Installing a countertop microwave is as simple as setting it on a counter, shelf or microwave stand and plugging it in. If you're really squeezed for space, you may want to consider an over-the-range or drawer microwave, which we discuss in-depth in our section on built-in microwaves elsewhere in this report. If you think a microwave with a convection feature would be a useful addition to your kitchen, see our discussion of the best convection microwaves.
No countertop microwave oven receives more recommendations from reviewers than the GE JES2051SNSS (Est. $180). At 2.0 cubic feet, this is one of the largest microwaves available; users say it can accommodate a 9- by 13-inch casserole or defrost a whole turkey. At 1,200 watts it's powerful too, and many owners say they had to learn to reduce the amount of cooking time when they upgraded to the JES2051SNSS from a more-typical 1,000 watt microwave. Still, that power translates into faster speed, and users say it takes no time at all to reheat food, heat beverages or boil water.
Professional testers and user reviewers agree that the sensor on the JES2051SNSS works very well, doing a precise job of cooking a variety of foods. This means you can use the various presets, which include popcorn, vegetable, potatoes and beverages, with absolute confidence that the food will cook perfectly. It also has the standard assortment of other one-touch operations, such as 30 second and 1 through 6 minute instant on. It's very simple to use, they say.
We saw a few durability complaints about the GE JES2051SNSS, but not enough that they should scare anyone off. The one big issue with this microwave is its size: It's big inside and out -- be sure you measure your counter space carefully. The GE JES2051SNSS comes in stainless steel, but you can save about $10 by instead opting for the black or white finish.
If you need a generously-sized microwave, but don't need a 2.0 cubic foot behemoth, we suggest you take a look at the GE JES1656SRSS (Est. $120). It's the top pick at TheSweethome.com, where testers Tim Heffernan and Jessie Kissinger put it through its paces and find that, "Its cooking performance is excellent and dead simple." They go on to note that the sensors perform very well across a variety of tasks, even better than more expensive microwaves. It's also so easy to use, they note, that you'll probably never need to consult a user's manual.
That's a true story, owners agree, giving this GE very high ratings in hundreds of reviews at various retail sites. It also has an impressive number of presets for a fairly inexpensive microwave, including instant cook buttons for 1 to 6 minutes -- a feature everyone loves. And users also agree that the sensors are dead-on for the other one-button settings that include potato, popcorn, vegetable and beverage.
If you're looking for a large countertop microwave that can be used as a built-in with an optional trim kit, the 2.0 cubic foot LG LCRT2010ST (Est. $150) gets fairly good reviews. The optional Trim Kit MK2030F (Est. $170) is pricey, but those who need to use this as a built-in say it's worth it. Owners say the LCRT2010ST 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 more durability complaints than the GE JES2051SNSS. Owners also complain that dealing with LG's warranty service is a huge hassle.
A large family, or a person who likes to cook for a crowd for any reason may use the heck out of a 2.0 cubic foot microwave, but, in fact, most people don't need or want that kind of behemoth taking up space in their kitchen. A more typical size is about 1.1 or 1.2 cubic feet, and in that size class we recommend the 1.1 cubic foot LG LCS1112ST (Est. $140). It's the top-rated mid-sized microwave at Consumer Reports, where it earns Very Good to Excellent scores across the board for both performance and ease of use.
Owners are just as complimentary and we found thousands of user reviews for the LG LCS1112ST, with the vast majority giving it very high ratings. They say it's powerful and that the sensors work very well, especially when it comes to defrosting food without cooking any part of it -- a big challenge for any microwave. Even those with very small kitchens say that the LCS1112ST tucks nicely into a corner spot, getting it out of the way of food prep areas. However, they say it's the right size for all but the largest dishes (think rectangular casseroles). It's also reported as attractive and easy to wipe clean. A few say the buttons are hard to read, and some wish it had a few more presets, but the vast majority are very happy.
If you only use a microwave for cooking the occasional frozen dinner, reheating leftovers or boiling a mug of water, you don't need to spend much or buy a model that takes up much space. Reviewers say the GE JES1072SHSS (Est. $95) is perfect for small spaces. It fits a dinner-sized plate very well, they add. It has a surprisingly wide range of presets for such a small microwave, including 30 second and 1 to 6 minute one-touch buttons, as well as presets for popcorn, beverage and potato. Although it lacks a sensor, users say it works well without it. At 700 watts, the GE JES1072SHSS isn't the most powerful microwave oven, but it does a great job with the basics.