Eager to upgrade your ancient microwave? We researched and compared close to 80 different models, the picked the 10 most promising to purchase and test side-by-side to see which one truly zapped the competition. We've spent hours testing every aspect of these products, heating up dozens and dozens of Hot Pockets, frozen burritos, pot pies, plates of leftovers, and bags of microwavable popcorn, comparing the taste and evenness of heating. Additionally, we also ranked and scored how quickly these products work and how convenient and easy to operate each one is. Check out the complete review below to see which microwave truly reigns supreme, which is the best buy when shopping on a tight budget, and which one can pop the most perfect bag of popcorn.
The Best Microwave Ovens of 2018
For this new round of microwave testing, we found the Toshiba EM925A5A to throw into the mix. This is a solid microwave that scored quite well in our tests, distinguishing itself by being one of the easier to use and most convenient models we have encountered and does a decent job at heating your food evenly. It doesn't do the best at defrosting food and isn't the fastest, but is a solid value, pretty much holding its own with other appliances that cost $30-$100 more. Keep reading to see if the Toshiba is the perfect fit for your kitchen or if you would be better served by one of our previous award winners.
Earning the highest score out of any microwave that we have tested to date, the hOmeLabs HME010002N is our new favorite when it comes to these products. This product delivered a phenomenal performance when it came to heating up food, evenly heating up all of the prepared food that we placed in it, such as chicken pot pies, individual servings of lasagna, frozen burritos, or Hot Pockets. Not limited to processed food, this microwave also did a commendable job at evenly heating up a mixed plate of leftovers using its "Sensor Reheat" function. This microwave is also very fast at heating up food and is quite easy to use, having a variety of pre-programmed functions that are very effective and one-touch buttons that automatically start the microwave. On top of all that, the hOmeLabs is about half the price of our previous award winner, the Panasonic NN-SD745S that it ousted from the top spot.
However, this product didn't deliver an amazing performance when it came to defrosting food. We attempted to use the "Defrost by Weight" function to thaw a 1 lb. roll of ground turkey and the "Defrost by Time" function on a frozen muffin, finding both food items to be heated very unevenly and far from satisfactory. This microwave also lacks the ability to operate as a standalone timer — a surprisingly handy feature once you become accustomed to it. Regardless of these pitfalls, we still think the hOmeLabs is the best microwave you can get and the perfect option for most people.Read Full Review: hOmeLabs HME010002N
Best Bang for the Buck
Shopping for a top-notch microwave but don't want to zap your bank account? The 73773 by Kenmore is a fantastic value option, providing overall excellent performance at a much more budget-friendly price than our Editors' Choice award winner. This all-around performer heats food rapidly and evenly, earning it one of the top scores of the entire group. It also is very easy to use, with single-touch buttons and presets that are decently effective.
While this model doesn't quite defrost or heat as evenly as our top choice, the Kenmore retails for far less, making this product the perfect choice if you are shopping on a budget and looking to spend a little less than the top-tier models retail for.Read Full Review: Kenmore 73773
Another Great Value
Just narrowly bested by the Kenmore, the Westinghouse WM009 is another great pick for those searching for a value buy. This appliance does an amazing job of defrosting food items, although it is slightly slower than the other award winners at heating up food. It's a snap to use and will heat your food evenly. On top of that, it is simple and intuitive to use, with preset functions that are surprisingly accurate and effective.
However, it's also oddly deficient at heating up a frozen burrito, despite its superior defrosting performance in our other tests. Additionally, it will also take just a tiny bit longer than some of the other products out there. Despite those setbacks, this is still an excellent value microwave and a great option for those looking to save some cash, especially if you don't plan on heating up frozen burritos on a regular basis.Read Full Review: Westinghouse WM009
Analysis and Test Results
We bought the top microwaves available and put them through the wringer, comparing their performance at everything from heating up frozen burritos to how fast they could heat up water. We directly compared the results in a side-to-side test to determine the overall scores, ranging from 0-100. Our testing process was split into four metrics — Heating, Defrosting, Ease of Use, and Speed — with over 15 different tests spread among the metrics. We detail how each model did in each test in the following sections, assigning a subscore for each metric that was then used to compute the overall score and rankings.
As you can see, the spectrum of prices for these products is quite wide, ranging from about $90 to $250. Our favorite microwave of the group, the hOmeLabs falls right in the middle, with a list price around $120 — significantly less expensive than the $240 list price of our prior top pick, the Panasonic NN-SD745S. If spending over $100 is unacceptable to you, then you should consider either the Westinghouse or the Kenmore. This pair of bargain buys both have a list price of around $90 and performed very similarly. Additionally, you can also usually find one or the other of this pair selling at a discounted price if you search around a bit, allowing you to get even more bang for the buck. While it didn't quite do well enough to claim an award, the Toshiba EM925A5A is another solid option to consider if you are shopping on a budget. It finished right on the heels of the Kenmore and the Westinghouse and costs about $30 less, though it isn't the best at defrosting. However, if you don't defrost things all that often, then this is a solid choice if you aren't looking to spend too much.
Heating up food with little to no effort is the main reason that you are going to buy a microwave. Period. Whether you are heating up leftovers from last night's dinner or zapping a Hot Pocket for a quick lunch, you want a microwave that is going to quickly and evenly heat your food to the desired temperature. This metric is so important that it comprises 40% of the total score — a model that does poorly in this metric is something that we would definitely caution against buying. You can see how the models stacked up in the chart below.
We heated identical frozen burritos, trays of lasagna, and Hot Pockets in each model of microwave, then used an array of cooking thermometers to evaluate how uniform the food was heated. We also reheated a typical plate of leftovers, simulating a Thanksgiving dinner, as well as chicken pot pies to test each model on a variety of different food types and see how they did. Finally, we generated a heat map with a plate of melted chocolate to look for any inconsistencies or dead spots while the microwave was heating.
The top-performing models in this set of tests are the hOmeLabs and the Panasonic NN-SD745S, both earning an 8 out of 10 for their stellar performance.
The hOmeLabs started out with a fantastic performance in our Hot Pocket test. We heated the Hot Pocket for two and a half minutes and found there to only be an average temperature difference of 2.1°F between the three zones that we measured. However, this wasn't quite the top performance we saw, with the NN-SD745S being slightly superior with only 1.9°F of variation, but both products produced excellent pocket sandwiches.
The performance of the hOmeLabs dropped a little when we moved on to some other types of heat-and-eat food — such as a chicken pot pie, an individual-sized frozen lasagna, and a frozen burrito — but still did very well overall, finishing in the top of the group. There was just a bit more average temperature variation present in these food items, on the order of 10-12°F.
This appliance continued its exemplary performance into our leftovers test. For this evaluation, we relied on the "Sensor Reheat" function of the hOmeLabs to set the proper time. The plate of food was heated fairly evenly, although the items closer to the center seemed to be slightly warmer than the rest. This product finished out this metric with an almost perfect showing in our heat map test. It completely melted the chocolate in its entirety, with only a single singed spot hampering its otherwise flawless showing.
Moving on to the other top performer when it came to heating up food, the NN-SD745S did a great job at heating up our sample Thanksgiving dinner an even amount, with the green beans being just a tiny bit warmer than the other food items. It also did a great job at heating up the pot pie, easily heating it to the necessary temperature of 165°F, and having less than 10°F of temperature variation between different zones. However, where this model truly excelled was our frozen pocket sandwich test and our heat map test. We heated up a Hot Pocket brand sandwich using the "Frozen Pocket Sandwich" setting and then measured the internal temperature with an array of kitchen thermometers.
The SD745S had the smallest temperature variation between the thermometers, with less than 2°F of difference. This model also had a very uniform chocolate heat map, melting the entire plate evenly with no cold or burnt spots.
However, this Panasonic model fell a little flat on our frozen burrito and frozen lasagna test, failing to heat the burrito to 160°F and both the lasagna and burrito having wide temperature variation across.
Following this duo of top-notch products, the Kenmore 73773, the LG LCS1112ST, the Toshiba EM925A5A, the Panasonic NN-SU696S, and the Westinghouse WM009 all earned a 6 out for 10 for their slightly above average heating score. While these models all received the same overall score for their heating performance, they performed wildly different in the individual tests in this metric — meaning you will want to look at the models that performed the best in tests that most closely match what you tend to use these products for.
The Westinghouse did the best of this bunch at reheating our plate of leftovers — all of the food types were piping hot and within a few degrees of each other. Following this pair was the other Panasonic model that we reviewed, the NN-SU696S, which just had a little too much temperature variation on our plate of leftovers, with a few of the chicken tenders being close to 40°F warmer than the mashed potatoes. The Toshiba performed very similarly to the NN-SU696S, except that there was a tiny bit more temperature variation, to the point where some of the potatoes began to border on crispy.
The rest of the models — the Kenmore and the LG — all did a less than stellar job with the plate of leftovers, failing to evenly heat the same type of food. For example, the Kenmore had close to a 20°F temperature difference between the head and the foot of a single chicken tender.
When it came to heating up the pot pie, the LG and the Toshiba
almost matched the performance of the Panasonic NN-SD745S, but had slightly more temperature variation. The rest of this pack all did an acceptable job at the pot pie, with the exception of the Westinghouse. This model did poorly, failing to hit the necessary temperature and having differences of over 40°F between different regions of the pie.The story changed dramatically when it came to Hot Pockets, with the Westinghouse doing the best job of this group, finishing just ever so slightly behind the Panasonic NN-SD745S.
The Toshiba did a little bit worse, exhibiting an average temperature difference of about 6.5°F across the Hot Pocket. The rest of the models in this group (the Kenmore, the LG, and thePanasonic NN-SU696S) all did close to average, exhibiting 10-15°F of temperature variation across the pocket sandwich, with the Kenmore on the lower end of that range.
This group of 5 products also displayed a wide variation in performance in our chocolate heat map test, with the LG doing the best, matching the performance of the Panasonic NN-SD745S. The Toshiba was right behind, delivering an almost flawless showing, but there were a few spots that we identified as being slightly warmer and almost approaching burning. Next came the Kenmore, which almost matched the performance of the three top-scoring models, but left an unmelted board around the outside of the plate that was about a quarter-inch thick.
The Panasonic NN-SU696S did a little worse than the Kenmore, leaving a nickel-sized cooler spot in the exact middle.
The Kenmore, LG, and the Panasonic all did well at heating up a frozen burrito, averaging 8-12°F of temperature differences between left, right, and center of the burrito. The Westinghouse did terribly at heating up a burrito — the worst of the bunch — failing to reach the required 160°F and having almost a 65°F temperature difference between the left and the right side of the burrito. The Toshiba was a bit better, but not by much, also failing to achieve the minimum temperature and having a sizeable temperature difference between the left and right half of the burrito.
The Kenmore, LG, Panasonic NN-SU6969S, and Westinghouse all passed the frozen lasagna test, with each model heating the lasagna past the required 160°F. The Kenmore made the best frozen lasagna of the group in this review, with a minuscule amount of temperature variation across the different areas of the lasagna.
This pair was followed the LG and the Westinghouse with about 7°F of difference. The Panasonic NN-SU696S had about 9°F of difference, with all regions exceeding 160°F. The Toshiba did horribly in this test, with the middle of the lasagna only reaching a lukewarm 70°F at the conclusion of its heating cycle — well below the prescribed minimum temperature by the manufacturer.
Following the middle pack, the Samsung MG14H3020CM earned a 5 out of 10 for its overall average heating performance. This model actually did very well at heating up the plate of leftovers — almost as well as the Panasonic NN-SD745S, but not quite. It did much worse at heating up the pot pie, doing a below average job as it failed to heat it up the pie evenly, with some areas over 190°F and others below the required temperature of 165°F. This Samsung did a little better at heating up a frozen pocket sandwich (Hot Pocket) and frozen lasagna, doing an average job at both. However, this model of microwave did exceptionally terrible in our frozen burrito test and in our heat map test. The burrito had a ton of temperature variation throughout, with a small sliver that was not up to temperature. Looking at the heat map, it was immediately clear why this happened. The heat map showed a clear bullseye pattern, with the center and the outer ring remaining solid with the middle ring melting.
Finishing out the bottom of the group in our heating test, the Breville BMO734XL and the Samsung MS11K3000AS earned a 4 and a 3 out of 10 respectively. These models had tons of temperature variation across most of our tests, in extreme amounts. For example, the Samsung MS11K3000AS had close to a 70°F difference between the center and the right side of the burrito, and the Breville had over 30°F between the left side and the center.
Ease of Use
For this metric, making up 30% of the total score, we looked at the various features and functions that these machines have to make your life easier. We evaluated how effective the preset settings were, whether or not there were quick buttons present and how they worked, the quality of the interior lighting and timer, as well as if the appliance would slide around on the counter when the door was opened or closed or when a button was pressed. For the preset effectiveness, we made a bag of popcorn and baked a potato in each model, precisely following the manufacturer's directions, and rated the results. You can see how all of the models ranked in the graphic below.
The Kenmore and the Toshiba led the group when it comes to being convenient and easy to use, both meriting an 8 out of 10.The Kenmore model had some of the best quick buttons, with a "+30 second" button that would automatically start the microwave, as well as one-touch buttons to quickly start the microwave — pressing the "3" button automatically put three minutes on the machine and started it. The Kenmore had a great interior light, could act as a kitchen timer independent of heating food and had an alright keypad. This model also did about average when we tested the presets, popping almost all of the popcorn on the popcorn preset, but leaving a drier and slightly burnt taste compared to some of the other models.
It did a little better at baking a potato using the potato preset. This model allows you to input a rough weight, though there were no beeps to flip the potato. It produced a potato that was perfectly cooked on the sides, but slightly firmer than we would have preferred in the middle. This model didn't have the best anti-slip feet going, and it would slide slightly on the counter when we opened and closed the door.
The Toshiba has similar quick buttons so the Kenmore, with the number keys 1-6 automatically starting the microwave and putting that amount of time on the clock. It also has a "+30" button for when your food needs just a little bit longer. It matched the Kenmore when using the "Potato" preset with a few spots that were a little on the firm side, but did even better with the popcorn, burning none of it at all. It's pretty easy to see your food while it is being heated with a solid amount of light and the keypad layout is decently intuitive and easy to use, though the "0" key is in a bit of an odd spot.
Following the Kenmore and the Toshiba, the Breville and the hOmeLabs earned the next highest score in terms of ease of use, all earning a 7 out of 10.
The hOmeLabs got off to a good start in this metric by having presets that are both accurate and effective. The potato was baked all the way through, with the ends being cooked perfectly and the middle just bordering on overcooked. This product almost got burned in our popcorn preset effectiveness test, with the popcorn just starting to think about burning towards the end of the time period set by the "Popcorn" button. There was some slight discoloration and a slight tinge of a burned flavor, but the popcorn was overall quite tasty.
This microwave has both a "+30 Seconds" button and single-touch features for buttons 1,2, and 3. This means you can hit the "1" button and the microwave will put one minute on the clock and automatically start. Unfortunately, this model doesn't have the best visibility to see your food while it is heating and can't be used as a standalone timer.
The Breville has an exceptionally bright light inside and will turn it on when the door is opened. The Breville has a "+30" button, but lacked the quick buttons. These models were both very solid on the counter, with the Breville refusing to budge when the keypad was used or the door opened.
The Breville did decently well in our preset test, doing a good job at making popcorn and baking a potato using the presets. The Breville left behind a decent number of kernels, but we found it to make the best tasting popcorn out of the entire group.
Next were the majority of models, with the LG, Panasonic NN-SD745S, Samsung MS11K3000AS, and the Westinghouse all earning a 6 out of 10. These models all have some sort of light inside that will turn on when the food is being heated, but the Samsung MS11K3000AS was much dimmer, making it harder to see the food. Out of this group, only the Westinghouse had the capability to act as an independent kitchen timer. We liked the interface on the LG, finding that that dial on the Panasonic NN-SD745S was a little irritating to use. The Samsung MS11K3000AS lacks a keypad, using a large group of presets instead, something we found extremely annoying and was the worst interface of the entire set. The Westinghouse has a keypad, but doesn't have a cancel/stop key to retract a mistake, instead of requiring you to hit reset and start from scratch. The Panasonic NN-SD745S, Samsung MS11K3000AS, and the Westinghouse wouldn't slide on the counter when opening or closing the door or using the keypad, but the LG would slide about a quarter of an inch every time we opened or closed the door.
The Panasonic NN-SD745S and the Westinghouse did the best out of this group of 5 in our preset effectiveness test. The Panasonic NN-SD745S produced better popcorn than the Westinghouse, heating it close to perfection and only leaving about 27 leftover kernels. The Westinghouse only left 19 kernels, but overcooked the popcorn, making it taste a little burnt. The Westinghouse did redeem itself with the baked potato, heating the perfect potato that was one of the best out of the entire group. The Panasonic NN-SD745S did alright at baking the potato, but left the center a little harder than we would have liked.
The preset effectiveness on the LG was just slightly behind the Panasonic NN-SD745S and the Westinghouse. The LG left more popcorn kernels behind than the Panasonic NN-SD745S and created popcorn that didn't taste quite as nice.
However, the LG overcooked the potato on the bottom and on the left side, lacking a notification to stop and flip the potato like other models.
The Samsung MS11K3000AS did slightly worse than the LG when it came to presets. The popcorn tasted fine, but it left over a hundred kernels behind without popping. It also left the center of the baked potato a little raw, though the left side was perfect and the right was just slightly underdone.
Rounding out the back of the pack for ease of use, the Samsung MG14H3020CM and the Panasonic NN-SU696S earned a 5 and a 4 out of 10 respectively. You can see inside the Panasonic NN-SU696S while it's running, but there is no light when the door is opened. This Samsung has a light, but it's really hard to see the food inside with its mirrored exterior.
Neither of these models could be used as a kitchen timer, and both had an alright keypad. The Panasonic NN-SU696S would slide a little bit when the door was opened and closed, but the Samsung MG14H3020CM was solid as a rock on the counter. These both had a "+30 Seconds" button, but it would not automatically start heating and neither had any one-touch quick buttons.
The Samsung MG14H3020CM left behind a larger number of kernels compared to the Panasonic NN-SU696S, but none of them were burnt tasting. The Panasonic did an average job at baking a potato, significantly better than the Samsung MG14H3020CM which left the center completely raw.
Defrosting made up 20% of the overall score for these products and was a much smaller group of tests than heating. We rated these products on how effectively they could defrost a 1 lb roll of ground turkey — if the microwave could satisfactorily defrost a muffin. In addition, we looked at what type of options were available to choose from when it came to defrosting, such as defrosting by time or by weight. You can see how all of the products scored in the following graphic.
Redeeming itself from its poor heating performance, the usually lower scoring Samsung MS11K3000AS tied with one of our Best Buy award winners, the Westinghouse WM009, for the top score in this metric, both models earning a 7 out of 10. These models both had similar performance at defrosting the turkey roll, with practically the entire pound being defrosted without any of it being cooked, though the Samsung MS11K3000AS did accomplish this about three minutes faster.
Performance varied substantially when it came to defrosting a muffin, with the Samsung MS11K3000AS doing much better than the Westinghouse. The Samsung MS11K3000AS was basically throughout, while the Westinghouse which had an extremely hot side and an extremely cool side. Both of these models can defrost by weight, but the Westinghouse has a speed defrost option.
Following this top performing pair, the Panasonic NN-SU696S came next, earning a 6 out of 10 for its defrosting capabilities. The Panasonic NN-SU696S did well at defrosting the roll of ground turkey, but not quite as well as the Westinghouse or the Samsung MS11K3000AS. The Panasonic NN-SU696S had some almost cooked parts and was just a little harder to break apart than the top models. The Panasonic NN-SU696S did do much better at defrosting the frozen muffin, heating everything except the very bottom of the muffin.
Next were the LG LCS1112ST and the Panasonic NN-SD745S, both meriting a 5 out of 10 for their defrosting abilities. The LG did better than the Panasonic NN-SD745S at defrosting the roll of ground turkey, but not as well as the Panasonic NN-SU696S. There were a few warm parts in the LG's roll of ground turkey, compared to the completely cooked sections in the NN-SD745S's. However, the NN-SD745S did one of the best jobs of the entire group at defrosting a frozen muffin, evenly heating it throughout and just lightly melting the chocolate chips. The LG did almost as well, but the top portion was just a little bit cooler than the rest of the muffin, dropping its score. The LG has a quick defrost and a weight defrost, while the Panasonic NN-SD745S only has a defrost by weight.
The remainder of the models — the hOmeLabs, the Toshiba, the Breville, the Kenmore, and the Samsung MG14H3020CM all scored below average at defrosting, earning a 4 out of 10. The hOmeLabs, Toshiba, and the Breville did the worst of the bunch at defrosting the roll of ground turkey, leaving the bulk of it too frozen to easily break apart. In the case of the hOmeLabs, we had to run a second defrost cycle to get it to the point where it was easy to break apart, which actually cooked a significant amount of turkey. The other models did a little better, but not by much.
These models all did roughly the same at defrosting a frozen muffin, with the Samsung MG14H3020CM doing slightly better than the Toshiba, Breville, and the Kenmore, with the hOmeLabs delivering the worst performance of the bunch. These models all had defrost by weight functions and only the Samsung lacked a quick defrost function by time.
Microwaves are all about conveniently and quickly heating up food, and our final metric focuses on the latter. We heated up a set amount of water in a beaker in each model for 30 seconds, and compared the temperature rise between to determine scores. This metric made up 10% of the overall score. You can see how speedy the models were in the chart below.
The speediest model of the bunch, the Panasonic NN-SU696S, earned the top score of 7 out of 10 in this metric. This model boosted the temperature of 250 mL of water about 37°F in 30 seconds.
Next were the hOmeLabs, the Panasonic NN-SD745S, and the Kenmore, all earning a 6 out of 10. These models increased the water temperature by 35°F, 36°F and 35°F respectively.
Following these, the LG and the Westinghouse all did about average, meriting a 5 out of 10. The Westinghouse drove a 34°F temperature increase in the water, just a hair better than the 33°F created by the LG.
The Toshiba and theBreville both boosted the temperature of the water by about 32°F after the 30 seconds — enough to earn both appliances a 4 out of 10 for their somewhat lackluster showing, though they did beat both of the Samsung models. The MG14H3020CM earned a 3 out of 10 for boosting the water 28°F, and the MS11K3000AS earned a 2 for increasing the temperature by a measly 25°F.
It can be difficult to find the perfect product. Hopefully, this review can alleviate that pain and help you find the model that best suits your needs and your budget.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.