GE GNS23GMHES 22.7 CU. FT. French-Door Refrigerator review: Princely performance at peasants' pricing
We've seen what top-of-the-line French door refrigerators can do. Between behemoths like the 34-cubic-foot $6,000 Samsung Chef Collection to the the $4,000 LG LMXS30776S with its door-in-door panel and custom temp drawer, the models north of $3,000 to $4,000 have plenty to offer. The GE GNS23GMHES sits on the other end of the French door spectrum. At $1,600, it's an entry-level fridge in this popular style.
It does make sacrifices for the sake of affordability. Its 22.7 cubic feet of space should be plenty for most families, but it's not the gaping chasm of the Chef Collection. It also doesn't have folding shelves, custom temp drawers or even more basic amenities like spillproof shelves or humidity sliders on the drawers. What it doesn't sacrifice is performance, or style, for that matter. Complete with a compelling slate finish, the GE GNS23GMHES looks good, and cools competently. Since it gets those two essential aspects right, it's well worth a look for French door shoppers on a budget.
I'm going to come right out and say it: I prefer GE's slate finish to stainless steel. That might sound like blasphemy given the current popularity of the latter with high-end appliances, but I've seen plenty of both, and GE's dark gray hits a bolder note in my mind while still keeping an air of professionalism.
It also smudges less and maintains a cleaner look longer because of it. To be honest, I might just be a little tired of stainless everything, but GE deserves credit for having a premium finish that's different.
Complete with that Slate coloring, the exterior of the GE GNS23GMHES looks elegant and pristine. Here, GE uses stainless as an accent rather than the base -- the curved handles glisten with that familiar silver and complement the body of the fridge nicely. The rest of the exterior is unbroken gray save for the circled "GE" in the upper right corner.
Hidden dispenser, hidden annoyances
Finish aside, the most uncommon part of this fridge is the water dispenser, and it isn't on the exterior. GE chose to keep the outer surface clean. Instead, you'll find the dispenser once you open the doors to the fridge, on the inner left wall.
It's a fine idea in theory, and a hidden anything adds cool points for me. It also helps GE round out the fridge's feature checklist. In practice, it's a dud. You have to use two hands to fill up your glass -- one to hold it, the other to press the button. That's not an evil in and of itself -- only the best water dispensers allow one-handed operation. With only the left door open, though, I had a heck of a time finding a comfortable position for my arms while filling the glass.
The space just wasn't wide enough for my shoulders. I either had to tilt my body and hook my left arm over the bins of the door to reach the button, or open the other door. It's not difficult to open the other door, by any means, but I don't like the idea of standing there with my fridge wide open and all of the cold air escaping while I fill my glass.
The rest of the interior functions well. The LED at the top behind the control panel, and the two bulbs behind the drawers at the bottom keep things well lit.
Not crying over fridge spills
That said, the shelves don't have spill protection, an odd omission for a fridge priced at over $1,000. They're almost exactly the same as the those of the $1,200 GE Artistry , and like that fridge, I wish GE had raised the plastic edges over the clear glass center even a little bit to keep in dumped fluids.
We intentionally make a mess with all of our fridges, dumping an 8-ounce glass of water on the top shelf so you know what to expect should you ever have to deal with a spill. The fridge has one full-width shelf, and two half-width ones. One of the half-width shelves has a small, clear plastic drawer underneath it. At the bottom of the compartment, a third shelf forms the top of two larger, half-width drawers, again made of clear plastic.
On round 1 of the spill test, we had the full-width shelf on top and dumped the water on it. The extra surface area gave the liquid enough room to disperse; it ran toward the back, and the curved plastic lip there held it in place. It did surprisingly well for not having any spill protection.
Round 2, when we tried again on one of the half shelves, was not nearly as successful. Water went everywhere, dumping over the sides, into the rails for the shelf hooks at the back, and eventually pooling under the drawers. In my cleanup effort, I had to remove both drawers, only to find water had somehow dripped into them as well as under them, and I even found water trapped between the glass center and plastic borders on that bottom shelf.
It was a sizable mess, and we do the test with an empty fridge to save ourselves some trouble. If you dump something into a full fridge, especially if it's a spoilable liquid where it's important to get every drop, expect to spend a good long while emptying and disassembling everything, including removing those brackets at the back.
Customizable -- to an extent
The brackets do make moving the shelves easy. Tilt the shelf up to get the hook out of place, find a new slot for it, and tilt it back. Under the hooks, each shelf has an additional protrusion that slides into the slot beneath the one you choose. It stops the shelf from rocking once it's in place. Occasionally, that protrusion didn't properly find it's place, and from my eyeline above the shelf, it looked like everything was positioned securely. I'd let go only to have the shelf tumble a moment later.
It's a minor annoyance. Nothing broke and I fixed the problem quickly. And we've yet to find a fridge that makes rearranging the shelves easy.
Rearranging the bins on the door, however, was a breeze. The left door has three bins. The right has two and a butter bin at the top with a flip-up plastic lid. Lift any bin off of its current spot, find a new height to your liking and push it back down onto the braces running up and down the sides of the doors.
At the top of the compartment, the control panel is similarly easy to use. There's a button for the energy saver and turbo cool. The latter puts the compressor into high gear for when you get home with a fresh load of groceries and need them cooled quickly. The former turns off the heater on the doors that helps to prevent condensation in areas of high humidity. If you do notice condensation, you'll want to turn the energy saver off, as the outer moisture can lead to rust.
Otherwise, you can turn a door alarm on or off, reset the water filter and adjust the fridge and freezer via a digital display.
The display shows the current temp, so you'll know if you're losing cool after leaving the doors open, and printed beneath the LCD is a reminder of the ideal settings: 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.8 Celsius) for the freezer and 37 (2.8 Celsius) for the fridge. It's an intuitive control panel that's a definite step up from the dials on base-level top freezer models.
To round out the fridge a little more, I would have liked humidity sliders on the drawers, and the naked bulbs behind them make the interior of the fridge nice and bright, but look a little odd.
Spillproof shelves and humidity sliders can be found on budget fridges cheaper than this one. In particular, the $1,000 Frigidaire FGTR1845QF has both. I understand not having premium features like folding shelves and custom temp drawers, but I'm disappointed the GE GNS23GMHES lacks some of the run-of-the-mill conveniences.
My icy reaction to the freezer
I'm also disappointed in the freezer. I disliked the Artistry's freezer as well. This one is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't step far enough. I like the pull-out drawer much more than the hinged freezer drawer of the Artistry, but the main basket is still a white wire bin that feels cheap.
Other than the bin, the freezer has a half-width wire shelf in the upper right corner and an automatic ice maker in the upper left. The ice bin pulls out half way so you can easily access a handful of cubes. The stopper on its rails works well. I never pulled out the bin past the halfway point unintentionally, and if you want to grab the bin in its entirety, you can lift it and pull it the rest of the way.
This proved somewhat problematic. The ice bin is longer than the opening, even with the freezer door pulled out all the way. You have to turn it to get it out of the freezer, and it's long and cumbersome to maneuver. I ended up spilling ice a couple of times.
With the GE Artistry, the freezer was bad enough to give me pause in recommending an otherwise excellent fridge. The GE GNS23GMHES isn't that bad. It still feels cheap, but if you can live with a wire basket instead of a solid bin, it's serviceable, if not as pleasant as the interior of the fridge or as impressive as the overall exterior.
You can purchase the GE GNS23GMHES from Lowe's, Amazon, Home Depot, Best Buy and other major appliance retailers. GE's site will point you in the direction of stores in your area. As is typical with large appliances, you can find the fridge for less than its $1,600 MSRP. The listing price currently falls between $1,400 and $1,500 at the sites above.
The GE GNS23GMHES is not available overseas. For our readers in the UK and Australia, the price converts to approximately £1,026 and AU$2,026 respectively.
This $1,600 fridge doesn't match more high-end French door models on features, and given that its 22.7 cubic feet of space is nowhere near that of the 34 cubic feet of the $6,000 Samsung Chef Collection, the 30 cubic feet of the $4,000 LG LMXS30776S or the roughly 27 cubic feet of the $3,100 Electrolux EI28BS80KS4A and the $2,600 Frigidaire FGHB2866PF9A , I didn't think GE's budget French door model could keep up in functional space.
At CNET, we don't take those numbers at face value, though, we put them to the test by jamming each of our fridges full of groceries to see how well the models make use of their capacity.
The GE GNS23GMHES demonstrated why we play the game by besting the bigger $2,600 Frigidaire FGHB2866PF9A on our load tests. Of its 22.7 total cubic feet, GE's fridge holds 15.8 cubic feet. The Frigidaire should have had much more functional room with 27.2 cubic feet total and 18.5 cubic feet in the fridge, but GE's fridge won both rounds of the test.
In round 1, we leave the shelves of the fridge in their default arrangement -- spaced evenly from top to bottom, and we fill it up with a bunch of ordinary groceries. We use 2-gallon milk jugs, two bottles of soda, juice, cheese, yogurt, veggies, meat and even a couple of leftover containers. We try to keep everything spread out evenly, to fill up the fridge while allowing plenty of room for the cold air to flow.
We also aim to put each item into its ideal spot. For example, the doors of lots of fridges run warm, so we put the milk and other dairy products in the main compartment if we can. We put the veggies in a drawer, we separate the can of dog food from the human food, and we make sure we can reach everything. We don't want to pile up so much stuff on one shelf that we have to remove three or four items to get to the snacks.
Right away, the GE GNS23GMHES had a mark against it. With the default shelving arrangement, we couldn't fit the milk in the main compartment. None of the evenly spaced shelves had a spot that was tall enough. We fit the jugs in the door, but the door bins are small enough that we had to use two of them.
The Frigidaire FGHB2866PF9A got a leg up here. The space between the shelves wasn't tall enough on this fridge either, but with a folding shelf, we were able to give ourselves the wiggle room we needed to get the milk jugs in the main body.
With the milk jugs on the door, we really had to squeeze in the condiments -- our normal door residents. Though we did have just enough space to give the dog food its own small bin on the upper left door. The main fridge also felt squeezed with just the normal groceries. We ended up having to stack the Tupperware onto the soda boxes to get them in -- we simply ran out of shelf space.
The GE GNS23GMHES already looked squeezed, and this was just the first part of round 1. After we load up all of the normal groceries, we then try to fit six different stress test items. We keep the same spacing rules on this round, but want to see how far you can push the capacity with normal use.
We had to stack the stress test items onto the normal groceries, but we were able to fit everything individually except for the pizza box and the cake tray. The pitcher had to go into that upper left door bin with the dog food. With it there, we could even fit the pitcher and the party tray into the fridge simultaneously.
This is meant to be a tough test. The Frigidaire FGHB2866PF9A struggled to fit the stress test items as well. In fact, it struggled worse. Even individually, it could only fit the casserole dish and the pitcher. The GE GNS23GMHES strained to squeeze in the normal groceries, but held up well when we challenged it.
On round 2, it did even better. This time, we're allowed to move the shelves around as we see fit. It's a brain teaser for us, as we're challenged to make the best possible use of the space without actually removing any shelves. We're also allowed to squeeze and stack the items a little more. Generally, you want to put a little wiggle room between your groceries, as it'll help your fridge cool more effectively. On this test, we push it to see how the fridge can do on those special occasions where you're hosting a big get together.
I wish the one full-width shelf was broken up into two, as it would allow more options for customization. Still, we managed to find a decent arrangement with plenty of vertical space, and this time, the fridge had plenty of shelf space for the normal groceries, including the milk.
Because of that extra room, we were able to fit in five of the six stress test items individually -- the doors wouldn't close with the extra large pizza box in the fridge -- and we fit four of the six in the fridge simultaneously. That's a much better result than the pricey Frigidaire French door. It fit all six individually on this round, but only two of the six at once.
The GE GNS23GMHES does get bested by the biggest of its competitors -- you could probably set up a small office in the Samsung Chef Collection -- but it impressively held its own and should have more than enough room for an average-size family.
Cooling with confidence
On the most important measuring stick for a fridge -- temperature performance -- the GE GNS23GMHES more than holds its own. We gauge this quality through an extensive trial that keeps each fridge under the microscope in a temperature and humidity controlled chamber for over six days.
We place thermocouples in solution to stabilize our readings, then set them on every shelf and in every compartment of the fridge and freezer. We run the thermocouples to a data-logger, set the temp to the defaults of 37 degrees Fahrenheit in the fresh food compartment and 0 for frozen food, then we let the fridge run for three days straight to see how well it maintains its temperature over time. During the tests, we open the fridge and freezer doors on a set schedule to simulate use.
Here are the averages for the GE GNS23GMHES over the course of that first three-day trial.
Looking at the main compartment, all areas landed within a degree of the set point and a degree of each other. That's terrific accuracy, and because the temps across the compartment are so precise, it also gives you flexibility. You can set the temp up or down freely without worrying about one area getting too cold while another is too hot.
We have benchmarks for what's too cold and what's too hot. According to the FDA, easily spoilable foods need to be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius). Refrigerated foods will start to freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius). Anything between the two is usable for most foods and the ideal range for the fridge.
As you can see, the doors of the GE GNS23GMHES slip a little bit. That's normal; most doors run warm and these aren't unduly so. You can keep condiments in them without worry, and the warmest part, the butter bin top right, is also normal temperature-wise and helps make whatever topping you keep there more spreadable.
The other main factor in fridge performance is consistency. All fridge temps will fluctuate a bit as the compressor cycles on and off, but better fridges keep spikes and dips to a minimum, and the majority of the compartments in the GE GNS23GMHES maintain a steady hand.
Other than the orange line at the top, which represents the butter bin, the top shelf was the only part of the fridge that showed significant fluctuation. The fan that blows cool air into the compartment blows it directly onto the top shelf, making it cold with the compressor on, and since heat rises -- as the saying goes -- it's the part of the fridge that gets warm during compressor lulls. It did cross over 40 degrees briefly, but spent less than an hour there over the course of the 72 degrees, so that's no concern.
Again using the guidelines from the FDA, sensitive food shouldn't be kept over 40 for more than 2 hours consecutively or 4 hours over the course of its life. The top shelf didn't come close to those marks. It also never dipped below 32 degrees on this test, but it was low enough to cause concern for the fridge's usable range.
On our next test, we check that range. We turn the fridge temp down to its lowest setting -- either 33 or 34 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the fridge. The GE GNS23GMHES goes down to 34 degrees (1.1 Celsius). We give it a day to adjust, then we gather data for another 72-hour stretch.
Again, the results impressed us. The temps in the main compartment averaged within 2 degrees of each other. This time, the doors ran under 40 degrees. The top shelf, though cold, kept its average just above 32 degrees. It did, however, spend about 6 hours over the course of the test below that mark.
The GE GNS23GMHES keeps an impressive amount of stability in its fridge. If you want to turn the temp down, though, you'll need to remove anything that freezes easily from the top shelf.
Minor blemish aside, the great consistency and accurate averages of the main compartment of the GE GNS23GMHES, especially at the default temps, put it on par with the best performing French door fridge we've tested so far -- the LG LMXS30776S. In the process, it bests much more expensive models like the Electrolux EI28BS80KS4A and the Samsung RF34H9960S4.
If you're willing to sacrifice some features, the GE GNS23GMHES can make you feel like a pretty savvy customer. You get a French door fridge at the low end of the style's price range, and manage to land top of the line performance in the process. With the Slate finish, your fridge will also have a distinctive look to help it stand out from the many stainless appliances on the market.
You might want to keep looking if you have a messy family. Spillproof shelves on budget fridges like the $1,000 Frigidaire FGTR1845QF proved much more competent at containing dumped liquids. Also, if you want a water dispenser on your fridge, don't be fooled by the hidden one included with this model. It's a pain to use. Otherwise, if you're shopping for a budget-friendly French door refrigerator, the GE GNS23GMHES deserves a spot near the top of your list.