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Samsung swung for the smart fridge fences with the Family Hub, an out-and-proud connected refrigerator with ingredient-tracking cameras and a whopping 21.5-inch touchscreen on the door. I liked that fridge a lot more than I thought I would, but with retail prices starting at more than $5,000, it was much too expensive for most folks to justify a purchase.
Enter Family Hub 2.0, which sees Samsung expanding the fleet in year two to include new models that are less fancy -- and less expensive -- than before. The cheapest of the bunch is the RF265BEAESR, a basic French door model in plain stainless steel. Originally priced at $3,299, the model has enjoyed regular discounts since its debut. As of writing this, Samsung has it listed on sale for $2,299, which is downright reasonable for a dumb French door fridge, let alone a smart one.
The trade-off is that you no longer get a luxurious, four-door build or a "Flex Zone" capable of switching between fridge and freezer settings depending on what you want to put in it, but those are acceptable sacrifices for people who just want those touchscreen smarts at the lowest price possible. The good news: those smarts are just as smart as before -- which is to say that they aren't perfect, but they're a little better than you might expect. And, with Samsung's Bixby voice assistant set to arrive in Family Hub fridges via software update at some point in the future, those smarts stand to improve with time.
The cheaper Family Hub isn't the stunner that its predecessor was, and it isn't a must-have by any stretch, but it's still a decent refrigerator with compelling features you won't find anywhere else. If it fills you with skepticism, then feel free to skip it, but if that touchscreen inspires fridge envy, it's never been more affordable. I say anything under $2,500 is a pretty fair price for it.
In the case of the new, cheaper Family Hub, the answer is everything that last year's more expensive Family Hub can do. Some of the highlights include:
The better question might be what can't the Family Hub do yet. The big omission is Bixby voice controls, which Samsung has long been promising. They'll arrive sooner or later, and when they do, there's a chance that they make the Family Hub a lot easier to use, but for now, they get an "incomplete" grade.
One problem is that we're starting to see voice-activated touchscreen gadgets like the Amazon Echo Show make their way into people's homes, which raises the bar for a dedicated display like the Family Hub's. Eventually, I suspect that it'll basically serve as a king-sized, Bixby-powered Echo Show for your kitchen, but we aren't there yet, and I wouldn't fault anybody who wanted to wait until we were before buying in.
That said, there are still some nice year-two refinements to the user interface. You'll find a few more apps, for instance, including a Nomiku app that can control smart sous vide gadgets. Samsung's existing apps are better-designed, too, with things like cartoonish avatars for each family member. They're also better-integrated with each other. For instance, after picking out something to cook from the Allrecipes app, you can select specific ingredients to add to your shopping list, or set timers specific to a particular part of the recipe.
Like the original Family Hub, you can open the camera feed and drag expiration timers over top of specific things in the fridge, but they won't live over top of that feed like before. Instead, they're relegated to a separate list. I'm not a fan of that change, as it puts those expiration reminders out of sight and out of mind, where they're less helpful.
There's also still no app for the Samsung-owned SmartThings connected home platform. The ability to toggle lights on and off or lock your door by tapping on the fridge might offer questionable utility at best, but it's still strange that Samsung hasn't done a better job of integrating its ecosystem by now.
Unlike last year's glamorous four-door models, the cheapest Family Hub fridge comes in a simple French door build with about 24 cubic feet of total storage space. It's still a few steps above entry level as far as French doors are concerned -- you get an in-door ice and water dispenser, as well as a temperature-adjustable "Cool Select Pantry" drawer and shelves that slide in and fold up to make room for tall items below. You can also get it in black stainless steel for an additional $100.
None of that is unique to this fridge (far from it), but it does make for a model that, on its own, would typically retail for somewhere between $1,600 and $2,000. That's before you factor in the touchscreen, the camera and the fridge apps. In other words, Samsung hit a strange sweet spot here -- cheap enough to bring the Family Hub's price way down, but still nice enough to call it a legitimate upgrade for most folks. In this case, the boring design is a feature, not a bug.
Still, it's fair to be disappointed if you were holding out for a design that's more refined. There's still the "Ice Master" ice maker eating up space on the top shelf -- and yes, there's still a much-too-narrow shelf in the door that we've affectionately dubbed the "salsa moat." In fairness to Samsung, both seem slightly less egregious than they were -- the Ice Master is a tad skinnier, while the salsa moat offers slightly more depth than before. They're both still design imperfections, but more annoyances than deal-breakers.
16.2 of the refrigerator's 24.2 cubic feet of total storage space are allocated to the fridge, which puts it on the small side of the French door spectrum. It's not a compact model by any stretch, but it might not be the best choice for a family of more than four or five.
The new Family Hub isn't as fancy as before, but it still offers decent performance for a fridge at this price range. During a week or so of non-stop performance tests in our appliances lab, it held accurate temperatures throughout the body of the fridge at both the default 37-degree setting and the coldest setting of 34 degrees.
It wasn't perfect, though. The bottom of the left door and the top of the right door both ran just slightly on the warm side, averaging temperatures above 40 degrees F at the default setting. That's pretty typical for a mid-range fridge like this, and not a real concern at all given that door shelves typically hold things like butter, beverages and preservative-heavy condiments. The temperatures in the body of the fridge are what really count.
The Cool Select Pantry drawer was more of a disappointment. It claims to offer three distinct temperature settings: 34, 38 and 41 degrees. The actual temperature range is much tighter, ranging from 34 to 37 degrees, and it also seemed susceptible to temperature changes in the body of the fridge surrounding it.
That's par for the course with temperature-adjustable drawers that live inside of the fridge itself, where it's quite a challenge to maintain a separate temperature. It's still useful if you want to soften up some cheese or get some soda a degree or two colder, but if precision is what you're after, you'll be better off looking for a model with a drawer that lives outside of the fridge itself.
The RF265BEAESR is designed to bring the Family Hub's touchscreen and grocery cameras into your kitchen at a much lower expense than before, and if you can catch it on sale, that's exactly what it offers. At $2,500 or less, you'll be spending a little less than you would on GE's coffee-making smart fridge and a lot less than you'll need to spend on the LG Smart InstaView fridge. You won't get last year's premium design, but you will get all of the same apps and smart features as before. Plus, the fridge is still a pretty decent performer, and nice enough to feel like you aren't compromising too much.
Samsung hasn't made the Family Hub a must-have yet, though. That might change as new software updates arrive, but for now, the touchscreen smarts amount to little more than a fun, semi-frivolous extra. If you're tempted, here's my advice: track one down at a department store and play around with the screen a bit. If it's still the sort of frivolous extra that strikes your fancy, then feel free to give it a shot. Worst case scenario: you'll pay a reasonable amount for a perfectly decent fridge with a touchscreen you won't use all that much.