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Editors' note: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of 34 top-load Samsung washing machines on November 4, 2016. Samsung's WA52J8700AP was one of the washers listed on the recall. Check here to find out if your washer was affected.
Top load washing machines tend to get a bad rap. You can't stack them and they're usually limited in terms of features and storage capacity compared to their front load cousins. One benefit is that they typically cost less, but that isn't always enough to make a top load washer purchase worthwhile.
Samsung's $1,199 Activewash machine, model number WA52J8700AP, is giving traditional top load laundry a makeover, starting with a built-in sink and jet that lets you hand wash, prewash and directly target tough stains without having to travel to the kitchen or the nearest bathroom for a water source. Currently restricted to the US, there are actually four models in this series starting with the 4.8-cubic-foot $899 WA48J7770AW with a white finish and ending with the pricier WA52J8700AP we reviewed here.
Although this unit, finished with a silvery-gray "platinum" coat of paint, looks nice and is mostly easy to use (with the exception of the oddly placed and hard-to-reach detergent dispenser), it didn't blow us away during testing. It performed worse than the $1,500 front load LG WM5000HVA and the $1,400 front load GE GFWR4805FMC, but better than the $1,500 top load LG WT7700HVA. And if you don't care about the built-in sink, it's really just going to get in the way.
Even so, I'd suggest taking a look at the $1,199 WA52J8700AP -- it's less expensive than its top load competition from LG, but performed better overall.
An attached sink struck me as a totally bizarre and unnecessary washer feature at first, as I have never presoaked anything in my life and tend to use the delicate cycle as my hand-wash catch-all. But, after spending time with Samsung's Activewash, I'm beginning to question my current laundry technique; maybe my clothes would last longer with this sort of rig.
It works like this: Lift the washer door, make sure that the sink is lowered and press the Water Jet button. The jet will spit out a stream of water into the basin, press it again to stop the water. That's it.
Then you can presoak any grass, wine, mustard or other stubborn stains before starting a regular wash cycle. Or you can use the sink as a complete hand wash cycle. And when you're done, simply lift the sink and the remaining water will pour into the main tub and out through your washer's designated drain hookup.
It's so easy that I could imagine actually trying to presoak or hand wash certain items when previously I would've just shoved them in the washer. But, if you don't plan to use it -- either because you already have a standalone sink in your laundry room or because you don't foresee a lot of presoaking in your future -- this feature will just get in your way. (Do you pre-soak your clothes? Leave a comment and let me know whether you'd use a built-in sink.)
Aside from the sink, this machine offers a lot of other features. It has a 5.2-cubic-foot capacity, which is big for a top load unit (although LG's top load WT7700HVA is even larger, with 5.7 cubic feet of space). Samsung's model also boasts several special settings: Heavy Duty, Bedding, Activewear, Deep Steam, Sanitize, Eco Plus and even Super Speed, which Samsung claims can complete a full cycle in only 36 minutes.
Beyond these options, this washer also happens to look nice and, at 27 inches wide by 46 inches tall with a depth of 29.3 inches, it won't take up too much space. The Activewash's transparent lid showcases the sink below and its sparkly gray finish and intuitive, easy-to-read display gives it a clear edge over many top load washers. That isn't true for the LG WT7700HVA, though, which has a very similar design aesthetic.
The sensitivity of the touch display did throw me off at first, as it's extremely responsive. My instinct to press on the display overcomplicated things, too, as a light touch is more than enough to adjust the temperature, soil level and other settings. There's also a difference between the power and start/pause buttons and the rest of the panel. The first two are actual buttons that you press, while the rest respond to touch alone.
Also, whether or not you love the built-in sink, it definitely gets in the way of the detergent dispenser. The location of the dispenser is weird in general -- it's tucked under the washer door and the sink below it has to be lifted before you can get access. The bleach dispenser, in contrast, has a much better spot toward the front of the washer and is incredibly easy to use. Since I don't often use bleach, I wish the location of the two dispensers were swapped.
Washing machine testing is fairly complex. It involves temperature controls, flow meters and all sorts of other gizmos and standardized, repeatable procedures. If you're curious about the inner-workings of our washer lab, take a look at this article.
In short, we run three identical wash cycles to judge how well a machine removes stains and then take a look at how gently it cleaned the clothes as well. Oftentimes, a machine that does a better job removing stains is tougher on the clothes and visa versa. We definitely saw that with the LG front load WM5000HVA and the GE front load GFWR4805FMC. Where the GE model did a better job removing stains, the LG model was gentler on the clothes.
Interestingly, this didn't happen with Samsung's top load Activewash model and its LG top load competitor, the WT7700HVA. The Samsung washer scored a 92.84, or a B- for stain removal -- this isn't a traditional 0-100 scale, because machines can score over a 100, but the higher the number, the better. The LG model got a 90.55, or a C+ for stain removal.
This might not seem too significant, but you can actually see the difference when comparing Activewash and WT7700HVA stain strips side-by-side.
Samsung's Activewash also outperformed the pricier WT7700HVA in terms of gentleness. The fabric we use to judge wear and tear had an average of 219 loose threads after one run in the Samsung washer for a wear and tear score of A-. The LG machine scored a B+ with 222 loose threads. That's still a good grade (and extremely close to what the Activewash scored), but I would have expected better from this LG model since it costs $300 more.
This makes Samsung's washer sound pretty great, but $1,199 is still a lot to spend on a washing machine and its performance was only so-so. And given that you can snag a standard top load model for half the price, this thing is much closer to the cost of a high-end front load washer. Also, if there are a lot of other folks who treat laundry as indelicately as I do, the Activewash's sink (its standout feature) could be a tough sell. Then again, we haven't seen anything like the Activewash before.
Samsung isn't the only company doing interesting things with laundry, though. The front load $1,500 LG WM5000HVA is actually part of the brand's new Twin Wash system. With Twin Wash-compatible washers, like the WM5000HVA, you can stick a smaller, separate washing compartment on the bottom called a Sidekick. That way you can wash two different loads at the same time.
Also, at CES earlier this year, we spotted a vented two-in-one washer-dryer unit from startup Marathon. Its goal is to do away with separate laundry appliances altogether, so we expect some interesting trends to continue in this space in the near future.
If you either don't need or don't want a washer with a built-in sink, it's hard to recommend Samsung's WA52J8700 Activewash machine. At $1,199 it's a better value than the $1,500 LG WT7700HVA; it performed better, too. Sink aside, if you can get past the wonky location of the detergent dispenser and are OK with performance results that are just pretty good, you'll likely enjoy this straightforward, simple-to-use top load washing machine.