Are smart appliances worth the cost?

If James Bond and Batman had to do their own their own chores, we bet they would have some pretty cool gadgets to help. How about an oven you can control from your smart phone? Or a refrigerator that helps you decide what to make for dinner — and sends cooking instructions to your stove?

Techies, rejoice: New “smart appliances” are making their way to North America, thanks to the electronics gurus at Samsung and LG.

“The extensive use of screens in our lifestyle is really at the forefront of all of this,” says Warner Doell, Samsung’s vice-president of home appliance sales and marketing in an article from The Canadian Press. “One of the key things that we find is that, particularly for early adopters, screens are proliferating throughout the home and we find that the early adopter is looking for more avenues to manage their life.”

What makes them “smart” is not just LCD touch screens, wireless internet access and a variety of apps. Smart appliances can communicate with other devices like your smart phone, TV and tablet as well as fellow wi-fi enabled appliances.

So far, the complete line — which includes dishwashers, ovens and vacuums — is only available in Asia. However, smart refrigerators, washers and dryers are now showing up in the U.S. and Canada.

Why would you want one? Here are a few examples of what they can do:

Monitor your laundry. No need to run downstairs to see if the washer or dryer is done. Now you can check the status of your laundry on your smart phone or receive an alert on your TV.

Start, stop or change laundry cycles remotely using your smart phone. If your household is on a smart meter, you could set those cycles to run during off-peak hours — even if you aren’t at home. In the U.S. smart appliances are predicted to tie into the power grid and choose off-peak times to run.

Manage your groceries. Want to know what’s in your fridge, when it’s going to expire and what you need to pick up on the way home from work? There’s an app for that too — though some reviews note that adding items and removing items electronically may be more cumbersome than a pen and paper.

Access recipes on your refrigerator. Not sure what to make for dinner? Samsung’s smart fridge connects to the Epicurious recipe app to find recipes based on the contents of your fridge. If you have a smart oven, the app will pass along the cooking information.

And if want to tell the world you’re making soup, you can access Twitter too.

Leave notes on your fridge. Why not have an electronic calendar and notepad on your fridge instead of paper? The smart refrigerator connects to Google Calendars so you can enter appointments and set reminders. There’s also an app that lets you leave notes for others.

Display photos. No need to search for magnets — your refrigerator’s screen acts as a digital photo frame.

Read the news or check the weather. Your fridge’s computer screen can stream news feeds similar other electronic gadgets (minus the convenience of sitting down to read).

Watch TV. The refrigerator screen connects remotely to your TV and streaming video services so you won’t miss a minute while you sneak in to the kitchen for snacks.

Curious? Here’s a look at the fridge in action at it’s launch at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show:

And the washer and dryer combo:

Are they worth the cost?
Of course, these new features come with a price. In the U.S., smart refrigerators run $2700 USD up to $3700 USD. Washers and dryers are estimated to start around $3000 USD.

However, the big question is whether the perks justify the extra expense. Reviewers are already questioning how useful the features will be to consumers. (After all, there have already been a few smart appliance failures on the international scene.) For example, is running to the fridge to read steps of a recipe better than a cookbook or tablet?  Is laundry so urgent you need to start it remotely? It’s no surprise one New York Times columnist says smart appliances are “not quite smart enough.”

As with any new technology, there is more to consider than the price. For example:

Compatibility. You’ve likely noticed that the Samsung products work with other Samsung smart phones and run Android apps. You could be out of luck if you have another smart phone (at least for now).

Warranty and repair. Companies claim there is no special warranty needed for the electronic parts, but it isn’t clear how they would be covered or repaired.

Updates. Consider how many times you’ve updated the software on the electronics you already own. There’s no word yet on if — or how often — you may need to update your appliances too.

And while you might expect your appliances to last five to 10 years (or even longer), technology tends to have a short life. Trading in a three year old smart phone or computer is very different than upgrading pricier appliances.

Security. Could your fridge catch a virus, or your washer get hacked? It’s possible — hackers have already attacked the on-board computers in cars. Security companies are already working on anti-virus solutions for connected homes, not just individual devices. 

Are smart appliances too pricy for your budget? Don’t worry — there’s something to be said for not being an early adopter. When it comes to technology, there is always something better, faster and cheaper on the way.

Sources: The New York Times, Samsung regional websites,

Photo: Frame capture YouTube

Do you think wi-fi enabled appliances would be useful or a waste of money? Weigh in the comments below.

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