had to play catch-up. If that isn't the Internet of Things showing its influence over a larger market, I'm not sure what is. And it isn't just happening in thermostats.
Our take: Smaller appliances in general are a fantastic place for experimentation. Where a fridge decked out in all sorts of "smart" tech can feel alienating to someone who just wants to store food, a small gadget that lets you control a basic, practical function around your house has pretty obvious appeal. Consider the light bulb.and LEDs (with better efficiency and all sorts of interesting features) are flooding the market.
But all of this "smart" tech still has to work. Take the $219
There's good news on this front, though. We really wanted these devices to work well because we could see their potential. We just expect them to be fully functional before they are sent out into the world. Same goes for you, Honeywell, re: the
The "dumb" home (small appliances)In addition to all the "connected" stuff we reviewed, we also tested toaster ovens, microwaves, blenders, vacuums, and coffee makers in 2013. I feel a bit guilty calling these appliances dumb because we really loved some of them. But, you have to differentiate them from the rest because none of them have advanced functionality; they are just good (for the most part), old fashioned home appliances.
Our take: You don't have to spend
We also discovered that you can make almond butter in the $200
We did it for scienceWe had a lot of fun testing all of this stuff for you in 2013, and we can't wait to see what will show up at the office next year. So stay tuned. We'll be kicking off 2014 with tons of (hopefully literally).