2018 Microwave Oven Reviews
Posted by Stan Hodkinson January 30th 2019
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Canstar Blue reviews microwaves from Breville, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Kmart Homemaker and Kambrook based on value for money, ease of use, appearance and design, even heat distribution, cooking functions, and overall satisfaction.
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Canstar Blue research finalised in October 2017, published in December 2017.
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Sharp rides the wave of microwave review success
Whether you use it to zap some two-minute noodles, warm up a heat pack, or cook your whole dinner, it’s undeniable that a microwave oven is one of the handiest appliances you can have in your home. In fact, these days it’s even possible for a microwave to replace your oven! It’s not just about heating food anymore, it’s about cooking food as well – and in style!
From the cheap, basic models you can pick up for less than $100, to the high-tech models that cost more than $1,000, it’s clear that Aussies love a good microwave. And why not? Microwaves are convenient for busy lifestyles, have programs to take the guesswork out of the cooking equation, and usually don’t take up much space. Your microwave is likely the unsung hero of your kitchen – and you’d only realise how much it does if it were to suddenly stop working!
However, not all microwave ovens are created equal – hence the disparity in prices! So, are the more expensive models and brands worth paying extra for, or will you get all the food zapping satisfaction you need from a fairly cheap microwave? That’s a question we seek to answer with our annual customer satisfaction ratings, reviewing brands on factors such as ease of use, even heat distribution and cooking functions, to try to determine which microwave ovens offer the best overall bang for your food-zapping buck. This year we surveyed more than 1,000 households to find out ‘what’s cooking’. This is what we found:
- Sharp was the only one of nine brands to earn a five-star review for overall satisfaction. It means Sharp returns to the top of the table after being displaced by Breville last time out.
- Big W was the only other brand to rate five stars in any particular area – in this case, even heat distribution, ease of cleaning and value for money.
- Big W, Kambrook, LG and Panasonic all rated four stars for overall satisfaction. They also rated four stars in most categories, with the exception of LG and Panasonic scoring just three stars on value for money.
- Breville, Kmart Homemaker, Samsung and Target all rated three stars for overall satisfaction. It was three stars across the board for Breville, while the rest got four stars in at least one area.
This year’s review brought a return to form for Sharp, which boasts arguably the most extensive product ranges around, with microwaves priced as low as $150 all the way up to $1,000+. But to help you decide which brand and microwave model might be best for your needs and budget, here is an overview of the nine brands include in our comparison, followed by some helpful tips on what to look for in a good, new microwave.
Top Microwave Brands
Here is a guide to the nine microwave oven brands in this year’s customer review, with a particular focus on their offerings around the $200 mark – the average amount spent by consumers on new microwaves.
Sharp divides its microwaves into three categories – compact, midsize and large – with most being in the midsize range. The majority of Sharp microwaves tend to be priced between $150 and $350, with only a couple of models reaching the $1,000 mark. A standout compact microwave is the R231ZS model, which provides 800W of power and seems ideal for small kitchens. It comes with a price tag of $219, boasting 13 Auto Menus for a variety of Aussie tastes and a Sequence Cooking function, which allows for users to pre-program a number of cooking stages and times so that you can set and forget about your meal until it’s done.
Several other Sharp microwaves also boast the same features, along with a child lock safety feature and Express Defrost function, which is claimed to easily defrost 500g of meat through the pre-programmed Auto Menu. The two other Sharp microwaves over the $1,000 price tag are classified as large microwave and convection ovens that provide 1000W of heating power. Both use Inverter and Sensor technology for controlled cooking and have 21 Auto Menus to choose from. Sharp’s Sensor technology is claimed to calculate and determine the reheat and cook time for you when cooking popular items by monitoring the amount of moisture rising from the food. These features have certainly won over Aussie consumers, rating Sharp microwaves five stars in most research categories this year, including cooking functions and even heat distribution. The only four-star review came in regards to value for money.
Big W Contempo
The Big W ‘Contempo’ microwaves are all priced under $200. Similarly to Sharp, the range is categorised by size – compact, medium and large. For $48, you will find Contempo’s 18L compact microwave which looks ideal for smaller kitchens. It provides 700W of heating power, with five variable power levels and nine pre-set automatic menu options to pick from. It allows you to defrost frozen food by weight or time and features a digital display with a touch pad control.
There are also two Big W microwave ovens that allow you to do it all – reheat, defrost as well as cook meals. Both are priced around the $100 mark and provide 900W of heating power. The medium sized Contempo Digital model features eight auto menus, along with similar features to the compact model mentioned above. The Contempo Large Digital microwave boasts a stainless steel fascia to ensure easy cleaning, nine auto-cook menus and five variable power levels. For a cheap microwave, Big W Contempo has certainly hit the mark for Aussie consumers, earning five stars on the value for money, even heat distribution and ease of cleaning. However, it scored four stars overall and in all other categories.
Kambrook has started climbing back up the ladder since the recall of the KMO400 microwave in 2016. It currently has just one model – the KMO400GRY Essentials Microwave Oven, priced at just under $200. It’s a 30L capacity microwave with 900W of heating power, ideal for larger kitchens. It features weight and jet-defrost functions, as well as a 215mm glass turntable claimed to easily suit dinner plates. Along with this, it has eight easy to use auto menus with auto reheat, a one-touch instant cook button and five power levels. Overall, Kambrook has achieved a consistent four-star rating across all research categories this year, including ease of use and cooking functions.
Making ‘life good’ with a number of featured-packed microwaves, LG has most price points covered with its extensive range. Starting out at the low end of the price spectrum, LG’s 20L stainless steel microwave with EasyClean Coating provides 700W of heating power for $159.It boasts ‘i-wave’ technology, which is claimed to use an interior Echo Reflection design that allows food to defrost and reheat evenly. It also features an anti-bacterial coating for easy maintenance. Along with this, you will find an eco-on mode, which turns on automatically when the microwave is not in use.
For larger capacity microwaves, several LG NeoChef microwave ovens offer 1200W of power and boast interior anti-bacterial coating, as well as more even heating and defrosting functionality with LG’s Smart Inverter technology. It’s claimed to have a stable turntable and provide faster cooking compared to the LG 1000W conventional microwave oven – up to 33% faster in fact. These microwaves also feature an LED lamp that is said to be three times brighter and more energy efficient than other LG microwaves. It’s telling that LG has achieved four stars in its strength areas of cooking functions, ease of use and even heat distribution in particular, but it fell down with three stars on value for money. Overall though, four stars in most areas represents a solid result in this year’s review.
For cooking and heating in style, Panasonic provides an ideal kitchen mate in the NN-SD351 microwave, priced at $229. This provides a 23L capacity and 950W of heating power. It also features an auto-reheat function for a boost of power, as well as 16 Auto Menu cooking categories to suit a number of Aussie tastes. For seemingly easy cleaning, it comes with acrylic lining and its inverter cooking technology with graduated power sequences is claimed to deliver more evenly cooked food and preserve texture and flavour, as well as preventing food spill-over.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a versatile cook in the kitchen, the NN-CS894S has a number of features including turbo steam, steam plus, micro power, grills, defrost, convection and crispy grill, which make it a compelling option. And the 32L steam combination oven with 2-Level convection cooking and inverter technologies will cost you a significant $1,279. However, consumers are not entirely sold on Panasonic microwaves, scoring the brand four stars overall and in most categories, but just three stars on value for money.
A former winning brand in our annual microwave oven review, Breville offers a fairly concise group of microwaves, ranging in price from around $150 to $450. In the $200 range you have Breville’s ‘the Big Easy’, which is a powerful 1100W microwave oven that is claimed to offer speed, durability and practical features. It has a touch pad, five power levels and nine Auto Cook Menus, with a 34L capacity.
Its most expensive model, ‘the Quick Touch Crisp’, can grill, toast and heat with “masterfully engineered functionality”. It boasts inverter technology and convection grills. It’s a mid-size 900W microwave with 18 smart cook and grill auto menus, which include seven smart reheat auto menus, four smart defrost auto menus and two auto melt and soften menus. There are several other settings that Breville boasts with its microwaves, including a feature that automatically adjusts power for optimum results. Despite all the high-tech features, however, Breville achieved just three stars for overall satisfaction this year, with three stars in all research categories.
The Kmart Homemaker brand offers a number of microwave models, all priced within a $150 budget. Its 25L Convection Microwave Oven allows you to make pizzas, baked chicken and even cookies. Although it’s not overly-packed with amazing features, it does provide 10 auto menus, 900W of power and 2400W of convection power.
For a larger capacity model, the 34L microwave provides 1100W of heating power, with 10 power levels and six auto cooking menus. But if you’re after a microwave for less than $50, then Kmart may also have you covered with its small 20L microwave. It features all the standard functionalities you would expect from a modern microwave, including 10 power levels, six auto cook menus, a child lock system and basic defrost settings.
Samsung’s microwaves range in price from approximately $100 to $700 and there’s an evident focus on appearance. If you’re after a stylish design, then Samsung’s 32L Mirror Finish Microwave with Ceramic Enamel Interior (MS32J5133BM) hits the mark. It offers 1000W of power output and 16 pre-set cooking modes. A handy feature with this model is an auto keep warm program that keeps your food warm for up to 90 minutes. It also features auto-soften and melt functions – ideal for chocolate and butter. It also has a ceramic enamel inside, which is claimed to be scratch resistant and resilient against discolouration.
For around the $200 budget, Samsung also offers several microwaves with smart moisture sensors that are claimed to detect the humidity level of food and suggest a suitable cooking time and power. With its ceramic enamel inside, Samsung also boasts a limited odour transfer where a minimal amount of moisture is absorbed to transfer less smell. Samsung’s microwaves sound impressive on paper, but consumers are not entirely won over in reality, rating the brand just three stars overall, with a mixture of three and four stars across the board, including four stars on appearance & design.
Target offers two types of microwaves, both priced under the $100 mark. The Target Stainless Steel 25L Microwave (TMOSS25) comes in at $89 and provides a standard 900W of power. It has five power levels with six pre-set menus. Several other features include a stainless steel front, child lock system, complete reminder/timer function, defrost and auto defrost functions and a kitchen timer.
For a compact sized microwave, the Target 20L Essentials Microwave (TESMO11O) will cost you $59 and provides 700W of power with 10 power levels. It boasts a multi-stage cooking system, child lock, cooking complete reminder, as well as a weight defrost and jet-defrost functions. Although Target microwaves provide a budget-friendly option, the brand achieved just three stars overall and in most other research categories – the exception being value for money.
What to look for in a new microwave
Naturally your budget will determine which microwave oven you will ultimately go with. Are you looking for a quick fix in the kitchen, or a microwave to do much of the cooking legwork? The good news is you’ll find perfectly capable microwave ovens at many different price points. If you want to spend less than $100, that’ll be no problem. Likewise, if you want to invest in a high-tech cooking buddy, you also have plenty of options.
The Australian consumers we surveyed spent an average of about $209 on their microwaves. Even with this moderate spending, those surveyed said that price was the biggest factor that goes into choosing a new microwave. When asked to pick the most important factor in their purchase decision, respondents reported:
It certainly pays to do your research before jumping into a purchase. Our survey found that almost half of adults (49%) use their microwave more than they use their oven, while 23% of respondents wish they had spent more on a better microwave.
If you want your microwave to do more than just ‘heat up’ your food, then menu functions that remove the guesswork and enhance the quality of the overall cooking process are a must. Ever yelled to your mum or partner ‘how long should I cook x for’? With these functions, you can bet the microwave knows better than you how long to cook something for. Look for pre-programmed settings to heat up various dishes and meats, as well as snacks and soups. Other convenient functions often include defrosting and food-specific heating features.
Ease of use and cleaning
There’s no point owning a microwave that you can’t use properly. All those fancy functions are great, but if you have no plans to use them, you could probably save yourself a few bucks with a far cheaper model. When it comes to cleaning, all moving parts of the microwave should be removable so you can easily soak and wash them. This becomes especially apparent after a food explosion! Baked beans, we are looking at you!
800 watts seems to be the minimum sweet spot for most microwaves. Any less than that and you run the risk of having an inadequate machine for anything but the lightest of heating tasks. More powerful microwaves will simply cook and reheat your food more quickly, but do not necessarily deliver a better result. If you’ve experienced splattered food all over your microwave cavity, it could be that your microwave is too powerful. 900 watts seems to be a good balance between power level, a good finished result, and cost effectiveness. Any more powerful and you’ll be talking about more money.
Size and capacity
Be sure to consider the size and capacity of your next microwave. You may be surprised to learn they’re not all the same size – that in-built compartment in your kitchen will likely be large enough for most models, but as microwave ovens continue to evolve and take on even more functions, make sure you have a tape measure on hand to avoid disappointment. Microwave capacity is measured in litres, so consider the capacity of your existing or old model and keep this in mind when picking a new one.
What is a convection microwave oven?
Convection microwave ovens work more like regular ovens than microwaves in that hot air is circulated around to heat the food up. Regular microwaves vibrate food molecules to create friction. This friction then creates heat from the inside. This is quite similar to rubbing your hands together in cold weather to warm them up. This is part of the reason why some foods put in the microwave can explode. So, think of convection microwaves like mini ovens – they operate similarly yet save on space. The major advantage of convection microwaves is that they can actually brown foods just like an oven, instead of just heating it up. However, be prepared to pay extra for a convection microwave. There are no $50 models here!
The final word on microwave ovens
It’s evident that you’ll be able to find a new microwave with all sorts of fancy features – if that’s what you want in a new kitchen mate. But these functions are only worth paying for if you’re actually going to use them – otherwise they’re just a waste of money. Have a good think about what you currently do with your microwave – and what you’d like to do – before getting carried away with the product specs.
But also consider how much you use your microwave. It’s easy to underestimate how much you actually rely on it – especially when it comes to those busy evenings after a hard day’s work – so investing in a quality appliance that should last for a few years could be a smart move. Our ratings over the years have seen a consistent theme, with premiums brands usually dominating customer satisfaction. That’s something to keep in mind, but be sure to compare a range of brands and models before making a final decision on what’s best for your needs and budget.
Frequently asked questions
Canstar Blue commissioned Colmar Brunton to survey 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have purchased a new microwave oven in the last 3 years – in this case, 1,195 people.
Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then alphabetically. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.