GE GTE18GMHES review: Style meets simplicity in this affordable GE fridge

At the recommended setting, the main shelves (blue) stayed nice and cold, while the drawers and door (red and green) didn't run too warm. Ry Crist/CNET

Looking at the minute-by-minute graph for the fridge, you can see where those averages are coming from. With regular cooling cycles, the fridge manages to keep things steady over the long run, never letting the main body of the fridge (the blue lines) creep much higher than 37, and holding the door and drawers (the green and red lines) right below 40 -- a benchmark for food safety set by the FDA. Only the bottom in-door shelf (the light green line) and the butter bin (orange) spend the majority of the test above 40, neither of which is a serious concern.

What really impresses me the most about that graph are the blue lines representing the main shelving. All three stick close together for the duration of the test -- that tells us that the refrigeration mechanics are doing a good job of cooling things evenly throughout the entire fridge.

At the coldest setting, the freezer performed well, but the fridge got too cold. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

We also test our fridges at colder settings -- typically with the fridge set to 33 degrees F, but in the case of the GTE18GMHES, we set the fridge to "coldest." During this test, the freezer did a much better job, falling much closer to 0 degrees, but the refrigerator got too chilly for our liking. In the body of the fridge and even in some of the in-door shelving, the average temperature fell below freezing, which isn't what you want.

In sum, the "coldest" setting is ideal for the freezer but too cold for the fridge, and the recommended "colder" setting is very solid for the fridge but a touch too warm for the freezer. Of the two, I'd much prefer the latter, although I might dial it back down just a bit towards "coldest" to try and keep the freezer closer to 0.

There's likely a "Goldilocks" zone on the dial that's just right for each user, but if finding it gets too tedious, the recommended settings are a safe bet. For better temperature control, you might consider upgrading to a model with independent controls for the fridge and the freezer.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

In addition to testing cooling performance, we make sure to test each fridge for usability concerns too -- chiefly, figuring out just how much stuff you'll be able to cram into it. After filling it with our standardized grocery load, we try to see how many different large stress-test items we can stuff in as well.

First, we test to see if we can get any of our six stress test items in without rearranging the shelves, and without moving any of the groceries around too much. By that standard, we were able to fit four of the items in on their own: a party platter, a roasting pan, a casserole dish, and a pitcher, When we tried stuffing them all in at once, we could only fit three -- either the party platter or roasting pan just couldn't fit. The two items that couldn't fit at all were a bulky cake tray with a tall, domed lid, and an extra-large pizza box. The pizza actually came close, but we couldn't quite close the door.

The fridge isn't quite deep enough to fit this extra-large pizza. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Once that's done, we repeat the test -- except now, we're allowed to move stuff around as much as needed, including the shelves. After squeezing as much food into the in-door shelves as possible, then consolidating the rest to free up space, I was able to fit five out of six items in all at once -- everything except for that pizza box. The fridge was undeniably stuffed, with plenty of items buried in the back, but we were able to close the door, so we called it a win.

Compare those results with those of the $1,000 Frigidaire Gallery top freezer model, which boasts 14.2 cubic feet of storage space in the fridge -- slightly more than GE. Though it was able to fit a greater number of stress test items individually in each test (including that tricky pizza box), it wasn't able to fit as many as once -- two items to GE's three in the standardized arrangement test, and three items to GE's five in the optimized test. That's a strong result for GE, and solid evidence that there's more to capacity than just the number.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

The GE GTE18GMHES is a standout among bargain-priced refrigerators, and not just for its attractive slate exterior. Inside, the cooling performance is steady and consistent, with accurate averages across all main sections of the fridge. There's also more storage space than you might expect from a 28-inch fridge, and more wiggle room for bulky items than we've seen with other top-freezer models.

You can find top freezers for less than $800, including stainless steel models, and you'll find a greater number of interesting features if you're willing to spend a little more. Still, if you're looking for an inexpensive, no-frills appliance that doesn't have the look of a compromise, this fridge gets enough right for me to recommend it without reservation.

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