By Shelly Brisbin
December 7, 2021 1:46 PM PT
All along the WashTower
Around my house, 2021 has been a year of durable goods upheaval. The 10-year-old refrigerator gave us a scare, the 14-year-old Prius put us on notice that its battery was soon to need replacing, and the 20-year-old washer/dryer just plain gave out.
So, as supply chain bottlenecks continue to make this a terrible time to be buying a car or major appliance, my spouse and I have been in repair and product research mode for months. The upside is that any replacement machine we buy is bound to bring better technology to our lives.
We’d just like to space it all out a bit, please.
It helps that I’m married to a person capable of hacking or fixing most machines—the fridge and the car are copacetic right now. But the old washer/dryer’s ills proved too much, even for him. Last month, we took delivery of a Wi-Fi-enabled, app-controllable LG WashTower—a washer/dryer unit that fits snugly into a narrow, low space in our utility room, and promises a “smart” laundry experience, from recommending settings based on the kind of clothes you put into it, to sending you a notification when your sheets are done. I’ll confess right now that the two nerds in this house have had a lot of fun doing laundry these past few weeks.
The WashTower is a one-piece front-loading unit that entered the market to some hype earlier this year, and it was among the few options that would fit in our utility room. Despite that pesky old supply chain, we got ours delivered within a week of spotting it at a local Home Depot.
The all-LCD control panel is in the middle, between the washer and dryer tubs. The display is extremely easy to read, and aside from some icons whose meanings are a little obscure at first, setting up and running the machine is straightforward, with lots of presets for common laundry loads, and the promise that the machine can use the weight, and even the texture of fabrics, to recommend the best settings.
The machine feels solid, and the doors close with a satisfying thunk. There’s a soap and fabric softener dispenser drawer above the washer unit and the tubs light up when it’s time to take out your clothes. The tinkly alert sounds it plays remind me more of my rice cooker than the harsh buzz of my mom’s old top-loader. The whole affect is sturdy, modern and sleek.
The LG ThinQ app
LG sells lots of smart devices, from dishwashers and thermostats to TVs and microwaves – all of them use the same app, called LG ThinQ. Though the app can control a range of gadgets, the screenshots I’ve seen of the TV interface, for example, give the impression that LG is smart about building interfaces that match what you’re doing, rather than trying to force all devices to awkwardly share a few similar screens. Though simple, ThinQ’s WashTower interface feels as though it’s designed just for managing laundry machines.
Like a lot of network-enabled devices, you connect your phone to the WashTower’s own Wi-Fi network for initial setup, then move the machine to your network, after which you to connect to it from any device running the app. My first stab at setup was a little rough – the WashTower kept disconnecting from our network when we turned it off. So I rebooted the Wi-Fi router, turned on the WashTower again and reinstalled and reconnected the app. We haven’t had any connection issues in several weeks.1 I can even turn each unit on remotely.2
From the app, I can also choose wash and dry cycles, view their status and ETA, and get a notification3 – there’s only one – when a load is done. Unfortunately, that notification doesn’t specify which function is finished.4 When a dryer load is done, I want to remove and fold the clothes quickly to avoid wrinkling. When the washer finishes first, there’s less reason to take scurry to the other end of the house, especially if the dryer’s still running. The single notification means I’ve got to open the app to see what’s going on.
Of course, you don’t need to wait for a notification to check on your laundry. You can use the app to find out what the unit is doing at any point, and how long the current cycle has to run. You can pause or stop the machine if you like, too.
When starting a load of laundry, you can use the app to do just about anything you can do on the unit’s LCD display: choose the type of load, desired temperature, rate of spin and rinse time, or just use one of the many presets. There’s also a “Download” preset that you can set to one of a large number of additional presets listed in the app. (You can tag favorite cycle types, including both built-in and downloadable ones—but confusingly, you can only download one at a time.)
Outsmarting the appliance
One drawback to a machine that thinks it’s smart enough to guess what settings your laundry needs is that it’s not always easy to understand what the WashTower is doing or why. When we first got the unit, everything we washed using presets was done in hot water, even in the rinse stage. That’s not what we wanted.
We sabotaged another WashTower feature, at least a little bit. When you wash a load of laundry, the dryer picks up the washer settings you used and offers them up when you press the dryer’s power button. That’s great, except that we often double up, drying the two most recent wash loads together.
Instead of randomly pairing blue things and brown things because the small loads are about the same size, I’m now starting to think more about which pairs of loads will dry best together on the same WashTower settings. That probably would have been a good idea with the old washer, but the variety of options and the sheer “smartness” of the WashTower has made me a more mindful clothes wrangler.
A few words about accessibility
I write a lot about making technology more accessible to people with disabilities. How well appliances do that is a frequent concern for potential buyers. Like a lot of smart gadgets, the availability of an app is what makes the WashTower a reasonable choice for someone who can’t see or press buttons on an LCD display. The LG ThinQ app is accessible to VoiceOver on iOS. The display is bright, with large text and extremely good contrast, for those with low vision. And the location of the display puts it in easy reach for wheelchair users.
But how well does it wash and dry?
Smart features aside, we’ve been happy with the WashTower’s results. If you’re looking for a proper performance review, a couple of outlets have put it through its paces.
- Some users have reported LG washers failing to talk to eero Wi-Fi access points. Your editor has an LG washer and experienced this issue. He ended up turning on his fiber router’s built-in Wi-Fi and connecting the washer to that. —J.S. ↩
- There’s a HomeBridge plugin that will put your devices on your HomeKit network, but its utility is limited. —J.S. ↩
- There’s nothing like getting a vibration on your Apple Watch telling you that it’s time to move the laundry. -J.S. ↩
- This is only an issue on combination units. -J.S. ↩
[Shelly Brisbin is a radio producer, host of the Parallel podcast, and author of the book iOS Access for All. She's the host of Lions, Towers & Shields, a podcast about classic movies, on The Incomparable network.]