WHEN I TEST a kitchen appliance, I spend a ton of time thinking about the different kinds of people who’d use it. I keep little Venn diagrams in my mind, and see how much overlap there is between the different sets: tech geeks, busy people, people who like to cook, people who don’t like to cook, aesthetes, purists.
A couple of months ago, for instance, I looked at a giant countertop oven that was also a microwave, and I just struggled. It was way more than a microwave-burrito bachelor needed, too big for a city apartment dweller, and large enough to microwave for four but tricky to get it to bake for more than two. It was a promising idea—two appliances in one!—but I was at a loss. I couldn’t get the circles of my imaginary Venn diagram to overlap enough, and I sent it back to the manufacturer without writing a review. There was no need to bash a product from a little-known producer; it would fizzle out on its own.
I wish I could do that with a similar new offering from Amazon. The new $250 Amazon Smart Oven allows you to both convection bake (or air fry) and microwave. Plus you can scan items to cook using the Amazon Alexa app on your phone and ask Alexa to fire it up, or just tell it to roast a chicken from across the kitchen. When Amazon had a big, splashy multiproduct launch party back in September, this oven was one of the highlighted releases.
After I called for a test unit, I wished I’d also called a friend to help me get it up the stairs to my kitchen. The shipping label reads 54 pounds, and there’s a “Team Lift” logo on the box. The oven is 22 inches wide, 13 inches high, and 20 inches deep. I have a decent-size kitchen, and this dwarfed almost everything in it—a land yacht parked on my countertop. It’s supposed to be kept three inches away from the wall behind it, which tends to highlight the finger-thick black power cord that emerges from the top-right corner in the back.
“That cord looks like it belongs on a nuclear reactor,” said my wife, Elisabeth, who writes and edits for a publication that specializes in nuclear reactors. I was still wondering why Amazon wouldn’t have just made the power cord emerge from a more discreet bottom corner.
Speaking of the bottom, I struck it quickly, struggling to install the mobile app you use to set up the Echo Dot you use to talk to the microwave. In fact, I got my oven to hang before I got it to work. After about an hour of fiddling around, I hit a point where the app read “device is unresponsive.” During this time, the microwave screen read “UPDATING” for quite some time, then just “DATING,” for five or 10 minutes. I gave up, unplugged it, plugged it back in, and the screen was dark.