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31 Mar 2019

Is it worth buying a fridge camera?

For less than £100 you can turn your 'dumb' fridge into a smart one that tells you when favourite foods need replacing and what's going out of date - one of our Which? researchers took one home for a tryout

The Smarter FridgeCam is pitched as an affordable alternative to a full-on smart refrigeration appliance. Right now on the Curry's website, you can get £50 off the full price when you bundle it in with the purchase of any fridge-freezer.

With full-on smart fridge freezers, suchas the LG GSX961NSAZ InstaView or Samsung Family Hub RS68N8941SL/EU, costing as much as £2,400, a standalone gadget offering some key smart features at just a fraction of the price is potentially appealing.

The camera retails for £149 - or £99.99 from Currys if you buy it together with any fridge-freezer.

For that you get a fridge camera that pairs with a smartphone app and sends images of inside your fridge to your phone, so you can see from afar what food you have in store.

You can also use the app to track best-before dates and create a shopping list, all with the aim of helping you avoid food wastage.

I'm a firm believer that the virtuous habit of forward planning has been seriously undermined by the emergence of new forms of technology. So it was with a sense of apprehension, albeit with a very open mind, that I took home the Smarter FridgeCam to try it out.

Check out our reviews of smart fridge freezers.

Initial set up

You have to charge the Smarter FridgeCam camera for six hours before it's ready to use. Plenty of time for me to give my fridge a long overdue clean. If I was going to be looking inside it remotely, I wanted to like what I saw.

You need to download the Smarter 3.0 app. It's available for iOS and Android, and for the most part the initial setup process was straightforward.

You connect the camera to your wi-fi router and then pair it with your phone.

Smarter Fridge Cam in fridge door

Positioning the Smarter FridgeCam

The next stage was setting the camera up inside the fridge in the right position for getting the best possible shot, with as much coverage of the shelves and their contents as possible.

The in-app guidance on how to do this was frustratingly sparse.

You have to hold the fridge door open, and still, at around a 35-45 degree angle while the app calibrates the position of the camera.

What was probably the best position for the camera on my fridge door was unfortunately blocked by a fixed door rack. So I had to plump for above thisdoor rack, which meant items on the lowest shelf, above the crisper drawer, weren't visible.

The camera is designed to take a photo each time you close the fridge door, taking the shot as the door swings shut. Despite numerous attempts, I never quite managed to get the position right.

On a number of occasions the last image taken showed my fingers just sliding out of shot (see below).

My fridge is on the small side, with little room between shelves, and is full of produce. This meant some items on the top and bottom shelves were out of shot, but so was everything behind the first line of items on each shelf.

In all the marketing shots for the FridgeCam, there's a spacious fridge with few items on the shelves, resulting in clear shots of all the items.

If your fridge routinely has that few items inside then either, (a) you don't use your fridge often enough to need a camera inside it, or (b) you probably don't have £150 spare to buy an appliance that will constantly remind you how bare your fridge is.

Connection problems

I routinely experienced connection problems, with the app saying to move my wi-fi router closer to the fridge cam. Given my router was less than eight metres from the fridge, on the same level of the house, this was frustrating.

But when the camera did manage to take a picture, and sync it to the app, I was reasonably happy with the quality of the image. I saw none of the blurred, or condensation-ruined, images experienced by some other reviewers.

Best-before tracker

The Smarter app has a few other features aimed at helping you to reduce food waste and keep track of what you actually have in stock at home.

You begin by adding all items to your inventory. To do this you have to input each item and its expiry date manually.

The app is partnered with the Tesco website so you can use the barcode scanner function, or manual search bar that will auto-suggest products as you type, to easily pick out most big-brand items and Tesco own-brand products.

If, like me, you shop at another supermarket, you'll have to type in all the own-brand items from that store separately and add them as custom items.

It's all a bit of a laborious task, especially after a big shop, but once it's done you're good to go.

With the expiry dates inputted, you now have a best-before tracker that tracks all the items in your fridge and can notify you when their designated time is up and they need to be used.

I definitely found having an easily accessible list of all items and a countdown to their expiry dates useful to have.

10 ways to keep food fresher for longer

Replacing items you've eaten

Through the inventory you can also track specific items.

You do this by drawing a box around each item on the most recent photo - as if you are cropping an image.

If you then take a tracked item out of the fridge, use it and finish with it, the app will recognise it hasn't been replaced and give you the option of adding it to your in-app shopping list.

A white dot highlights where the removed yoghurt pot previously sat. Tap the dot and you get the chance to add the item to your shopping list.

The problem with this, though, is that the item needs to go back in facing the same way as you put it in so the camera can identify it clearly.

If you have different flavour items in similar style pots, or if you put an item back in the fridge out of the scope of the camera, you're going to encounter some issues with this particular feature.

There's an option to receive a notification if your fridge door is left open.

My fridge doesn't have a door alarm so I was glad to see this feature in the app. But after intentionally leaving my fridge open for two minutes on three separate occasions to test this feature, I had still received no notification, which was disappointing.

My verdict

All-in-all I was completely underwhelmed by the Smarter FridgeCam. Too much work and too many frustrations rule it out for me.

I wouldn't close the door completely on fridge cameras just yet, though. I can see the potential appeal for people if the technology and object recognition improves.