There is a lot of potential here, but there are also a few fatal flaws and some of the coolest features that should let you be spontaneous actually require planning and foresight.
I love coffee. I drink coffee morning, noon, and night. I am constantly buying and trying new coffee makers and grinders and gourmet roasted beans to experiment and find the right combination of best coffee technology and best tasting cup of coffee.
I was very excited for the chance to test out the Smarter Coffee 2.0 coffee maker. I mean, it’s a coffee maker with a built-in grinder that has its own app and connects with my Amazon Echo!
I was a little disappointed.
At face value, the Smarter Coffee 2.0 looks essentially like any standard coffee maker. It has a 12-cup glass carafe. The front panel pops open to allow you to insert a cone filter (or use the washable / reusable filter that comes with the machine). You add water in a reservoir in the back. The front is black out of the box, but it also comes with snap-on panels to change it to cream or red to find the look that matches your kitchen décor best.
One thing that stands out about the form of the Smarter Coffee 2.0 is the tinted plastic housing on the top. That’s because the one thing that really make this coffee maker different than most others on the market is that it also has a grinder. You can fill the top with beans and have them ground freshly for each pot of coffee. There is a dial to adjust how coarse or fine the coffee beans should be ground.
Face value aside, the Smarter Coffee 2.0 is more than just a coffee maker. In fact, it’s more than just a coffee maker with a built-in coffee grinder. The Smarter Coffee 2.0 is a connected device with an array of features that—in theory—set it apart from the pack.
For starters, not every coffee maker has an app. The Smarter Coffee app lets you view how much water is currently in the reservoir. You can also change settings like the strength of the coffee (weak, medium or strong), whether to grind beans or just brew ground coffee already in the filter, how long to pre-heat before brewing (default is 3 minutes), and how long to keep warm once brewing is complete (default and maximum is 40 minutes).
The really cool features can be found when you dig a little deeper. Wake up mode lets you set an alarm that simultaneously brews your coffee so it’s ready by the time you get to the kitchen. Home mode uses the location tracking in your smartphone to automatically brew a pot of coffee to be ready when you arrive home. There’s also an in-app sales function called Replenishment that lets you order coffee and tea supplies.
Smarter Coffee can also be integrated with Amazon’s Alexa, Nest or with IFTTT smart home networks.
The Smarter Coffee 2.0 works nicely and brews a perfectly acceptable cup of coffee. I appreciate the ability to just put the coffee beans in the top and have the coffee maker grind them freshly on an as-needed basis. I also love the dial to be able to adjust how fine to grind the coffee so I can get the flavor I want.
One problem I ran into is that the window that lets you view how much water is in the reservoir is on the right side of the machine. Where I have the coffee maker placed on my counter, the right side is against the wall and I can’t see it, so I have to crane and look into the reservoir itself to make sure I don’t overfill it. I learned the hard way that—rather than the standard “max fill” line—the Smarter Coffee 2.0 has a “max fill” hole. If you overfill, water just pours out of the hole onto the counter.
I am not a fan of the Wake up mode because I don’t want to use Smarter Coffee as my alarm. I already have and use alarms within iOS. I would love to be able to use Wake up mode to automatically activate the coffee maker and brew coffee, but without being forced to also have an audible alarm from the app at the same time. It would be very easy to just add an option to the list of alarm tones to let you select “None”.
Perhaps the biggest fatal flaw of the Smarter Coffee 2.0 for me is the maximum time allowed for keeping the coffee warm. 40 minutes simply doesn’t work. For starters, coffee continues to drip into the pot for about 5 minutes after the coffee maker claims to be done brewing and the 40-minute countdown begins. At that point, you have 35 minutes left to drink a pot of coffee before it will get cold. I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of chugging my coffee to try and beat an arbitrary time limit.
It turns out the 40 minute max is imposed by European energy-saving regulations. I am all for energy saving, but coffee maker manufacturers should default to using thermal carafes then that can actually maintain temperature longer than 5 minutes. My Ninja Coffee Bar doesn’t have any warming plate at all, but the thermal carafe can still keep the coffee hot for more than 40 minutes.
The net result is that I don’t feel like I save any energy because my options are to only brew 4 cups of coffee at a time and just continuously brew new pots of coffee throughout the day, or use the microwave to warm up each cup as I want to drink it—both of which probably consume as much or more power than just leaving the damn warming plate on for a reasonable length of time.
UPDATE: I am revising my original review to lower the overall score for this device.
The day after I originally posted this review, my experience got significantly worse. I woke up and opened my Smarter Coffee app to start brewing my morning coffee. It started grinding the beans like usual, but then about 10 seconds in I heard a loud pop or crack and it effectively stopped grinding. The motor was still whirring, but the beans were no longer moving / falling and nothing was being ground.
I own a separate grinder, so I ground the beans myself and made my coffee and went about my day. Later, I tried to troubleshoot the problem. However, the only troubleshooting guidance in the manual–and there isn’t much–is focused around the app and Wi-Fi connectivity. I tried to see if I could get to the grinder to find the problem, but there doesn’t seem to be any way–at least no easy way–to remove the housing or the black plastic shield that simultaneously funnels the beans and prevents you from sticking your finger into the grinder while it’s running.
The net result is, I have a $250 coffee maker with a dysfunctional grinder and no way to try and fix it. It’s like those old combo TV / DVD player units, where you were screwed because if the TV or the DVD player break, you lose both simultaneously. The built-in grinder is cool…until it breaks and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The Smarter Coffee 2.0 is a very nice coffee maker with a lot of theoretically good features. The nice thing about a connected coffee maker with an app is that there are some things that can be fixed with a software update. My complaints about Wake up mode and the max time for the warming plate can both be addressed via software. For the warming plate—just change the rules for the American version and let us set the max to 2 hours or something more reasonable, or at least offer an option to just re-enable the warming plate without brewing another pot of coffee when the time expires.
Unfortunately, many of the things that could potentially be cool actually require a fair amount of planning and foresight. It is pretty awesome to be able to have coffee brewed when you wake up, or when you get home, or to be able to tell Alexa to make you some coffee, but all of that assumes you have enough water in the reservoir and a clean filter in the machine ready to go.
That’s not a design flaw or anyone’s “fault” per se. It just is. There is only so much you can automate, and refilling the water or changing out the filter are not on that list. Ultimately, though, that reality does take away some of the dazzle from what could otherwise be very awesome features.
I like the Smarter Coffee 2.0 coffee maker, but I can’t say I would spend $250 on it. I can get a very nice coffee pot and a separate coffee grinder for less than $100. I may not be able to tell Alexa to brew me a pot of coffee, but I can set a timer to have the coffee ready for me in the morning, and I can set the automatic shutoff of the warming plate to 4 hours if I wish.
UPDATE: Because of the details in the “Update” under the My Experience section, I am bumping my 6.5 star rating down to a 5. The Wake up mode and warming plate can be fixed with a software update, but having the coffee maker rendered effectively useless so soon, the lack of access to the grinder to be able to fix or clean it, and the lack of guidance in the manual to help troubleshoot issues with the grinder are bigger deals.