Some smart-home products make perfect sense: security cameras, smart speakers and light bulbs all benefit to a greater or lesser degree from connectivity, remote access and smartphone notifications. I can see precisely why someone would want to buy one. The Smarter FridgeCam, which has just gone on sale for the first time in the UK, feels like it needs a little more justification.
It’s a product that poses a collection of immediate and pointed questions. Who on earth needs a connected camera in their fridge? Could you not do the same job by taking a picture with your smartphone? And who would pay £150 for the privilege? Let me try to make some sense of it for you.
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Smarter FridgeCam review: What you need to know
The idea behind the FridgeCam, brought to you by the folks behind the infamous connected kettle, is to allow you to see what’s in your fridge, wherever you are. At its most basic, it’s a camera you mount on the door of your fridge that takes a snap of the interior every time you the fridge door is opened.
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It has a fisheye lens to help it see top to bottom and an LED flash to ensure the images are bright and clear enough that you can see everything inside. It then sends that image, via Wi-Fi, to the Smarter app on your phone so that you can refer to it when you’re at the shops, or on the sofa, or at work. The camera has a rechargeable battery inside, but this doesn’t need recharging very frequently as it’s only on when capturing photos and syncing back to your phone.
That’s it, in a nutshell. Essentially, adding a FridgeCam to your current fridge is like buying a Samsung Smart Fridge without having to spend £1,800 or more, except you don’t get the big touchscreen on the front.
There’s a little more to it than that, though. The most interesting feature is object recognition, which the software uses to identify items in the fridge that match its database and add them to your inventory automatically. You can then add best-before dates so you can get notifications of what’s going off, and the software will also spot when things are removed and alert you.
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This is a reasonably good idea. If you’re the type who regularly throws away food because you accidentally bought something you didn’t need to, it could save you a lot of money over time, and a lot of time wasted in additional, unnecessary supermarket visits.
Or it would be if it worked well. Alas, the FridgeCam is fundamentally flawed in a number of areas.
The biggest problem is that the object recognition just doesn’t work very well. I’ve had a FridgeCam in my fridge for a couple of weeks and, so far, the software has failed to recognise a single item, even when that item has been placed directly in front of the camera.
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And I’m not talking about obscure stuff either, like the Turkish yoghurt we regularly buy from the little shop up the road, but well-known, branded items such as pouches of Capri Sun and cans of Diet Coke. The FridgeCam has recognised none of these items. Smarter says the system will learn over time as the community grows and more people tag and track items using the software. That's all well and good but the simple fact is that if you buy one now, more often than not it won't work.
All is not lost, though, because it’s also possible to add items by hand, either by scanning the barcode as you place them in the fridge or adding them manually later. In each case, you can add the expiration date and, by drawing a box around each item in your fridge photo, you can get the software to “track” each item. What does this mean? The idea is that the software can recognise when items are removed (so when you need to buy more of them), at which point it will send you a notification.
Again, though, there are flaws. The camera can’t see into all areas of your fridge. It’s completely blind to items in the door, which in my fridge is absolutely stuffed with cheese, fruit juice and milk. It has trouble seeing into the top and bottom corners of larger fridges like mine, or behind large items. It can’t see into the vegetable section either, which in most fridges is a separate compartment at the bottom. Mind you, I’d be impressed if it could; it would need X-ray vision to do that.
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The barcode scanner in the app only matches products stocked in Tesco’s online store; anything not in the database you’ll have to laboriously type out an entry for. And when items are moved or removed, you have to confirm this, item by item, in the app, which is tiresome. Smarter argues that the idea is to encourage people to manage the contents of their fridge more proactively and that this will become second nature after a while. For anyone who does a reasonably large weekly shop, though, this will be all but impractical.
Loading the fridge with new items is tedious enough when you get the weekly shopping home. Having to tag and manually enter best-before dates for everything will be beyond the pale for most people – let alone confirming whenever items are moved or removed. And anyway, if you were motivated enough to want to catalogue all your food in this way, I’d hazard a guess you probably wouldn’t need a smart fridge in the first place.
Smarter FridgeCam review: Price and competition
You won’t find another product like the FridgeCam on the market, so it’s essentially unrivalled, but that’s not to say you should buy one. It costs £150 – or £99 if you purchase with a new fridge from Currys. Either way, I’d say that was rather a lot of money for what is, effectively, a camera that takes low-resolution stills of the inside of your fridge and then sends those images to your phone.
In the wider context of smart fridges, the price does look a little more reasonable. Buy a
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and you’ll pay a handsome £1,879 for the privilege. But with a proper smart fridge, you’re getting a whole lot more for your money, including multiple interior cameras and a touchscreen on the front.
Buy the Smarter FridgeCam from Currys
Smarter FridgeCam review: Verdict
Smarter is marketing the FridgeCam as the answer to food wastage at home and as a way to more conveniently manage your fridge food supplies. That’s a laudable goal, but it needs to be much better implemented than this.
For the system to work, you need multiple cameras in your fridge and object recognition that actually works. And any retro-fit system needs to be sold at a far lower price than this. As it stands, the FridgeCam is overpriced, and doesn’t do the job well enough to come close to justifying it.