June Intelligent Oven review: A smart countertop oven, but for whom?
The June Intelligent Oven has a built-in camera that recognizes food and cooks it automatically. But it's the basics that stump this smart oven.
Imagine that a phone and a toaster oven got a little frisky and had a baby. The result would be the June Intelligent Oven, a countertop appliance that looks like a microwave, cooks like an oven and thinks like a computer. Lots of features make the June stand out -- its built-in camera, an internal processor that rivals what you'd find in a phone, software that can recognize more than 20 foods and automatically cook them for you. Its price is just as jaw-dropping -- $1,495 (about £1,200 or AU$2,000, though it's currently US-only). That can buy you a couple of good full-size ranges if you know where to look.
For the most part, the June delivers on its promises to recognize commonly cooked foods (think broccoli and chicken breasts) and automate cooking. It accurately recognized 19 out of the 22 foods I tested, and the dishes I ended up with were often pretty damn tasty. And the June's accompanying iPhone app turns the novelty of live-streaming your food into a useful way to keep an eye on your meal.
So is the June oven poised to be the next microwave? Not quite. Though the June takes good care of your dishes when it's time to cook them, it's not so much help when it comes to the prep work. You still have to chop, dice, season and slice before you get your food near the June. When you use the oven's food recognition feature, it gives you two options of what food it thinks you put in the oven rather than zeroing in on the exact dish you slid inside. And even if you just want to throw in a PopTart, the June had the most trouble in my tests with convenience items that needed to be toasted.
Faults aside, the June is an impressive product because of the technology it's introducing to the kitchen. I can see food recognition software eventually included in refrigerators, cabinets and full-sized ovens to create a smart kitchen in which appliances keep track of your food, recommend recipes and remind you what to pick up at the grocery store without much work on your part.
As it exists now, the June won't change your life. Its size limits it from fully replacing your range, and its price limits access to this technology (the company will, however, offer financing). And the oven still needs to study up on some basic tasks, like heating a toaster strudel. But the June will make cooking a little easier for early adopters who want an appliance with the power of a phone.
Buy this oven if you have a disdain for cooking, a taste for good food, some spare spending money, and the patience to wait for June to work out this oven's kinks and build a more robust catalog of foods it can recognize. Otherwise, most of us can pass on this smart oven until more companies join this category and bring the price down.
Power in a subtle design
June, the company that makes the oven of the same name, was founded by two tech industry vets: CEO Matt Van Horn, who co-founded Zimride (now Lyft), and CTO Nikhil Bhogal, who previously worked at Apple. The Silicon Valley background is evident when you look at the guts of the June oven. The appliance runs on an Nvidia Tegra processor, which companies commonly use in mobile devices. It connects to your home's Wi-Fi so you can control the June remotely from your iOS device and see a live stream of your food as it cooks. A high-definition camera built into the top of the oven makes the live stream possible.
The June's design hides the nuts and bolts well. At 22 by 13 by 18 inches, June takes up about the same amount of space as a microwave. The 5-inch, touchscreen control panel is right on the oven's door, a feature that helps keep the unit at a manageable size without cutting into the 1-cubic-foot cooking space inside. Though the touchscreen is as intuitive to use as a phone, June includes a knob on the door that you can also use to make selections on the screen. The rounded edges and simple finish also add a nice touch. (Note: The review unit I received from June was a "late prototype." The ovens that will ship to customers will have a slightly different cosmetic finish, the company says.)
The June has some serious cooking chops. Six carbon-fiber heating elements bake and broil food, and two convection fans are built into the back wall of the oven to circulate hot air and cook food more evenly. A built-in scale lets you sit food directly on top of the unit to see its weight on the control panel. You can use the June as you would any other countertop oven to bake, broil, roast and toast without needing the app handy. And the June is about as easy to clean as a regular toaster oven -- there's even a crumb tray that's easy to remove and wipe down.
How well does June know its food?
The biggest draw of the June oven is Food ID, the feature that identifies what you're trying to cook. Here's how it works: You put one of the 25 food items that the camera will recognize into the oven. After you close the door, the control panel will give you two options of what the oven thinks your food could be. For example, after I put a piece of salmon in the oven and closed the door, a picture of a salmon filet and a picture of a PopTart appeared on the control panel. You select the correct food, then, depending on the dish, select preferences such as how done you want your cut of meat.
The oven will also tell you to insert the included temperature probe if necessary and what rack level to put your food. Then the oven cooks the food automatically -- it sets the temperature, determines the cook time, and shuts off once your food is complete. The June app also sends you a notification when it's done. During the process, the camera sends live footage of your food to the app so you can watch your dish. You can also save the footage and share it with hungry friends. And if you have to cancel cooking, you can do that from the app, too.
I tested 22 different food items in the June (the company has since updated the software and added three more, bringing it to 25). For 18 of those foods, the oven accurately identified the food. Well, it gave me two options, and one was right. Three items stumped it -- PopTarts, Toaster Strudel and hamburger buns. I received an error message when I put them in the oven: "Unfortunately, Chef has stopped." Because the June has its own operating system, the company can push out updates to add cook settings, improve performance and fix bugs. The company said it had fixed the problems I encountered during my tests with a new software update, but I couldn't verify those fixes because I had to return the review unit to the company.
The most interesting facet of the June's cooking performance was its mastery of cooking more difficult dishes and the disappointing way it treated convenience items. For example, I counted on the oven when I cooked a rack of lamb, a cut of meat I had never cooked. June recognized the dish, asked how done I wanted it and asked me to insert the temperature probe. Within an hour, my coworkers were gushing about how good the lamb was.
But when I wanted six slices of bread toasted to a medium brownness, the slices that cooked on the far left and far right side of the oven were barely brown at all. And June's failure to cook PopTarts and Toaster Strudel was a blow to all of us who wanted a quick breakfast.
The Food ID can also be persnickety. It recognizes and cooks fresh whitefish fairly well, for example, but a frozen filet threw the oven off its game. The fresh fish cooked quickly, while the frozen option was unevenly cooked and needed some additional time in the oven. And while the oven recognizes and bakes a great chocolate chip cookie, sugar and peanut butter cup cookie dough must have stumped the June, because the cookies were still raw by the time I received a push notification that baking was complete.
For the foods June can't recognize, there are nearly 50 presets that you can select to cook your meal. Presets and one-button cooking aren't new -- it's easy to find a microwave with a popcorn setting or a range with a pizza mode. But unlike some products I tested, June nailed the presets, especially when it came to baking biscuits. The results were some of the most evenly baked biscuits I'd ever seen.
To let June tell it, the future is bright for this smart oven. The company will start to ship it out next month to folks who have preordered. There are plans to add air fryer and dehydration modes. And the company wants to continue to add additional foods and presets to the June's operating system.
All of that is promising, as is the performance I saw when I spent about a week with the June oven. But I can't blindly recommend this product to everyone. Like any new, first-generation piece of technology, the June oven has notable imperfections and a hefty early-adopter price tag.
It doesn't recognize everything, so you have to send feedback to the company and hope that it eventually adds something like grilled cheese sandwiches to the Food ID software. And the hands-off approach to cooking a meal could turn off home cooks who find joy in relying on hand-me-down recipes and their own intuition to determine how best to prepare their food. But for the person who just hates to cook, is interested in technology and has some extra money, the June oven makes for a fun addition to your cooking routine.