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Best compact microwaves 2019: great cooking on a small scale

Best Small Microwaves 2019 - Compact, Countertop Microwave Reviews

Small, compact microwaves are great for saving space in a small kitchen. If you live in housing where there is a shared kitchen, or a studio apartment smaller microwaves are the way to maximise your food preparation device. If you are wondering what kind of cooking balance, the amount of leftovers, and the wattage range of the best compact microwaves offer, these reviews will answer your questions. There are a surprising amount of high quality, low cost compact microwaves that are ideal for kitchens with low counter space. 

We've spent more than 200 hours researching and testing the most popular compact microwaves on the market. We did extensive research comparing features, in addition to testing each microwave in our lab. We found the Farberware FMO07ABTBKA to be the best microwave for most people. This microwave cooked our test foods properly and comes with a budget-friendly price tag. It is truly compact and has a solid set of features to cook or reheat all kinds of food items.

Best Compact Microwave Overall

Farberware FMO07ABTBKA

Farberware FMO07ABTBKA

The low price means you will likely be able to replace your microwave right away.
This unit did a good job on most tests – cooking quickly and evenly for the most part.
This occupies the smallest amount of counter space of any we tested.
A shorter warranty means it might not be the best long-term investment.
It will not be able to prepare large quantities of food easily.
It left many kernels of popcorn unpopped in our tests.

The Farberware FMO07ABTBKA performed better than expected in our testing. As this unit is very small and inexpensive, we thought it’d score low. Instead it was the best compact microwave we reviewed.

The FMO07ABTBKA was good at cooking potatoes, a common use of any microwave. In our testing, it produced an evenly-cooked finished product. The Faberware struggled to cook popcorn, leaving a greater amount of unpopped kernels than most of the other microwaves we reviewed. . When we microwaved a tray of pizza rolls, the result was an even cook with big temperature difference on either end of the tray. Most compact microwaves struggled with this heat consistency test.

The FMO07ABTBKA was more spacious than expected. The FMO07ABTBKA had the smallest microwave oven we reviewed, but it was still spacious enough to fit in most leftover container types, from a large dinner plate, to a tall glass. This compact countertop microwave isn’t the best where you are preparing food for a whole family, but would be ideal for a single person or couple living in a small space.

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Best Value

Sharp SMC0710BB/BW

Sharp SMC0710BB/BW

Good even cooking.
Low price.
Long warranty.
Preset settings are not accurate.
Functions are not easy to use.
Lacks sensor cooking.

The Sharp SMC0710BB/BW excelled at cooking evenly in our tests. We spread the same number of pizza rolls across a tray, making sure to maintain a uniform space between each pizza roll and cooked them on the same settings in every microwave we tested. This compact microwave cooked them perfectly.

The temperature at one end of the tray was only three degrees different from the temperature at the other end. That was the best result we saw during our heat consistency test. It was not quite as impressive on the potato test. We used the microwave’s potato setting to cook potatoes of the same size in each unit, and this one came out with a hard spot in the middle. Giving it another minute would have probably solved the problem, but it was still a bit disappointing since other units cooked the potato to perfection on the first try.

It also struggled on the popcorn test. When we popped the same kind of popcorn in each unit using the preset popcorn settings, this one tied for the most unpopped kernels. The accuracy of the preset food settings does vary hugely across microwaves, and it usually takes a little experimenting to prefect.

This microwave lacks a sensor cooking feature that monitors temperature and humidity to adjust the cooking time accordingly. The Sharp did well overall and offers fantastic value for the low price. . It also comes with an above-average warranty. The five years of coverage on the most expensive components which trumps the standard one-year coverage on most models.

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Most Powerful Small Microwave

RCA RMW1414

RCA RMW1414

Cooks fast.
Large capacity.
Easy to use.
No add 30-second button.
No quick-cook function.
More expensive than similar models.

The RCA RMW1414 cooks quickly and evenly. Despite being a compact microwave its interior is large enough to accommodate family meals. This ties for the largest microwave in our lineup, with a capacity of 1.4 cubic feet.

The spacious turnable is big enough to accommodate a standard size dinner plate or a large mixing bowl. This means you can warm up a large amount of leftovers in one go. This microwave has been on the market long enough that we have tested it twice and it performed well in both rounds of testing. In our popcorn test it left only 3.5 grams of unpopped kernels, which was much better than most other microwaves we tested. The potato setting produced an ideal result – giving the potato a light and fluffy inside. One issue is that this microwave is one of the most expensive in our comparison, and will cost you over $100. But that price does include many nice features.

This microwave has ease of use features that makes cooking easier and simpler. It has sensors that make reheating food super easy, and a no-brain task. The sensors measure the amount of steam in the microwave to prevent food from being overheated and burnt. Preset buttons for this microwave include popcorn, pizza and potato. However, it lacks a quick-cook function and a 30-second key to add time as you cook. This means programming the microwave is a little more complex, and involves pressing more buttons – but not by much.

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Best for Popcorn

GE JES1145SHSS

GE JES1145SHSS

Stunning stainless steel finish.
Great for popcorn.
Expensive.
Short warranty

Cooking popcorn is one of the most common uses for compact microwaves and the GE JES1145SHSS was particularly good at it. It performed well across all of our food tests.

This microwave was more expensive than the other models we reviewed with no obvious benefits to explain the extra expense. The warranty is short, reflecting a limited life-span of the product’s parts and expensive repairs. The microwave does have a sleek stainless steel finish that leaves your kitchen looking stunning, but we don’t feel this justifies the increase in price. And the performance maybe good across all tests, but it was not exceptional.

Many of the microwaves we tested left lots of unpopped kernels or lots of burned kernels. This one had neither of those problems. It wasn’t perfect at cooking potatoes. We found a few undercooked spots, but it was still better than most other microwaves at this task. It also did well with the pizza rolls, leaving only a slight difference in temperature from one end of the tray to the other.

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Most Consistent Heating

Toshiba EM925A5A-BS

Toshiba EM925A5A-BS

Great, even cook.
Compact and space-saving.
Short warranty.

Microwaves have a reputation for uneven heating that leaves a surprisingly cold and hard centre in some dishes, even when the rest of the food is piping hot. The Toshiba EM925A5A-BS was the best compact microwave we tested when it comes to even heating.

We put a layer of marshmallows across the tray of each microwave we tested. By burning the marshmallow slightly, we could observe the heating patterns. There were plenty that had obvious hot spots in our marshmallow test. This microwave evenly browned from one side to the other. We also cooked a plate of pizza rolls and recorded temperature differences from one side to the other. The Toshiba had a small difference in temperature, so you don't have to fear cold spots.

This microwave is one of the smaller compact microwaves we tested, meaning it is not a family microwave, but more suited to a couple or someone living alone. We were still able to fit a fairly large bowl, dinner plate and dinner cup without a problem. It also has less overall power than most units we tested at 900 watts. This was not noticeable in our tests. The weak warranty is very noticeable, it's only a year of coverage for everything.

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Why trusted our compact microwave reviews 

We have been reviewing compact microwave ovens since 2010. The 200-plus hours we have devoted to online research and testing microwaves in our lab lends authority to our reviews. Our side-by-side comparison chart gives you a quick look at features you want, and helps you make a more informed purchasing decision. We reached out to manufacturers with questions we had along the way. We also consulted with professionals and industry insiders to get opinions about specific models and features, and to increase our understanding of compact microwaves, so we can pass on that information to you.

The average lifespan of a microwave is only about nine years, according to the National Association of Home Builders' Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components. That means lots of folks are in the market about once a decade. Not everyone is ready to throw a broken one out right away, though, of course.

"We fix 10 to 15 microwaves a week," said Richard Spencer, who has been involved in the repair business since the 60s and owns Utah-based Mark-A-Newt Appliance Specialists.

On some brands the magnetron, the most important and most expensive component, can be replaced for about $90. Depending on how much you paid for the unit initially that might be worth it. If you decide it is not worth it, there is plenty to consider before you buy.

Compact microwaves cost much less than their over-range counterparts. The most popular compact microwaves on Amazon, Home Depot and Lowe's had an average price of about $140.  The average price for over-range units on the same sites is more than double that at $311, and depending on where you buy, you will have to pay for installation expenses beyond that on the over-range units. We tested products from $50 to $180 in price. Our favorite microwaves cost right around the average of about $100, so we didn't necessarily find the most expensive to be the best. 

Spencer said if he were looking for a new microwave he would look for one with accessible replacement parts, a brand that repair shops are willing to work on and a good warranty. Price is not an indicator of quality necessarily, in this type of appliance. He's seen $2,000 microwaves that need major repairs in their first few weeks.

How we tested compact microwaves 

Microwaves are pretty similar, so we looked for the slightest of differences during our testing phase. We noted whether the programmed buttons prepare their proclaimed food properly. After all, there is no reason to have a popcorn or potato setting if they leave you with burnt kernels or uncooked potatoes. 

We also gauged how evenly each microwave can cook by measuring temperatures at one end of a plate of cooked pizza rolls and the other. We also created a sort of heat map by covering the trays of each microwave with marshmallows and letting them start to brown. We gave credit to the ones that browned more evenly and had even temperature readings from one side of the tray to the other.

We also looked at the size of each oven. Manufacturers describe the dimensions in cubic feet, but how do you translate that to your dinnerware and mixing bowls? Just what is the cubic measure of a dinner plate? We placed dinner plates, tall glasses and large bowls separately into each oven to test internal space in more practical, everyday terms and tell you the potential shapes and sizes microwaves can accommodate. Since even the smallest ones we tested fit everything, we did not give much of a scoring advantage to the bigger ones. In fact, we gave some credit to smaller units because they take less counter-space. If your kitchen's layout is not equipped to handle over-range microwaves, and you must sacrifice counter-space to this appliance, it better be the least possible amount of space while still being effective.

What to look for in a compact microwave oven

The most important feature of any microwave is how well it cooks. We fired up each microwave and tested them on commonly-prepared items like popcorn, pizza rolls and potatoes. Microwaves that cooked food completely and evenly got higher scores than those that left cold spots or burned spots. We also looked for units that have food-specific settings that work well and a wide selection of power levels, so you can be specific about how your food is cooked on each cycle.

Convenience features in a microwave

Most countertop microwaves come with a Quick Cook function, also known as Express Cook, which makes microwaving food even faster. The 30-second key is also a time-saver because you can simply add 30 seconds to the cook time as your food is cooking.

Sensor cooking is a newer feature that's only available on a few countertop microwaves. With this feature, you press the reheat button and sensors measure the steam that emits from your food to determine when it's done, so that it cooks for just the right amount of time.

The preset buttons can also be time-savers. The most common are popcorn, potato and pizza. Other preset buttons that microwaves sport include ones for a beverage, fresh and frozen vegetables, frozen entree, soup, and bread.

Warranty & Support

One of the most overlooked pieces of information in your user manual is the warranty, and some microwave manufacturers offer a longer warranty specifically for the magnetron. Many manufacturers give you an all-encompassing warranty that covers all parts for the same amount of time – for instance, Kenmore offers two years of protection from defects.

Dimensions & Power

The right balance between a small countertop footprint and adequate cubic footage inside can be tough to work out. We were pleasantly surprised by how much the smaller microwaves could fit so we generally recommend getting the smallest one that makes sense for your household. However, the smaller units tend to have less overall power. That being said, we were pleasantly surprised by how much overall power didn't really speed cooking, or at least not by much, so you can still get a smaller unit with less power and expect to be totally satisfied.

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