Hey Alexa, make me a pot of coffee.
Sometimes you just want a good cup of coffee, but don't want to put all the pieces together or spend $5 for a cup at the local coffee house. That's where the Smarter Coffee 2nd generation comes in; a connected coffee maker that features both Alexa and Google Assistant integration, allowing you to start a fresh pot from anywhere you please. With a bean hopper on top and settings for pre-ground coffee as well, the Smarter Coffee 2nd generation is ready to go at a moment's notice. Let's find out if it's worth its price.
What's In the Box
Smarter sells the Coffee 2nd Generation for £179.99/€239.99/$249.99/CAD$339.99 through Amazon and Best Buy, making it a tad more expensive than your usual run of the mill coffee maker. Smarter packs in a number of accessories with the coffee maker, including a washable metal permanent filter, which avoids the extra waste and cost of having to buy paper filters. A 12-pot glass carafe is included, as well as interchangeable cream color and deep red face plates for a customized look. Black face plates are already installed on the machine. A pair of manuals and a quick setup guide is also included, and the product is covered by a 2 year manufacturer's warranty.
Hardware and Design
On the surface, the Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation coffee maker looks a lot like other bean-to-cup machines. On top is a bean hopper; a plastic hopper with pop-off top, fitted with a rubber seal for freshness. The hopper fits about half a bag of beans at a time, meaning a handful of full pots before you'll have to refill it again. In front of the hopper is a dial that selects the bean grind size, ranging from coarse to fine. The problem with this dial is that it's not labeled at all, and there's no indicator to show which side is coarse and which is fine, just a fairly unclear graduating line. Still on the top, just behind the bean hopper, is the lid that covers the water chamber. This chamber holds 12 cups/1500mL of water; just enough to fill the 1500mL carafe up front. On the right sits a button that opens the tray that holds the filter, and nearer to the back is a transparent water line indicator.
The carafe sits on a warming plate, and just above it is a coffee ground filter design that's similar to most other coffee makers out there. This filter holster swings out for easy cleanup or for adding in pre-ground coffee. There's an automatic drip mechanism that's spring loaded to keep the coffee from dripping down onto the warming plate when the carafe isn't in place. The display panel above is where all settings are made, and how you brew the coffee. Four round buttons surround the simple small, back-lit LED screen. These buttons allow toggling between bean or pre-ground mode, brew strength, amount of coffee to brew, and a start/stop button.
Most of the body is framed in brushed aluminum, and looks premium from almost every angle. There are plenty of shiny, black plastic parts around, all of which collect fingerprints fairly easily. The filter tray and the plastic parts around the display are interchangeable plates, and pop off via a button on each side, located just underneath each removable faceplate. Smarter ships the coffee maker with two different colors of interchangeable plates; an ivory/cream colored one, and a darker red one. Both of these look gorgeous on the coffee maker, and can help the coffee maker match the rest of the appliances in your kitchen.
Brewing Process, Quality and Maintenance
Coffee quality in general is great, even for someone like me who prefers very strong coffee. Setting the dial to fine, and the brewing strength to strong made the best coffee for my tastes, and of course changing this dial and strength will cover a wide variety of taste and bean preferences. The biggest downside to the unit, for me, was the fact that it uses a glass carafe with a heating tray rather than a thermos type of carafe that holds in the heat. The warming tray is designed to pre-heat the carafe so that the coffee doesn't burn immediately upon entry, and the warming tray is set to a rather mild temperature. There's no way to adjust the temperature here though, only the amount of time it pre-heats and keeps the coffee hot. This was also a downside for me, as I usually am very sensitive to burnt coffee, and even the slightest hint of being burnt is unpleasant to me.
I found that, although the app will allow as little as a single cup of coffee to be brewed at a time, four cups are ideally the minimum for both taste and prevention of burning. Once the pot reaches the 4 cup mark or less, the warming tray should be turned off to prevent burning, otherwise it doesn't take long to reach this unsavory end. A rather nice behavior is seeing the warming tray turn off the moment you remove the carafe, ensuring it doesn't get overly hot and burn out. The tray turns back on by itself when the carafe is placed back in too. As this is a simple drip-type coffee maker, beans are either ground and dropped in a heap in the filter tray, or you can do this manually yourself with pre-ground beans if you so choose. Hot water is then dripped over top, and this then drips down into the carafe. A spring-loaded mechanism at the bottom of the drip tray ensures it won't drip if there's no carafe present.
Having a permanent, washable filter that ships with the coffee maker ensures that this is truly a machine that can be used without much maintenance About the only things you'll need to make sure of are that supplies are stocked and the machine is cleaned when you're through with it. This guarantees that you can get a fresh pot of coffee going when you want to, and being able to check water levels and the like in the app really provides valuable information. It's the ability to remote start the unit that made me particularly happy, and being able to walk into the house with the smell of fresh coffee in the afternoon was really a great treat.
As with any coffee maker, it'll likely take a bit of time before you find your personal sweet spot for taste. As can be expected from such a thing, the bean grinder is fairly loud and would probably suffice as an obnoxious alarm were it located near the room you sleep. It's not deafening by any means, and while it's about as loud as a power mixer, it's definitely less loud than a blender. There's very little maintenance that needs to be done with the unit; most of the job is done by simply washing out the carafe and filter tray after each use, and of course making sure beans and water are stocked. The hopper up top features a tight rubber seal that does a great job of keeping beans fresh, and the unit is designed in a way that I never saw a bean go unused; it's a rather efficient design altogether.
Part of what makes the Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation special is that it interfaces not only with your phone, but also with popular virtual assistants. The app works on both iOS and Android, and looks identical on each OS. Upon first setup you'll create a Smarter account, and select the WiFi network in your home to pair the coffee maker with. Setup is a little different than other connected devices, as your phone's screen will flash in a Morse Code-like fashion, which is read by the sensor located to the left of the display on front. Once the pairing is made you'll name the coffee maker, and set it in a virtual room within the app. Since Smarter makes a number of different appliances, this room organization helps keep things easy to find if you have additional products made by Smarter.
Multiple accounts can manage a single coffee maker too, and other people can be invited easily via the app. This makes it easy to share with family or roommates alike. The main home screen is the quickest way to make coffee, with a radial dial that selects the number of cups to brew, and a button to quickly check out much water is left in the machine. Current brew strength, grind selection, pre-heat time and keep warm time can be seen in the tray on the bottom of the app. A hamburger menu on the top right brings up the settings menu, and from here you can change the default brew settings, as well as a number of other options in the app. Notifications can be toggled for when brewing is ready, and when keeping the pot warm is finished.
Alarms and automatic brewing are some of the best parts of the Smarter coffee maker, and all are toggled from the app. Automatic brewing can be done either via a set time or when you arrive home. Each of these timers has their own settings, including coffee strength, amount to brew (from 1-12 cups), brew type (grind or filter), how long to pre-heat the warmer and how long to keep the carafe warm after brewing. Timer brewing (Wake Up Mode) is likely best for the morning, allowing you to set a timer for your normal wakeup time and have a fresh pot of coffee brewed when you wake up. Home Mode is one of the coolest features of the Smarter coffee maker, and will automatically brew coffee when you get close to your home by utilizing the location awareness settings within the app. You'll need to grant the app additional permissions in order to use this mode of course, otherwise it'll remain off.
Interconnection and Smart Home Compatibility
Smarter specifically advertises compatibility with Alexa and IFTTT, and it's this latter compatibility that really opens up the floodgates of compatibility. Alexa support is likely the most important smart home tie-in for any IoT device nowadays, as Amazon's virtual assistant remains the most popular among buyers for these sorts of things. Alexa integration is completely native via an Alexa skill, and is added via the Alexa app's Smart Home section. From here you link your account, which gives Alexa access to all of the Smarter appliances linked to your account. Alexa integration is simple, with only the ability to start the brewing process.
IFTTT integration is done via a combination of the Smarter app, where you link your IFTTT account, and the IFTTT app or website, where you make the actual action. Within IFTTT you'll find several recipes pre-made by Smarter, which include functionality for its various products. I preferred to make my own recipe for integration with Google Assistant, which is as easy as selecting Smarter Coffee from the product list, and Google Assistant from the virtual assistant list. From here all the brewing options are available, and you can name the action anything you'd like.
The best part about this is, unlike the native Alexa integration, IFTTT integration will allow you to create different sayings for different settings, so if you would like one for a small pot of coffee that brews strong, or a large pot of coffee that brews at regular strength, it's as easy as changing the selection and dropping in a new name. IFTTT integration also means you can easily link other smart home devices throughout your house with the Smarter Coffee maker. Since IFTTT has such a wide range of supported products, and the pre-made recipe list by manufacturers and the community is so large, there's almost nothing you cannot do with this service in regards to smart home integration.
Smarter makes a rather fantastic coffee maker here, one that easily integrates with any smart home solution you might have, either via native Alexa skills or IFTTT's extensive recipe list. The unit itself is designed rather well, featuring built-in bean grinder, permanent washable filter, and easy buttons and a display for basic use without needing a smartphone. The smartphone app is brilliant, and provides a wealth of settings that are otherwise unavailable on the display on the front, including several automatic brewing modes, manual remote control and a way to integrate the coffee maker with your favorite virtual assistant.
The real downsides to the design is lack of advanced controls without the app, as well as a glass carafe which can easily burn coffee if less than 4 cups are left. It's of course a rather expensive coffee maker too, much more than your average one found online or at your local retailer, but it also features more functionality than most by quite a long shot. If you're looking for an excellent brew with amazing automated features, as well as the ability to remote start for when you arrive home, this is an excellent solution to check out.
Buy the Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation on Amazon Buy the Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation at Best Buy