Which New Appliances Are Worth the Price?

Intelligent ovens…refrigerator doors that turn transparent at a touch…heat-pump clothes dryers that use half the energy of conventional dryers. Manufacturers continue to add innovative new features to major appliances—but which are really worth having (and paying for)?

OVENS AND COOKTOPS

Some of the newest innovations for ovens now are available mainly on high-end units, but they will be finding their way to mainstream models as well…

Guided cooking modes. Rather than figuring out cook times and temperatures, you just use the LCD displays to select the type of food you are preparing (and perhaps a few additional details, such as how well-done you would like your meat). The oven takes over from there—even recommending what type of pan to use…setting cook times and temperatures…and turning itself off when the food is done. The best of these systems are programmed to prepare hundreds of different types of dishes.

Examples: The best guided cooking systems are Miele ovens with Master-Chef Controls (starting at $2,499*)…Jenn-Air ovens with ­Culinary Center (starting at $3,599)…Wolf ovens with Gourmet mode (starting at $5,190).

Steam ovens keep food moist while it cooks. This isn’t just a gimmick—meats and some vegetables will be noticeably more tender and juicy. Steam does not create the browned or crispy exterior that many recipes call for, but steam ­ovens generally offer convection cooking capabilities as well, which can provide this effect. Steam cooking is healthier, too—traditional thermal ovens burn some of the nutrients out of food. Some steam ovens require a plumbing connection, while others have a water reservoir that is refilled manually.

Examples: Miele steam ovens (starting at $2,499)…Bosch Benchmark steam convection ovens (starting at $3,099)…Thermador Professional Series steam and convection ovens (starting at $3,999)…Wolf convection steam ovens (starting at $4,195).

Wi-Fi-enabled “smart” ovens and ranges can be controlled with a smartphone, tablet or computer wherever you are. Manufacturers are adding Wi-Fi to virtually everything these days—­often unnecessarily—but ovens are one appliance where it can be useful. For instance, if you leave home and don’t know what time you will return, you can start preheating an empty oven via a smartphone so that you can start cooking as soon as you get home.

Examples: GE ovens with Wi-Fi Connect (starting at $1,500)…Samsung ranges and ovens with Wi-Fi Connectivity (starting at $2,999).

But skip the following features…

Twin convection. Convection ovens have fans that circulate hot air around food so that it cooks evenly and quickly. That’s useful, but don’t pay extra for a “twin convection” oven equipped with two fans. The extra fan makes virtually no difference in a standard 30-inch-wide oven (although it is slightly more useful with a 36-inch oven).

More than two high-output burners on a cooktop. Having two burners that produce 15,000 BTUs or more is useful, but no one needs all burners to generate such extreme heat.

REFRIGERATORS

Fridge features worth considering…

frigeratorFridges with four or five external doors and drawers that can be opened separately. For instance, on some models you can open the meat drawer or crisper drawer without opening up the main fridge door. In some cases, you even can switch certain compartments from fridge to freezer and back.

Examples: KitchenAid “five door” refrigerators (starting at $3,599)…Samsung with FlexZone “four door” refrigerators (starting at $3,999).

Coming soon: Within the next one to three years, LG and Samsung will introduce refrigerators with doors that turn translucent with a touch so you can see what’s inside without opening the fridge. That could greatly reduce cold-air loss as you check whether you have certain food and beverage items.

Spoilage-arresting “air scrubbers” remove mold, viruses and bacteria from the air in the fridge, as well as the ­ethylene gas released by food as it spoils. This advanced air filtration not only reduces cross-contamination between foods, it actually slows the spoiling process. This is offered only by Sub-Zero, which is a very expensive brand.

Example: Sub-Zero 36-inch refrigerators start at $8,170.

But skip…

Wi-Fi-enabled fridges. You could use your smartphone and the refrigerator’s internal camera to check the status of juices, milk and other supplies right from the market. But unless your Wi-Fi fridge continually saves you from buying unnecessary items, these gimmicky appliances probably aren’t worth their high price (typically $3,000 and up).

Hot-water door dispensers. Some refrigerator water dispensers now supply hot water as well as cold. This feature further complicates water-dispensing systems, which are among the components most likely to require repair.

WASHERS AND DRYERS

Thirty years ago, the typical washing machine had a functional capacity of around 2.5 cubic feet, and dryers were only slightly larger. Now many are twice that size, sometimes even larger—Samsung sells a 9.5-­cubic-foot-capacity dryer. Large-capacity washers and dryers can be convenient for big families—it’s easier and quicker to do a few large loads than many small ones. But large models won’t fit into some laundry rooms. Other features worth considering…

Mid-wash access portal for a front loader lets you add garments without stopping the washer mid-cycle, something usually not possible with a front loader. It’s a nice feature—that sock that momentarily escaped your notice no longer has to wait until the next laundry day to get clean.

Example: Samsung front-load washers with AddWash start at $1,099.

Washer steam cycles can remove wrinkles without the need for ironing…and they can eliminate smoking and cooking odors. They also tend to be better than nonsteam washers at removing tough stains, such as grass and blood. This feature is not brand-new but only recently has become available at mainstream prices.

Examples: Frigidaire washers with Ready Steam start at $949…Electrolux washers with Perfect Steam start at $999.

Heat-pump dryers use half the energy of traditional ventilation dryers by recapturing hot air rather than venting it outside. They could save the typical household $75 a year and allow buyers to recoup their additional up-front cost in five to eight years. They are powered by electricity and generally do not require exhaust ducts, but they do take somewhat longer to dry clothes.

Examples: Whirlpool HybridCare True Ventless Heat Pump Dryer at $1,399…LG Ultra Large Capacity Dryer with EcoHybrid Technology at $1,599. (This LG uses both heat-pump drying and conventional drying for when fast dry times are needed, so it does require exhaust ducting.)

*Many appliances are available for hundreds of dollars less than stated list prices.