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3 Squares Tim3 Machin3 Multi-Cooker review: Back to the kitchen to test out the Tim3 Machin3

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EDITOR'S NOTE, 11/7/2016, 11:15 AM: 3 Squares has issued a recall for Tim3 Machin3 models with non-detachable power cables due to a potential electrical hazard. For more information, click here.

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7.4

3 Squares Tim3 Machin3 Multi-Cooker

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The Tim3 Machin3 produced acceptable results in every one of our tests, which is particularly impressive given its wide range of cooking modes. It also features sensor tech typically found in much costlier cookers.

The Bad

At $70, it's priced at a premium over other rice cookers, including ones that offer similar features. The slow-cooking performance was also fairly mediocre.

The Bottom Line

Though a bit pricey, the Tim3 Machin3 is well-rounded enough to merit consideration, especially if you think you'd enjoy using the quinoa and yogurt settings.

I'll admit, I felt a certain degree of skepticism when I first heard about the Tim3 Machin3 multi-cooker from 3 Squares. Though it's built like an everyday rice cooker, the Tim3 Machin3 promises to do much more, with additional presets for quinoa, oatmeal, and yogurt, along with three dedicated slow cooking settings. It also claims it'll automatically sense how long your food needs to cook -- just hit start, and the Tim3 Machin3 will largely do the rest.

Skepticism aside, the Tim3 Machin3 actually worked quite well when I tested the thing out. Though some recipes yielded better results than others, none of the presets failed to produce decent food -- a better outcome than I had expected going in. The catch, of course, is that the Tim3 Machin3 costs $70. (That's few pounds under £50, or about AU$90, converted roughly. Though not currently available in the UK or Australia, 3 Squares tells me that they're looking into possible international expansion in the near future.)

Seventy bucks isn't all that bad for a countertop overachiever, and if that's what you're in the market for, then I think the Tim3 Machin3 deserves consideration. Still, shop around, and you'll find scores of well-rated rice cookers that cost a lot less, including ones with sensors and slow cook settings. Unless you cook rice regularly, or you're especially excited by those dedicated quinoa and yogurt presets, the Tim3 Machin3 might not bring quite enough to the table to justify the splurge.

Tales from a Tim3 Machin3-powered test kitchen (pictures)

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Design and features

3 Squares didn't re-invent the wheel here -- the Tim3 Machin3 looks a lot like the rice makers it's competing with. There's a small degree of style to the thing, thanks mostly to the futuristic font on the buttons, but typeface alone does not a time machine make. Given the high concept name, and that it's priced as an upgrade, I wish the Tim3 Machin3's build was at least a bit more unique.

Look over the Tim3 Machin3's display, and you'll quickly get a sense of just how versatile it's trying to be. Along with the dedicated white and brown rice presets, you'll find a "Quick Rice" preset that promises to shave several minutes off the cook time. Beyond rice, there are presets for oatmeal, quinoa, yogurt, and steam cooking, as well as three distinct slow cook settings and a delay timer mode that'll let you fill the pot with your ingredients in the morning, then come home to a freshly cooked dinner in the evening.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Tim3 Machin3 comes packaged with a silicone rice paddle and a plastic steaming tray insert that sits over the pot for cooking things like meat and veggies. You can use the steaming tray above liquid, or above a batch of rice -- in one my of my first tests, I made garlic rice, chicken breasts and asparagus all at once, and all three came out tasting great.

You also get a smallish measuring cup, and 3 Squares recommends you use it as you follow along with the recipes in the manual. One "cup" actually measures just over a half cup, so when the manual tells you that the Tim3 Machin3 can accommodate up to 10 "cups" of uncooked rice, it really means 5 or 6. That's still pretty good, capacity-wise, but it can get a little confusing.

The "Fuzzy Logic" sensor in the center of the heating element is the same one that you'll find in high-end rice makers that sell for well over $100. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Inside the Tim3 Machin3, you'll find a 1.21 gigawatt 900-watt heating element with a pressure sensitive "Fuzzy Logic" sensor in the middle. This sensor monitors the weight of whatever's in the pot, along with the temperature. That, combined with the Tim3 Machin3's ingredient-specific presets, is how the cooker knows how long to run each cook cycle for.

You'll also find the Fuzzy Logic sensor in high-end rice makers that sell for nearly twice as much as the Tim3 Machin3 -- if you cook a lot of rice and you've been coveting a cooker like that, then you might be particularly interested in what 3 Squares is offering here.

The Tim3 Machin3 will cycle its lights during the cook time. Once it detects the rice is nearly done, it'll begin counting down from 10 minutes. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Performance and usability

Using the Tim3 Machin3 is a cinch. With rice, you'll just add your ingredients, hit start, and wait twenty or thirty minutes. That's a lot more convenient than making the stuff on the stovetop, where you'll need to keep an eye on the pot and be careful not to overcook your batch. The same is true for the oatmeal and quinoa settings.

Once the cook cycle is completed, the Tim3 Machin3 will automatically kick into "Keep Warm" mode, and begin counting the minutes back up so you know how long it's been since your food finished cooking. 3 Squares claims you can keep rice warm in the pot for up to twelve hours after a cook -- we tested it out for 90 minutes, and while the batch had definitely dried out a tad, it was still perfectly edible.

Using the "Quick Rice" setting, we whipped up a batch in just over 20 minutes. Ry Crist/CNET

All in all, I came away impressed with the Tim3 Machin3's rice-making performance. Throughout my tests, it never produced a bad batch of the stuff, and also delivered on its promise of not scorching the bottom, or creating that unappetizing yellow film around the edges that you'll see with some rice makers.

I was also satisfied with the "Quick Rice" preset, which dials up the heat to cook the rice a bit faster. In my tests, a standard batch of rice would take about thirty minutes to cook from the time I pressed start to the time the cycle was complete. The Quick Rice function shaved that down to twenty-two minutes, and did so without a noticeable compromise in flavor or texture. You can also use the Quick Rice feature to speed up brown rice, though you'll need to add some extra water.

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This black beans and rice recipe turned out well in the Tim3 Machin3, too. Ry Crist/CNET

In addition to plain rice, I tried making a batch of black beans and rice from a simple mix I picked up at the grocery. The mix contained multiple ingredients, and required a tablespoon of butter, as well. On top of that, I substituted equal parts chicken broth and beer in place of the water. With all of these x-factors in the pot, I was curious to see whether or not the cooker could keep up.

I used the white rice setting, and the Tim3 Machine got right to work. After 30 minutes, I had a good-looking batch of black beans and rice. The beans were a bit overcooked and slightly mushier than I'd like, but the rice was al dente and the flavor was spot on (I'm half-Cuban, so I've eaten my fair share of the stuff). All in all, a successful test.

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The Tim3 Machin3 does, in fact, make a mean bowl of quinoa. Ry Crist/CNET

Next up was quinoa, of which I've definitely not eaten my fair share. The Tim3 Machin3 really tries to stand out here, with a toasting mechanism programmed into the quinoa preset that's supposed to enhance the flavor of each batch. After a quick rinse, you'll put the seeds into the pot dry, start the cook cycle, and stir them around a bit as they toast. After a few minutes, the Tim3 Machin3 will beep, telling you it's time to add the liquid and shut the lid.

My small-sized batch took just over 30 minutes in the Tim3 Machin3, and came out very well cooked. As someone who's not a huge fan of quinoa, I thought the batch tasted pretty good, and ended up eating a bowl of it for lunch.

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Pot roast slow cooked in the Tim3 Machin3 came out tough and overcooked. Ry Crist/CNET

Our first disappointment with the Tim3 Machin3 came by way of the slow cook settings. Setting the Tim3 Machin3 to 4 hours on high, I cooked a pot roast complete with all the fixin's. Unfortunately, it came out tough and overcooked, which wasn't actually all that surprising -- we've seen similarly disappointing results from other slow cookers that use metal pans instead of ceramic crocks, especially when cooking on high.

One exception: the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker , which my colleague Megan Wollerton tested at the same time as the Tim3 Machin3. Though it costs considerably more, the two share a similar build and similar features, too. Using the Instant Pot's slow cooker settings and following the same recipe as I had, Megan cooked a pot roast that was fall-apart delicious, although a touch dry. For another take on a versatile multi-cooking experience, it might be worth a look.

This isn't to say that the Tim3 Machin3 is a bad slow cooker -- for basic recipes, particularly ones that you'll cook on low, it would probably do a fine job. If you plan on cooking on high, though, you'd likely be better served by something with a ceramic crock.

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Though I ultimately screwed my batch up, the Tim3 Machin3 made easy work of the yogurt-making process. Ry Crist/CNET

I finished my testing by having a go at that yogurt preset, which was a bit intimidating going in seeing as how I've never made yogurt before and had no idea what the process actually entailed. Fortunately, the Tim3 Machin3 keeps things super simple, automating the entire process by warming the milk and holding it at the right temperature, then cooling it back down and telling you when to add the yogurt culture. Doing that on the stovetop requires constant monitoring and temperature checks -- with the Tim3 Machin3, I was largely able to pour the milk in, press start, and walk away.

After adding the yogurt culture, I set it to sit for 8 hours -- for a thicker, more tart batch, I could have pushed the time up to 12 hours. At the end though, I lifted the lid and found a healthy batch of yogurt. I wanted to give it some flavor, so I followed a recommendation we'd seen online to mix it with some Nutella in a blender. Unfortunately, I might have blended it a bit too much, because it came out thin and watery, even after refrigerating the batch overnight. Lesson learned: easy on the mix-ins.

My yogurt incompetence aside, the preset worked really well, and automated an otherwise tedious process quite nicely. We tried making yogurt in the Instant Pot, too, and while Megan's batch came out just fine (and unlike me, she didn't ruin it by tossing it into a blender), the process wasn't automated quite so cleanly as with the Tim3 Machin3. Points to 3 Squares.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

We're seeing a growing number of small appliances with heightened ambitions of kitchen versatility, and at $70, the Tim3 Machin3 is one of the most affordable of the lot. Its core function -- making rice -- worked well each time we tested it out, and the additional presets left us more or less satisfied, too.

Still, I wish that the slow cooking performance was a bit stronger, especially given that you can find competing rice makers with built-in slow cooker functionality that cost less. On top of that, none of the Tim3 Machin3's other features quite felt killer to me. Something truly unique like the oven and stovetop modes that you get with the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System would have been an especially welcome addition, even if they meant a slightly higher price tag.

The Tim3 Machin3 is available for pre-order now on the 3 Squares website and on Amazon, and is expected to ship out in February. Rice and quinoa fanatics will be well-served by that Fuzzy Logic sensor, and anyone interested in making yogurt might want to give it a look, too. If all you need is a simple rice maker, though, I say stick with something less expensive.

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7.4

3 Squares Tim3 Machin3 Multi-Cooker

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Usability 9Design 6Features 7