Whirlpool's innovation arm, WLabs, has a new smart countertop oven that uses a camera and AI to recognize food. But how good is it?
In an ever-growing pool of smart countertop ovens, the WLabs Smart Oven, from Whirlpool's in-house innovation lab, aims to compete with the likes of Amazon, June and others with nine distinct cooking functions. It can bake, broil, convection bake, convection roast, toast, reheat, proof, dehydrate and keep warm. It also includes a plug-in food thermometer. The WLabs Smart Oven is only available in the US in a limited release of 2,000 units, priced at $799 each.
If you have other smart Whirlpool appliances in your home, the WLabs Smart Oven fits nicely in the Whirlpool app. It cooks well enough and looks great on your countertop. But with less than impressive food recognition, a high price and an uncertain future, this smart oven isn't recommendable.
Measuring 13.5 inches heigh by 19.5 inches wide and 21 inches deep, the WLabs Smart Oven is a little larger than a standard countertop microwave. At 53 pounds, it is definitely not portable. The oven is big enough to cook a small, whole chicken or a 12-inch pizza. Anything larger, and you'll do best with a full-size oven. A touchscreen on the front of the oven serves as your control interface.
The oven comes with more accessories than any other countertop oven we've tested. You'll get an air-fry basket, drip tray, oven rack, roasting rack, baking pan, food thermometer and a cutting board designed to rest on top of the oven when it's not in use.
Amazon's $250 Smart Oven went on sale in November, and I was impressed with its cooking power. The WLabs Smart Oven takes that one step further with roasting and broiling temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, 75 degrees more than Amazon's oven and equal to the food-recognizing June Intelligent Oven. Still, the WLabs Smart Oven lacks the microwave option Amazon's oven offers. In an apartment kitchen or anywhere with limited counter space, the absence of a microwave will make it hard to justify the WLabs oven as an all-in-one solution.
If you're away from your oven, you can use the Whirlpool app for remote preheating, temperature and time monitoring as well as adjusting cooking cycles. You can even use a feature called "Live Look-in" to see what's going on in your oven from anywhere.
Setting up the oven works like most smart home devices. You'll download the companion Whirlpool app from your phone's app store. Then, you'll pair via Bluetooth and follow instructions in the app to set up your oven's connection to a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network. Check for firmware updates, and you're good to go.
One of the signature features of the WLabs Smart Oven is its ability to recognize food. A camera mounted in the top center of the oven's cavity views what you insert and automatically shows its guess on the oven's touchscreen display.
If the WLabs oven doesn't get it right the first time -- and that happened a lot in my testing -- there is a rescan option.
Right now, the WLabs team says the oven can recognize more than 40 fresh and frozen foods. I gave it a try with frozen french fries, a homemade pie, frozen mozzarella sticks, chocolate chip cookies, frozen pizza, a whole chicken and raw bacon. Of those seven foods, the oven guessed right four times: pizza, cookies, chicken and bacon.
The $499 June Intelligent Oven is much better at recognizing food in my experience. We tested the most recent model in 2018, and we've kept it around at the CNET Smart Home because it's so easy to use. Other ovens from Amazon, Tovala and Brava don't recognize food, but they do include features such as scan-to-cook for packaged foods, something you won't get with the WLabs model.
If I had to grade the WLabs Smart Oven, I'd lean toward a B-minus. As an appliance, it's good. As a smart appliance, it still feels a bit undercooked. I tested multiple cooking modes to get a sense of how the oven handles a variety of foods.
My first food was frozen crinkle-cut french fries. Results were underwhelming. The oven tried to recognize the food, but thought my frozen fries were either fish sticks or asparagus.
Once I manually selected french fries from the touchscreen menu, I set the doneness to medium and the fries air fried for 23 minutes in the air fry basket. The result was an undercooked french fry.
When each automated cooking cycle is complete, the oven prompts you to give feedback about the food, but that feedback doesn't change future cooking cycles. Ideally, the oven would learn from these preferences. Still, there's something cathartic about telling an oven you're disappointed in it.
A homemade pie I tried went wrong in the other direction. With five minutes left on the "homemade pie" setting (yes, that's an option), my pie was burned on top.
Next, I tried bacon. The bacon in our test was thick cut, and while the oven did correctly identify the bacon, I had to double the time the oven suggested for these hefty slices. I won't count that against the oven, but it highlights the need for human supervision, especially if you're cooking a version of a food that deviates from standard portions.
Nothing I cooked in the WLabs Smart Oven let me set it and forget it. The fries came the closest, but they still weren't perfect.
There's no preset for mozzarella sticks, so this seemed like a good time to test the manual cooking settings. I preheated the oven to 450 degrees and popped the mozzarella sticks in for 9 minutes. The result was as good as I'd expect from a full-size oven. Finally, the oven seemed to be hitting its stride.
Like the June Intelligent Oven and Instant Pot's air fryer, the WLabs Smart Oven can also dehydrate for making homemade snacks like apple chips or beef jerky. I gave that a try with some top round beef sliced and marinated overnight. The entire dehydrating cycle took three hours. My colleagues and I were all impressed with the results of this mode. The jerky was fully cooked, dry and still flavorful.
Chicken in the Amazon Smart Oven was really tasty, and the WLabs oven came in a close second. It cooked our chicken quickly, and delivered crispy skin and juicy meat. My issue with the chicken mode in this oven is that it requires the temperature probe, yet there's nowhere to see the status (the real-time temperature) of that probe while you're cooking.
The oven also doesn't display an estimated cook time as it did in other modes. I used the Live Look-in to keep an eye on my chicken, but I didn't have nearly enough information about when it might finish or where it was in the cooking process at any given time.
The Whirlpool app works with Amazon's Alexa for voice commands such as, "Alexa, ask Whirlpool to preheat my oven to 350 degrees." You can also ask Alexa to turn off the oven or tell you how much time is left on the timer. Setting that up isn't very intuitive, mainly because the oven's user guide doesn't tell you how. Really, it's as simple as adding the Whirlpool skill in your Alexa app and linking your Whirlpool account. I had to log out and back into both for it to sync up properly.
Google Assistant integration isn't something WLabs promotes on the oven's product page, but when I tested out linking the Whirlpool App in the Google Home app, it was possible to turn the oven on or off and adjust the temperature with voice commands. It's very rudimentary and not too useful, but it's there.
The oven is clearly optimized for Alexa, but even so, if you're looking for a smart oven that works with Alexa, the Amazon Smart Oven is absolutely the one to buy. It's nearly a quarter of the price and, while it lacks food-sensing technology, it includes microwave capability and most of the other cooking features.
I think we're very close to having several good options for smart countertop ovens. This WLabs model didn't feel quite ready for prime time, because it isn't. Whirlpool took this opportunity to dip a toe into the smart countertop oven waters, but when I asked about plans to continue or expand production of the WLabs Smart Oven, the team at Whirlpool said there weren't any.
WLabs is a largely experimental operation within Whirlpool. With WLabs products, the company gets to test out its newest ideas on consumers, make a little dough and use the experience to inform future projects. Smart home enthusiasts or Whirlpool fans get bragging rights for owning a cool, one-off product, but I wouldn't sign myself up to be a guinea pig at such a high price.
Still, the release of the oven at all does show a real interest from Whirlpool that makes me optimistic about the future of food-recognizing ovens. There may not be a full release of this specific model, but I wouldn't be surprised if Whirlpool put its major branding on a similar oven in a year or two.
As a standalone countertop oven that you control manually, it's great. Countertop models are great for anyone with limited counter space, and this one cooked most foods well. If you're looking for top-notch food recognition smarts, however, you're better off with the June Intelligent Oven. If you're looking for easy voice integration, Amazon's Smart Oven is a better choice.
I like the idea of food recognition. It's a future-forward way to approach cooking with smart appliances, and ovens like June have proven it can be truly helpful. The WLabs Smart Oven aims to offer a similar experience in a more refined package, but it mostly misses the mark. If someone asked me today which smart oven they should buy, I'd recommend the June or Amazon Smart Oven first.