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Update: Refrigerators—Fresh Solutions

Plus: Best Buys in Top-Freezer, Bottom-Freezer, Side-by-Side & Built-in Models

Manufacturers are adding doors and storage compartments to refrigerators. Meanwhile, the latest models can be controlled by voice commands and even can take a digital image of what’s inside of your refrigerator.

Whirlpool

Shirley Hood has worked for 23 years at appliance retailer Abt, and she tells us that refrigerators are typically the most difficult appliance for consumers to purchase.

“For some reason, people don’t really know what they want in a refrigerator,” Hood says.

Hood and eight experts tell us that picking a refrigerator is particularly confusing in 2017, because more models exist than before. We predicted that this would happen 2 years ago. At that time, manufacturers were rebuilding their lineups in accordance with federal energy-efficiency standards that went into effect in September 2014. Today, manufacturers are expanding their lineups further to include models that have more doors and storage options than ever before.

DOORS GALORE. In 2013, four manufacturers made 33.0-cubic-foot French door models. Today, we found just three total models by LG and Whirlpool that are as large as 32.0 cubic feet. Experts tell us that refrigerators shrank, because manufacturers added insulation layers to meet energy standards, and those layers chew up interior capacity. As a result, instead of adding capacity and width, manufacturers are becoming increasingly creative about their storage options.

For example, KitchenAid and Whirlpool now have five-door French-door models (starting at $3,399) that deliver more storage options than before. The five-door models look similar to four-door French-door models, but include two separate pantry drawers instead of one wide middle drawer. The left pantry drawer can be set digitally to one of five temperature settings (“meat/fish,” “cold drinks,” “greens/herbs,” “deli/cheese” and “thaw/marinate”). The right drawer is for storing herbs and produce.

Samsung now sells eight four-door “flex” refrigerators (starting at $3,399) that have four equal-size doors. The top two doors open in a French-door style. The bottom-right refrigerator compartment can be set to one of four temperature settings—41 degrees Fahrenheit, 30 degrees F, 23 degrees F and 5 degrees F—so you can use that space as a freezer. The bottom-left compartment is a dedicated freezer.

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We haven’t heard of any other manufacturers that plan to introduce five-door or so-called flex refrigerators. However, almost every manufacturer now sells at least three door-in-door models. These allow you to open a compartment that’s within an exterior refrigerator door to access high-demand items, such as milk or soft drinks, instead of opening the entire door and releasing a larger amount of cold air than is released by accessing the compartment. Door-in-door models still start at $1,800, but Hood expects to see such models in the next 2 years that are priced as low as $1,300.

“You can put anything in that door, and if you have teenagers or kids, that can be their own little area,” Hood says. “It gives them quick access and prevents them from opening up both doors and standing there for 2 minutes deciding what they want.”

In 2016, LG introduced InstaView. The transparent glass door-in-door lights up when you knock on it twice. In other words, the light allows you to see what’s inside and decide what you want before you open a door. Six models (starting at $4,100) have this feature. We evaluated it ourselves, and we could see how it would be useful if, for example, we had a party and our guests wanted to determine what their beverage choices were without opening the door. However, for $4,100, we wish that we could see what’s in the rest of our refrigerator.

STAY CONNECTED. Speaking of seeing what’s in the rest of your refrigerator, you soon will be able to do that, sort of.

In January 2017 at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), LG and Samsung introduced Wi-Fi-enabled, voice-controlled refrigerators that include built-in cameras that automatically take a digital image of what’s inside of your refrigerator every time that you close the doors. You can view the images on a mobile app. So, if you’re at the grocery store and you can’t remember whether you have milk, you can use the app to see.