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Refrigerators

Here's what's next for Samsung's Family Hub smart fridge

Expect to see new features, new connected home integrations with SmartThings and improved Bixby voice controls in 2018.

Chris Monroe/CNET

It just wouldn't be CES without fancy new refrigerators, and in Samsung's case, the touchscreen-equipped Family Hub smart fridge remains front and center. There's no radical redesign this year, but the Korean conglomerate is highlighting a couple of key improvements for 2018, along with a couple of new models that will bring the total number of Family Hub models up to fourteen.

Samsung's flagship smart fridge is set to get even smarter in 2018.

Chris Monroe/CNET

All of it comes as Samsung -- and its competitors -- continue their efforts to secure their footing in the still-emerging market for dedicated smart home platforms. With Amazon's Alexa, Apple HomeKit and the Google Assistant all eating up sizable shares of the growing user base, Samsung wants to muscle in with its unique, fridge-centric vision for the connected living space.

Up first: better support for SmartThings, the connected home platform Samsung purchased back in 2014. The Family Hub initially debuted with the promise of its own, dedicated SmartThings app on its two-foot touchscreen, but that app was nowhere to be seen when the fridge actually launched. Now, a couple of years later, you'll finally be able to control things like smart lights and thermostats right from the fridge -- and you'll be able to monitor the feed from compatible connected cameras like the Ring Video Doorbell, too.

Soon, the Family Hub will be able to recommend what you should cook for dinner based on the ingredients you already have on hand.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Family Hub's grocery-tracking fridge cameras are getting an intelligence boost, too, thank to a new feature called Meal Planner. Enable it, and your refrigerator will recommend recipes based on your family's food preferences, allergies, and, thanks to those cameras, the ingredients you have on hand. You'll also be able to use a new Deals app to save sale-priced groceries to your shopping list, or to a supported loyalty card.

It all sounds like a logical next step, but I'll be curious to see if Samsung can get us to a point where the refrigerator's artificial intelligence is able to automatically detect what you're putting in the fridge without needing you to enter any extra details.

Speaking of AI, Samsung is continuing to refine the refrigerator's Bixby voice controls. Most notably, Bixby will soon be able to distinguish between different voices and offer personalized results based on the user, similar to Alexa and Google Assistant. Ask Bixby "what's new today," for instance, and it'll read out the day's weather and news, along with personally-tailored updates from your calendar. That's a nice improvement, but Samsung still has a lot of work to do if it wants to catch the competition -- the refrigerator's Bixby controls seemed a little under-developed when I took some time to play with them late last year.

Samsung is also promising more of a focus on entertainment in 2018. You could already mirror your Samsung smart TV on the fridge's touchscreen -- soon, you'll be able to mirror whatever's playing on your smartphone, too (no word yet on whether or not that's exclusive to Samsung smartphones). Samsung also tells us that a fresh crop of content partners is on the way, including HomeAdvisor, Pinterest, and those "Tasty" cooking videos from Buzzfeed that leave your mouth watering whenever they show up in your Facebook feed. Sounds like a good fit for the fridge, too.

In addition, each of the four new four-door French door models arriving this year will feature newly-refined AKG Premium Quality Sound Speakers for deep, rich-sounding bass. That's well and good, though I thought the Family Hub already had pretty passable sound quality (you know, for a fridge).

We'll be sure to take a swing through Samsung's booth once CES 2018 officially kicks off, and we'll also have more details following Samsung's presser, happening on January 8 at 2 p.m. PST.

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