Is a $600 smart oven ever worth it?
Part of closely following tech is the often mistaken belief that newer, better technologies can help right some of the wrongs older ones caused in the first place. Behold the Wii and the Fitbit — two perfect examples of technologies designed to right some of technologies’ previous wrongs.
It’s tricky because, in some cases, these things do work. We’ve all read the success stories, and for many of us, that’s enough to keep us trying out new things. Some much ultimately relies on our own individual hang ups. If we’re lucky, the right piece of technology at the right time can be legitimately transformative of those things we’d like to change about ourselves.
With something like the June, the hope is two-fold. There’s all of the built-in features and the promise of better baking, coupled with the simple motivating factor of spending $599 on a glorified toaster oven. I’ll admit that test driving it only addresses only the first of those two key things, but my hopes were still pretty high that it could help wean me off of my takeout food dependency.
Thing is, I travel a lot for work. Couple that with a long time living in one of the world’s best and most diverse food cities, and that’s a recipe for picking up food nearly every night. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that means for my wallet and waste line, not to mention the packing waste that tends to generate. Bad news all the way around.
Often life gets in the way, as it has with my own testing. This one’s been a little cursed. After a prolonged delay on review units (the second gen oven was announced 10 months ago), I was finally able to get started late last month. Well, after the company sent me a second unit when I discovered the hard way that the first had been damaged in shipping, sending up sparks during my first attempt to cook. I mention that only to say double-check the filaments when you take it out of the box. Perhaps some kind of automotive-like oven health check is in the cards for some future update.
One other thing worth mentioning here, at the risk of offering up TMI, is the fact that I rarely left my bed the week before last, over a particularly bad bout with the stomach flu. The nausea and everything else have been bad enough to put me off of the idea of handling raw meat for the intervening week — something that could hopefully be a boon for my longtime flirtations with vegetarianism.
As someone who’s never been especially enamored with cooking, the June did help fire up those synapsis in my brain a bit. There’s something in being able to cook something decent with minimal effort, and the June does a good job on that front. Locate a recipe with only a handful of ingredients and a stated five to 10 minute prep time, and that’s a solid baby step. Of course, you can only go outside of June’s suggested recipes, but coloring inside the lines is a probably the best place for a beginner to start.
Simplicity, coupled with data collection are where the June really shines. Between the constant heat monitoring, the camera and the inclusion of a meat thermometer, the oven is pulling a lot of data to assure you get the right cook. It’s not idiot-proof (sadly for this culinary dummy), and the first time I tried (the working oven), I’d stuck the thermometer too far in, touching the bottom pan and shortening the cooking time to a too brief five minutes (down from 22).
Make this so idiots like me can use it is probably my main feedback here. Also, though I fully understand why it’s as large as it is, it was still bigger than expected. Which may not mean much to you, if you don’t grapple with the size restrictions of a New York City apartment.
Another minor thing, which probably couldn’t be avoided is that plasticky smell that happens with the first several sessions. Based on the June FAQ, I expected it to go away a lot sooner, but was assured it was just a normal part of the baking process.
For what it’s worth, the simple dishes came out well, which only means a lot if you know how terrible I am at cooking. It’s a weird mental block, I realize. And I did enjoy the process enough to begin experimenting with things outside of the parameters of the June recipes.
Smartphone notifications are a nice feature, though I’m not sure any of the smart features are “necessary” per se. Like, take this time-lapse footage of me slightly overcooking chicken breasts:
[Above: bon appétit?]
Ditto for the image recognition. It does an impressive job mostly identifying the foodstuffs on the tray, but I can’t really foresee a scenario in which you, the chef, is not aware of what you’re cooking before you hit start.
It’s a tricky line to walk. You want to add enough features to justify the purchase of a smart oven, while not loading it up with so many that the price becomes unmanageable. June’s definitely taken a step in the right direction with the second gen oven, but for a majority of users, the balance still isn’t quite there.