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Samsung expands its fleet of Family Hub smart fridges

CNET logo CNET 03-01-2017 Ry Crist

Samsung expands its fleet of Family Hub smart fridges © Provided by CNET Samsung expands its fleet of Family Hub smart fridges A year ago, at CES 2016, Samsung swung for the smart fridge fences with the debut of its Family Hub Refrigerator, a $6,000 four-door fridge with Wi-Fi connectivity, a king-sized touchscreen loaded with apps, and cameras on the inside to help you keep track of your groceries. Now, at CES 2017, the Korean manufacturer is doubling down on the idea, with a brand new lineup of "Family Hub 2.0" fridges on display in Las Vegas.

The new, second-gen family of Family Hubs boasts 10 different models, up from four last year. Those include both four-door and three-door French door builds in addition to the four-door, "t-type" stylings of the original that offer a double-door freezer to match the double-door fridge.

The wider lineup signals that Samsung's got some serious ambitions for this fridge. Many balked at the Family Hub's sky-high asking price at launch, and pointed to Samsung's previous smart fridge failures as evidence of a lack of demand. But the first Family Hub was essentially a concept car for Samsung's vision of the connected kitchen. The goal was never to sell millions of the things, but instead, to get people's attention and gauge their interest. Apparently, Samsung was encouraged enough by what they learned to go ahead and expand the lineup.

It's also worth noting that the Family Hub's price fell pretty steadily through its first year, eventually landing in territory typically occupied by high-end fridges with no smarts whatsoever. That's a good spot for it, and though Samsung hasn't released pricing for the new models just yet, I'd expect them to follow suit -- especially the three-door French door version, which stands to be the least expensive Family Hub model yet.

Other than that, there isn't much that's new on the hardware side of things. These are still just fancy, high-end refrigerators with cameras inside and touchscreen controls on the door. Those controls did get a tune-up, though, as Samsung claims it spent the past year refining the user experience based on the feedback of early adopters. Different family members can each create their own profiles now, for instance, making it easier for them to see personally relevant information and app settings. Other tweaks include the ability to tell the fridge to read a recipe's instructions out loud to you as you cook.

As for people who bought a first-gen Family Hub, it sounds like most, if not all of these upgrades will arrive via software update, but Samsung wasn't able to confirm that prior to publication. I'll update this piece once I hear a firm answer.

One other significant upgrade: Samsung's "advanced voice technology" will now let you access many of the refrigerator's apps using spoken commands. That includes checking the weather, managing your calendar and shopping lists, and even ordering groceries online through the Instacart and Groceries by MasterCard apps. That's a smart nod to the growing popularity of connected home voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant, and a good fit for an always-on, always-connected appliance with a built-in microphone and speakers.

Samsung's also promising new integrations with a variety of notable third parties, including GrubHub, the Ring video doorbell, and Nomiku, makers of a Wi-Fi sous vide cooking device. Additional music options are on the way, too, with Spotify and iHeartRadio apps said to be in the works.

There's still no mention of an app to control lights, switches and other devices linked to Samsung's SmartThings connected home platform, though. Samsung showed us a demo of such an app last year, when the Family Hub first debuted, but when the fridge ultimately hit the market, that app was nowhere to be seen. I'm quite curious to know why it's still missing.

Pricing and availability of the new Family Hub models are yet to be announced, but if they follow last year's schedule, then we'll probably see them in the US by this summer at the latest (Samsung introduced a slimmed-down, European version of the Family Hub at the 2016 IFA trade show in Berlin). Whenever the new smart fridges arrive, expect to see hands-on coverage, performance tests and a full review from the CNET Smart Home.

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