When smart oven and meal delivery startup Tovala shipped their first generation oven in April of 2017, it was an impressive feat. Not only did the company deliver quickly and avoid the seemingly endless delays that often plague hardware crowdfunding campaigns, but the Chicago company also launched an accompanying meal delivery service for smart steam oven at the same time.
Since the quick execution on their initial product(s) showed Tovala doesn’t mess around, it’s perhaps not all that surprising the company is already back with act two: Today the Tovala unveiled their second generation smart oven, available immediately for purchase on the company’s website (and in a couple weeks on Amazon) for $349.
According to Tovala CEO David Rabie, a new and improved oven was always part of the plan.
“We’ve been working on this for over a year and its all driven by customer feedback,” said Rabie in a phone interview. “The whole idea was to put our product out there in homes, see what customers think, what they like and don’t like, and improve it.”
While Tovala has been able to improve the first generation oven over time through software and firmware upgrades, the company knew that there were some improvements that could only come in the form of an entirely new piece of hardware. So what’s different with the new Tovala?
Size. The first thing you notice first when comparing original oven and the new Tovala is the smaller size of the newer product.
“We heard over and over how valuable real estate was in the kitchen,” said Rabie.
The footprint of the new appliance is smaller than the original, 8 pounds lighter, all while keeping the internal cooking chamber the same size.
Steam Venting. While one of Tovala’s main attractions is its steam oven feature, the first generation Tovala vented a whole lotta steam during a cook session. Over time, that might be a problem for wood cabinets. With the new Tovala, they kept the steam oven functionality but have significantly reduced the amount of steam emitted by the oven.
Redesigned Interface. The biggest change with the Tovala is evident on the front of the oven. While the first generation Tovala UI was simple and sparse by design, it forced users of the oven to go to the app to do almost everything.
As Richard Gunther, a Kickstarter backer of the first oven, wrote in his review for the Spoon:
“For anything more specific or complicated than these slightly flawed Toast and Heat functions, you need to pull out your phone and use Tovala’s app.
…to use your oven.
If you want to, say, broil something for 6 minutes, you need to use the app. If someone in your household wants to heat something at 375° for 25 minutes, they’ll need to use the app. If your house-sitter or visiting in-laws want to cook someth—oh, let’s face it…they’re out of luck.”
Tovala heard the frustration voiced by Richard and other Tovala generation one users and completely redesigned the front of the oven, adding a significant amount of features that are accessible without the app.
“Sometimes people just want to push the button to broil or just want to bake without having to take out their phone,” said Rabie. ” We re-did the front of the oven so people can do that really easily.”
While I never had a generation one, I’ve been testing the new Tovala for the past week (longer review to come) and my initial impression is the new oven strikes a nice balance between app control and on-device interface. With the app, I’m able to peruse recipes I can make by scratch and send optimized control instructions to the oven. I’m also able to track the process of a cooking session and get alerts. On the oven itself, I’m able to see progress of the oven via a on-device digital display, or see the temperature, I can also initiate baking, broil, reheat or steam functionality with a push of a button.
With the Tovala meals, you can also choose to forgo the app and simply hit the scan button and place the QR code on the package below the reader (though the appliance still needs to be connected to Wi-Fi to use read and cook a meal) and the oven automatically loads the multi-step cook session instructions. From there, you put in the food (usually two containers: a protein and a veggie/grain) and the oven will cycle through bake, steam and broil functions. I tested four meals and each were tasty and filling.
I also tried out one of the chef’s recipes in the app. While I like the idea of having ready-to-cook meals ready to insert into my oven, the reality is that I sometimes just want to make something quick and I won’t have a prepped Tovala meal to put into the oven.
I made an egg frittata, and liked how the app gave me a shopping list and instructions for preparing the meal. Once I had everything prepped and ready to cook in a small pan, I inserted it in the oven, hit “cook” on the app that sent cooking step instructions to the oven, which in the case of the frittata included bake, steam and broil.
In a few minutes I had my fritatta plated up and ready to eat.
While the Tovala isn’t as sensor packed as the June or offering any next-gen heating tech like the Brava, its comparatively lower price, steam functionality and meal service is something I think that appeals to a certain customer base. The oven is small and the packaged meals are meant for a single serving, so the night I tested out the Tovala I had to do four separate cooking session to feed my family of four (ed update: Tovala emailed and indicated it’s possible to cook multiple of the same Tovala meal at one time). While that’s obviously not ideal, my guess is the typical Tovala customer is someone who is looking for a way to make meals for one or two people quickly without a lot of work, and for that the Tovala does the job nicely.