Hands on: Samsung Family Hub Smart Refrigerator

Are we out of ketchup? Poking around Samsung's Family Hub fridge

Starting at $5,600, the Samsung Family Hub is more than a tablet embedded in a high-end fridge — but that might not be enough to get people to invite it into their kitchens.

Utopian science fiction staples have shown us visions of better living through technology, with “smart” homesteads that anticipate and fulfill our every need without lifting a finger. Our media centers were the first beachhead for the invasion of intelligent appliances into our home, but Samsung is now leading the charge into our kitchens, positing its newly launched 4-Door Flex Refrigerator with Family Hub as a herald of our connected culinary future. We were able to spend a little hands-on time with Family Hub at its recent New York City launch event.

The refrigerator’s most immediately striking feature is the 21.5-inch full HD LCD touchscreen emblazoned across the upper right-hand door. The screen is substantially larger and brighter than that of Samsung’s previous attempts at a smart refrigerator, making it much more viable for entertainment in the kitchen. But the company says it changed its whole approach with the Family Hub.

“When you think about messaging, and you think about shopping, and you think about seeing what’s inside your refrigerator, as opposed to focusing on surfing websites from your refrigerator, we really took it to more of a functional basis in this product — meaning this is how people are using their refrigerators,” John Herrington, Senior Vice President of Home Appliances at Samsung, told Digital Trends.

The screen can be synced up with Samsung’s smart televisions, allowing you to easily cast the game over to the kitchen while making snacks without missing a play. Apps from AllRecipes and Epicurious let you easily search, save, and use recipes, and Pandora can provide a soundtrack either from the fridge itself or through networked speakers. An internet browser is always a quick tap away for when you need to quickly Google something. The screen is crisp and responsive, and navigating within and between apps will be intuitive to anyone who uses a smartphone.

More than just an iPad strapped to the door, however, the Family Hub aims to recapture the refrigerator’s role as a social nexus for the family, which has been somewhat reduced in recent years with the widespread adoption of magnet-resistant stainless steel doors. StickiBoard syncs up multiple calendars, so everyone in the family can easily coordinate schedules, in addition to sharing notes and photos that can be accessed on the fridge itself or remotely. Whiteboard lets you write notes and draw pictures, which can also be synced remotely. The Photo Album lets you curate a slideshow of pictures to show off.

These connected features add up to make the Family Hub a sort of hyper-local social network. While there are of course plenty of options available to families now for coordinating their digital lives, Family Hub goes a step further by grounding its virtual social hub in the physical kitchen.

The app-connected features also support the refrigerator’s more practical functionality for storing food. A shopping list collects needs as they come up, which can checked from anywhere in the app. Saving a step entirely, groceries can also be ordered directly from the fridge itself via major food delivery services such as InstaCart, Fresh Direct, and ShopRite.

The refrigerator’s most immediately striking feature is the 21.5-inch full HD LCD touchscreen emblazoned across the upper right-hand door.

Every time someone closes the fridge doors, it takes a picture of what’s on the three main shelves. These photos can be accessed remotely via the app, in case you get to the store and forget whether or not you need to buy milk. The pictures clearly capture the content of the main shelves, but that doesn’t include anything on the door’s shelves, limiting its utility somewhat.

As an added layer of utility, expiration dates can also be applied to the pictured foodstuffs via a drag-and-drop interface. That puts the onus on the owner to add an extra step to the routine of putting groceries away, though, so while it might be smart, it’s not fully automated.

As a literal refrigerator, the 4-Door Flex Family Hub is also top of the line, Samsung says. Its storage is spacious and flexible, and its temperature controls are precise, consistent, and can be managed both on the door screen or via the app.

Starting at $5,600, the Family Hub needs to be more than just a nice refrigerator with an iPad on the door, which could be acquired for substantially less. Merging practical functionality with a social hub, Samsung is smartly considering not just what appliances literally do, but the larger roles that they can and have played in our daily lives. While it doesn’t reach Jetsons-levels of automation, the Family Hub presents a compelling vision of smart homes that don’t just make our material lives easier, but also might help bring us closer together.

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Highs

  • Brings a lot of new features to your fridge
  • Helps keep track of your shopping list
  • Large, bright touchscreen

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Limited camera view
  • Smart but not fully automated
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