No countertop microwave oven receives more recommendations from reviewers than the Panasonic NN-H965WF (Est. $190) . At 2.2 cubic feet, this is one of the largest microwaves available; users say it can accommodate a 9-by-13 casserole or even defrost a whole turkey. This microwave oven also includes an inverter, which enables it to run at a low, steady power level, rather than cycling between full power and no power like most microwaves. Professional testers and user reviewers agree that the H965WF heats and defrosts very evenly. Owners are also pleased with its cooking sensors, which they say do a very precise job of cooking a variety of foods. The microwave's weakest point is durability: Several user reviews describe problems with various parts -- from the magnetron to the door latch.
Panasonic also offers the much-smaller Panasonic Genius Prestige NN-SD681S ($180) . Like the larger Panasonic, this 1.2-cubic-foot microwave has an inverter and gets excellent reviews for its even heating and defrosting. Instead of a keypad, it has several buttons and a pop-out dial for setting the time; some users find these controls very intuitive, while others have trouble getting used to them. Most reviewers find the sensor settings accurate, and they like the microwave's bright blue display and sleek stainless finish. Their most common gripe is that the interior light doesn't come on when the microwave is opened. An optional trim kit (the NN-TK621SS, Est. $170) allows this countertop microwave to function as a built-in, but nearly doubles the price of the appliance.
If you're looking for a larger countertop microwave that comes in a stainless finish, the LG LCRT2010ST ($210) gets fairly good reviews. This 2-cubic-foot microwave is the largest one we found that's available with a built-in trim kit (the MK2030F, Est. $150). This oven doesn't include an inverter, and it doesn't defrost quite as evenly as the two Panasonics in professional tests. However, owners say it cooks evenly, looks great and is very easy to use. One feature they love is the curved interior compartment, which eliminates hard-to-clean corners. However, this microwave oven provokes even more durability complaints than the large Panasonic, with many users saying it was defective right out of the box or failed soon after purchase. Owners also complain that warranty service is a huge hassle.
We didn't find many good picks for budget-priced countertop microwaves. While there are many products in this category that cost $100 or less, most of them don't fare very well in reviews. The best of the lot appears to be the Magic Chef MCD1311ST (Est. $110). Its performance in professional tests is respectable, though not remarkable, and it earns an overall rating of 4.2 stars out of a possible 5 from owners at Walmart.com. This 1.3-cubic-foot microwave doesn't include cooking sensors, but users say it cooks pretty evenly without them. They also love its stainless-steel finish (a rarity on budget-priced microwaves) and quiet operation. Its warranty is impressive as well, covering parts and labor for one year and the magnetron for eight. However, users say that actually getting repairs under warranty is a pain.