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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Tovala Smart Oven review:

Pony up for a meal plan if you want this smart oven

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The Good You scan the bar code from Tovala's prepackaged, refrigerated meals on the the $400 Tovala Smart Oven, and the appliance automatically cooks them with little effort on your part. The Tovala meals are leaps and bounds ahead of traditional convenience foods like frozen TV dinners.

The Bad The Tovala Meals are expensive. As a countertop steam oven, the Tovala itself is just OK. And the accompanying app doesn't add much to your cooking.

The Bottom Line This appliance is at its best when you pair it with the company's delicious meals. Not into a meal delivery service? Consider a regular countertop oven.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.1 Overall
  • Performance 8.0
  • Usability 7.0
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 6.0

You know how some students do well on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, but barely pass their regular classes? The $400 Tovala Smart Oven is the appliance version of this phenomenon. (Stick with me, this will make sense soon, I promise.)

The Tovala Smart Oven, which you can order through the company's website, is a Wi-Fi connected countertop appliance with a built-in QR code scanner. It reads the codes on the $12, prepackaged, refrigerated meals that the company delivers through a subscription service. Then, the oven cooks them according to instructions it downloads from the cloud.

The $400 Tovala Smart Oven is comparable in size to a large microwave or toaster oven.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The company's meals, called Tovala Meals, are like the standardized tests I mentioned earlier. This is where the Tovala oven hits its sweet spot. The meals' ingredients are fresh and imaginative, and the oven consistently brings out the best in them thanks to a combination of a baking element, a broiler, steam and a convection fan. 

But when it comes to the daily functions (aka the regular classes of my comparison), the Tovala comes up short. There's not much to the oven once you take away the company's meals and scanner, and that's a problem for folks who just want a new small appliance without the commitment of a meal delivery subscription. Sure, you can use the Tovala as you would any other countertop oven to steam bake, broil and toast your own food. But you have to control most functions through a clumsy, bare-bones app. 

Consider the Tovala if you're in the market for meal delivery service that requires minimal cooking and you don't mind adding another appliance to your kitchen. Just want to upgrade your countertop oven and not your diet? Shop around for another appliance that doesn't rely on a costly subscription service.

Tovala looks like a toaster oven, but cooks with steam

The Tovala resembles a jacked toaster oven. It's 9.25x12.88x12.25 inches with about 2.72 cubic feet of room inside. The chunky control panel is pretty simple. There are three buttons: toast, heat and cancel. You use a knob on the panel to adjust toast settings from one to five. The scanner is built within the panel, so you hold QR codes beneath it.

The Tovala's control panel has toast, heat and cancel buttons. The display shows the cooking time. You control toast levels with the knob at the center. The blue lights indicate water levels in the reservoir.

Chris Monroe/CNET

When you open the Tovala's door, there is a removable water reservoir built into the side of the oven. The water creates steam that helps inject moisture into foods as they cook. This was a nice feature that helped keep meats juicy and baked goods light. There is a convection fan built into the oven wall to circulate air while the Tovala bakes. The oven also comes with one rack and one tray you can use with your own food.

Tovala Meals are the main attraction

Tovala designed its oven primarily around its meal subscription delivery, and its meals specifically for the oven. In other words, you can't have one without other, so it's time to turn foodie for a bit.

The main parts of a Tovala Meal entree come in aluminum pans. Additional ingredients come in plastic containers. The whole thing comes wrapped in a cardboard package. All of the containers are recyclable.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Here's how Tovala's meal subscription delivery works: You sign up for a meal plan when you order the Tovala from the company's website (you can't get the meals without the oven, but you can cancel your meal subscription once you have the oven). Right now, there's only two options: three one-person meals for $36 a week, or three two-person meals for $72 a week. You pick your three meals from a rotating weekly menu of five to six entrees, and Tovala ships them to you in a cold pack.

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