From beneath a swamp of thick blankets, I heard the low grumble of a coffee grinder coming from my kitchen. I was skeptical it would work; I was in my bedroom, four walls and 12-ish feet away from the source of the sound, with an futuristic-looking app pulled up on my iPhone. I had my preferences dialed in — four cups, strong brew, three-minute warmup time — and the only two buttons available were “water” (to check the water level) and “start.” I hit the latter. The screen changed to say “opening doors for grinding.”
The machine I’m using is called Smarter Coffee, now in its second generation, available at smarter.am/coffee. Its exterior is largely unremarkable: some stainless-steel details, interchangeable colored faceplates, a small screen. If I didn’t tell you I just made coffee on it using my iPhone, you wouldn’t assume it was any different from a dumb coffee maker. But once I finally (more on that later) got the machine setup, it was quick, efficient, and brewed a pretty decent cup.
This isn’t Smarter’s first smart kitchen rodeo. The London-based company kicked off in 2013 with a Wi-Fi-connected kettle. Now that kettle’s in its third generation, the coffee maker’s in its second, and its fridge cam is in its first. As far as not overthinking the “smart” thing, Smarter seems pretty slick: In lieu of space-age hardware and an overcomplicated app, Smarter Coffee is straight-forward: It makes coffee like a regular coffee machine, but you can make that same coffee from your phone.
Back to the setup, which was unexpectedly obnoxious. It involves downloading an app (duh), then following the app’s setup guide. However, instead of updating the app, the team at Smarter just released a new app. There are, as of this review, three different apps. The third and, at least for me, only working app, was not the first option when I searched for the app in my app store like I was instructed. After 20 minutes of the phone and coffee maker not pairing, I deleted the app and tried the other apps in the store until finding the latest version.
Next frustrating thing: The guide requires that the coffee machine be linked to your home Wi-Fi (on a router set to 2.4 GHz, specifically) in order to pair the machine to your phone. To do that, the phone and coffee machine must be near the router, and then the phone setup guide flashes a pattern of lights that the light sensor on the coffee machine identifies as a type of robot secret handshake. I get that there are reasons Smarter didn’t just make this thing Bluetooth searchable, which I’ll get into. But needing to physically carry a coffee maker into whatever room holds your router feels not unlike bringing a crockpot into your bedroom: Not inherently disastrous, but certainly weird.
Now, after all of that (which should be shorter for you now that you know there are nonsensically multiple apps in various degrees of functionality), the robot handshake thing makes sense. Once you’re logged in, you can operate the machine from anywhere. For instance, right now, I could make a pot of coffee for the guy fixing the oven at my apartment while I’m here at my office several miles away. It would give him a fucking heart attack, but I could do it. I could also set it to make a pot of coffee automatically when I wake up, or, via GPS, make a pot of coffee when it sees (“sees”) I’m home from walking a hypothetical dog or grabbing groceries. I assume going non-Bluetooth is also to make sure your computer-savvy neighbor doesn’t keep making coffee at 3 a.m. using the grindiest grind setting.
Fortunately, apps can be fixed and updated after the fact, so hopefully my main gripes won’t exist for long. The only other issue I had was what seemed like an odd hardware oversight. Besides a pretty fragile and thin coffee pot, the bean hopper doesn’t disconnect from the machine, so if you and someone else in your house disagree about what good coffee beans are, you either have to use up every bean in the machine, or physically tip it over to pour the beans out of the top — which really sucks if you still have water in the reservoir, which also does not disconnect.
So, sure: Kinks, shortcomings, what have you. But overall, the simplicity — or as close to simplicity as you can get with a robot in the house — makes this a good call if you’re looking to brighten up your kitchen. And when the winter weather turns your floors into something like the granite countertop at Cold Stone Creamery, you’ll be grateful for shelling out the dough to stay under your covers.