Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator review: Finally, a smart fridge that feels smart
Nobody needs the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator and its 21.5-inch touchscreen. And its ingredient-tracking fridge-cams. And its assortment of fridge apps. That's a valid argument against this extraordinarily expensive fridge.
We don't buy things just because we need them -- we buy things because we want them. And the best-looking, most fully featured fridge on the market is a perfectly reasonable thing to want.
Starting at $5,600, £4,500 or AU$7,499, the Samsung Family Hub is a beautiful appliance that performs like the high-end fridge that it is, and it's loaded with easy-to-use features you won't find anywhere else. Plenty of those features feel mighty superfluous (I'm just as skeptical of fridge-based web browsing as you probably are), but enough of them offer legitimate utility, convenience, and luxury to earn my approval. Bottom line: it's a top-of-the-line fridge that's absolutely worth wanting -- and yes, worth buying, too, if that's the kind of budget you're rolling with.
Fridge of the future, roots in the past
If Samsung's aim was to create the most modern fridge on the market, then mission accomplished. There's really nothing else like the Family Hub Refrigerator, not even among smart fridges. Samsung's Four-Door Flex build already felt like a logical, desirable evolution from today's near-ubiquitous French door stylings -- the Family Hub fridge takes it and adds in a 21.5-inch touchscreen loaded with apps, inventory-watching cameras on the inside, and an especially attractive black stainless-steel finish. It's a beautiful, futuristic appliance that pushes beyond what we expect from contemporary fridge design.
And yet, even with the futurism, this fridge is rooted in the past. It's right there in the name, "Family Hub." Refrigerators have always been something of a town post for busy families -- a place for calendars, pictures, report cards, to-do lists, and reminders about soccer practice. That's the history Samsung is trying to tap into here.
As a result, you'll find apps aimed at helping this fridge of the future do what fridges have always done. There's a shopping list app, and an app for displaying photos. There's a whiteboard app for drawing a quick doodle or writing a note to Mom. There's a calendar app called StickiBoard that imports everyone's existing calendars into a shared, family fridge calendar. All of it keeps the Family Hub grounded in the sort of normal, everyday use we expect from a fridge -- but it also makes you wonder if any of it is really necessary, given that magnets and scratch paper have gotten the job done for generations now.
Perhaps to that end, other features seem designed solely to let you do things that you could never do with your refrigerator before. The fridge cameras are the most obvious example. They snap a picture of your groceries each time you close the doors -- press the "View Inside" button on the touchscreen, and you'll see the latest set of images, complete with the option to drag little countdown icons over specific ingredients to help track expiration dates. Download Samsung's app on your Android or iOS device, and you'll be able to view the inside of the fridge and all of your timers while you're out at the store. It's a little clunky as far as apps go, but it works.
The drag-and-drop timers are my favorite part of that pitch, and one of my favorite Family Hub features in general. They won't follow ingredients around if you move them, but they're still surprisingly useful -- and you won't find them on any other fridge but this one.
Let's talk touchscreen
At 21.5 inches from corner to corner, the Family Hub's touchscreen is the obvious star of the show, offering a dedicated kitchen command center. It's a huge size upgrade over the comparatively puny touchscreen on Samsung's previous stab at the smart fridge, and one that helps the Family Hub feel fully realized. The calendar, the photos, the web browsing -- none of it would have made any sense with a small screen. It had to be big.
Size isn't everything, though. We've all grown accustomed to smooth, responsive touch controls on our phones and tablets, and it's fair to expect the same from a touchscreen fridge that costs this much. And, while they still aren't as smooth or as snappy as you'd get with a high-end tablet, I found that the touch controls on the Family Hub's screen felt much better than they did two months ago, when I tested out a preproduction model in the CNET Smart Home. Chalk one up for software updates.
Along with the widgets for time and weather that stay locked at the top of the home screen, the Family Hub Fridge comes with the following apps:
- White Board: app for scribbling notes and sketching doodles
- Internet: app for browsing the web
- View Inside: app that pulls up pictures of the interior and lets you track expiration dates using drag-and-drop countdown timers
- Club des Chefs: app with recipes and instructional cooking videos
- Allrecipes: app for organizing personal recipes and finding new ones
- StickiBoard: app that imports calendars from Google and Outlook into a shared family fridge calendar
- Pandora: app for streaming music
- TuneIn: app for streaming podcasts and internet radio
- Photo Album: app for organizing photos into a fridge screensaver
- Shopping List: app for organizing your grocery list
- TV Mirroring: app that displays the picture from current-gen Samsung smart TVs
- InstaCart/Groceries by MasterCard: apps for ordering groceries for home delivery
- Timer: app with timers for things like marinating steak and chilling beer
- Fridge Manager: app for viewing and changing the fridge temperature and settings
Apps like the web browser and the TV mirror seem to offer fringe utility at best, and others simply seem superfluous (two recipe apps? Two grocery delivery apps?) And no, you can't delete any of these apps (or download different ones), but you can at least drag the ones you don't use as much to the second screen.
Some app icons are bigger than others, with handy, live-tile-like control from the home screen over things like audio playback and fridge temperature. I'd have liked more customization options. You can't resize any of the icons, nor can you give any individual photos or white board notes their own space on the home screen.
It's also worth mentioning that there's no SmartThings app for controlling connected home devices. The ability to sync with SmartThings and turn lights and smart switches on and off from the fridge was part of the Family Hub's original pitch -- we even saw the app in action back in January, when the Family Hub made its CES debut. It's an understandable bit of backpedaling given SmartThings recent woes -- and it must be frustrating given that Samsung spent $200 million to acquire SmartThings in 2014.
Voice control is another notable absence. When Samsung first told us about the Family Hub fridge, the top bullet point in the features list was Alexa integration. The plan was essentially to build Amazon's virtual assistant directly into the fridge, making it something of an enormous Amazon Echo for your kitchen. That sounded like a great idea given how many people enjoy using an Alexa device in their kitchen for listening to music and setting cooking timers, but when CES arrived, Alexa wasn't anywhere to be seen when Samsung unveiled the fridge.
Now, Samsung only says that Alexa integration is a possibility for further down the road. Maybe that means they decided to wait and see what happens with Google's Amazon Echo competitor later this year, but it's hard to say. For now, at least, the fridge's built-in microphone is only good for recording voice memos in the White Board app.
A four-door concept fridge
The Family Hub Fridge is the fourth four-door fridge from Samsung, and one of just five available from major manufacturers (the fifth is a competitor from LG, which also has a sixth on the way). Interestingly, the Family Hub fridge isn't the most expensive of these four-door options. That distinction still goes to Samsung's foodie-focused Chef Collection fridge, its first four-door model.
All of these fridges are a play at the same shoppers who upgraded their refrigerators during the French door boom of the past 15 years or so. With many of those French door models starting to get a bit long in the tooth, Samsung is betting that a lot of those consumers might be looking to upgrade again.
|Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator||Samsung 4-Door Flex Refrigerator||Samsung 4-Door Flex Food Showcase Refrigerator||Samsung Chef Collection Refrigerator||LG Diamond Collection 4-Door Refrigerator|
|Fridge capacity||16.4 cubic feet||16.6 cubic feet||16.3 cubic feet||19.0 cubic feet||16.8 cubic feet|
|Freezer capacity||11.5 cubic feet||11.5 cubic feet||11.5 cubic feet||15.3 cubic feet||13.0 cubic feet|
|Total capacity||27.9 cubic feet||28.1 cubic feet||27.8 cubic feet||34.3 cubic feet||29.8 cubic feet|
|Finish||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel||Black Stainless Steel|
|Available in Black Stainless Steel||Yes (+$200)||Yes (+$200)||Yes (+$200)||No||Yes|
|Available in Counter Depth||Yes (+$200)||Yes (+$600)||Yes (+$200)||Yes (+$300)||No|
|Available with adjustable temperature zone||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Available with sparkling water dispenser||No||No||No||Yes (+$300)||No|
|Energy Star Certified||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Yearly energy consumption (kilowatt hours)||772 kWh||780 kWh||779 kWh||855 kWh||766 kWh|
|Yearly energy cost ($0.12 per kWh)||$92||$93||$93||$102||$92|
|Energy efficiency (yearly cost per cubic foot)||$3.30||$3.31||$3.35||$2.97||$3.09|
|Suggested retail price||$5,600||$3,400||$3,800||$5,700||$4,300|
|Lowest retail price (as of 7/1/16)||$4,300||$2,400||$2,700||$4,700||$3,000|
I think that the Family Hub fridge makes a lot of sense in that context. It's an attention-getter for the budding four-door category. Sure, a lot of us are never going to spend four or five thousand on this fridge, but if it catches our eye, then maybe we'll consider a similar, less expensive version, like Samsung's baseline 4-Door Flex models -- those currently sell for around $2,400.
Like the rest of those four-door options, the Family Hub fridge offers plenty of storage space, with 16.4 cubic feet in the fridge and 11.5 cubic feet between the two freezer sections. That means the fridge section accounts for less than 60 percent of the total capacity, which is typical for all of these four-door models and low compared with French door refrigerators, where the fridge compartments usually account for closer to 70 percent of your total storage space. Even so, I was able to fit all of our test groceries into the Family Hub fridge, along with all six of our large-sized stress test items -- although it was admittedly a very tight fit.
To that end, the refrigerator's bottom right "FlexZone" compartment is a really smart addition, since you can switch it from freezer to fridge and, in a pinch, give yourself an additional 5.75 cubic feet of fresh food storage space. It performed exceedingly well in my tests, too, with accurate, consistent temperatures at each of its five settings.
Performance in the rest of the fridge was also quite solid. At the default, 37-degree setting, temperatures were remarkably consistent in the body of the fridge and in the freezer, too. The coldest setting (34 F) held steady, as well -- although the temperatures in the fridge barely came down from the default at all. I suspect that this is because of the FlexZone compartment -- I dialed it up into its fridge modes during the 34-degree test to see how it would impact the main refrigerator section. Looks to me like it bumped temperatures up by a degree or two.
Is it really worth it?
We've had months and months to ooh and aah over this flashy fridge -- now, it's finally time for a verdict. And, like the final score of 8.5 might indicate, it's a good one. By all of our metrics -- performance, usability, features, and design -- this is a very solid fridge, even for its price range. Among four-door and high-end French door models, it's the best-looking and most fully featured refrigerator we've come across. Some of the touchscreen features seem superfluous, but others, like the drag-and-drop expiration timers, are legitimately useful. None of them are held back by the user interface.
So yes, I think the Family Hub is worth it -- provided you're willing (let alone able) to spend this much on a refrigerator to begin with. You pay that much for a refrigerator because you want it to offer strong performance, unique, useful features, and a gorgeous design. Even to a skeptical eye, the Family Hub checks all of those boxes.
Update, November 2: Added UK and Australian prices. Note that a smaller fridge-freezer model is also available in the UK, for £3,000.