By far the most popular option in microwaves, the countertop microwave does just that: In the majority of homes, it sits on a kitchen counter. Of course, it can also sit on a shelf or microwave stand, but it's made to sit. Because of that, it takes up valuable real estate. However, for space or other reasons, many countertop microwaves can become built-ins using an optional trim kit, and some can be hung underneath your cabinets using a hanging kit. 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; extremely straightforward.
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 opting for the black or white finish.
If you're looking for a larger countertop microwave that can be used as a built-in with an optional trim kit, the 2.0 cubic foot LG LCRT2010ST (Est. $200) gets fairly good reviews. The optional Trim Kit MK2030F (Est. $150) 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 1.2 to 1.7 cubic feet, and in that size class the Panasonic NN-SN661S 1.2 Cubic Foot Microwave (Est. $120) shines. This 1.2 cubic foot, 1,200 watt microwave oven features inverter technology, which enables it to run at a low, steady power level rather than cycling between full power and no power. The result is more even cooking and defrosting, and reviewers say it works very well. The keypad on the NN-SN661S features a few presets: popcorn, sensor reheat and cook, defrost and keep warm. There is also a "quick minute" button and a timer. Most reviewers find the sensor settings accurate and the minimalist controls very easy to use. Their most common gripe is that the interior light doesn't come on when the microwave is opened. We also found a few durability complaints, most with the door, others that the microwave just stopped working after a year or 18 months; however, no more than we saw with any other microwave. An optional Panasonic NN-TK621SS Trim Kit (Est. $155) allows this countertop microwave to function as a built-in, but it costs as much or more than the microwave itself.
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 Kenmore 0.9 cu. ft. Countertop Microwave 73092 (Est. $80) is perfect for small spaces. It fits a dinner-sized plate very well, they add. It has all the standard presets -- popcorn, potato, pizza, vegetable and beverage, as well as a memory feature that allows you to save customized cooking operations. Owners say that last feature is a bit complicated and probably not necessary, but others like it. At 900 watts, the Kenmore 73092 isn't the most powerful microwave oven, but users say it does the job. Most say this Kenmore microwave is an attractive unit; it comes in black or stainless steel, and it gets good reviews for durability.