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Spring cleaning at CNET's Smart Home starts with a new washer and dryer

Are there any connected laundry appliances clever enough to replace the CNET Smart Home's un-smart washer and dryer? Read on to find out.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The CNET Smart Home, a 5,800-square-foot house where we test out connected tech, is now full of app-enabled thermostats, fans, blinds, a security system and more. But what about large appliances?

There aren't as many smart ovens or fridges as there are LEDs, security cameras and other small gadgets, but we still want to explore the broader market and understand what's out there. Our goal is to find connected large appliances that actually add some value. And believe us, not every app-enabled appliance is truly smart.

Starting in the laundry room with washer and dryers, there aren't a ton of options in the market right now. Still, the goal is to see if there's anything advanced enough to make the chore of doing laundry a little less, well, chore-like.

Now playing: Watch this: CNET's Smart Home takes smart laundry appliances for...

The smart laundry landscape

While many of today's washers and dryers put some focus on energy savings, including higher efficiency cycles and detergents, few would quality as "smart." In fact, of the 10 or so well-known washer and dryer manufacturers in the United States, fewer than half even offer app-enabled machines.

GE has some new connected washing machines that work with IFTTT, but there's no way to initiate a cleaning cycle remotely. LG's Twin Wash machine works with a related app, but it was extremely glitchy when we reviewed it. Samsung appears to have big plans for connected large appliances, including the potential for Alexa integration, but its current Smart Washer app only works with select 2014 washing machines.

Then there's Whirlpool. We wrote about the $1,399-each Whirlpool Smart Cabrio Top Load Washer and Dryer back at CES 2015 over a year ago. A nice, but fairly regular-looking top-load pair, this washer and dryer work with a related Android and iOS Whirlpool app that seemed to have some potential.

The app allows for remote start/pause of cycles; it gives you details on how much time is left in your cycle and the related washer and dryer are part of Works with Nest, a program that connects Nest products, typically at least the Nest Learning Thermostat, with products from other manufactures. Works with Nest partners range from Lutron to Keen Home Vents, Mercedes-Benz and yes, Whirlpool, too.

Whirlpool's Works-with-Nest-compatible Smart Cabrio Top Load Washer and Dryer.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Whirlpool's app can also pull in energy data from your local electric company on an opt-in basis to give you average usage stats by cycle type based on either energy or demand. You can enable alerts so you know exactly when your washer and dryer have finished. Select Whirlpool refrigerators and dishwashers can supposedly be added to the app as well, with their own set of smart functions.

No, Whirlpool's Smart Cabrio laundry combo doesn't work with any Amazon-Alexa-compatible products -- our new centerpiece for the CNET Smart Home -- but they're still comparatively smarter than a lot of the other laundry appliances available today. So we thought we'd take them for a spin to see if the listed features really work as promised.

The app in action

After our technical editor, Chance Lane, installed the Smart Cabrio washer and dryer, I downloaded the app and began the configuration process. This should have been simple, in theory.

Here's how it's supposed to go:

I was able to connect the washer and dryer...eventually.

Screenshots by CNET

Select "Add Appliance" in the app and follow the seemingly straightforward step-by-step tutorial. This includes selecting the type of appliance you want to connect -- either a washer, dryer, refrigerator or dishwasher -- then the app lists the compatible models. Next, you choose the model number that corresponds to your unit, enter the SAID pin (this number is listed in small font on a sticker when you open the washer and dryer's lid), connect to Wi-Fi, enter your home address and finally, hit the "finish" button.

Unfortunately, I experienced a couple of hiccups during what should have been a 10-minute process. The first time I tried to add the washing machine, the app crashed and would not let me log in for another 2 hours, saying, "Problem Signing In: Please try again Later."

Once I was able to log in again, I ran into another road block when I hit the "finish" button -- the very last step before the machine is connected and you can start using the app. This time the app said, "Registration Error: We couldn't register the appliance. Please try again later."

After a few calls to Whirlpool's customer service line (1-800-253-1301) where I was instructed to unplug the washer, press and hold the "connect" button to reset the washer, restart the app, and then my phone, I was able to connect both the washer and dryer successfully -- although it turned into a several-hour ordeal from downloading the app initially to completing the setup steps.

But wait! It really does work

I can hear your eyes rolling, but here's the thing. That configuration hassle was (mostly) worth it.

After everything was set up, I was able to initiate wash and dry cycles remotely, pause them and start them again; it was very responsive. I also received prompt alerts letting me know when my washer or dryer had finished. And, the peak/off hours energy information (see the screenshot below) is pulled directly from your local company, in our case Louisville Gas & Electric; you also get usage stats by machine and cycle.

Inside the Whirlpool iPhone app.

Screenshots by CNET

Nest and Whirlpool's Smart Cabrio washer and dryer work together.

Screenshot by CNET

There's also a Nest thermostat installed in the house right now and when it was set to Home, the washer and dryer switched to "Quiet Mode" automatically -- a feature that runs the machines at a lower decibel. And when the thermostat was set to Away, the dryer automatically initiated the "Wrinkle Shield" feature, which tumbles your clothes periodically even after the main cycle has ended to keep everything fresh.

The only thing that requires any effort on your part is that you have to enable the "Remote Start" feature on your washer and dryer in anticipation of starting a cycle remotely later on. This involves pressing down the "Download & Go" button on the machine for about three seconds and then holding the start button until the small Remote Start icon in the center of the display panel stops flashing. That essentially "wakes up" the remote control function in the app for future use.

But there's a significant drawback with this sort of requirement -- you have to plan ahead. Most of the time, if I've loaded clothes in the washer or dryer without starting the cycle, it's because I forgot. And if I've forgotten to start a cycle, I also probably didn't think to enable the Remote Start feature.

So aside from the wonky, glitchy setup, I wish Whirlpool could make Remote Start an "always on" function, something those forgetful folks among us can fall back on. Even so, Whirlpool's Smart Cabrio Top Load Washer and Dryer are pretty darn smart and, once set up, make a welcome addition to the CNET Smart Home.

At the same time, we haven't reviewed this laundry pair yet in terms of actual cleaning and drying performance, so it's difficult to recommend them today based on smart features alone. We're planning to transfer the Smart Cabrio models from the Smart Home to our large appliance test facility across town soon though, so stay tuned for a full washing machine and dryer review. If it turns out that the performance delivers, this smart laundry combo will likely be a worthy contender for anyone considering a top-load washer and dryer upgrade.