The first thing that struck me about the mass-market microwave that connects to the internet is how peculiar the machine &# x27; s diet is.
The GE Smart Countertop Microwave with Scan-to-Cook Technology is, despite the mouthful of a name, fairly unassuming to look at. It &# x27; s nearly identical to the slightly tinier, hardworking GE JES1 072 SHSS that I own. Yet this new,. 9 cubic-foot, 900 -watt microwave comes packed with high-tech features: You can use an app to scan the bar code on the back of your Hot Pockets to set the cook hour on the microwave. If you &# x27; ve got an Amazon Dot, Echo, or Show, you can do important things like turn it on and off or thaw chicken with your voice.
It’s not just Hot Pockets. A GE rep forwarded an impossibly long listing of 7, 496 barcodes that it could scan–Healthy Choice Simply Steamers Beef Chimichurri, Guinness Irish Nachos, Jimmy Dean Pancakes& Sausage On A Stick, Totino &# x27; s Pizza Sticks, DiGiorno Pizza Buns, DiGiorno Pizza& Wyngz. Oddly, frozen veggies hadn &# x27; t been prioritized for the first round of scan-ables. I could search the spreadsheet for “pizza” and the word would came up 426 periods in the food name column alone. But fresh veggies? Not yet an option.
By chance, at the time I had the microwave in my exam kitchen, I was reading Antoine de Saint-Exupery &# x27; s Wind, Sand and Stars and came across a passageway about the role of machines in our lives.
“The machine is not an end. An aircraft is not an end: it is a tool, ” he writes. Tools are created to allow you to reach greater objectives, and machines should not distract from this pursuing. In fact, you should barely was noted that they &# x27; re there. With this in mind, I was getting an early sense that the connected facet of the machine I was reviewing was almost like a work in progress.
While there &# x27; s a fair amount of technology being hefted around here, I &# x27; m not sure GE &# x27; s new offering does much to advance mankind. In fact, it may signal a regression.
Saint-Exupery &# x27; s terms rang in my ears as I drove to the grocery store in search of a microwaveable lunch.
“Oh yeah, people will definitely buy that microwave, ” said the stock clerk at my local Safeway. “If you can just scan it, people won &# x27; t even need to read. They &# x27; ll like that.”
The two of us stood in the center of the frozen food section where I tried to cross reference the selection on hand with a pared-down version of GE’s 7,000 -plus item list. Those high-trafficked grocery aisles are their own circle of hell on a good day, but when I tried to find a few specific things on a spreadsheet, it seemed as if all their boxes had been mixed together in a hopper then shelved with a confetti cannon.
Eventually, I detected a few things: Stouffer &# x27; s Meat Lovers Lasagna, Marie Callender &# x27; s Turkey Pot Pie, Cherry Port Pork from EatingWell, and Premium Pepperoni& Sausage Pizza Hot Pockets.
I left the frozen prepared food aisle then passed the frozen veggies because GE hasn &# x27; t yet got to those in earnest. It also skipped fresh veggies, which is a bummer because cooking those is one of the easiest things you can do in a microwave. One might argue that fresh veggies don &# x27; t have bar codes, but it couldn &# x27; t be that difficult to include a laminated page with them in the instruction manual which you could tape to the side of the gadget. Then again, maybe GE just wanted to knock off one very popular category in one go before the product launch deadline.
That launch seems curiously soft for such a big brand. Not only are they mostly shunning veggies, but when I first tried to scan my treasure trove of frozen dinners, the app recognized none of them. How can you dismiss my Hot Pockets with Premium Pepperoni !? I hollered into my empty kitchen.
I phoned a version of that question into a member of GE &# x27; s technology team.
“Hmm. Those are some items I would expect to work, ” he said. “Are you on the West Coast by any chance? “
Sure enough, I live in Seattle, and apparently nobody in town could scan a thing.
The tech guy flipped a switching somewhere and suddenly everybody between me and Tijuana could microwave our bar-coded burritos in peace and get on with experiencing the full weirdness of the setup.
Instead of read the back of the box, keying the time in on the microwave &# x27; s keypad, and making start, I could now take my phone out of my pocket, ignore the push notifications, navigate to the home screen, swipe twice to get to the screen with the app, open the app, click the bar code button, scan the bar code on the box, and cook my food.
Notice how that does not feel like a huge step forward in convenience? Did you wonder why the scanner wasn &# x27; t built into the microwave? Are you perhaps feeling a twang of nostalgia for the suddenly impressive simplicity of the popcorn button?
You can do important things like turn it on and off or thaw chicken with your voice.
Perhaps, I thought, the voice control could win me over. You can use Alexa to do some simple stuff like commence, stopping, and pausing the microwave. You can ask it to reheat pizza, and specify the number of slicings( though you &# x27 ;d be hard pressed to fit more than two in there without making a mess ). You can also ask it to defrost all sorts of different meats like chicken, ground beef, fish, or hot dogs by weight–though a little bit of sleuthing revealed that they all get the same treatment. A pound of bacon gets zapped the same way that a pound of sausage does, which attains me worry for relatively delicate frozen fish. Considering, too, that you have to open the microwave to cook in the microwave, the existing abilities felt like more of a novelty than something of true utility. You can press the “Add 30 Seconds” button twice way faster than you can say, “Alexa turn on the microwave for a minute.”
One trick I &# x27 ;d love for any microwave to induce easy to do: thawing a stick of butter without turning it into a multi-state farrago of dairy fat and water vapor when you pop open the door. But that &# x27; s not in the cards for now.
It concerned me that the microwave seems to prioritize pre-packaged and frozen dinners over fresh foods, so I called Adam Drewnowski, the Director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at UW &# x27; s School of Public Health. We started our bellow with me on my high horse about the lack of vegetable options.
“I agree with you and your domestic staff probably thinks the same, ” he said, delivering a little jab for my editorializing. Then he reminded me that “not every frozen meal is unhealthy.”
Drewnowski would know: His nutrient algorithm was used to create the Fooducate app, which scans barcodes and devotes the corresponding product an -Ato-F healthiness grade. The four items I had picked up all scored some sort of a C grade, and if I had an extra hour to root around a bit more at the store, I might have found a few things that scored higher.
As for the microwave &# x27; s current usefulness, Drewnowski had mixed supposes. “If you &# x27; re sitting next to a illuminate, you don &# x27; t need to clog up the internet to turn it off, ” he said, wondering aloud why the scanner wasn &# x27; t built into the microwave itself.
But then he switched gears, imagining himself standing in front of a microwave with a frozen snack in his hand and wondering which button to push. That &# x27; s in order to use a microwave can be complicated–“Is it a soup? Is it a stew? Am I reheating? Am I thawing? “–and when a bar code can come in handy.
The GE Scan to Cook Microwave is a strange animal. Never hook it up to anything and you &# x27; ve got a solid microwave with a great UI. Fire up the app and it can scan and your Amy &# x27; s burritos without making you read a thing. Connect Alexa and you can turn on the microwave with your voice instead of your finger. Is that worth it if you &# x27; ve gotta walk over to the microwave to put your food in it? Do you often find yourself wanting to turn off the microwave from across the room? It &# x27; s not for me, but maybe there &# x27; s convenience in it for you.
What really tweaks the equation is the price: It &# x27; s $140 for the microwave alone( currently $155 bundled with an Echo Dot) whereas the slightly smallest and not connected one I own didn &# x27; t cost much less. Considering we &# x27; re mid soft launching, if you &# x27; re interested in following the rabbit down the hole, it won &# x27; t cost you much and maybe they &# x27; ll get out to fleshing out the vegetable selection or figure out my frozen butter daydream. I &# x27; ll be curious to see where it goes, but I &# x27; m sticking with the one I already own. For now, this machine &# x27; s connected features are cluttering up the path to progress.