From step-by-step instructions for recipes to timers, video streaming and smart home controls, make great kitchen assistants. Most fit neatly on your countertop with a small footprint and portable design, but GE has a bigger vision for your smart kitchen. Specifically, a 27-inch Android tablet built into an over-the-range hood vent that costs $1,200.
Stay with me. It might sound ridiculous, and this model might not be quite impressive enough for me to recommend it with the current $1,200 price tag, but I liked it a lot more than I anticipated. GE's vision isn't blurry here, and it won't surprise me when the smart kitchen embraces big screens.
The Kitchen Hub ($1,080 at Best Buy) follows the look of an over-the-range microwave when it comes to design. It's available in four finish options to match your other appliances: stainless steel, black stainless, matte white and matte black.
A 27-inch touchscreen covers the front of the hub and includes two cameras. There's a front-facing lens for capturing images and video of people in your kitchen and a camera mounted beneath the display for overhead footage of what's your stovetop.
The Kitchen Hub is also a range hood, with four speeds up to 600 CFM (cubic feet per minute), a respectable, higher-than-average stat. Three LED light bars illuminate the cooktop and an auto-fan mode turns the fan on medium any time it senses too much heat. It can move air at four different speeds and vent exhaust horizontally or vertically or recirculate if you don't have exhaust ductwork in your walls.
Range hoods across other brands start at $500 and go well into the $1,500 range, and those are without smarts, just a few LED lights and a clock display, so the specs on the range hood are decent for the higher end of the category, to say the least.
Installation is as straightforward as installing most over-the-range microwaves, though it's worth noting that a support bracket for the 58-pound Kitchen Hub attaches to studs behind your wall and could require removing or drilling through of backsplash tiles, depending on their placement.
Smart home controls
Before we dive into the smart home specifics of this device, we need to categorize what exactly the Kitchen Hub is. It's not a smart display, which is to say it lacks the voice-first interface you'll find in products like the , , and . Instead, it uses the Android Oreo phone operating system, currently version 8.1.0, which scales up nicely on the 27-inch display.
If you've seen the various smart displays and thought "why not just buy a tablet," the Kitchen Hub highlights the trade-offs between a voice-driven smart display and a touch-driven tablet pretty clearly.
The Kitchen Hub presents information the way you'll see it on your Android phone or smaller tablet. It assumes you'll use it primarily as a touchscreen, with all the tapping and swiping that entails. Voice input is a secondary feature in the Kitchen Hub, and what that means it isn't always as responsive or intuitive as its voice-centric, smart display cousins.
The Kitchen Hub works with Google Assistant, and comes preloaded with Google's suite of apps. It responds to "Hey, Google" commands, though microphone performance in my testing wasn't as good at hearing or understanding my commands as any of the countertop smart displays we've reviewed.
The Kitchen Hub also comes with U Plus Connect, GE's smart home platform. It supports voice control for Nest, Philips Hue and GE Appliances. The idea from GE's perspective is U Plus Connect as a central hub for controlling GE's collection of smart large appliances, allowing you to start the dishwasher, pause or extending a dryer cycle or preheating your oven. For any other smart home products, you'll need something else.
That's where the advantage of an Android tablet comes in. The Kitchen Hub comes with the Google Play store, so you can download any Android-compatible app, including the ones for Amazon Alexa, Ring security cameras or August smart locks.
A simpler answer than downloading all those individual apps is to download the Google Home app, connect your account and control all your smart home products from the Home app, just like you would from your phone.
Cooking with cameras
One of the marketing highlights of the Kitchen Hub is its pair of cameras for photos, video calling and social sharing, but those two cameras left me feeling underwhelmed.
The front-facing camera is mounted at the top of the Kitchen Hub, a sensible and expected place for camera. As I'm 5 feet 4 inches tall, the camera sits much higher than eye level for me, putting the bottom half of my face out of frame while I'm standing near the range.
The camera's wide frame does work well for capturing what's happening in the entire room and keeping you within view while you move around the kitchen. Still, those up close shots aren't the best for video calling when you're standing right at your oven.
The camera mounted beneath the device is there for capturing images and video of your cooktop so you can share what you're working on. It's a great concept. In the increasingly social and shareable smart kitchen, being able to get overhead images and video without using your phone is convenient.