GE goes for smart design over 'smarts' with Cafe Series CFE29TSDSS fridge

Get smart (design) with the GE Cafe Series CFE29TSDSS fridge.

Katie Pilkington

Katie Pilkington

Associate Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Katie is a writer, a humor blogger, a Vietnam War historian, and an avid cook. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is hard at work on her first novel. When she's not writing about tech, she's reading about armored cavalry units in Vietnam, or teaching her labradoodle, Lola, to overcome her lack of opposable thumbs.

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At $3,099, the GE Cafe Series CFE29TSDSS falls squarely within the category of luxury refrigerators. But compared with other similarly sized, similarly designed models, all with MSRPs between $2,300 and $3,500, it feels reasonably priced, especially when you consider the wealth of thoughtful and useful features GE has imbued in this device, not least a hot water dispenser, and compare with other models on the market. I really hope this refrigerator performs well in our tests because I love the idea of a thoughtfully-designed refrigerator that works harder so that I don't have to.

GE released this fridge in April 2013, and a review unit just arrived this past week in our new Louisville appliance review facility. The company carries a couple of refrigerators that boast both similar price tags and features. Within GE’s line of Cafe and Profile French door, bottom freezer refrigerators, the least expensive model comes in at $1,999. That’s $1,000 less than the CFE29TSDSS, but it’s a pared-down version lacking a lot of amenities. You'll find a few other models from GE in the same $3,000-plus price range, but this model and a smaller linemate have a few features that make it unique

Gone are the days of needing to heat a kettle, for example. The CFE29TSDSS's water dispenser can pour both cold and hot water. To dispense hot water, simply press the hot water button on the touch screen, select from one of four temperatures, turn the dial counterclockwise, and push it in. GE says this dial serves as an important child-safety feature, requiring you to turn it counter-intuitively to the left, and then push it in to dispense hot water.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The touch screen itself has a veneer of high tech, even if it doesn't fit one definition of a "smart appliance" by connecting to the Internet. It can show you the status of the water filter, and let you know when you need to replace it. It also gives you cold water dispenser and ice maker controls, including control over GE's precise fill option, which lets you dispense water automatically in preset volumes (perfect for water bottles). It also lets you turn on the light underneath the touch screen, which illuminates the entire water dispenser and could serve as a nightlight to guide you through a dark kitchen.

This refrigerator also features a USB port under the screen so that you can upload up to 90 photos. You can then set those photos to run as a screensaver.

With 28.6 cubic feet of internal capacity, the CFE29TSDSS is not the largest refrigerator on the market by any means, though it is in the top quarter of the price scale. According to GE, this appliance includes 19.6 cubic feet in the refrigerator portion and 9 cubic feet in the freezer. But as I’ve said before, it’s not so much the amount of space inside of a refrigerator but how the manufacturer has allocated it that's most important.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The interior of the CFE29TSDSS is also not radically different from other French door models that feature a bottom drawer freezer. It contains five total shelves, four of which are adjustable, as well as six door bins. A thoughtful addition, GE has added liners to these bins, much like the liner in a car’s cupholder, that you can remove for easy cleaning.

The CFE29TSDSS also features three drawers, two of which are standard climate-controlled bins. The third drawer includes adjustable temperature settings and LED lighting. These multicolored LEDs serve as a visual reminder of your selected setting. LG and Samsung have similar settings with their LFX31995ST Smart ThinQ and RF4289HARS refrigerators (respectively), though both of those models only allow for four temperature ranges whereas the GE CFE29TSDSS has five: meat, beverage, produce, cheese, and citrus. The GE's settings aren't radical, but the colored LED lighting in all of these fridges is a welcome convenience.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

A compelling space-saving measure comes in the form of the GE’s ice maker, housed in the door of the refrigerator, rather than in the freezer compartment, thus saving space. LG has a similar configuration in its Smart ThinQ fridge. You'll find the door bins on the outside of the ice maker in the GE, with the top bin 2.5 inches deep and the bottom just over 2 inches deep, slimmer than those on the LG model, which are 3 inches deep. You might miss the extra half inch to inch of extra depth, but if you are like me and don't store anything but hot sauce and vinaigrette in such bins, you likely won't miss it too much.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

GE clearly designed the freezer drawer with easy organization in mind. Two drawers, mounted inside of the freezer on the bottom side of the refrigerator cabinet, offer compartmentalized storage that feels efficient and well-made. GE designed the top-left drawer to be just a few degrees warmer than the rest of the freezer, specifically to help make ice cream more scoopable.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

With the practical water dispenser, as well as the in-door ice maker, the GE CFE29TSDSS is a sensible appliance. In a time when refrigerators are getting smartphone-compatible apps and social media access, GE seems to be playing a conservative hand by offering up a refrigerator that works smartly, even without being technically smart. The features included with the CFE29TSDSS, while not necessarily "smart," appear to be at least very convenient. Perhaps in future models, GE will expand the touch screen’s utility and function to include greater connectivity. For now, I don’t really miss it. I’ll report back with a full review of the product as we build out our testing methods in the coming months.

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