Best Compact Microwaves of 2018

Angela Parkinson ·
Home & Appliance Editor
Updated
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.

Since 2010 we have spent more than 200 hours researching and testing the most popular compact microwaves on the market. We did extensive online research comparing features, in addition to testing each microwave in our lab. We found the Magic Chef MCM990B 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 Overall
Magic Chef MCM990B
The Magic Chef MCM990B did well in our tests and offers the capacity, price and capabilities that make sense for just about any household.
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Best Value
Farberware FMO07ABTBKA
The Farberware FMO07ABTBKA was good on our tests and it is priced at less than $70, so you can afford to replace your microwave right away.
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Most Powerful
RCA RMW1414
The RCA RMW1414 has a lot of capacity, a big turntable, and heats food quickly and evenly the first time.
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Product
Price
OVERALL RATING
Convenience
Dimensions & Power
Performance
Price
Warranty & Support
Capacity Score
Potato Score
Popcorn Score
Consistency Score
Power Levels
Quick Cook
30-Second Key
Sensor Cooking
Frozen Vegetables
Frozen Entrée
Dinner Plate
Potato
Parts & Labor
Magnetron
Capacity (cubic feet)
Exterior Width (inches)
Exterior Depth (inches)
Exterior Height (inches)
Wattage
$63.75 Home Depot
4.8 4.8 4.2 4.3 3.4
100
95
65
80
11
1 Year
8 Years
0.9
19
13
11.5
900
$59.99 Boscov's
4.4 5 5 1.5 5
90
95
50
76
10
1 Year
1 Year
0.7
16.5
11
10
700
$90.67 Amazon
4.9 4.5 4.2 1.5 3.7
100
85
80
94
10
1 Year
1 Year
0.9
18.5
13.25
11.25
900
$77.29 Amazon
4.2 4.8 3.4 3.2 4.8
90
85
50
47
10
1 Year
5 Years
0.7
17
11.5
10
700
$118.05 ABT
5 3.9 4.2 1.5 4.3
95
100
75
73
10
1 Year
1 Year
0.8
18.5
13
11
950
$87.33 Amazon Marketplace
4.5 4.9 4.2 0.8 2.7
100
55
100
76
10
1 Year
1 Year
1.1
20
14.25
12
1000
$69.99 Best Buy
4 4.8 2.5 1.5 4.9
90
75
50
48
10
1 Year
1 Year
0.7
16.5
11.5
10
700
$74.97 PC Richard & Son
4.9 3.7 4.2 1.5 2.5
100
80
100
83
10
1 Year
1 Year
1.1
20
14
12
950
$141.36 Amazon Marketplace
2.5 1.3 10 3.9 1.5
100
95
100
69
11
1 Year
1 Year
1.4
21.5
16
12
1000
$104 Mloney Off
4 1.8 5 5 1
100
50
95
20
10
1 Year
10 Years
1.4
21.5
16
12
950
Best Overall
The Magic Chef MCM990B strikes a great balance between being economical, but still offering strong features and cooking capability. It has a longer warranty than most and did well on our tests.
We used its potato button to prepare a practically-perfect potato. That was not the case when we tested other microwaves. The MCM990B also had a knack for cooking evenly. Our plate of cooked pizza rolls was the same temperature on both ends. Other microwaves had cool spots and varied in temperature from one side of the plate to another. The MCM990B is compact, but still offers enough room for almost everything. It looks small but we were able to fit a large dinner plate, glass and bowl inside of it. It might not be the best if you routinely prepare large quantities of food with your microwave, but it really does fit most things just fine. It lacks some advanced features, though. Some microwaves detect humidity, heat levels and adjust cooking times with their sensor cooking feature. You won't get that with this one. Also, it is not the most stylish-looking microwave. It is plain old plastic. You generally have to pay more for the sleek stainless steel look.
Pros
  • This one performed well on our potato test.
  • The 8-year warranty on the magnetron is longer than most.
  • The price is reasonable, especially considering its functionality.
Cons
  • This is not the most stylish looking microwave.
  • There is no sensor cooking feature.
  • Others cooked popcorn better.
$109.35Amazon
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Best Value
The Farberware FMO07ABTBKA performed better than expected in our testing. We figured a unit as small and inexpensive would be toward the bottom of the pack. It did better than expected.
That made it easier to get past the things that were bad about it, including the short warranty. The FMO07ABTBKA was good at preparing potatoes. In our test it produced an evenly-cooked finished product – almost the best. It struggled a bit on popcorn, producing one of the worst performances for popcorn we saw. There were others that cooked food more evenly, too. When we cooked a tray of pizza rolls, there was a fair amount of difference between the temperatures on one end of the tray and those on the other. There were microwaves that did a worse job, though. The FMO07ABTBKA was also more spacious than expected. This ties for the smallest unit we compared, but we were still able to fit a large dinner plate, bowl and glass, so you know at least you can reheat all different types of leftovers. It is probably not going to be the best for preparing large dishes of food, though. It would be more at home in a smaller household than in a family household. The smaller ones like this take up very little counter-space. It takes much less space on a countertop than the largest models we compared.
Pros
  • 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.
Cons
  • A shorter warranty means it might not be the best long-term investment.
  • This will not be able to prepare large quantities of food easily.
  • It left many kernels of popcorn unpopped in our tests.
$69.99Amazon
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Most Powerful
The RCA RMW1414 cooks quickly and evenly, and 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.
Its turntable is big enough to comfortably fit a standard-sized dinner plate or a large mixing bowl, allowing you to heat large amounts of leftovers at once. 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 button produced an ideal result – it came out fluffy and tender. 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. If you’re like many people you may not want to think too much about how to cook with your microwave, and this microwave has a reheat button that uses sensors to determine when the food is done. 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. That means you will always have to press at least two buttons to get a cycle started.
Pros
  • This microwave ties for the most wattage and cooks fast.
  • It has a large capacity for a compact microwave at 1.4 cubic feet.
  • The reheat function has sensors that will heat your food to the right temperature.
Cons
  • There is no add 30-second button to extend time.
  • It lacks a quick-cook function.
  • This one costs more than many others we compared.
$126.21Amazon
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Best for Popcorn
Popping popcorn is one of the most common uses for compact microwaves and the GE JES1145SHSS was particularly good at it. It was good on all of our food preparation tests.
This unit was a little more expensive than most others and has a weak warranty, but it did a good job on the food and has a stylish stainless steel look that might be worth the bigger investment. Many of the microwaves we tested left lots of unpopped kernels or lots of over-popped (burned) kernels. This one had neither of those problems. It was not quite as perfect on the potato – we found a few underdone spots – but other microwaves were much worse on potato prep. It also did well with the pizza rolls, leaving only a slight difference in temperature from one end of the tray to the other.
Pros
  • This one was the best at preparing microwaveable popcorn.
Cons
  • This one is the second most expensive that we compared.
-
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Most Consistent Heating
Microwaves have a reputation for uneven heating, leaving a surprise cold spot in some dishes, even when the rest is piping hot. The Toshiba EM925A5A-BS was the best compact microwave we tested for even heating.
We put a layer of marshmallows across the tray of each microwave and slightly burned it in order to observe heating patterns. There were plenty that had obvious hot spots in our marshmallow test. This one was 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. This one had a small difference in temperature, so you don't have to fear the cold spots. This is almost the smallest microwave we tested, so you may not want it if you regularly cook for more than one person. 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 likely will be noticeable – it's only a year of coverage for everything.
Pros
  • This was the best compact microwave we tested for even cooking.
Cons
  • There are microwaves with much better warranty coverage.
-
Read the full review

Why Trust Us 

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 

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 button 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 tell you the cubic feet, but how do you translate that to your dinnerware and mixing bowls? We shoved dinner plates, tall glasses and large bowls separately into each oven to let you know whether each microwave can fit all the potential shapes and sizes for leftovers. 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.

Smaller microwaves generally have less wattage and that is a drawback because it makes them cook more slowly. We took that into consideration, but we found the differences in cook times were barely perceptible, especially on the most common microwaving tasks, so a smaller unit will do just fine in most households. The bigger capacity will only matter if you routinely like to make a family-sized dish in the microwave. 

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 buttons 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
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, a 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 units 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.