How we test refrigerators

how we test refrigerators digital trends

The best carpenter in the world can’t shape a masterpiece without the right tools. You’re a craftsman too, in the kitchen anyway. A Stickley of soups, an Eames of eating, a … well, you get the picture. Your tools are the appliances you surround yourself with, not just the eggbeaters and skillets but the double oven you bake in, the washing machine you use to keep everything pristine, and above all the refrigerator that keeps your food fresh and close at hand.

Here at Digital Trends, we’re very picky about our fridges. What was an energy-sucking, heat-producing rectangle 20 years ago has been transformed through modern manufacturers and technology into a high-tech masterpiece. Modern fridges have doors within doors, a wealth of cooling areas that can be climate controlled, and even built-in displays that suggest recipes and help you shop.

We size them up so that you don’t have to, weighing high-tech features and design elements that make your life easier against storage space and cooling capability to discern which are features you’ll like in the real-world–and whether a given product is really worth your money.

Look and feel

Design comes first and foremost with a modern refrigerator, and before cooling our first casserole, we take the time to evaluate how the cooling tool is put together. Are there any unique design elements that will make your kitchen a showroom for your neighborhood? How many different zones are there, and is it possible to adjust them just so in order to keep veggies crisp and leftovers cool? Likewise, how well organized are the zones, notably the freezer section?

Many contemporary models have French doors, and doors behind those for a wealth of extra space. Does form follow function, and do these conveniences actually make sense? Finally, does a fingerprint-resistant stainless steel model exist, or is this a mythical creature?

Special features

Next, we’ll test any unique features the fridge might have. Does the unit dispense not just cold water but sparkling water or — bless their hearts — beer? Also, how long does it take to pour out an eight ounce portion of H2O? Are there nods to high-tech, including any integrated Internet connections and LCD panels? How well do the apps work, and how well (if at all) does the device integrate with the rest of your home network? If the fridge comes with a companion app for your smartphone, we’ll put that through its paces as well.

How cold is cold?

The heart of testing is measuring how evenly a fridge keeps its cool–and whether its own temperature readouts are accurate. To get a good feel for the chill, we’ll place digital thermometers in various compartments and cross-reference the numbers with those provided by the fridge. We’ll also time how long it takes to bring a quality Oregon ale from room temp to its ideal frosty temp of 44 degrees.


Let’s be a real: fridges these days should be able to hold all the fixins for a full Thanksgiving meal without any crowding or precarious balancing. Sadly, it’s tough to find pumpkin in these parts year round. But we will see if the unit can comfortably fit several frozen pizzas, drinks as varied as milk cartons and 22-ounce bottles to soda cans and juice boxes, and plenty of leftover take-out in various shapes and sizes–without making any of it hard to get to.


Is your refrigerator running? For the most part, you shouldn’t notice. Even with all the technological advances, though, these appliances aren’t silent. They should emit an almost soothing purring sound; if we hear a motor that’s annoyingly loud, we’ll call it out in the review.


We know a new refrigerator is no small purchase, and the last thing you want is to notice any upticks on your electricity bill. The good news is that any new fridge worth its salt is going to perform better than one from a decade ago, but we’ll still take a look at the estimated annual energy cost and balance that against the capacity in cubic feet in order to give props to the real standouts in efficiency.

Final scoring

Our final score will bring together the results of all these tests and measurements to give you a simple recommendation, with highlights and lowlights. Sometimes a refrigerator might be very well suited to a particular kind of consumer, but not for another. We’ll let you know what’s right for you.

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