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Samsung RF263BEAESR review: Samsung's midrange French door fridge: Not bad, not great

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French-door refrigerators vary wildly in price, from basic units that sell for around $1,500 to feature-rich, king-size models that go for $4,000 or more . At a retail price of $2,400, the Samsung RF263BEAESR sits in the middle. With a clean-looking design, passable performance and nice-to-have features like sliding shelves and a pantry drawer with its own temperature controls, there's plenty to like about it, but its cramped interior and cheap construction keep me from recommending it outright.

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6.8

Samsung RF263BEAESR

The Good

The Samsung RF263BEAESR is an above-average performer among midrange French door models, with accurate and appropriately cold temperatures in the body of the fridge. It scores well for its efficiency, too.

The Bad

The interior construction feels cheap and cramped, and the temperature-adjustable CoolSelect Pantry was an erratic performer in our tests.

The Bottom Line

As a midrange model that gets the basics right, this fridge deserves a look, but it might not be enough of an upgrade over less expensive French door models.

Samsung keeps it simple with this French-door fridge (pictures)

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On looks alone, the RF263BEAESR is pretty shrug-worthy. With its modern, tastefully inoffensive build, it won't jump out from the crowd on the showroom floor, but it won't have any trouble fitting in with your kitchen decor, either. For something a little more striking, you can upgrade to a dark-tinted stainless-steel finish, but you'll need to spend an extra $200.

You'll find temperature controls and fridge settings on an LED touch display that sits above the ice dispenser. It doesn't do anything to set this fridge apart from the countless other French-door models with similar displays (unless you prefer blue lights to green ones), but it is one of the reasons this fridge is more than bottom-tier.

Inside the fridge, you'll find 16.6 cubic feet of storage space for your groceries -- a number that doesn't beat very many French-door models in this price range. By comparison, the $2,600 Frigidaire Gallery FGHB2866PF offers 18.5 cubic feet of fridge space; the $2,500 LG LFX28968SB boasts 17.9 cubic feet. That isn't to say that the RF263BEAESR is small, but if you're looking for the most storage space for your buck, look elsewhere.

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The fridge's two main shelves are each divided into two sections, and each of the four sections is movable. The top left flips up and out of the way to make room for tall items stored below, while the bottom right slides in for the same purpose. The other two each slide out, making it easier to grab items stored in the back.

I like the flexibility of that approach, but wish that the shelves themselves were more, well, flexible. None of the moving parts actually moves that easily, all of them requiring more than a comfortable amount of force to push in, pull out or fold up. A quick blast of WD-40 might be all they need, but I'd rather not need to worry about how well-lubricated my fridge is in the first place.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Even worse is the CoolSelect Pantry at the bottom of the fridge. It's a nice feature in and of itself: a pantry-style drawer that runs the width of the fridge interior and offers its own distinct temperature presets. As with those shelves, though, the problem comes when you open and close it. It offers far too much resistance, often sliding back in crooked and jamming, forcing you to rattle it back on track before shoving it the rest of the way in. I hated opening and closing this drawer, enough so that I would actively avoid using it if this were the fridge in my home kitchen.

You'll find the icemaker sitting in the top left corner of the fridge. It drops its ice down into your glass through an angled opening in the inside of the door. It's not an uncommon approach to ice-dispensing design, but this type of design blocks off the shelf below, rendering it more or less unusable -- I much prefer LG's Slim SpacePlus approach, which relocates the entire icemaker into the door.

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Poor interior execution aside, the RF263BEAESR was a better-than-average performer in our cooling tests. At the default setting of 37 degrees F, it held nice and cold in the body of the fridge, all of the main shelves averaging out comfortably below the target temperature. The doors both saw hot spots above 40 degrees F, a food safety benchmark used by the FDA, but that's not uncommon with refrigerator door shelves, where you'll likely be storing drinks and preservative-heavy condiments.

As for the CoolSelect Pantry, we dialed it down to the minimum setting of 34 degrees F -- 3 degrees colder than the rest of the fridge. In the end, it yielded an average temperature of 36.2, which was actually warmer than the majority of the refrigerator's main shelves. That's not a great result, but it still came in under 37, and within a few degrees of the target. I'll call that a C minus -- a passing grade, but not a respectable one.

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Ry Crist/CNET

Turning to the minute-by-minute graph of the same test, you'll see that the RF263BEAESR is a pretty steady performer (except for those five telltale spikes -- those are our regularly scheduled door openings, which help simulate the effect of everyday use). You can also see our hot spots in action: those three purple lines representing the right door shelves all average out above the 40-degree mark, as does the light green line representing the bottom of the left door.

It's also easy to see that the three drawers (two crisper bins represented by red lines and an orange line representing the CoolSelect Pantry) aren't nearly as affected by our door openings as the rest of the fridge. That makes sense given that each one is an enclosed space within the fridge, and lends support to the idea that drawers like the CoolSelect Pantry are a good spot for temperature-sensitive ingredients like meat and cheese. It'd just be nice if its temperature were a bit more accurate.

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With the 37-degree, default-setting test complete, we dial the fridge down to its lowest setting -- usually 34 or 33 degrees -- and start all over again. With Samsung fridges, the minimum setting is 34 degrees, and the RF263BEAESR is no exception.

As you'd probably expect, temperatures came down throughout the fridge, though we still had hot spots above 40 degrees in each of the doors. The true disappointment, though, was the CoolSelect Pantry. With the rest of the fridge dialed down, we chose to dial it up to its highest setting of 41 degrees F. The result wasn't what I expected. Despite cranking it up, the temperature actually went down compared with the first run, where we had it set at 34. That's a patently bad result, and not one that instills much faith in those temperature presets.

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As for storage space, the RF263BEAESR isn't anything to get excited about. While its capacity of 24.6 cubic feet is more or less on par for French-door models that retail for around $2,500, it's only slightly better than models we've liked that cost a lot less, like the GE GNS23GMHES. That French-door fridge offers 22.7 cubic feet of space, and retails for about $1,000 less.

Inside the fridge itself, you'll find 16.6 cubic feet of fresh-food storage space -- again, more or less on par with the competition, and only slightly better than less expensive models. In my tests, it accommodated our test groceries just fine, but only left room for three out of six of our bulky stress test items, even after I spent time repositioning the shelves and rearranging their contents to help optimize space.

Capacity and efficiency

Samsung RF263BEAESRLG LFX25973STFrigidaire Gallery FGUB2642LFElectrolux EI27BS26JSGE GNS23GMHES
Refrigerator capacity 16.6 cu. ft.16.4 cu. ft.19.0 cu. ft.19.0 cu. ft.15.8 cu. ft.
Freezer capacity 8.0 cu. ft.7.7 cu. ft.7.7 cu. ft.7.7 cu. ft.6.9 cu. ft.
Total storage space 24.6 cu. ft.24.1 cu. ft.26.7 cu. ft.26.7 cu. ft.22.7 cu. ft.
Yearly energy consumption 637 kWh752 kWh487 kWh487 kWh647 kWh
Estimated yearly energy cost ($0.12 per kWh) $76 $90 $58 $58 $78
Energy cost per cubic foot $3.09 $3.74 $2.17 $2.17 $3.44
Energy Star certification YesYesYesYesYes
Suggested retail price $2,600 $2,350 $2,400 $2,700 $1,600

You might also want to consider how much money you'll spend keeping that storage space cool. With a yearly energy cost of about $76 and a yearly cost per cubic foot of $3.09, the RF263BEAESR does a respectable job in this regard, besting the nearest LG model, the LFX25973ST, along with that smaller-sized GE model.

If a lower monthly power bill is your chief concern, you may want to consider comparable models from Frigidaire, or from Frigidaire's parent company, Electrolux (the two models in the above chart are essentially identical). Those fridges tend to draw considerably less power than other brands, which leads to high efficiency scores. The counter is that they also tend to run at least a little bit warmer (and in some cases a lot warmer ).

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The verdict

This is a middle-of-the-road refrigerator that doesn't do anything to disqualify itself from consideration. It offers a strong combination of performance and efficiency, with accurate temperatures in the body of the fridge. It isn't a special design by any stretch, but it's a clean-looking one, and one that you likely won't mind seeing in your kitchen in each morning.

Still, the flimsy feel of those drawers would irritate me every time I returned home with groceries to put away. That, along with the somewhat cramped interior, would have me looking elsewhere. If you're shopping for a French-door fridge with a budget of about $2,500 you could do worse, but I have to think that you could do better, too.

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6.8

Samsung RF263BEAESR

Score Breakdown

Features 7Design 6Performance 8Usability 6