People often ask me if it’s boring writing about refrigerators. I think it’s a silly question. After all, pretty much everybody has a fridge and uses it every day — how many other product categories on CNET can claim that? I get to write about tech that’s relevant for everybody.
But, I will confess that I do get bored with seeing the same old features and the same old designs trotted out with fresh coats of polish year after year. I like seeing new features, new designs — the stuff that I didn’t know I wanted in my own kitchen instead of the stuff I already know I don’t.
That’s why the new Sharp Karakuri fridge/freezer caught my eye. It’s a European fridge that doesn’t look anything like most of the fridges I write about, thanks to a nifty, asymmetrical design and a hidden water dispenser that spins into view whenever it senses you reaching for it.
Sharp claims that the revolving water dispenser design was inspired by the “Karakuri” doors ninjas allegedly used to conceal themselves, according to this very academic source.
Historical accuracy aside, it’s patently pretty cool as far as refrigerator PR pitches go. And it’s not just a gimmick — hiding the water dispenser makes for a clean, seamless design, and one that protects it from dust and allergens.
On top of that, the Karakuri fridge offers the ability to customize the size of your ice cubes, and promises to make that ice up to 45 minutes faster than the competition. There’s also an “Express Cooling” mode that claims it can chill a drink down from room temperature in 30 minutes or less.
Size-wise, the refrigerator’s 758 liters (roughly 27 cubic feet) offers plenty of storage space even when compared with American fridges, which tend to be a lot bigger than European models.
Sharp tells us that the Karakuri fridge will make its debut in the final months of 2017 at an asking price somewhere around €3,700 — or about £3,230, AU$5,250, or just a little under $4,000 in the US, converted roughly. All in all, it’s a fridge that looks and sounds like something I’d want to consider for my own kitchen — a shame, given that it’ll only be sold across the pond.
Pay attention, US manufacturers
The Karakuri fridge is a stark difference from the “me-too-ism” that runs rampant in American appliance design. Samsung has a smart fridge with a big ol’ touchscreen on it? Oh great, now LG has one, too. People seem to like door-in-a-door fridges? Oh great, now Whirlpool and GE are jumping in with copycat models of their own. See-through doors were all the rage at CES? Oh great, now Frigidaire has a see-through fridge, too.
At times, US manufacturers seem to spend more creative capital on coming up with unique-sounding names for copycat features than they do on the actual features themselves. Just consider Whirlpool’s “Infinity Shelves” (sliding shelves) or Samsung’s “CoolSelect Pantry” (drawer). At least GE was honest enough to call its clone of the LG Door-in-Door fridge the GE Door-in-Door fridge (though, given that LG has “Door-in-Door” trademarked, I have to believe the moniker won’t stick).
And sure, it’s hard to fault major manufacturers for playing it safe. After all, no one wants to miss out on the next big market mover, that new feature or style that makes everything else look obsolete and compels people to upgrade. It happened with French door refrigerators nearly 20 years ago, and with most of those models starting to get pretty long in the tooth, a lot of experts think the time is ripe for it to happen again.
Still, it won’t happen without innovation, or without risk. It’s why I tend to give manufacturers a little bit of leeway when they go out on a limb and try something different — that’s the only way we’ll ever find the appliances we didn’t know we wanted. So, to that end, good on Sharp for making a weird-looking fridge with unique features.