The Smartest and Most Ridiculous Kitchen Gadgets at CES 2020

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The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) — Las Vegas’ annual orgy of electronics for people with too much discretionary income — is finally over.

And just like in past years, electronics manufacturers arrived to show off a bunch of new-fangled kitchen products, many of which are just copies of existing appliances but with the added ability to connect to the internet. After all, how are your friends going to know that you’re better than them if you don’t have a wifi-capable tea kettle to prove it?

With devices on display like a smart trash, the kitchen appliances section of CES is a freak show focused on excess consumerism. There’s certainly a plethora of unnecessary and outright bad ideas — and also a few actually (potentially) useful trinkets. Here’s a rundown of everything you may have missed.

The Good

LG’s Harvester

LG/Official

With so many CES devices that are basically “what if [appliance], but with more internet?”, it’s refreshing to see one that actually does something new. The Harvester is a fridge-adjacent cabinet with precise controls for light, water, and temperature, allowing you to grow herbs indoors. Sure it’s cumbersome, and may not be necessarry for those in warmer climates, but it’s innovative and recognizes its limitations. It’s great for mint or basil, but makes no promise to grow things like tomatoes indoors.

Impossible Pork

Impossible Foods/Official

Beef might be the worst offender, but research generally shows that cultivating less meat would be good for the environment. Enter meat fakers Impossible Foods, with its latest product — initial reports are that it tastes like pork, and even if the texture is off, it’ll likely nudge a few people towards lower meat consumption. It’s probably a net positive.

The Borderline

“Smartypans”

Smartypans/Official

The goal of this “smart frying pan” — to track nutritional values of your food — isn’t inherently bad. But it seems to buy into the fallacy that more information is inherently good — and while the Silicon Valley biohacking crowd might relish in knowing the precise nutritional breakdown of their food, the rest of us can make do with estimates. But by all means, if you want a frying pan to stoke your neuroses about your diet and general health, have at it.

DNANudge

This startup wants to analyze your DNA and tell you what to eat based on the results, and it can also scan grocery products to tell you if it’s a good match for your biology. Similar to Smartypans, the company’s goal of encouraging healthy eating is inoffensive, but the whole idea of an app that says “your DNA gives this food a frowny face” sounds eerily like a device out of sci-fi dystopia flick Gattaca, or at least the kind of app that could prompt hardcore calorie counters to develop another unhealthy nutrition-focused fixation. And yes, while genetics can influence what you eat, you don’t need an app to tell you about it — those who are lactose intolerant can probably detect it courtesy of an unpleasant bloated feeling.

The Wildly Unnecessary

Townew Trash Can

Townew/Facebook

A textbook example of “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should” is Townew’s “smart trash can”, the sort of thing that could only exist amidst the pecularly American fixation on ultra-cleanliness. Equipped with a bunch of infrared sensors, it seals your trash bags when they’re full, and replaces the bags automatically. Too bad it doesn’t actually take out the trash, the most time-consuming aspect of waste disposal. At $100, it’s not wildly expensive, but needs monthly charging, and special bags that cost at least $18 a pack.

Kohler Setra Faucet

Kohler/Official

Many of CES’s “innovations” center around adding wireless connectivity and lots of extra wiring for the sake of it. Key example: the “smart faucet”. It’s voice activated — cool party trick, but ask yourself: how often do you need to be able to turn the water on from across the room? It also has a “leak detector,” for people unable to identify when water is dripping or seeping out of the wrong place.

GE’s Kitchen Hub

GE/Official

Various companies have been pushing the internet fridge over the last three decades, but GE appears to have moved on to the internet rangehood, or “Kitchen Hub”. With a 27-inch screen over the top of a microwave, it can do a bunch of things, like show Netflix (but apparently not other streaming services) or make video calls — all of which could be achieved by placing a laptop or phone in the vicinity of your stove. It’s a desktop computer, but harder to install, wedged above your stove, and which can look up recipes, but only via one app, named SideChef. For a product geared towards presumably food-minded folks who want fancy kitchens and who probably have entire bookmark folders of recipes, that seems like quite the shortcoming.