Philips XXL Digital Smart

Philips XXL Digital Smart – the best air fryer you can buy (review)

Philips XXL Digital Smart air fryer is its best yet with the addition of smart sensor cooking, and Smart Chef pre-sets for a range of popular foods. Its generous size easily delivers four or more portions of delicious, lower-fat, air fried food.

The primary appeal of any air fryer is to fry foods with a minimum of fat (oil). Interestingly, until recently, I have never used any form of fryer – deep, pan or shallow – because I wanted to eat healthily.

Well, I can say that the experience with cooking freshly cut potato fries, whole chicken, meat, pizza, frozen fries, snitty, hash browns, and more shows just how wrong the preconception is that fried foods are unhealthy foods.

You should think of it as an extra kitchen cooking tool that can add to your stovetop, griller, oven and more. The trick is to use the right tool for the job.

Philips XXL Digital Smart air fryer Model HD9861/99

Websitehere
User Manualhere (it is a PDF, so check downloads)
Price$599 (other XXL non-sensor model $499)
FromBing Lee, Harvey Norman Good Guys, Myer
Warranty2-years
Country of ManufactureChina
AboutPhilips (Est 1891) is a Dutch multinational with interests in lighting, consumer lifestyle, consumer healthcare and commercial health equipment
MoreYou can read more GadgetGuy Philips news and reviews here

What is the Philips XXL Digital Smart air fryer?

The basis of any air fryer is:

  • A large heat element (like on an electric cooktop from 1800-2200W)
  • A fan unit to blow hot air over, under and around the food
  • A control unit to select time and heat (usually up to 200°)
  • Some form of pull-out food ‘basket’ to allow the hot air to circulate around the food
  • A ‘drip tray’ to catch any food juices or fat
  • All housed in a heat resistant exterior

Of course, the more you pay, the more features, controls, size options and more that you get. The Philips XXL Digital Smart is pretty well at the premium of all the above.

Lesson 1 is not to compare air fryers on price

A generic air fryer (<$100) will just have a timer and temperature setting, a lower wattage element (1800W) and a fairly small 5-litre basket (approx. capacity). If all you want to do is cook a couple of cups of frozen chips (and variants), snacks (like spring rolls and nuggets) and maybe risk grilling chicken wings, then this is all you need.

If you want to add some finesse and some science to the equation, the Philips XXL Digital Smart adds

  • 7.3L capacity basket for up to 1.4kg fries or a 1.8kg chicken
  • Double level rack capacity
  • Fry, Grill, Bake, Roast, and reheat programs
  • Up to 7x airflow cooks faster than in an oven
  • Smart sensing adjusts the five pre-sets to suit the quantity
  • Fat removal ‘drip tray’ to stop contents sitting in hot fat
  • Dishwasher safe basket and drip tray
  • Optional accessories include a 1.3L Baking pan, Grill tray (for meats), Pizza tray (26cm), light snack tray and more
  • 100s of online recipes online

Lesson 2 is to understand serial cooking

While the Philips XXL Digital Smart can do many things, it can only do one thing at a time – like having only one pot to cook with. So, in meal preparation, you will likely use it for one, perhaps two items. For example, if you cook a chicken, you have to let it rest for about 30 minutes so you may have time to cook some fries while you wait.

Generally, you will continue to do what you know – meat on a grill (or you could use the air fryer), vegetables in the microwave (ditto), maybe a pie in the oven (ditto).

Philips has the NutriU app (iOS and Android) that you can download (even if you don’t own the air fryer yet – just select air fryer model HD986X HD9861) to see what you can do.  Things like crispy mushrooms, potatoes au Gratin, baked stuffed potatoes, roasted vegetables, cauliflower bites, cottage pie, and various chips from sweet potato to pumpkin is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is a segment on one basket meals as well. We could not try everything over two weeks of review, so we may add to this review over time.

Lesson 3 – may be faster cooking, but that is not necessarily good

Initially, our greatest issue was that we had no idea about cook times, especially where it affected the plating of a meal cooked on several devices. Luckily the NutriU app has a useful time guide, but you need to adjust these for portion size.

Home-made chips

We cut up two large potatoes into 1cm square chips. The app said 19 minutes at 160, shake (move items around in the basket) and a further 12 minutes at 180° (total 31 minutes).

We used the ‘home-made fries’ pre-set that started at 28 minutes at 160°. So, we started preparing all other items to coincide with plating around that. A couple of minutes later, the readout dropped to 17 minutes at 180°, Panic; we were 10 minutes short of time to prepare everything else. Then the shake buzzer and after that the readout showed 12 minutes at 180° remaining. At the end of the cycle (overall 29 minutes), the fries were cooked but not crisp as we expected. We had to put them back in for five minutes at 200°.

Similarly, with ‘frozen fries’ pre-set, the time was 10 minutes and the fries, while cooked, lacked crispness, so in for a few more minutes. I guess it is like any cooking implement – you need to build muscle memory.

Pizza

Dr Oetker Ristorante 26cm – the maximum size for the pizza accessory. It replaces the basket with a holed pizza tray. The recommended NutriU time for fresh (defrosted) pizza was 7 minutes at 160°. Again, too short, and we upped the temperature to 200° for an extra 3 minutes to a little browned cheese.

Steggles Schnitzel was easier.

It normally takes 15-20 minutes in a 180° oven. We add fresh leg ham, pineapple pieces and cheese on top at the halfway turnover time.  This time we set temperature/time at 180°/20 minutes. Now, it does not matter if some cheese melts over the edges on an oven tray – those nice crispy bits you scrape off. But in the basket, it drips through the grate to the fat reducer and into the drip tray. What a mess – we will describe that later under maintenance. The moral of the story is to be careful with things that can gum up the works.

To wrap up, there is a grill plate (that replaces the bottom basket mesh), for chops, fish and steak. The trick is to preheat the grill plate to 200° to sear the meat on both sides. Then you cook for 7 minutes (turn once). We tried but it was not like a grill plate that cooks at about 230° – the meat colour was unappetising.

A whole chicken was challenging

The pot holds a maximum of 1.8kg. But all the fresh, reasonably priced chickens we could find were between 2 and 3kg. We found a free-range 1.7kg uber-expensive chook at $12.50 per kg. But it was a little too high/wide for the basket – a little bit of flattening shoe-horned it in.

We religiously use a Weber iGrill BT Thermometer when roasting as my wife won’t eat chook or roast meat with blood in it. The iGrill has a probe on a metal mesh coated wire cable to the readout unit. The fit between the drawer and the external case is very tight (it needs to be relatively airtight), and the cable simply would not fit. Finally, we managed to thread it below the external handle and monitor the chook’s core temperature. The ideal is to stop cooking at 75°, rest for 30 minutes as it continues to rise to about 80-85°, and then drops back to 70-75° to serve.

Using the ‘whole chicken’ pre-set, it showed 160° for 35 minutes, and the NutriU app said there would be a stage two of 180° for 10 minutes to finish. In the end, it was close to the right temperature but lacked the skin crispness, so we upped it to 200° (maximum) for another 10 minutes to improve the appearance. We now know why the NutriU recipe includes lots of paprika (which we did not use) as it would have added the ‘roast’ colour to the roast.

We would normally bake it in an electric oven for 1 hour at 180° and progressively add jacket potatoes, corn cobs, carrots, and pumpkin slices to roast in the pan juice. You can’t do that in the air fryer as all the fat and juice is in the drip tray.

Double rack

The double rack doubles the cooking surface, but we found it almost useless if you had to shake or rearrange food on the bottom rack. It is very hot and not easy to get out using oven gloves as it is a very tight fit in the basket. If you place fatty foods on the top rack (say burger patties), they drip juices onto the food underneath. If you have to shake the basket, the lower rack does not have enough space for food to move. The trick is to use it with similar food types on the top and bottom rack and not for foods requiring shaking.

Health benefits

There is no doubt that air fried food contains less oil/fat than pan, shallow or deep-fried. The teaspoon or so of oil (use Canola as its low smoke) is more a coating to get a browner, crisper finish. But remember that it does not materially alter the kilojoules or carbohydrates of the food you intend to fry. You need to ensure that frozen convenience foods like chips, wedges, or hash browns do not dominate your diet.

We congratulate Philips on its NutriU app – there is a lot of work in putting that together, and it contains all you need to know. We felt we had mastered air frying after exploring it 100+ recipes and understanding what it could and could not do,

Cooking summary

Deep frying uses fat/oil to give that highly satisfying crunchy, golden outside and juicy inside – the adage fat=flavour.

Air Frying does not give the same crunch, colour or ‘mouthfeel’ when you bite into it. It is not bad, but it is not like you get from the Fish and Chip shop.

Again, Philips has done a wonderful job with its free NutirU app that will encourage owners to get far more out of an air fryer than they thought possible. If you are considering it, download the app first and explore.

Maintenance

As much as you can put the basket, drip tray, mesh plate, griller and pizza plate in the dishwasher, they take up an awful lot of room. If you leave them overnight, allowing food juice to dry, not even the best dishwasher will remove it.

We found that cleaning within an hour of use with good old elbow grease and the grease-cutting power of a good dishwashing detergent was most effective. Removal of melted cheese was most problematic and required soaking in hot water for about 30 minutes then using a brush.

Finally, you need to clean the element and tray compartment to stop baked-on oil or juice splatter from smoking up at the next use. The element is hard to get to and equally hard to clean. It is a shame that there is no removable splatter guard – that would have made this an easy clean.

Overall, this requires a lot more cleaning than a) publicity leads you to believe) and b) than a baking pan and the occasional oven clean.

Power use

It consumes 2200-2225W, which means that it consumes around 2.2kW or about 80 cents per hour at peak times. Unlike an oven it does not need preheating and generally has shorter cooking times; it is about 50% more cost-effective. But note that a typical power point is 240V x 10A = 2400W. You must not plug this into a double adaptor or have too many other electrical items on the same power circuit.

By comparison, a typical hard-wired oven (not plugged in) will use from 2200 to 5600W (maximum fan-forced, 90cm pyrolytic oven)

Substitutes

The Philips XXL Digital Smart is probably the pinnacle if you want an air fryer for 4-6 portions of ‘fried’ food. If you want sensor cooking, it is worth spending the extra $100 or so for the smart version. Otherwise, the Philips XXL Digital (HD9650) or Philips XXL Viva Analogue (HD9630) have similar cooking capacities.

But, and there is always one – if you are not serious about incorporating air frying in your meal plan – a nice, but not must have – then there are multi-cookers like the excellent Ninja Foodi Grill (review here 9/10, $299) that has an air fry setting. Perhaps these are more suited to one or two people and may not be as sophisticated or smart but will cook everything above and are easier to clean. Or if you don’t want to commit $599, get a cheapie air fryer <$100 to try and after it breaks down one day out of warranty, then buy the Philips.

GadgetGuy’s take

As I said initially, I have never used an air fryer – or any fryer – because I want to eat healthily. I suspect most readers will be in the same boat sneaking a deep-fried guilty pleasure from the local takeaway.

Philips has made one of, if not the best air fryers. It has put the effort to promote healthy eating via its comprehensive NutriU cooking app.

Rating this is not hard – it air fries a range of food and adds roasting, baking, pizza (with the accessory) and grilling (with the accessory). The Digital Smart adds convenience for typical air fried food groups. It loses points on performance due to lower than expected brown/crisp finishes, on ease of use because you need to experiment to find what works for you and on design, mainly because it is not as easy to clean as it could be.

The only real negatives

  • Cleaning – yes, you must do it thoroughly each time you use it
  • Size – with the basket open, you need 800mm depth and about 35mm (H+W), so it dominates valuable kitchen bench space.  It is too big all around and a little heavy at 8kg to put into a typical kitchen cupboard.
  • And you don’t quite get that crispy, deep-fried taste or mouthfeel

If you want an air fryer, the Philips XXL Digital Smart is the one. It has the largest capacity and more smarts than others.

Philips XXL Digital Smart HD9861 air fryer
If you are into air frying the Philips XXL Digital Smart is the best of the best capable of cooking 4-6 serves at once.
Features
9.5
Value for money
9.1
Performance
8.5
Ease of use
8
Design
8.5
Positives
Adds grill, bake, pizza and more to an air fryer
Reduces the need for oils and fats to make air fried food healthier
The NutriU app is superb and helps to get the best from the device
Negatives
Takes a lot of experimenting to find the right cook times
Its big - so its for the bench top only
Cooked food is not as brown as you are used to and has a different mouthfeel to deep fried foods
8.7