Over-the-range microwaves (sometimes called microhoods) don't take up precious counter space, but these appliances are typically more expensive than countertop microwaves. Because the microwave must also vent the range below it, microhoods require built-in fans and venting -- and experts say they still won't do the job as well as a range hood (ConsumerSearch has a separate report on range hoods). Also, installing an over-the-range microwave can be a big job for a do-it-yourselfer: It involves adding vents and a dedicated electrical outlet, as well as lifting a machine that may weigh upwards of 50 pounds. Many experts recommend that homeowners hire an electrician for proper installation.
We didn't find nearly as many user ratings for over-the-range microwave ovens as for countertop models, but there are some professional tests available. Overall, we found the best reviews for the Kenmore Elite 8601 (*Est. $730) . This 1.7-cubic-foot model measures 29 by 16.5 by 16.5 inches. It has 950 watts of cooking power, which is on the low side, but it includes a wealth of features: sensor cooking, special settings for softening ice cream and melting chocolate and a convection oven for baking and browning. As a range hood, it provides 300 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of ventilation, typical for a microhood but not as powerful as most dedicated range hoods. This Kenmore microhood comes in white, black and stainless-steel finishes and is backed by a one-year warranty.
The Kenmore Elite 8601 is one of the top performers in one professional test, earning very good to excellent scores across the board for heating, defrosting, ease of use and noise level. It also receives reasonably good ratings from about three dozen owners at Sears.com, the only site that sells Kenmore appliances. Users praise this microwave's stylish appearance, bright lighting and ample capacity, but we did read a few reports of problems with the convection feature. Two users say the convection oven simply doesn't work, and two others report that if it is turned up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, it will cause the entire microwave to shut down completely, requiring a technician to service it. Aside from this odd quirk, users report few problems with the microwave.
A more powerful option is the 2-cubic-foot Whirlpool Gold GH7208XR (*Est. $920) . This versatile microhood combines 1,200 watts of microwave cooking power with a 1,500-watt convection oven. Other features include cooking sensors, multi-stage cooking (which enables the microwave to switch automatically between power settings), steam cooking, a rack for browning meats and a pan that can be used for frying bacon or baking pies. The Whirlpool microhood comes in four finishes: black, white, stainless steel with black or all stainless (stainless models cost extra). It measures 30 by 18 by 15 inches, and its warranty covers parts and labor for one year.
In one professional test, the Whirlpool GH7208XR earns high scores in every category. It heats and defrosts evenly, operates quietly and is extremely easy to use. This microhood is also a Best Buy at ConsumerGuide.com, where the reviewer praises its versatility and says the microwave does an excellent job with every task from reheating soup to baking cakes. It can produce a crisp surface in one-half to two-thirds as much time as a conventional oven. The reviewer also claims this unit's four-speed, 300-CFM fan provides excellent ventilation.
However, the user reviews we found for the Whirlpool GH7208XR are less than stellar. Although it earns an above average rating of 3.8 stars out of 5 from 27 reviewers at Buzzillions.com, the 30-plus reviewers at Amazon.com award it only 2 stars out of 5 on average. Although the over-the-range microwave earns praise for its looks and cooking performance, the majority of the reviews complain about durability. Users report that their machines failed shortly after purchase -- within the first few years, the first few months or, in one case, the first 20 minutes. Several owners describe multiple malfunctions over the course of a few years, and we also saw multiple complaints about Whirlpool's customer service. Considering the iffy reviews and the relatively small number we found, the jury is still out on this over-the-range microwave's long-term performance.
If you don't need a convection microwave oven, you can save a lot of money by choosing an over-the-range microwave without that feature, such as the Samsung SMH9187 (*Est. $280) . This microwave is the top scorer in one expert test of over-the-range microwaves, with excellent scores for cooking, defrosting and ease of use. Available in stainless steel, black or white, this microhood has a capacity of 1.8 cubic feet and 1,100 watts of cooking power. Although it lacks a convection mode, the Samsung SMH9187ST does have sensor cooking and a 14.2-inch rotating turntable. It also provides 400 CFM of ventilation power, more than the pricier Kenmore Elite and Whirlpool microhoods. The Samsung microwave fits into a 30-inch-wide space. Its warranty includes one year for parts and labor and 10 years for its magnetron.
We did not find many reviews for the Samsung SMH9187ST on any individual retail site, but Buzzillions.com yielded roughly 175 reviews pulled from a variety of sites. Overall, users award this microwave nearly 4 stars out of a possible 5. They say the microwave oven is easy to install, and they like its stylish design and simple display and controls. However, we did see a few complaints about its noise level and reliability, with a couple of users describing repeated breakdowns within the first three years of use.