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Most models will do a capable job of basic microwaving chores, such as reheating leftovers or making popcorn. First decide whether you want an over-the-range or countertop model. If you opt for a countertop, also consider how large a unit your kitchen counter or other available space will accommodate.
For better venting and microwave cooking, buy a range hood and a countertop microwave oven. Capable countertop models include the compact Emerson Professional Series MW8992[SB], $75, and the midsized Kenmore (Sears) 6325, $110; both are CR Best Buys. Also consider the large GE JE1460[B]F, $130, a CR Best Buy, and GE Profile JES2251SJ[SS], $220, which adds cooking capacity and a stainless finish.
Guide to the Ratings
Overall score is based mainly on evenness of heating, ease of use, and auto-defrosting ability. Heating evenness reflects how evenly a model reheated a dish of cold mashed potatoes. Auto-defrost is based on how well the automatic-defrost program defrosted one pound of frozen ground chuck. Ease of use includes how easy it is to set the microwave without referring to the instructions. Turntable diameter is the measured diameter of the oven's turntable, rounded to the nearest tenth of an inch, not including rim. Tested capacity is the usable space, in cubic feet, based on our measurements, and excludes the corner spaces for models with rotating turntables. Note that most over-the-range models allow you to turn the rotation off to fit large dishes. A few countertop models offer this feature, as well. With the rotation off, measured capacity approximates claimed. However, food may require extra tending and stirring. Claimed capacity, in cubic feet, is the capacity as listed on the product or packaging. Watts is the manufacturer's figure of the microwave's power output. In general, the more watts an oven offers, the greater its cooking power and the faster your food will be cooked. That said, differences in claimed wattage of 100 watts or less are unlikely to result in significant differences in performance. Price is approximate retail.
If you want a basic microwave oven for a dorm room, office, or other small space, consider a compact countertop model:
1 Emerson Professional Series MW8992[SB], $75, CR Best Buy
The Emerson is an inexpensive, basic model that performed well in all of our tests.
If counter space is scarce in your kitchen, consider a midsized countertop model:
3 Kenmore (Sears) 6325, $110, CR Best Buy
The modestly priced Kenmore was easy to use and excelled at our defrosting test.
If you have kitchen counter space to spare, consider a large countertop model:
12 GE Profile JES2251SJ[SS], $220
13 GE JE1860[W]H, $165
14 GE JE1460[B]F, $130, CR Best Buy
All three were relatively easy to use. The GE JE1860[W]H was one of only two countertop models with a turntable on/off switch, a useful feature. If you need a roomy microwave, the GE Profile has the largest capacity of the three.
Best for most people who want an over-the-range microwave oven; fine performance at a reasonable price:
24 Whirlpool Gold GH4155XP[B], $430, CR Best Buy
28 Samsung SMH7177[STE], $300, CR Best Buy
38 Frigidaire Gallery GLMV169D[B], $330
The Whirlpool Gold, Samsung, and Frigidaire Gallery heated evenly. Frigidaire, Kenmore, Maytag, and Whirlpool have been reliable in our surveys; we lack data for LG, Panasonic, and Samsung.
For added cooking space in an over-the-range microwave oven:
23 Kenmore (Sears) Elite 8083 , $530
30 LG Glide 'n Cook LMVM1945[SW], $300, CR Best Buy
The Kenmore Elite and LG Glide 'n Cook have trays that move from side to side for large plates. The pricier Kenmore has more-even heating and a known repair history.
COMPACT COUNTERTOP MODELS
1 EMERSON Professional Series MW8992[SB] A CR Best Buy Very good.
2 WESTINGHOUSE Beyond WBYMW1 Good. Has scanning wand to read bar codes on some foods to program cooking times. Manufacturer claims to have preprogrammed 4,000 foods. Many of the packages we scanned were not on the list. Also, it often required repeated swipes to get a readout. No auto-reheat. Discontinued, but similar model Beyond WBYMW2 may still be available.
MIDSIZED COUNTERTOP MODELS
3 KENMORE (SEARS) 6325 A CR Best Buy Very good.
4 KENMORE (SEARS) Elite 6428 Very good.
5 AMANA AMC5101AA[B] Very good.
6 SHARP Carousel R-308H[K] Very good. Discontinued, but similar model Carousel R-308J may still be available.
7 SHARP Carousel R-320H[K] Good.
8 DAEWOO WM1010CC Good. Has grilling feature, but no auto-reheat.
9 SUNBEAM SMW978 Good. Auto-reheat less effective than most.
10 OSTER OMW1199 Good. Has grilling feature.
11 EMERSON …