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.

Capacity

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.

Noise

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.

Efficiency

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.

Smart Home

Picture this: The Aura packs thousands of photos in a single frame (for a price)

Are you one of those people who miss the good old days of flipping through photo albums to see each and every favorite photo? If so, you might love the Aura digital photo frame. We tested the device and came away impressed.
Product Review

Alexa microwaved my corn and it creeped me out

Amazon has added to its long portfolio of products with the AmazonBasics Microwave, a small appliance that works with Alexa. We took the microwave for a test drive to find out more.
Product Review

Tovala cooks delicious, idiotproof meals healthier than takeout. For a price

The Tovala Steam Oven is a countertop appliance that can serve up dinner in about 20 minutes with zero prep. The drawback is that the ready-to-heat meals, while tasty, are $12 each.
Smart Home

Put away that sponge and let us help you pick the best dishwasher for your buck

Tired of doing dishes by hand? Take a look at our picks of the four best dishwashers currently available and let a machine do the dirty work for you. They’ll do a much better job, anyway.
Smart Home

How to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner in an Instant Pot

We collected some of our favorite recipes and created an Instant Pot Thanksgiving dinner guide. Here’s how to ditch the oven and cook your entire Thanksgiving Dinner in an Instant Pot.
Smart Home

This old-school bus is now a solar-powered home on wheels

Michael Fuehrer of Nowhere Navigation decided to gut an old yellow school bus and turned it into a tiny home on wheels, complete with a full kitchen and shower inside and a solar panel on top.
Product Review

Glas may be gorgeous, but this spendy thermostat is no smarter than the rest

A stunning OLED screen tops the prettiest thermostat we’ve reviewed in years. But GLAS lacks the brains required to justify its premium price. Read more about it in our full review.
Smart Home

Cloud slime, butter slime, scented slime -- we have your next DIY project covered

We researched dozens of different ingredients and tried several slime recipes. While some recipes are generally pretty safe, others are questionable at best. Which recipes should you use, and which should you avoid?
News

Drinkworks and Keurig have created a pod-based cocktail machine

HomeBar, a collaboration between Drinkworks and Keurig, creates cocktails the easy way. The machine creates mixed drinks of all kinds. All you have to do is insert in the pod for the drink you want.
Smart Home

Thanksgiving in an Instant ... Pot? Here are our favorite recipes

Did you know you can cook the majority, if not all, of your Thanksgiving menu items in your Instant Pot? It's all about picking the right recipes. These are our picks for the best Instant Pot recipes for Turkey Day.
Smart Home

You can now use Amazon Echo Buttons to set up multitasking Routines

Amazon announced that its Echo Buttons now work with Routines. You can craft custom Routines — multiple tasks performed together — and have Alexa carry out the command for you when you hit the Echo Button.
Smart Home

Amazon has a huge team dedicated to enhancing Alexa and Echo

An Amazon executive on Tuesday revealed the huge size of the team that's tasked with developing the Echo, the company's smart speaker, and Alexa, the digital assistant that powers it.
Smart Home

Ecobee announces Black Friday deals on smart thermostats and smart switches

Ecobee's 2018 Black Friday deals are live. Ecobee's smart thermostats and smart wall switch are compatible with smart home voice assistant systems including Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings.
Deals

Here are the best Amazon Echo and Google Home deals for Black Friday

Google Home and Amazon Echo smart speakers compete head to head when it comes to smart home tech. Whether you're a fan of Alexa or Google Home, we've found the best prices on your favorite smart home devices.