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Frigidaire FGHC2331PF review: Poor performance spoils this Frigidaire counter-depth fridge

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Paying more for a smaller refrigerator might seem counterintuitive, but for many, a counter-depth model with doors that sit flush with countertop edges is a legitimate upgrade. Typically, these types of design-minded fridges cost at least a few thousand dollars, but the Frigidaire FGHC2331PF costs just $1,600, making it one of the most affordable counter-depth side-by-sides on the market.

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5.3

Frigidaire FGHC2331PF

The Good

The Frigidaire FGHC2331PF is one of the most affordable counter-depth models currently available. The "smudge-proof" stainless steel finish does a good job of repelling fingerprints.

The Bad

Cooling performance was pretty dismal in both of our tests, with wildly inconsistent temperatures from region to region. It's a bare-bones build, too, with no real features worth getting excited about.

The Bottom Line

As one of the only counter-depth refrigerators available for less than $2,000, this model might have you tempted, but its performance was too weak for us to recommend it.

Along with the counter-depth build, the FGHC2331PF comes with Frigidaire's "smudge-proof" stainless steel finish, which does an admirable job of repelling fingerprints and helps the fridge look a little more expensive than it actually is. Things seem cheaper on the inside, though, with flimsy, squeaky drawers, an underwhelming mix of features, and some of the poorest performance we've come across in our tests. As one of the only counter-depth fridges priced below $2,000, it's legitimately tempting, but I'd recommend steering clear.

This counter-depth side-by-side fridge won't break the bank (pictures)

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Don't judge this fridge by its cover

The FGHC2331PF is a stainless-steel fridge in an ocean of stainless steel fridges on display at your local appliances retailer. It's a safe, inoffensive design that does little to set itself apart. Still, it's hard to fault Frigidaire for that, especially considering that this is a midrange model.

The fingerprint-resistant, "smudge-proof" finish is a nice touch, though. While it isn't totally impervious to blemishes, it's much, much better than standard stainless steel models, enough so to call it an unqualified upgrade. You'll adjust settings on the FGHC2331PF using a touch panel located above the ice and water dispenser, another nice design touch at this price range.

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You can adjust the Chill Drawer's temperature with this slider. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

On the inside, things feel much less high-end. You won't find much in the way of features except for basics like spill-proof shelves and humidity controls for the crisper bins. I did appreciate, however, that the FGHC2331PF lets you rearrange the main shelves and in-door shelves into a bounty of different positions -- that comes in handy when the narrowness of side-by-side design forces you to get creative with shelf placement.

You also get a "Chill Drawer" that sits above the two crisper bins. The refrigerator diverts a little bit of its cooling power directly into this drawer by way of a vent in the back. A slider sits just outside of drawer, letting you adjust between generic-sounding "cold" and "colder" settings to control how much of that spare cold air gets vented inside. It's a nice enough feature, but without specific temperature settings, I'm not sure that it's really all that useful.

The only other feature worth mentioning is a refrigerator shelf that slides out for easier access to items stored in the back. At least, that's what's supposed to happen. In practice, there's too much friction for it to slide smoothly, especially if anything heavy is sitting on top. It's a shame to see an otherwise nice feature get spoiled by clunky execution.

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The drawers feel a bit cheap, and often squeak and screech as you open and close them. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The drawers don't glide easily either. Each one squeaked unpleasantly each time I pulled it open or pushed it shut, poorly lubricated plastic screeching against plastic. It's a distinct annoyance in my book, and one you'll have to put up with fairly often as you use the thing (unless you're comfortable breaking out the WD-40).

That's really about it. There's very little here aimed at helping this fridge stand out or feel like a true upgrade. Instead, it feels more like a fridge you might settle for. If counter-depth is a must and you don't want to spend more than $2,000, then settling might be what happens here, because you really don't have a whole lot of options.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Performance woes

At face value, fridge performance might not seem like your most important buying concern. After all, cold is cold, right?

Not exactly. While the difference between good fridge performance and bad fridge performance can literally come down to a matter of degrees, you'll be much better off with a model that keeps things in line with the target temperature. A poor performer that runs warm will accelerate spoilage and cost you money down the line whenever you have to throw stuff out. Per FDA standards, we look for models that keep things down below 40 degrees F, the point at which bacteria like listeria can start to become problematic.

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The temperature varied wildly from region to region, with the main shelf in the fridge (dark blue) finishing about 10 degrees warmer than the target. Ry Crist/CNET

Unfortunately, the FGHC2331PF falls short of this standard. After three days at the default setting of 37 degrees F, only three regions in the fridge yielded average temperatures below 40 degrees. The other eight regions -- those orange spots in the heat map above -- all ran warm. That includes all of the in-door shelves and three out of the four main shelves in the body of the fridge, including the top shelf, which sat about 10 degrees above the target. To be frank, that's a staggeringly bad result.

Graph those three days' worth of temperature readings out, and you can see just how all-over-the-map this refrigerator is. Move your milk from the bottom shelf (light blue) to the top shelf (dark blue), and its temperature will jump almost ten degrees.

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Even at the minimum setting of 33 degrees, the top of the fridge still ran warmer than 40 degrees F. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Things were a few degrees cooler at the minimum setting of 33 degrees F, but not cool enough for this refrigerator to redeem itself. Again, we saw dramatic temperature swings from region to region, including an 8.4 degree jump from the bottom shelf to the top shelf, the latter of which -- again -- yielded an average temperature well above 40 degrees F. That top shelf didn't spend a single minute of that three-day test any lower than 42 F. That's a bad result at the 37-degree setting -- at 33 degrees, it's downright terrible.

How we test refrigerators (pictures)

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As for the freezer, things held fairly steady a few degrees above the target of 0 degrees F. The bottom of the freezer door's shelves came in two or three degrees higher than the other regions, but still sat below 5 degrees for the majority of our tests, which is a perfectly acceptable result.

Temperature spikes during defrost cycles and regularly scheduled door openings were moderate, with highs around 13 degrees F. We've seen other freezers hold those spikes below 10 degrees, along with a few that have let things get as high as 20 degrees, so Frigidaire sits more or less in the middle of the pack here.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Counter-depth capacity

Capacity is a clear sacrifice that comes with counter-depth refrigerators. With fewer inches of depth, you'll have less room for groceries, so think twice about the style if storage space is especially important to you. That said, with a total of 22.2 cubic feet (14.2 of which are allocated to the fridge compartment), the FGHC2331PF holds its own against competing counter-depth models, even ones that cost considerably more. It's still a bit cramped on the inside, but not unreasonably so, given what type of fridge we're talking about.

That's a win for Frigidaire, seeing as how this is one of the most affordable counter-depth side-by-sides you'll find, tying the equally affordable Kenmore 51783 and Whirlpool WRS571CIDM (one quick side note: those two are essentially the exact same fridge. Instead of making its own appliances, Kenmore purchases models from its competitors, rebrands them, and sells them on the floor at Sears -- the 51783 is just a re-branded WRS571CIDM.)

Comparable counter-depth side-by-sides

Kenmore 51783Whirlpool WRS571CIDMSamsung RS22HDHPNSRLG Door-in-Door LSC22991STGE Profile Series PZS23KPEBV
Refrigerator capacity 13.6 cubic feet13.6 cubic feet14.4 cubic feet14.3 cubic feet14.8 cubic feet
Freezer capacity 7.0 cubic feet7.0 cubic feet7.9 cubic feet7.2 cubic feet8.6 cubic feet
Total storage space 20.6 cubic feet20.6 cubic feet22.3 cubic feet21.5 cubic feet23.4 cubic feet
Energy use 653 kWh / year653 kWh / year646 kWh / year663 kWh / year696 kWh / year
Estimated yearly energy cost ($0.12 per kWh) $78 $78 $78 $80 $84
Energy cost per cubic foot $3.79 $3.79 $3.50 $3.72 $3.59
Energy Star certification NoNoYesYesYes
Suggested retail price $1,700 $1,700 $2,400 $2,700 $2,800

In practical terms, the cramped counter-depth capacity didn't stop us from fitting all of our test groceries inside, though the smallish in-door shelves forced me to relocate a good number of my test condiments onto the refrigerator's top shelf. We had less success with our stress test items. The extra-large pizza box was an obvious no-go, and while the other five items all fit individually (a casserole dish, a cake tray, a roasting pan, a party platter, and a tall pitcher), I was only able to get three of them in together at a time.

Clearly, flexible food storage isn't this Frigidaire's strong suit, but that's par for the course with side-by-sides, especially a counter-depth model like this one. At any rate, if you're feeding a whole family, you'll likely be better off upgrading to a French door model, or going with a large top or bottom freezer.

Frigidaire vs. comparably priced side-by-sides

Frigidaire FGHC2331PFLG LSXS26326SKenmore Grab-N-Go 51832GE GSE25HMHESSamsung RS25H5111SR
Refrigerator capacity 14.2 cubic feet17 cubic feet16.9 cubic feet15.7 cubic feet15.3 cubic feet
Freezer capacity 8 cubic feet9.2 cubic feet9.2 cubic feet9.7 cubic feet9.2 cubic feet
Total storage space 22.2 cubic feet26.2 cubic feet26.1 cubic feet25.4 cubic feet24.5 cubic feet
Energy use 550 kWh / year716 kWh / year715 kWh / year643 kWh / year634 kWh / year
Estimated yearly energy cost ($0.12 per kWh) $66 $86 $86 $77 $76
Energy cost per cubic foot $2.97 $3.28 $3.30 $3.03 $3.10
Energy Star certification NoYesNoYesYes
Suggested retail price $1,600 $1,500 $1,600 $1,600 $1,700

You could also consider ditching the dream of a counter-depth design and going instead with a full-size side-by-side competitor. Do so, and you'll find a much wider field of options, including more well-rounded models that earn our stamp of approval, like the LG LSXS26326S . Though the narrow design still can't compete with the flexibility of a French door model, that fridge offers about as much fresh food storage space as you'll find in a midrange side-by-side.

You might also look at energy usage as a capacity-related point of comparison. The FGHC2331PF does relatively well here, with an estimated energy usage of 550 kWh per year. By today's average, that comes out to a yearly operating cost of about $66, which is considerably less than most side-by-sides on the market. Divide that total expense by the total capacity, and you'll find that the FGHC2331PF costs less than $3 a year to cool each cubic foot, a very impressive number for this type of fridge.

Still, it isn't an Energy Star-certified model (not uncommon with appliances made by Electrolux, the company that owns Frigidaire). Also, given how warm the fridge ran in our performance tests, a little extra horsepower would have probably been worth the cost.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

An icy verdict for a warm fridge

If your kitchen is particularly tight on space, then a counter-depth fridge probably makes a lot of sense. By shaving off a few inches of depth, the fridge won't stick out past your countertops, and it won't eat up as much floor space, either. At $1,600, the Frigidaire FGHC2331PF is one of the least expensive counter-depth models available. It's a legitimate temptation.

For that reason, I'm willing to forgive most of this refrigerator's flaws, but I can't overlook performance that's this weak. Even at the coldest setting, one of the main shelves in the fridge came in above 40 degrees -- a first in our tests. I can understand valuing design above all else, but in this case, the counter-depth build comes at too steep a cost. I'd recommend finding another option.

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5.3

Frigidaire FGHC2331PF

Score Breakdown

Features 6Design 8Performance 3Usability 6