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This smart oven solved my work-at-home dinner time conundrum

This smart oven solved my work-at-home dinner time conundrum

Tovala's latest oven is a $250 smart countertop appliance designed to perfectly cook the company's Fresh Meal Kits. A built-in scanner lets you simply drop the food in, scan the QR code that comes with the kit, and a delicious meal is ready in under 20 minutes. The oven can also scan store-bought groceries and operates as a standard countertop oven.

The Tovala food was really good, turning my weekday dining experiences from an unsatisfying hassle to simple and delicious. I enjoyed Italian Sausage and Vegetable Minestrone on Wednesday, Tandoori Marinated Chicken Breast on Thursday, a Korean BBQ Salmon Bowl on Friday (it was so delicious), and a sweet Hoisin Beef and Veggie Bowl the following Monday.

But I didn't find the oven's scan-to-cook feature useful outside of Tovala's meals. With no option to customize preset cooking functions, I was sometimes left with food that was a little under-cooked for my tastes. As an air fryer, the Tovala wasn't quite as good as my $100 Ninja, and it was also on the heavier side as a smart oven. (Though, as a category, smart ovens are still finding their way.)

Tested out Tovala's latest model, the Smart Oven Air Fryer ($249). The Wi-Fi-connected oven can toast, air fry (it comes with a basket), bake, reheat, and broil. This is the third model from the company after its launch on Kickstarter in 2017. Tovla also sells the Tovla Smart Oven Pro ($299, with steam oven).

Tovala's meal kits make the Tovala Smart Oven worth buying, and you can really only cook those meals with the Tovala oven—there are no instructions for cooking them any other way. If you sign up for six weeks of meals—which starts at about $60 a week plus shipping—you can buy the oven for just $99.

Tovala Meal Kits With Connected Ovens Are More Than Subscriptions Than "Smart Ovens"

It's not that the Tovala oven can only cook Tovala meals—I can scan various brand-name groceries to cook, follow along with some of the recipes in the app to make my own dishes, or Can use it as a regular oven. But it's much better at cooking Towala meals than anything else, which makes it more of a subscription meal kit with connected oven than a true smart oven.

While the concept of a smart oven is still being refined, I expected more than just preprogrammed recipes. The cooking function here is probably the smartest thing about it—custom cook cycles automatically switch between multiple cooking modes and varying temperatures.

Compared to, say, a June smart oven, which uses AI to identify food and cook it accurately, the Tovala is less impressive (several hundred dollars cheaper, too). The Tovala's only smart home integration is Siri Shortcuts (no Alexa or Google Assistant voice controls). App control is limited to sending programs to the oven and receiving alerts when it's complete. You can't start or stop the oven remotely or adjust the temperature on the fly as you can with other connected cookers.

I couldn't sync the oven with any of my favorite recipe apps or any other food delivery service—not even to send the oven the correct temperature. Ecosystem lock-in is not uncommon in the smart kitchen space, where cross-platform compatibility is fragmented and spotty. But I just want a smart oven that I can send any recipe to and then cook it with the push of a button without any programming required. Why is that so difficult?

While Tovala lets you manually program any recipe into the oven using the app, its smart features work best with your own food. After testing the oven for two weeks, I'd recommend buying it if you plan to use the meal kit at least occasionally, but not as a standalone smart oven.

Tovala's fresh food is excellent and easy to cook

Owla provided me with eight meals during my trial period, delivered fresh to my door in well-thought-out packaging. And everything was great. Not only were the recipes easy to make but there were also real flavor profiles, great texture combinations and lots of add-ons to make each meal look and taste varied and interesting.

The oven also cooked everything perfectly - doing a better job in less time than I could manage if I tried to make any of these from scratch. I savored home-cooked meals every lunch hour with little or no effort on my part. It's a win in my book.

Unlike some meal delivery services, there's no chopping, marinating, preheating, or prepping—you just pop it in the oven, push a button, and get a perfectly cooked meal. This is microwave oven food for better taste. This category clearly

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