Smart home products and systems
Smart home appliances
By Liz Ransome-Croker
Article 4 of 5
Find out what smart washing machines, ovens and coffee machines have to offer - and whether they're really worth the extra money.
From ovens that let you monitor your lasagna to fridges that help you to keep tabs on and order groceries, smart kitchen appliances claim to make your life easier.
Big brands, from Hoover and AEG to Samsung, are launching ranges of kitchen gadgets that include smart features such as remote control and monitoring. Even your morning brew can be automated, with Nespresso getting in on the action, plus the launch of the Smarter wi-fi kettle.
Some just giving you the ability to turn the appliance on or off, or adjust and monitor settings, while others claim to do much more, including adapting to suit you or your home.
We take a look at what smart appliances are out there, how much they cost and whether the will really make your home life better. Read on to find out more about:
- Smart/connected appliances - including washing machines, dishwashers, ovens and fridge freezers
- Smart gadgets - including robot vacuum cleaners, kettles and coffee machines
- Smart garden products - including robot lawn mowers and smart watering systems
If you're updating your kitchen, you can now get a whole suite of appliances that are connected to an app, allowing you to control and monitor them from afar. Appliances that talk to each other, such as a cooker hood that comes on when the hob is in use, are also in the works.
Smart washing machines
Smart washing machines allow you to set programmes and start your washing machine from your smartphone, whenever and wherever you are. This could be helpful if, for example, you want your washing to be ready just as you get home from work (although you'll have to make sure you've put the washing and detergent in already) or if you forget to set it.
With some machines you can also view information about how much time is left on the wash or where in the cycle it is, and be notified if there are any problems with the machine. Some models remember your favourite setting and advise on the best setting for your load, based on responses to a few simple questions. In the future, you may even be able to download new or custom wash cycles to your machine.
How much do they cost?
It's worth keeping in mind that there are a number of ordinary washing machines that come with a delay time feature, which allows you to set the time your washing will start before you leave the house, so it can be ready for when you get in, and most also show you how much time is left on a wash. These features don't usually cost more, in fact we've found Best Buy washing machines with them for around £300. You can also get models with auto-dosing, so you only have to fill them up with washing powder every 20 washes or so.
Discover more about smart washing machines, including how we're testing smart machines, in our full guide.
Smart ovens enable you to remotely monitor your oven and adjust the temperature or time, and receive alerts when the food is ready. Take a look at the Samsung NV73J9770RS smart oven, which we've put through our lab tests, to see an example of this.
Others are even more sophisticated. For example, the AEG ProCombi Plus Smart built-in oven, which costs £606, lets you see how the cooking is doing from your phone using the CookView camera inside the oven, so you can then adjust settings accordingly.
The Bosch Serie 8 ovens enable you to choose oven settings based on recipes in the app, which also displays step-by-step instructions. The app - provided by Drop, the creator of the Drop Connected kitchen scales - will be compatible with all Serie 8 models in October 2016, including the Serie 8 HBG6764B1B, which has been through our tough lab tests.
Smart cooking isn't restricted to just ovens. We've seen microwaves that, while not wi-fi connected, do use sensors to detect the temperature of the food as it cooks and adjusts as necessary, like the Samsung MC32F606TCT does.
Hobs and cooker hoods have been getting in on the act too - Hoover's HHV67SLXWIFI Smart Chimney cooker hood and Wizard HESD4 Electric Induction Smart hob can be controlled from your smartphone.
After cooking your dinner in a smart appliance, you'll want a smart dishwasher to clean the dishes in, right? There aren't a lot of smart dishwashers out there yet, but Siemens has introduced the SN278I26TE freestanding dishwasher, which at £764 can be programmed and turned on and off from your phone.
Hoover's Wizard HLSI 762GT Integrated WIFI dishwasher (£399) has similar functionality, but can also recommend the right programme based on how dirty the load is and will remember your most used programmes.
We'll update this guide as more come on the market and we send them to our test lab.
Smart fridge freezers
There aren't many smart fridge freezers on sale in the UK yet, but big brand Samsung has created the Samsung Family Hub American-style fridge freezer (pictured below). It has a touchscreen on the front, similar to a tablet, which connects to your smartphone and can display a range of information or photos.
Its key selling point is that it takes photographs of inside your fridge each time you shut the door. These images can be seen from anywhere using your phone, so you know before you get home whether anything needs replenishing. It can also display a calendar to note down reminders, which can be linked to all family member's phones.
But this premium will cost you a lot - £3,500 to be precise. That's a lot, especially when you consider that we have found Best Buy American-style fridge freezers for around £1,000.
LG's Smart ThinQ also has an LCD screen to display photos and a calendar, but added to this it shows the fridge's performance and temperatures, weather reports and a food inventory. This inventory, which collects data by scanning food as it goes into the fridge, lists all your food along with expiry dates. You can use this to then order food from your phone.
When it went on sale in America in 2012 it cost $3,500. It's currently not for sale in the UK, but we'll keep our eyes peeled and update this guide.
We've also seen a new smart device called the FridgeCam, which can be retrofitted to your current fridge and allows you to see the contents of your fridge from your phone. It'll also alert you if you're running low on certain items, if you leave the fridge door open or if the temperature becomes too warm. It's a lot cheaper than buying a new fridge freezer, but at £99, still isn't cheap.
You can find out how Samsung fridge freezers and LG fridge freezers did in our labs, as well as models from dozens of other brands, when tested to see how quickly they actually chill food, how constant the temperature is and whether there is as much usable space inside as claimed.
It's not just the bigger home appliances getting smart, smaller appliances such as kettles, coffee machines and vacuum cleaners are also vying for the chance to be connected to your phone.
Robot vacuum cleaners
While robot vacuums have been around for years, the latest models include remote app control, allowing you to set your robot to work sprucing up your living room while at your desk.
Robot vacuum cleaners have varying levels of ability and use different mapping systems. Some use sensors or cameras to detect when there is an object and change direction to avoid it. They won't remember where the objects were before, so will clean each time as if it's the first. Others will actually map out your room and learn where to go for the next time, making them truly 'smart'.
Are robot vacuum cleaners expensive?
The more sophisticated the mapping system is, the more expensive the robot vac will be - we've seen some costing as much as £800, while more basic models cost around £200.
Even if you get a less expensive robot, it's still a lot of money - especially considering robot vacuum cleaners can't really replace a full-sized vacuum as they can't tackle stairs or other odd jobs.
We've tried out a number of robot vacuum cleaners, including ones from Dyson, Samsung, Miele and iRobot. Take a look at our robot vacuum cleaner reviews to find out which ones could make your life easier and which will leave you frustrated and out of pocket. You can also use our video guide to buying the best robot vacuum cleaner to help you choose.
The first mainstream smart kettle - the Smarter iKettle - which we have tested, allows you to pop the kettle on from the comfort of your bed, although it can't actually make your tea for you. With the app, you can see how full the kettle is, receive warnings when the level is too low, set the temperature and schedule it to boil ahead of time.
Another kettle that calls itself 'smart', but isn't actually wi-fi connected, is the Sage Smart Kettle. It has five preset temperatures that claim to deliver the right heat for different types of tea.
These are all potentially handy features, but both kettles cost nearly £100 for the privilege. Since you'll still need to make your tea yourself, you may be better off with a classic Best Buy kettle - we've found some costing just £12.
Smart coffee machines
For those in need of a serious caffeine fix, there are also several smart coffee machines on the market.
The Krups Nespresso Prodigio, costing £159, can be controlled from your phone using Bluetooth. This allows you to schedule a brew ahead of time or make a coffee immediately. It also has a low-water alert, maintenance alerts (when descaling is needed) and it can tell you when you're running low on capsules and prompt you to order more. Just make sure you've left a cup in place first.
The Smarter filter coffee machine allows you to control the strength of your coffee, the number of cups, how long it’s kept warm for and to schedule alarms to make coffee. It can also use the location tracking on your phone to turn the machine on when you get close to home. At £139, it's at the top end of the price bracket for a filter coffee machine, so compare it against our filter coffee machine Best Buys before you buy.
The first of its kind, the Juicy Retreats Titanium IQ Smart Blender allows you to pick a recipe from the range listed in its accompanying app so you can set it to blend according to that recipe.
But this functionality has a high price to pay - more than £500 - while we've found a number of Best Buy blenders for less than £90.
The Tefal Actifry Smart XL comes with an app containing more than 200 recipes, which shows you the step-by-step cooking process for each. From the app you can set your required temperature, timing and stirring motions based on your chosen recipe.
Our researcher is currently reviewing the new ActiFry Smart XL. But in the meantime, you can see all our Tefal Actifry reviews to see what we thought of their chip-making abilities.
Are smart gadgets worth it?
While robot vacuum cleaners can feasibly be left to get on with cleaning your home while you put your feet up, we're sceptical about how much difference a smart coffee machine or kettle will really make to your life. The best machines offer simple one-touch operation anyway.
Nespresso machines - and other capsule coffee makers - merely require you to pop in a capsule and press go, and the best produce a brew in less than 30 seconds, so you won't need to hang around. Head to our Nespresso reviews to find out more.
Smart robot mowers
It's not just in your home where robots can roam - a number of robot lawn mowers have come on the market, too. We've tried out the Robomow RC304 robot lawn mower, which is a fully automated mower that, once you've set the perimeter wire and programmed it, will cut your grass as frequently as you like.
You can also control the Robomow from your phone, via Bluetooth and an app that lets you steer the mower like it's a remote controlled car. But is this level of controllability worth the £1,000 price tag?
Smart water systems
We've found a few interesting smart watering systems that could help you to keep your garden looking lush. The Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor and Parrott are sensors that assess your plant’s needs and send alerts to your smartphone.
Blossom is a smart watering controller that claims to help you save water and money. It programs itself with the right watering schedule for your garden based on real-time weather data and the different vegetation in your garden.