While most of the changes in fridge technology are for the better, some are questionable: the disappearance of the butter conditioner, a fridge that plays YouTube videos and a $2750 designer fridge that you have to defrost yourself.
Here are the top five advances in the evolution of your fridge.
Fridges of old had just one job to do: keep your food cold. Now, some are almost as advanced as your smartphone. Features like in-fridge cameras (so you can check whether you have mustard while you're standing in the supermarket aisle), online shopping lists and 'holiday' or 'entertaining' mode make your life easier while keeping your fridge operating efficiently and minimising food waste. Unfortunately, we're still waiting for fridges 'smart' enough to cook dinner for us.
But are all of these smart features as clever as they're claimed to be? Take the Samsung Family Hub fridge, which we took a look at to see whether it lived up to the hype. It includes clever features like a shopping list app and internal cameras.
While the shopping list app sounds like a dream come true for scatter-brained grocery shoppers, fridge manufacturers could sign exclusive deals with supermarkets to pre-install their shopping app, which could see shoppers locked in to using only one retailer. Even if you're a diehard Woolworths or Coles shopper, wouldn't you rather have the option of choosing your supermarket?
The Samsung Refrigerdating app lets you upload photos of your fridge's contents.
The Family Hub also has a large touchscreen that functions like a tablet, so you can follow a YouTube clip to learn how to whip up a souffle, or listen to digital radio while you peel the carrots. Fun? Definitely. Necessary? Hardly, especially in an age where most households have multiple smartphones, tablets and computers.
In case that wasn't superfluous enough, it also has a 'Refrigerdating' app, which lets you upload photos of your fridge's contents. People can swipe left or right on your profile depending on whether they like the look of your leftover lasagna. It's like Tinder for home cooks.
Our verdict? In this case, buying yourself a 'dumb' fridge and a tablet is a much cheaper option.
2. They have more bells and whistles
Ice dispensers, water fountains, door-in-door setups, in-built deodorisers, antibacterial surfaces, separate crispers with their own doors, multi-use compartments for anything from wine to kimchi… is there anything modern fridges don't have?
Why your butter isn't better
Fridges used to come with butter conditioner compartments as standard. These kept your butter at the optimum temperature for spreading straight from the fridge, while ensuring it didn't absorb other fridge smells (there's nothing worse than curry-scented butter on your marmalade toast, right?). Some particularly fancy models also included a dial so that you could set the compartment to the exact temperature needed for your preferred butter spreadability.
Butter conditioners kept your butter at the optimum temperature for spreading.
Unfortunately, butter conditioners make fridges less efficient, so manufacturers have gradually dropped them. In Europe, they're not particularly necessary – you can generally leave the butter out on the counter and it will hold its shape. But in Australia, without a butter conditioner your only options are rock-hard butter straight from the fridge or a melted, rancid puddle of butter on the counter.
If you want to keep your butter a bit warmer than the rest of the fridge, use the dairy compartment in the door – it's usually the warmest part of the fridge, says Corinna Horrigan, CHOICE's fridge expert, who's been testing fridges for nearly 10 years.
The Smeg Retro Style FAB28 range needs to be manually defrosted.
Taking retro styling too far
While we generally all take the auto-defrost feature for granted, Smeg has turned back the clock with its retro-styled FAB28 range of fridges. Buying one of these will set you back around $2750, but Smeg has ensured you'll have a truly authentic 50s experience as the fridge doesn't have auto-defrost – so you'll have to manually defrost the freezer yourself whenever the ice gets to 2cm thick. We think some 'features' (like manual defrost) should stay in the past.
Aside from the absence of nifty features like butter conditioners, modern fridges are far more user-friendly and efficient than the fridges of yesteryear: think auto-defrost, temperature-controllable zones, door alarms, humidity controls, self-closing doors and lockable cabinets (good for medication, alcohol and chocolate!).
"New features, finishes and retro aesthetics are great, but they come at a cost. With so many options in a modern fridge you need to think carefully about how you'll use your fridge and what's important to you, and don't pay for what you won't use," says whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale.
3. They're getting bigger – and shinier
People are increasingly buying larger fridges, particularly French-door fridges, Corinna says. And while you used to have the option of Arctic White, Snow White or Ivory, there are now more options than ever: stainless steel, glass, custom options and integrated fridges. There's even a fridge on the market that becomes translucent whenever someone approaches, so you can see what's inside without having to open the door – good for those of us who like to take our time deliberating over which yoghurt flavour to choose!
Which finish do people choose?
"The ratios in which people choose different finishes are fairly consistent year to year," says Ashley.
Most popular fridge finish
- White: 41%
- Stainless steel: 27%
- Metal look: 20%
- Black: 6%
- Silver: 3%
- Glass/mirror: 1%
- Other: 1%
- None (ie, built-in): 1%
Liebherr fridge with StickerArt finish
One of the most bizarre fridges we've seen is Liebherr's StickerArt fridge, which looks a bit like it's been attacked by an overzealous primary schooler.
It's not yet available in Australia, but we're probably not missing much.
"You can do this to your existing fridge for a fraction of the cost of the Liebherr, either with individual stickers or a vinyl sticker bomb sheet," says Ashley.
4. They're far more efficient
Each time the MEPS (minimum energy performance standards) are reviewed, they become a little more strict, which means that products that don't cut the mustard energy-wise are slowly disappearing from the market.
"A fridge that was considered efficient 10 years ago probably wouldn't even meet today's standards," says Corinna. "A four-star rating ten years ago would only be equivalent to a 1.5 or 2 star rating nowadays."
In our fridge reviews, we test for temperature stability: how much the fridge's temperature changes when the compressor starts and stops.
A fridge that was considered efficient 10 years ago probably wouldn't even meet today's standards
It might not seem like earth-shattering news, but something very special recently happened in CHOICE's fridge-testing labs. For the first time EVER a fridge scored 100% on the temperature stability test. The French-door Electrolux EHE5267SA was the first fridge to achieve this unheard-of score. The secret to its success? An inverter compressor – or more specifically, how it uses its inverter compressor.
How the new technology works
In conventional fridges, the compressor kicks in when the temperature rises to a certain level, then cuts out again once the fridge is back to the ideal temperature. This means that the fridge temperature rises and falls throughout each compressor cycle – which can be a problem in terms of food safety and keeping your ice cream frozen if the fluctuations are too big.
An inverter compressor can operate constantly, increasing its power as needed to ensure the temperature doesn't fluctuate. This actually reduces energy consumption as the fridge doesn't need to work hard to reduce the temperature.
5. They don't tear holes in the ozone layer any more
Refrigerant gases are far more environmentally friendly than the planet-wrecking gases we used to use in fridges. Ozone-destroying gases and greenhouse gases (which contribute to global warming) were phased out in the 1990s in the developed world and are being phased out throughout the developing world.
Besides being more environmentally friendly, the new refrigerant gases are also more energy-efficient than the old ones – a double win for the planet.