Full-size countertop microwaves have capacities of more than 1.5 cubic feet and are ideal for families or for those who want to cook multiple dishes. Convenience features like rotating turntables and one-touch defrost and reheat functions are standard on these microwaves. Many also offer sensor technology, which determines when a dish is done by measuring the amount of steam it emits. Some also boast inverter technology, which helps cook more evenly, preventing hot and cold spots.
One such microwave that features inverter technology is the GE Profile JES2251SJ (*Est. $275) . This 2.2-cubic-foot microwave has 1,200 watts of cooking power and a 16-inch turntable that can accommodate nearly any dish. It has four sensor settings -- three for cooking and one for reheating -- as well as auto-defrost settings that automatically set the time and power level based on the amount of food to be defrosted. Other features include a stainless-steel finish and a warming mode to keep food hot until it's time to eat. Like most full-size microwaves, the JES2251SJ takes up a good amount of countertop space, measuring 24 inches wide and nearly 20 inches deep. Its warranty covers parts and labor for one year, but the magnetron tube (the element that generates microwave energy) is covered for five years.
The GE Profile JES2251SJ performs well in professional tests and owner reviews alike, praised for its ease of use, quiet operation and even heating. At ABT.com, it gets high overall ratings from more than 150 users. Many users say the machine is so powerful that they must adjust cooking times to avoid overcooking. We saw only a couple of complaints about breakdowns at this site; however, we did find a few more among the 20 user reviews at BestBuy.com. Still, considering the total number of owners who have reviewed this product, it appears that the overwhelming majority have had no problems with it.
A less costly microwave, the Panasonic Inverter NN-T945SF (*Est. $155) , also features inverter technology. Like the GE Profile, this microwave has a 2.2-cubic-foot capacity, sensor cooking, a stainless-steel finish and a keep-warm setting. Rated at 1,250 watts, the Panasonic microwave oven is slightly more powerful than the GE Profile, and it features detailed menus with step-by-step cooking instructions in a choice of three languages. This microwave measures nearly 24 inches wide by 19.5 inches deep, but it can be installed in a cabinet with the addition of the optional trim kit (*Est. $140). Like the GE Profile, this microwave carries a one-year warranty with five years of coverage for the magnetron.
The Panasonic Inverter NN-T945SF has earned the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, although it is not included in the latest rounds of microwave tests by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. This microwave also scores well in a test by a leading consumer magazine, whose editors praise its heating and defrosting performance and general ease of use (although testers note that its noise level is merely average). More than 180 users at Walmart.com report similar results, saying the microwave cooks and defrosts very evenly and has plenty of power and capacity. We did see a few complaints of microwaves failing within three years of purchase, but most users report no problems.
The Whirlpool Gold GT4175SP (*Est. $280) also fares very well in professional tests. This microwave is somewhat smaller than the GE Profile, with a 1.7-cubic-foot capacity and a 22.5-by-17.5-inch profile. Its features include 1,200 watts of cooking power, 10 power levels, sensor cooking and reheating and a keep-warm setting. Its MaxWave cooking system releases microwaves from multiple points inside the oven to provide quicker, more even cooking and defrosting, according to the manufacturer. This microwave is available in white, black or stainless steel (for about $100 more). It comes with a one-year warranty.
In one professional test, the GT4175SP gets very good scores for cooking and defrosting performance, as well as ease of use and noise level. An older review at ConsumerGuide.com also praises this microwave, calling it "an excellent value" and naming it a Best Buy. This Whirlpool Gold microwave gets positive overall reviews from more than 75 owners at BestBuy.com. Users praise its large turntable and fast, even cooking, and they also say the microwave is quiet and easy to clean. However, we did see a handful of complaints about breakdowns (ranging from right out of the box to 21 months after purchase) and unhelpful customer service from Whirlpool.
Midsize microwaves have capacities of around 1.2 cubic feet, still a reasonable size for many users. In this category, we found the best reviews for the Kenmore 6633 (*Est. $140) . This 1.2-cubic-foot countertop microwave is rated highly by both professionals and owners. It's somewhat narrower than the full-size microwaves mentioned above, measuring just under 22 inches wide. It has a black exterior, electronic touch controls, sensor cooking and 1,200-watt cooking power. The Kenmore 6633 comes with a one-year warranty.
Professional reviewers give the Kenmore 6633 microwave oven high marks. It's the best performer among midsized microwaves in one recent test, thanks to its powerful defrosting action and easy-to-use control panel. It also earns a grade of B from the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Editors praise the microwave's even heating and wealth of cooking options (with the exception of the popcorn setting, which they say "consistently underpops"). Users at Sears.com, where Kenmore appliances are sold, are mostly satisfied, with more than 90 owners giving the Kenmore 6633 an overall rating of 4 stars out of 5. Most say the countertop microwave is easy to use and heats evenly, and several like its small footprint. However, a few say that the door feels flimsy and the display can be hard to read. A couple of owners say the Kenmore 6633 stopped working within a couple of years.
Another strong overall performer is the Cuisinart CMW-100 (*Est. $150) . This 1-cubic-foot microwave is somewhat smaller than the Kenmore 6633, measuring 20.5 inches wide by 15.25 inches deep. Rated at 1,000 watts, it has a 12-inch turntable and a stainless-steel finish. It also features two-stage cooking, which allows the user to cook at two different power levels (for example, 15 minutes on defrost followed by 8 minutes on high). However, the CMW-100 countertop microwave does not include a sensor. It carries a three-year warranty, longer than most other microwaves.
The editors of Good Housekeeping recommend the CMW-100, saying it does a good job of defrosting, baking potatoes and popping corn. The reviewer at ConsumerGuide.com gives it high marks as well. Although the lack of a sensor is a downside, the reviewer finds the one-touch buttons and multi-stage cooking especially handy. We found close to 100 reviews for the CMW-100 at Buzzillions.com, compiled from sites such as Macys.com, ABT.com and Cooking.com. Overall, users award this microwave 4.6 stars out of 5, praising its stylish looks, even heating and easy-to-clean surface. We saw only a couple of complaints about breakdowns, representing a small percentage of users overall.
We found more mixed reviews for the Panasonic NN-SD688S (*Est. $180) . This microwave has 1,300 watts of cooking power and uses an inverter, a rare feature among midsize countertop microwaves. The Panasonic NN-SD688S also features a cooking sensor, dial and button controls and a 13.5-inch rotating turntable. It has a 1.2-cubic-foot capacity and measures roughly 23 inches wide by 18 inches deep. We found two single-product reviews of the Panasonic NN-SD688S that pay special attention to its inverter technology. Bryan Gardiner of Wired gives the microwave an overall rating of 7 out of 10, which translates to "good, but not quite great." Although he gives the Panasonic microwave oven high marks for defrosting and praises its capacity and design, he also says that it's bulky and loud. Another reviewer, Gregory Han of ApartmentTherapy.com, says that although the Panasonic does heat up and cook food more evenly than other microwaves, the wide assortment of cooking options can be "a bit daunting" to learn.
In professional tests, however, this microwave's performance is less than stellar. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute gives it a B-minus, saying that although its sensors deliver "precise results," it's also noisy and an energy hog. In another professional test, the NN-SD688S gets good scores for even heating, but only mediocre results for defrosting, noise level and ease of use. The Panasonic NN-SD688S gets generally good ratings from roughly 150 users at Amazon.com. Owners say the microwave cooks quickly and defrosts evenly, and they like its stylish design and intuitive controls. However, we saw quite a few complaints about durability, with users saying that their microwaves failed in anywhere from four weeks to two years after purchase and that getting repairs under Panasonic's one-year warranty proved difficult (the magnetron tube is covered for five years). We also saw a few complaints about overheating; one user says the microwave was "almost too hot to get near" after reheating food, and another reports that it "burned a hole in itself and started an electrical fire."
Compact microwave ovens usually have capacities around 0.8 cubic feet. Their small footprint can be an advantage in small kitchens, but they also tend to have less cooking power than larger units, which lengthens cooking times. The GE Profile SpaceMaker II PEM31 (*Est. $220) is on the large side for a compact microwave, with a full cubic foot of capacity. It is also nearly 24 inches wide, but only 12.3 inches deep and 11.2 inches high. In addition, it can be hung beneath a cabinet with an optional hanging kit, or tucked into one with an optional trim kit. This compact GE microwave has only 800 watts of cooking power, but it does include a sensor and an 11.3-inch turntable (which can be switched off to allow the microwave to accommodate larger platters). Other features include one-touch cooking functions, 10 power levels and auto defrosting. The GE Profile SpaceMaker II PEM31 is available in four colors: black, white, bisque or stainless steel (this last option adds about $50 to the price). Its warranty covers parts and labor for one year; the magnetron tube is covered for five years.
The editors of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute award the PEM31 a grade of B-plus, praising its accurate cooking sensors, compact profile and easy-to-use controls. A ConsumerGuide.com review dating from 2008 also cites this microwave's "ease of use and exceptional performance." The reviewer notes that the PEM31 is on the expensive side for a small microwave, but adds that its wide array of features and space-saving design justify its higher price tag. However, another professional publication gives the PEM31 a much less impressive review. Although it earns high marks for even heating and ease of use, its defrosting performance is poor.
We found about 190 reviews for the GE Profile SpaceMaker II PEM31 at retail site ABT.com. Users praise its design and say that it heats evenly and cleans up easily. Most also find the controls easy to use, although a few say they are confusing. We found fewer durability complaints for the PEM31 than for most small microwaves; only half a dozen users say their machines had problems out of the box or developed them soon after purchase. Overall, the compact microwave earns an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5, and more than 90 percent of users say they would buy it again.
GE also offers a more basic SpaceMaker microwave, the SpaceMaker II JEM25DM (*Est. $185) . It has the same capacity, dimensions and power as the more expensive PEM31, but it lacks a cooking sensor and has fewer preprogrammed settings. Also, the JEM25DM comes only in basic black or white, and with only a one-year warranty. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute finds the JEM25DM not quite as strong a performer as its more expensive cousin, with a B grade overall. While they like its even heating pattern and easy-to-program controls, they say that the control panel is not well laid out. We found more than 400 reviews for this microwave from users at ABT.com and Buzzillions.com, most of them positive. Owners praise the microwave's attractive design, even heating and simple display, and they also find it easy to clean. However, its small capacity is a drawback, and some find the display confusing. We did see a few reliability complaints, but not many for the overall number of reviews.
For those who find GE microwaves too large or too expensive, a more basic option is the Danby DMW099BLSDD (*Est. $90) . This compact microwave, which comes in black, white or stainless finishes, has a capacity of 0.9 cubic feet and 900 watts of cooking power. It has 10 power levels and eight one-touch settings for foods ranging from popcorn to frozen vegetables. The Danby DMW099BLSDD also has a small footprint, roughly 19 inches wide and 14.25 inches deep. This small microwave has an 18-month warranty for parts and labor.
Although we found no professional reviews for the Danby DMW099BLSDD, it earns a 4.4-star overall rating from more than 125 reviewers at Walmart.com. Users find this little microwave stylish, easy to operate and a great value overall. They also like the one-touch cooking buttons, although several users report that it takes some time to get used to pushing a single number and having the machine start instantly. The most common complaint is that the microwave is so lightweight that pulling on the door handle sometimes moves the entire oven instead of opening it. Owners report fixing this problem with a variety of hacks, from piling weight on top of the microwave to putting no-slide drawer liner under it. We did see a handful of reliability complaints, but not many for the overall volume of reviews.