Shopping for a budget fridge usually means settling on a boring build that's devoid of design-minded features. True to form, the $800 GE GTE18GMHES top-freezer fridge is nothing fancy, but it at least looks the part of something slightly less frugal, thanks to a distinctive slate finish.
There's good stuff happening inside of it, too. Despite larger temperature swings than you'll see with more expensive models, GE's fridge held its own in our tests, with consistent, dependable averages and no worrisome warm spots. With 17.5 cubic feet of capacity, it isn't the biggest top freezer money can buy, but we still came away impressed with its ability to store bulky items. It even managed to outperform the larger-sized Frigidaire Gallery top-freezer model, which costs $200 more. There aren't a lot of bells or whistles with this model (par for the course in this price range), but it keeps food cold reliably well and looks good doing it. If you're looking for something simple yet stylish, you could definitely do worse.
Design and features
If you look at GE's slate-finished top freezer and see a cheap fridge with a fresh coat of paint, I really can't blame you. After all, slate looks aside, this is is still a run-of-the-mill top freezer, so you'll want to look elsewhere if you want high-end design or unique features. That slate finish is really the only trick up this refrigerator's sleeve.
Still, looks matter when we're talking about something you're going to have to look at each and every day -- and I say this fridge looks good. Call me a sucker for slate, but the finish helps it to appear nicer and more expensive than it actually is. I also appreciated that it wasn't as shiny or as susceptible to fingerprints as a stainless steel fridge might be.
Open the fridge up, and you'll find an interior that's just slightly nicer than the average top freezer. Compared to cheaper fridges in GE's own catalog, the GTE18GMHES adds in spill-proof glass shelving and humidity controls for the two crisper bins. Aside from that, there really isn't a lot here to get excited about.
You'll also find the refrigerator's main temperature dial. Specific temperatures aren't marked -- instead, you get vague settings for "cold," "colder," and "coldest," with GE recommending the "colder" setting. Those settings apply to both the fridge and the freezer, meaning that you can't dial one up or down without affecting the other. More on that in just a bit.
My only real complaints with the interior are pretty minor. The bottom in-door shelf doesn't stick out as far as the shelf above it, which makes getting things in and out of it a bit awkward. The spill-proof shelving works well at isolating messes, except for the glass that sits above the crisper bins. It isn't sealed at the edges, meaning that any liquid spilled on it tends to dribble over the sides and get trapped underneath.
In terms of capacity, the GTE18GMHES offers 17.5 cubic feet of total storage space, 13.5 of which is dedicated to the fridge. That's not bad at all for a refrigerator that's only 28 inches wide. Sure enough, when I tested things out with our standard load of groceries, I was able to fit everything in with room to spare.
I liked that I was able to fit bulky items like soda and a six-pack of beer right in the door -- that isn't always the case with fridges at this end of the spectrum. The crisper bins felt a bit cramped though. Our faux celery stalks barely fit inside (the fact that they're made of a rubbery plastic that doesn't snap when you bend it probably helped.)
All told, it's a basic but functional build that gets more right than it gets wrong. Even without the slate finish, I'd be more or less satisfied with it at the price I'd be paying.
Performance and usability
As said before, the GTE18GMHES doesn't let you dial in to a specific temperature, but the recommended setting of "colder" seemed to be the closest to the 37 degree Fahrenheit mark that we typically test at, so that's where we started our performance tests.
Over three days of testing, the fridge saw greater temperature fluctuations than more expensive fridges with more sophisticated cooling mechanics, which wasn't surprising. It still held its own, though, with consistent averages throughout the body of the fridge, along with reasonably cool temperatures in the doors. The averages in the freezer ran a few degrees warmer than the ideal of 0 degrees, but nothing problematic by any stretch.