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Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew review: A smarter Mr. Coffee that brews weakly and needs more connected-home links

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Mr. Coffee 10-Cup Smart Optimal Brew Coffeemaker Wemo Enabled

(Part #: BVMC-PSTX91)
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The Good The Mr.Coffee Smart Optimal Brew whips up drinkable pots of coffee in 10-cup batches, is a snap to clean, supports a weekly schedule and can be controlled via Belkin's WeMo mobile app.

The Bad The coffee the Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew makes is weak. The coffee maker doesn't talk to other WeMo smart-home products and lacks an IFTTT channel. It only holds enough water and grounds for one brew cycle.

The Bottom Line The Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew makes sense for those who get a thrill from commanding their coffee maker by mobile app but not for people seeking strong java flavor.

6.6 Overall
  • Performance 6.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Maintenance 7.0

Meet the Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew, the Mr. Coffee machine for the smart-home era. A coffeemaker with premium brewing aspirations in its own right, the $150 gadget also flaunts some slick smart home skills including integration with Belkin's WeMo-connected intelligent device platform. That means you can command the machine to brew from anywhere you have access to the WeMo mobile app and live Internet connection. The Optimal Brew also supports a fully customizable 7-day programmable schedule and is easy to handle and clean. There are drawbacks to the ambitious appliance, however; it brews weak coffee and can't talk to other Belkin WeMo sensors and switches. All this adds up to an interesting product for tech addicts but not for demanding coffee geeks who'd be better served splurging on a Bunn Velocity Brew BT or Bonavita BV1900TS.

Design

I bet when most people picture a Mr. Coffee appliance they recall one of the numerous cheap plastic gadgets clogging department store aisles. Boasting reflective faux-chrome and stainless-steel highlights set in a sober black plastic frame, the Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew is a different animal altogether. If you remove the fancy Belkin WeMo smart technology (and bright-green logo) from this machine, what's left would be a spitting image of Mr. Coffee's premium 10-cup drip brewer, the Optimal Brew Thermal.

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The Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew is actually quite handsome. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Standing 14.3 inches high, the Smart Optimal Brew is a tall kitchen appliance. Even so, at 8.8 inches wide and 7.1 inches deep, the coffeemaker is relatively slim and shallow. While not as compact as the pint-size Bonavita BV1900TS , the Mr. Coffee takes up less countertop space than serious coffeemaker giants such as the Breville YouBrew and Cuisinart Burr Grind and Brew. That makes it pretty easy to squeeze into tight spots around the kitchen.

Another attribute I really like about the Smart Optimal Brew is its highly modular design. For example, the rectangular water reservoir handily slides out from the top of the machine. It's a cinch to fill, either when sitting flat on a table or held over a faucet. And as someone who actually weighs out water for each test brewing, I appreciate how the tank moves from scale to coffee maker without any drama or high chance of spillage.

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The machine has a nice modular design with components that are easy to remove and clean. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Similarly the filter basket is really a small drawer you pull out from the appliance's right-hand side. The upside here is the entire assembly is simple to remove and clean by dropping its spent grounds plus flat-bottomed paper filter into the trash. Just remember to pop the disc-shaped water filter off (it sits on top) and flip open the basket lid first. Here, too, is a bright-red plastic indicator which Mr. Coffee provides to help track of when you should replace the circular water filter (monthly).

Brewing the old-fashioned way

As a basic coffeemaker, the Smart Optimal Brew is very simple to operate. There's just one square "brew now" button on the machine's front face, above and to the right of its drip brewer. To conventionally brew up a fresh pot of joe just fill the water tank with the volume of coffee you'd like to end up with, the reservoir holds a maximum of 10 cups. Then add the appropriate amount of coffee grounds to the brew basket's filter which can accept either flat-bottomed paper filters or permanent gold filters (sold by Mr. Coffee for $12). With these steps done, just hit the brew button, then wait for piping-hot java to trickle forth.

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Pull out the brew basket for fast ground refill. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Sitting front and center is a large cradle and flat base that houses the Optimal Brew's thermal carafe (Mr. Coffee calls it a decanter). Its steel frame is both sturdy and easy to pour from thanks to a lid that swivels on and locks up nice and tight. There's also a big thumb button on the container's handle that you must press for coffee to flow out of the spout, a welcome feature for klutzes like myself.

Mr. Coffee goes to smart-home school

What sets the Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew apart from ordinary programmable drip machines is its support for Belkin WeMo technology. Essentially WeMo is tech-accessory maker Belkin's foray into the burgeoning smart-home market. Smart-home gadgets are designed to communicate with each other over wireless computer networks and collaborate to create a more intelligent and automated household.

To this end the Smart Optimal Brew uses Wi-Fi wireless networking to talk to Belkin's WeMo mobile app on either iOS or Android phones and tablets. This gives the coffeemaker some novel capabilities such as full 7-day weekly programmable brewing schedule. So if you want to have the device automatically brew coffee at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday but perhaps 9 a .m. on Saturday and maybe 11 a.m. on Sunday, no sweat.

The WeMo app also provides a much more intuitive way to interact with the appliance than using the glorified VCR control pads common on basic programmable coffeemakers. You just tap the Mr. Coffee icon within the app then touch the green arrow under its name to tweak its brewing schedule. The appliance and WeMo app will also push notifications for when the water tank needs a refill or if the water filter is due for a replacement.

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Control the coffee maker via the Belkin WeMo app. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Likewise if you've prepped the machine but would like your coffee earlier than its schedule advises, simply hit the virtual brew button within the application. All this works from any location too as long as your mobile device enjoys an Internet connection.

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