First impressions have led me astray in the CNET Appliances Test Lab. There was the cherry red wonder that was more of a lemon, the stainless-steel tank that stumbled through cooking tests and the plain range that concealed just how impressively it deployed induction. I've been fooled into thinking that some appliances would be better (or in some cases, worse) performers just because of how they look. Now, I've added the GE PB911SJSS freestanding range to the list of products that prove how wrong first impressions can be.
On the surface, this $1,100 GE electric range looks like an appliance that would be easy to pass by. It doesn't have any burner knobs to control the cooktop, a feature that's sure to turn off traditionalists. It doesn't stand apart from the glut of stainless steel ranges on the market. But the GE PB911SJSS is a reliable, consistent appliance that executes simple cooking tasks like roasting and baking while adding the right amount of flourish with components such as Bluetooth connectivity and a convection fan.
The GE PB911SJSS transcends first impressions -- this is a simple range without much flash but with solid cooking chops. And it's a better investment than more expensive, garish models that can't live up to the initial promises their appearances make.
Knob-free, yet easy to use
I gave this range a hard side-eye when I first cut away its cardboard box. The control panel is completely flat; it doesn't have any knobs to control the five burners on the smooth cooktop. I documented my distaste for knobless ovens in my review of the Kenmore 97723 double-oven electric range, a decent product marred by complicated touchpad burner controls. When I saw a similar feature on the GE, I anticipated days hunched over the cooktop, frustrated and fiddling with counterintuitive controls.
I won't go as far as to literally eat my words about knobless ranges (and besides, we're an online publication), but I'm woman enough to admit how shortsighted I was to write off all ranges without knobs. GE showed me that it's possible to deploy a streamlined look while making it easy for old-school cooks like me to adjust to a new design.
Rather than using a numbered scale to show a burner's heat levels, the GE range uses a semicircle surrounded by lights to control each burner. You press the on/off button in the middle of this semicircle, then press the plus and minus buttons to set your burner temperature. The more lights go on, the hotter the burner gets and vice versa. It sounds complicated, but these had a much quicker learning curve than the similar Kenmore model.
Bluetooth is a frivolous, but functional accessory
GE uses this range to dabble in the world of smart large appliances without creating a product that is too complex or expensive. The company equipped this range with its Chef Connect feature (a proprietary way to say, "This oven has Bluetooth") that syncs with GE over-the-range microwave ovens. Sync the two appliances, turn on a burner, and the microwave's exhaust fan turns on automatically. The lights beneath the microwave that illuminate the cooktop also turn on when it detects that a burner is on.