The Refuel from Quirky + GE moves the smart home to the patio. The concept of the Refuel is simple: it helps you prepare for grilling season by checking the amount of propane that's left in the tank of your gas grill. You'll be able to see this information from any smart device, anywhere, via Quirky's Wink app. You can even customize alerts so you're notified if your gas is running low.
The readings, given in quarters of a tank, are imprecise, more so than the ones you'd get from the readily available pressure gauges that do the same task for $10 to $20. Those gauges hook to the nozzle of your tank and are compatible with any gas-grill configuration. In fact, plenty of modern gas grills include a gauge. The Refuel arrives at its measurements through weight, and you'll need a standard 20-pound tank that doesn't hang from the grill in order to use it.
Still, the Refuel costs only a little more as it's available at Home Depot for $30. Ten extra bucks is quite reasonable when you consider that the Refuel is the only one that offers connectivity. It claims to do one task, and it does it well enough to be useful. It's definitely excessive and won't wow you, but for those couple of times a year when you're at a hardware store trying to remember if you need propane, the Refuel can come to the rescue.
Home Depot offers the discounted price of $30 for the Refuel. You can also purchase it for $50 via Quirky's website, but again, there's no reason to pay that extra $20 for the same product. These are the only places that the Refuel is currently available, but you can get it shipped internationally. Quirky's price converts to approximately £29 and AU$53, for comparison.
For a smart device, the Quirky + GE Refuel is extremely simple. Most connected devices have lots of hidden functionality that add energy savings, convenience, or just cool factor. The Refuel has none of this. It's not compatible with IFTTT, the app-based service ("if this, then that") for creating smart "recipes." It won't pair with other devices to allow you to flash the lights or turn off the TV when you're running low. It measures your fuel. That's it.
Fortunately, the setup mirrors this simplicity. The primary piece of the device looks like a doughnut. Place this under your propane tank and attach it via heat-resistant cord to a puck-shaped sensor. The sensor shouldn't get too hot, but it is magnetic. The cord is long enough so you can easily place your propane tank under the grill compartment and stick the sensor to one of the legs. Just make sure to install the included batteries in the sensor first.
From there, download the Wink app to your iPhone or Android device, and it'll walk you through the rest, with helpful step-by-step directions and pictures. You will need a mobile device with Internet access and an available Wi-Fi signal. The app asks for the name and password of your wireless network, then starts a countdown on your phone followed by a series of flashes. You'll hold the flashing phone over the sensor at this point, and it'll use built-in photocells to pick up the information it needs to connect. This connection method is common on Quirky products, and it works well.
To complete the process, you'll need to determine the tank's tare weight tank which is usually stamped after "TW" or "T" on its side. The doughnut piece is a scale, and once you tell it the tare weight, (the weight of the tank when empty), it performs the simple calculation of subtracting that from the total to determine how much of your standard 20 pounds of propane you have left.
It shows this information in a display on the app, or when you tap the sensor. The app allows you to establish push notifications or emails and lets you set a level at which you'd like to receive an alert. Unfortunately, it won't automatically set multiple thresholds, say, at half a tank and then again at a quarter, but it's easy enough to switch it manually after the first mark is passed.
Additionally, the app tends to get mixed up as you move from screen to screen. You can pull up the tank-specific settings and set your alerts from there. They can also be set from the Wink control panel, where you can tinker with alerts on all of your Wink-compatible devices. Unfortunately, the settings in the Wink control panel aren't as detailed as they are when dealing with the specific device, and if you alter anything there, you'll overwrite your more detailed preferences.
As I tested the Refuel, I found myself frequently unsure which alert settings had been saved. The device itself is similarly easy to use, but suffers from a few inconveniences that detract from its appeal as a simple informer.
The doughnut-shaped piece is large, but because it sits under your propane tank, it's also completely unobtrusive. If your grill's cabinet has a lower shelf with a hole for the tank, it can even rest in there and roll with your cart. If not, the scale has no other way of attaching to the grill, so you'll have to take it off and set it back up each time you reposition. And if you have alerts set up already, the system will ping you whenever you go through this readjustment.
The inconvenience is minor but definitely noticeable, and the cord is long enough to potentially get snagged by the grill's wheels if you're able to move the Refuel along with it.
Once attached to the grill, the sensor blends in and looks like another dial, albeit one with a tail. You'll be able to reposition it as necessary using its magnetic back, within the limits of the cord. I also found it very useful to be able to tap the sensor to get an immediate reading when I didn't have my phone on me.
The sensor lights up to five green LEDs when activated, depending on how much gas is in your tank. Helpfully, when the level has recently dipped, the sensor will flash a certain number before causing one to disappear. For example, while testing the device and running my grill in the process, the readings dropped from a three-quarter-full tank to half-full. When I tapped the sensor, it flashed four of its five lights first, then blinked one out so only three were showing, revealing the decrease.
The sensor LEDs flash red when you're almost empty. The app keeps this simplicity, showing an image of a tank with the amount of propane you have left in quarter increments. I was disappointed that it lacked a way to give me more precise information than that, but it's still accurate enough to be helpful. Cleverly, it rounds down.
We tested the accuracy of the Refuel by checking the weight of our tank on a different scale and doing the same math. At 80 percent, it gave its three-quarters reading. It told us it was half full once the tank reached 65 percent. Again, it's painting in broad strokes, but rounding down is much preferable to the alternative, so it can do its job and let you know you're low on propane before you run out.
Grills with gauges included or Amazon's collection of $10-to-$20 devices can all give you more precise readings. They typically measure the pressure of the gas instead of the weight of the tank. This also means they attach to the nozzle and you won't run into any of the transportation issues mentioned above.
The Quirky + GE Refuel isn't the most accurate propane gauge on the market, but performance-wise, it knows enough to give you the information you need to plan your next refill. It isn't the most convenient when moving your grill, but it's the only one that allows you to check levels remotely or get alerts. Therefore, it's certainly the most convenient long-term.
This smart device isn't for everyone. $30 is definitely not worth it if your grill already measures the tank level, or if you don't have trouble remembering when to buy more propane and are comfortable picking up the tank to check it, the Refuel will prove an unnecessary excess. Also, be sure you have a standard 20-pound propane tank that doesn't hang from your grill before considering a purchase.
Without hidden features or connectivity options with other smart devices, this gauge doesn't offer much to get excited about, and since you'll be paying attention to the tank as you set it up, it might be awhile before you find it useful. You'll realize the appeal over time, when it's been awhile since you've grilled and you want to be able to check its level while you're at the store. Its a simple helper with one assignment. It's not thoughtful enough to be completely hands-off on your part, but it can adequately and cheaply help you with this task if you need it.