Speed and smarts now go hand in hand as more microwaves serve as second ovens. Many have sensors that automate cooking for more than just popcorn. More also include convection and even slow cooking for homeowners who want added capability without having to add a wall oven or replace a range with a double-oven model.
You'll find more automation as microwaves take on a growing list of tasks. Browning and speed-cook modes, along with interactive recipe databases, are also on the menu as brands push features aimed at busy families. But as our tests have shown, you can pay a premium for those perks without getting the even heating and defrosting that are a microwave's two top tasks. Our microwave Ratings also show that some brands overstate usable space by as much as 50 to 60 percent.
Pick a type and size
Countertop models cost the least and are best for kitchens with lots of counter space. Compact models can cost very little but typically offer the least cooking room. Midsized and large models add capacity and features. But because manufacturers often include unusable space in their capacity claims be sure to bring a large platter to see whether it fits inside models on your shopping list. Two other caveats: While some countertop microwaves can hang below a cabinet, you wind up with little working space below the oven. And while over-the-range models save counter space and add convenience, they don't vent nearly as well as a dedicated range hood and typically require an electrician to install.
Be realistic about extras
Decide whether you'll really use grilling and browning features, convection, slow-cook, or other added functions before paying extra for them. Our tests have shown that you shouldn't expect these features to replace your range broiler or grill. However, a sensor is a convenient feature that helps prevent over- and under-cooking food.