A fridge-freezer with serious smarts and cutting-edge cooling
Samsung’s stunning RB38K Family Hub brings the smart-fridge concept right up to date. Based on the outstanding RB7000 Chef Collection fridge-freezer, the Family Hub adds Wi-Fi connectivity, a huge touchscreen running Samsung’s Tizen OS and a host of new Family Hub-specific apps.
Its cooling performance can’t be bettered with its class-leading temperature stability, topped with excellent food storage flexibility, and luxury fittings. Add to this the most compelling case for letting your fridge talk to the internet yet, and you have a truly revolutionary kitchen appliance.
Related: Best Fridge-Freezers
Take one of the best-looking stainless steel fridge-freezers on the market and add a portrait-orientated 21.5inch LCD colour touchscreen – wow-factor guaranteed.
The stainless steel has a gorgeous hairline brushed finish that does a good job of keeping fingerprints at bay. Controls for the fridge-freezer itself are buried in the screen menu, so there are no other panels or buttons on show.
Most visitors to your kitchen won’t be looking at the finish, though. That monster screen dominates, displaying apps, images and video with plenty of definition, colour and pop. The black panel in which the screen is set is about the same size as a 27in TV, with its sleek black surround and taskbar area adding to the glossy acreage.
When not in use, you can switch the screen off or you can default to a timed screensaver, which scrolls through pictures from the on-board photo album – either the supplied samples or your own. You need to upload vertical images for best results, so it’s ideal for typical phone shots. As a simple LCD picture frame the screen adds a spectacular new dimension to the look and feel of the kitchen.
The main homescreen offers some customisation, but the RB38K runs on Samsung’s Tizen OS rather than a fully-featured Android tablet platform.
The feature set and how you set up areas such as the homepage are more limited than what’s possible on one of the brand’s Galaxy tablets. A clock at the top, live weather feed and tiles for various apps are scattered on the main screen. Scroll to the right and a second screen offers another swathe of tiles. There are lots of blank tile spaces on both screens, giving Samsung plenty of scope to add apps in the future.
Beneath the screen itself is a row of taskbar soft keys that allow you to turn the microphone on or off, access the main menu, return to the homescreen, go back, or open the Quick Panel menu.
Access to the internet radio, TV mirroring video, internet surfing, a view of the inside of the fridge without opening the door and other Samsung Family Hub apps are a simple touch or voice command away.
Inside, the lush stainless steel Metal Cooling panel dominates the look of the fridge interior. The compartment is lit with brilliant-white LEDs and is well-appointed with a slide-and-fold shelf, two big drawers, and six door pockets offering a couple of position options.
Nestled between the upper door pockets are three cameras that display the contents of the interior from the outside – it’s like looking through a glass window. For planning your shopping needs or just those moments when you stare into an open fridge wondering what to eat, simply not having to open the door further improves energy efficiency and lowers your annual energy consumption.
You can also check the contents of your fridge while you’re out, getting the same image on your phone using Samsung’s Smart Home app. Standing in Tesco’s chilled dairy section mentally debating whether or not you need milk will never be the same again.
Back at home you can tag items in the fridge, putting drag-and-drop markers on the image with item name and expiry date. This counts down as days go by, alerting you to out-of-date foods. There’s no dynamic item-tracking, however, so you must put the tracked items back into the fridge in the same place you removed them for this to work.
Just like the RB7000, the Family Hub has two large drawers that pull out on the smoothest rollers we’ve yet to see in a domestic fridge.
They have a soft close feature of the type you’d find on a premium kitchen drawer and can be removed completely. Up top is a traditional salad drawer, while the larger Chef Zone drawer works at the optimum temperature for meat and fish. Both aim to maintain temperature stability to best preserve the food within.
The Chef Zone also comes supplied with Samsung’s Chef Pan. This is a covered metal tray that sits above the main contents of the drawer and can be taken straight from the fridge to the oven. For pre-preparing parts of a meal for a dinner party, this could prove a handy feature when the fridge is full and shelf space is tight. After cooking this can go straight in the dishwasher too.
If you can pull yourself away from the screen to open a door, the interior is much the same as the RB7000 – that means both large and stunningly well appointed. With a useful 226 litres of fridge space, the Family Hub is a capacious beast but still some 50 litres short of the RB7000’s cavernous refrigeration compartment.
Since both models use Samsung innovative SpaceMax insulation, which dramatically reduces the thickness of the side walls, this difference is largely down to the Family Hub model being some 9cm shorter (at 193cm tall).
A further few litres are lost to accommodating the screen and electronics, with insulation around these components kept high to ensure no heat is transferred from the screen (or from the room through the screen’s glass) into the fridge.
The door pockets are suitably large and the lower one is deep, wide and has plenty of space above to accommodate the largest bottles and cartons. The lower Chef Drawer is cavernous and runs right to the very front of the compartment, with the lowest door pocket raised above.
The centre of the three glass shelves offers a slide-and-tilt mechanism that gains you 13cm and 21cm respectively for taller items placed on the lowest shelf.
Downstairs, the family Hub’s freezer compartment is identical to the RB7000 – and that’s great news. You get 130 litres of freezer space, with three full open-box drawers on smooth rollers. Blue-tinted drawer lighting shines down from the fridge handle.
This light can be left on permanently for some additional kitchen bling, or triggered automatically when the freezer door is open. The drawers can be removed with ease for a kitchen-top rummage or to freeze very large items.
The name Family Hub accurately sums up the main thrust and direction of this Samsung’s smart features. It doesn’t attempt to stick large-screen tablet functionality on your fridge, but rather brings together a raft of easy-to-access apps across four core areas; food management, family communications, entertainment and smart home.
In food management, there’s the food use-by date reminder function that uses tags on the refrigerator image and – perhaps, my favourite feature – the Shopping List. Here you can add items you need on-screen, which is then synced across family member’s devices using the Smart Home app. As soon as someone buys the item it’s scratched off the list on all connected devices. That would personally save this household at least £20 a year in accidentally doubling up on milk purchases.
There’s a simple timer function and direct access to Allrecipies.com, as well as an area dedicated to recipes from Samsung’s own Club des Chefs. Many of these are accompanied by full video instructions, which is just as well as you’d have to be a far more ambitious cook then me to attempt these dishes.
The family communication area builds on the Family Hub concept that works so well for the Shopping List app. The White Board is just that, a large notepad for leaving messages for the family. There is a huge area to scribble in and a host of pens, colours and emoticons to spice up the memo.
You can embed images and voice recordings for added pizzazz, and even leave memos remotely from any synced device running Samsung’s Smart Home app. Sending a White Board memo from the lounge saying “Is dinner ready yet?” is probably best avoided, though.
For rather more formal planning the Sticki Board is a scheduler that synchronises the family’s smartphone calendars, including S Planner, Google Calendar and Outlook.
Pull up the Sticki Board and you can see who is doing what and when. You can arrange family events, push meeting/event requests out to all synced calendars, and share Facebook and Instagram posts directly with family members. Photos posted to the Smart Home app will appear in the Family Hub photo album and can be set as part of the scrolling screensaver.
Kitchen entertainment features begin to step on the electronic toes of other devices you might already have in the kitchen, so aren’t necessarily as convincing.
There’s internet radio via TuneIn and a host of other streaming services such as Spotify, Napster and so on, a limited feature web browser and TV Mirroring, assuming you have a recent Samsung Tizen OS Smart TV.
The screen is okay for TV viewing, but 16:9 content is rendered in a small strip across the middle of the screen and the speaker at the top of the fridge is rather weedy sounding. Thankfully, you can connect a Bluetooth speaker to bolster the sonic performance if you so wish.
The final string to the Family Hub’s bow is Smart Home connectivity and control. It runs a version of the Smart Home App so existing users will be immediately familiar with the clean and well-ordered layout.
From here you can control a host of Samsung connected devices including smart kitchen appliances, such as the brand’s flagship washing machines, AV electronics and even a robot vacuum cleaner. We tested the Family Hub’s smart control with a Samsung VR9300 robot, R6 360 wireless speaker, and a Samsung Smart TV – all worked seamlessly together.
One out-there feature that we didn’t see, or rather hear, coming is the Morning Brief. Set up to deploy as you approach the Family Hub or when you first open the fridge door in the morning, Morning Brief greets you with a slightly mechanical female voice announcing the date, weather forecast for your area and wishing you a cheery good day. The first few times that comes as a real surprise – but thankfully, you can set the earliest time it will activate.
Of course, arguably much of this could have easily been replicated on an Android platform, but there’s a strong case for the simplicity of a tightly focused front-end thanks to the Tizen OS. It’s very clean, and doesn’t have any of the clutter of a typical Android tablet. Moreover, the food management and family communication areas benefit from the simplicity and easy synchronisation across all the family’s smart devices.
Fun, functional and fully connected, I can see these features being a real hit with families – making the Family Hub the first truly compelling internet fridge.
Yet there are some areas to which, undeniably, a fully developed Android OS would have added even more functionality from the start. More apps obviously, but also basic commands such as simple copying an image from the internet to the photo album for display on the screensaver.
Personally, I’d have liked an app that delivers a scrolling newsfeed, and a text-to-speech app would be brilliant for reading recipes while you’re juggling pots, pans and ingredients. None of those features are here right now, but the beauty of the Family Hub system is that they could well be a software update away.
In keeping with all of Samsung’s Chef Collection fridge-freezers, the Family Hub is very, very quiet. This model uses exactly the same compressor and fans as the RB7000, so it was no surprise to find the sound measurements were similarly impressive. Over its short 40-or-so minute cycle it output a maximum of just 38dB (quieter than a library), and for the latter phase of the compressor cycle noise was below 35dB.
Such figures are just about on the limit of what we can actually measure, even in the dead of night to eliminate background noise. In practical terms, in an average kitchen you simply won’t hear the Family Hub at all.
Samsung’s top-spec fridge-freezers have consistently produced some of the very best cooling performances we’ve tested. Not only in terms of energy efficiency, but in keeping the temperature and humidity in each part of the fridge consistent. This best preserves food, pushing the effective use-by date, keeping your groceries fresher for longer, and preserving flavour and nutrition from day one.
Samsung Twin Cooling Plus splits the cooling systems for fridge and freezer so that temperature and humidity upheaval in one area – say, putting 5kg of fresh blackberries in the freezer – doesn’t affect the other compartment. This allows the fridge to be kept at an ideal 65-75% humidity; a single compressor/single evaporator system will regular see fridge humidity drop to 40% or even lower.
The same Twin Cooling system means that the freezer can work harder, quickly freezing fresh foods, without adversely affecting the fridge temperature.
We loaded the RB38K with 0.5kg of mixed foods per 10 litres of fridge capacity and 1kg of food per 10 litres of freezer space. In the fridge, we evenly distributed a selection of everyday food, groceries and vegetables around the shelves, pockets and drawers.
The freezer contents included 2 litres of room temperature water to measure fresh-to-frozen time and the effect on frozen foods of a three-hour power failure. Temperature probes were evenly distributed throughout the fridge-freezer compartments, and precise temperatures logged over a week’s normal usage in a stable 18oC room environment.
Samsung’s RB7000 is our best-performing 60cm fridge-freezer, and the RB38K joins it in that accolade with a near-identical, or even better, test results throughout. Class-leading temperature stability, fast cooling and accurate thermostat settings in both compartments make this an outstanding performer – guaranteed to keep your food fresher for longer than pretty much any other fridge-freezer on the market.
With the fridge thermostat set to 3oC using the touchscreen interface, the top shelf averaged 3.6oC, the mid-shelf 3.4oC, the salad drawer 3.2oC and the Chef Zone 2.4oC. That’s a top to bottom temperature variation of just 1.2oC, which is about a third of the (3-4oC) variation we see in most fridges.
Better still, the temperature stability throughout the compressor cycle is outstanding. The top shelf and Chef Drawer show a fluctuation of less than +/-1oC, while the mid-shelf and salad drawer are incredibly stable at just +/- a quarter of a degree.
To put that in perspective, on average the temperature fluctuation on any shelf in a good modern fridge is usually around +/- 2oC. In less accomplished models it can be +/- 3 or 4oC.
And those top-line figures don’t even do full justice to the RB38K’s performance. Thanks to an incredibly short compressor cycle of under 40 minutes, excellent air circulation and the metal plate cooling, the fridge compartment’s small peaks and troughs in air temperature have very little effect on the temperature of the food. Nothing else on the market gets close to this level of performance.
I was very nearly as excited at the freezer test results. The headline here is food temperature stability. With the thermostat set at -19oC, our 2-litre water sample went from room temperature to -20oC in under 14 hours – and stayed within a degree and half of that temperature throughout the test period.
Once again, that’s a comprehensively class-leading temperature stability and a thermostat within a degree of set temperature. Air temperatures in each drawer were between -19 and -20oC respectively, with fluctuation through the compressor cycle absolutely minimal – no more than +/- 2oC in any drawer. Brilliant.
Our three-hour fail test shows just how good a fridge-freezer’s insulation is at keeping the cold air inside. The RB38K’s SpaceMax insulation is certainly very good for its svelte thickness, resulting in a slow uniform air temperature rise on the top shelf to around -9oC.
Our frozen food sample crept up to -13oC. That’s a near-replica of the RB7000 test result and gives a food safety limit of well over 12 hours in the event of a power outage. While not quite as stunning as the temperature test results, that’s still very good indeed.
Given the additional electronics, always-on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, speakers and that enormous screen, we expected the RB38K to use a little more juice that the RB7000.
Our calculations from a week in the environmental chamber, opening the door six times per day and having a play with the apps every time, suggest it would use a very frugal 153kWh or around £23 per year at 15p/kWh.
While that top-line figure is slightly less than the 163kWh we calculated for the super energy-efficient RB7000, the Family Hub is some 50 litres smaller in capacity. So, in terms of kWh per litre of cooling space, the RB38K does use marginally more electricity than its sibling. With all the smart tech included in this model, it’s hardly a surprise – and the top-line energy efficiency is still comfortably within A++.
Last year we were blown away by the RB7000, and the new RB38K Family Hub is every bit as class leading in its performance, features and design. It then ices that cake with some superb smart technology focused on simplicity of use, food and family life. It works too.
While a full Android OS would add features galore, it would also turn the Family Hub’s touchscreen into a wannabe tablet that lacked portability and had a finite technological life expectancy.
As it is, the Tizen OS ensures the smart features are tightly focused, and the food and family-orientated apps are easily the most compelling smart kitchen appliance apps to date.
Yes, it could use a few more of those must-have smart apps to justify its substantial cost, but Samsung’s Family Hub signals a coming of age for the smart kitchen appliance.