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A close look at LG's Smart ThinQ LFX31995ST Refrigerator (hands-on)

LG's smart fridge offers robust software you might actually use.

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This Smart ThinQ LFX31995ST marks LG's smart refrigerator debut, this model being the only fridge in LG's connected, app-driven Smart ThinQ line. From our preliminary, software-focused view, LG has made a confident first step into the world of the Internet-connected fridge.

LG released this model in December 2012 and gave it a price tag of $3,499.99. Like Samsung and other vendors, LG is clearly targeting high-end shoppers here. We'll have a full review of this refrigerator as we continue to develop our appliance testing methods, but here's what we know after some hands-on time.

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At its most basic level, the LFX31995ST is a large capacity, luxury refrigerator with French doors and a bottom freezer drawer. According to LG, the refrigerator portion boasts an impressive 20.7 cubic feet of space and the freezer an equally impressive 10 cubic feet. That makes it 30.7 cubic feet in total, which puts it in LG's Super Capacity category, and on the larger side of refrigerators overall. At 36 inches wide and 70.5 inches tall, this is no standard refrigerator, and you will need to make sure you have the appropriate space to install it.

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The good news about all that size is that LG puts those numbers to work for you. Internal capacity is only useful if it's functional. One of the ways that the company has revolutionized spacial considerations comes in the form of the Slim SpacePlus Ice System, housed in the door of the refrigerator, rather than on the top shelf. LG then goes further, hiding the door-mounted ice maker behind a shallow, but still functional shelf for storing small bottles or other small footprint items.

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The LG LFX31995ST also includes some helpful internal storage options like its Glide and Serve drawer. This drawer spans the entire width of the inside of the fridge and has customizable temperature options. It's large enough to hold a sheet cake but you can also use it to store party platters, a pizza, or multiple bottles of wine. If you keep a lot of raw meat in your refrigerator, this drawer would be an excellent storage place for it since it provides a clear separation from vegetables and other cross-contamination-prone items. Other manufacturers have similar options, like the Samsung RF4289HARS, so the third drawer isn't exactly unique.

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The the hallmark feature of this refrigerator, though, is the 8-inch Wi-Fi LCD screen.

The touch screen model retails at $3,499.99, but the LFX31925ST, which lacks a touch screen but is otherwise identical, sells for $3,199.99. Essentially, LG is asking the same for the touch screen as you'd pay for a standalone tablet.

And though the $3,499.99 price tag may shock you, the most direct competition on the market, the Samsung RF4289HARS, retails for $3,699. All things equal, we wouldn't balk too badly at Samsung's higher price tag -- what's $200 when you've spent $3,499 already? In LG's favor, its touchscreen functions are much better than Samsung's.

The LG's touch screen serves as both a control panel for the refrigerator as well as an information hub and potential family organization center.

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The home screen contains seven pages that you cycle through by swiping from side to side. They include information about the refrigerator's performance and energy-saving capabilities, the weather, a freshness tracker for food inventory, family water intake tracker, photo screen, daily recipe, and a calendar/memo screen.

The screen will remain on the page you visited last, so if you want the weather page as a background, simply go back to that page before you leave the refrigerator.

The icon dock displays the refrigerator's various apps along the bottom edge of the screen. The full list includes a food manager app for refrigerator inventory, a recipe app, a grocery app, memo app, calendar, photo album, REF Manager for monitoring temperature and other settings, LG's Smart Saving App, and a software settings control. Most of the apps interact with the corresponding smartphone app, unlike Samsung's fridge, and that ability gives LG a selling point or two, including the ability to transmit shopping lists based your actual fridge inventory.

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The LG LFX31995ST's touch screen lacks the branded apps of the Samsung, which included the likes of Twitter, Pandora, and Epicurious. You might miss Pandora, and the LG Food Channel recipe database doesn't have the same breadth as that of Epicurious, but what LG's apps lack in brand-name recognition, they more than make up for in function.

For example, the food manager and grocery apps work together with your smartphone to help you keep inventory of the food items in your refrigerator, along with their expiration dates, and send them to the grocery list on your phone when the items are either depleted or expired. We would still prefer more automation for inventory control, but to compare, Samsung only lets you enter log one item at a time, and only with a broad category name, like "meat" or "beverage." LG not only lets you enter items with more granular labels ("brisket"), it also lets you enter multiple items at once via a basic check-box system.

Screenshot by Katie Pilkington/CNET

LG's Recipe app is also highly functional, as it enables you to search for recipes and add the ingredients and their quantities to your smartphone for shopping.

Screenshot by Katie Pilkington/CNET

The memo and photo apps provide bonus utility to the screen. You can upload photos from an SD card and use them on the photo display page or make them into a screensaver. You might use the memo app to write notes or record voice memos to family members. It's a nice idea, though a pen and PostIt notes would probably win out nearly every time in terms of convenience.

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LG has taken a leap with the Smart ThinQ LFX31995ST, and so far, we've not been disappointed. No doubt, LG is keeping its efforts with the new Smart ThinQ line conservative at first, measuring feedback from these first appliances in the category. This feedback, in addition to competition from other top brands looking for a piece of the smart appliance pie, will naturally lead to greater risks and/or improvements in later models.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Again, with an MSRP of $3,499, the LFX31995ST is certainly not a casual purchase, but its price point is lower than its primary competitor from Samsung, not to mention that it out-classes Samsung's fridge with both the utility and function of its touch screen. We will treat the LFX31995ST to a full review in the coming months. But for the moment, given its price compared to both other LCD screened refrigerators and comparable refrigerators within LG's product line, LG is on the right track with both its smart functions and with the refrigerator's design.

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