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Magic Chef
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Best Small Microwaves

How to Choose a Compact Microwave

The top performers in our review are the RCA RMW1414, the Gold Award winner; the Samsung MG14H3020, the Silver Award winner; and the GE JES1145SHSS, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a compact microwave to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.

Whether you're a student in a dorm or you've downsized your dwelling and have limited space in your new tiny house or apartment, you still need a microwave. It's the must-have appliance for busy people – regardless of your age or familial status. Compact microwaves have a much smaller footprint than standard countertop microwaves, but they can pop popcorn, reheat leftovers and cook whole meals just as well.

A microwave uses radio waves (at the same frequency as your Wi-Fi, which is why you'll notice slower upload and download speeds when you use your microwave) that heat the water in food through agitation – which is essentially radiation. Microwaves are more energy-efficient than large ovens because you don't have to preheat anything and they work much more quickly.

Many people use their microwave ovens daily, and they're generally considered safe appliances. However, those who avoid using them cite studies that show a release of radiation, the health risks of diacetyl (found in butter-flavored microwaveable popcorn) and leeching of nutrition.

Devices you may use every day emit radiation too, such as your cell phone and laptop. The amounts are small and contained – try to operate your microwave with the door open and you'll see that you can't. If you're concerned about your exposure, stand in another room and you'll be better off, although no studies have conclusively proven harmful effects over time.

A microwave doesn't zap nutrients from your food; in fact, it preserves them. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, microwaving vegetables is quicker and uses less water than other methods, such as steaming, thereby retaining more vitamins and other good stuff for you.

If you're looking for a microwave that you can install above your stove, you'll want to check out over-the-range microwaves, which free up valuable countertop real estate. A toaster oven is a great alternative to a microwave, and it does double duty – it can bake and crisp your food too.

Compact Microwaves: What We Tested, What We Found

The smaller the microwave, the lower the wattage; the lower the wattage, the slower your food is going to cook. So we took every microwave we procured for a test spin (there are turntables!) and discovered that some microwaves, like the GE JES1145SHSS, cook faster than others that are about the same size and wattage. 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 which one has the biggest actual capacity.

The big selling point of microwaves is convenience, so we also looked at the presets that many compact microwaves include, such as Quick Cook and 30-second keys. You can expect the best compact microwaves to have a turntable, which helps with even heating; defrost functions, so you can gently thaw food by time or weight; and a child lock, which can prevent the accidental microwaving of, say, a toy fire truck or doll shoe.

Functionality & Convenience
The most important feature of any microwave is how well it cooks, followed by how quickly it cooks. We fired up each microwave oven with popular frozen meals and followed the instructions on the packaging. Those that reached a safe food temperature – 165 F, according to the United States Department of Agriculture – after the recommended cooking time received more credit than those that required more cooking time. We also tested a kids' meal with miniature corn dogs and took the temperature of each dog to test how evenly each microwave cooked food. Microwaves that cooked food throughout in the recommended time got higher scores than those that needed more time.

Many of the microwaves in our lineup are able to fit a 7.5-inch glass, a 10.5-inch dinner plate and an 11.5-inch mixing bowl. However, there was one that could only handle the plate – the Insignia NS-7CM6-BK.

A Quick Cook function, also known as Express Cook, makes microwaving food even faster – you just press a button for numbers 1-6 to cook for as many minutes. 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. Most of the microwaves in our lineup include both of these convenient buttons. The Panasonic NN-SD372 has a one-minute button instead, but we still gave it equal credit to those with the 30-second key.

Sensor cooking is a newer feature that's only available on a few countertop microwaves, such as the Samsung MG14H302. 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.

Preset Buttons
We tested the three most popular food buttons – popcorn, potato and pizza. We popped more than 6,800 kernels of popcorn to determine which microwave oven was the most efficient and accurate with its timing. The Kenmore 73093 came out on top, leaving only four unpopped kernels in the bowl.

Almost every microwave needed at least six minutes to properly bake a potato. However, some compact microwaves can cook a potato to perfect tenderness and about 200 F in less time. For example, the Oster OGH6901 only took slightly longer than four minutes.

Not every microwave has a pizza button, but those that did reheated a slice of pizza at wildly different times. The GE JES1145SHSS only took 40 seconds to reheat pizza to a safe temperature, and it received the highest score for this test. The Panasonic NN-SD372 had a pizza button that heated pizza for 2.5 minutes, overcooking our test slices. The Sharp R-309YK does not have a pizza button.

Other preset buttons that microwaves sport include ones for a beverage, fresh and frozen vegetables, a frozen entree, soup, and bread. The Panasonic NN-SD372 has the most food presets in our lineup, including ones for oatmeal and breakfast sausage.

Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the compact microwaves in our comparison on loan from the companies and through retail purchase. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.

What Else Is Important in Choosing a Compact Microwave?

We didn't take design features into consideration when we rated the best compact microwave ovens, but it's still good to know some design specifics of the microwave you want to buy. All of the countertop microwaves in our lineup use digital pads for setting the time, power levels and other functions. They all open using a button and have digital displays. The Kenmore 73093 also comes in three different colors: white, black and stainless steel.

Help & 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. The best warranty you can find is from Samsung and Magic Chef. Although the parts and labor are only covered for one year, the magnetron, the tube inside your microwave oven that generates the waves, gets a full 10 years of protection from Samsung, and eight years from Magic Chef. 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.

Customer support comes standard from every manufacturer in our lineup, so you can get help by phone, email or live chat. If you prefer to find the answer to your question on your own, you can search FAQs and knowledgebases from companies like GE, RCA and Haier.

Our Verdicts and Recommendations

The best microwave in terms of power and size is the RCA RMW1414. It aced our cooking tests and is large enough to accommodate most standard dinnerware. However, it is missing both a Quick Cook function and a 30-second or one-minute button. You also only get a one-year warranty with this microwave.

The Samsung MG14H3020CM is one of the biggest mini microwaves at 1.4 cubic feet, but this allows you more space to fit your plates, glasses and bowls easily. It also cooks quickly and more evenly than the majority of the microwave ovens we tested. It offers a solid warranty and several preset buttons to make cooking a variety of foods easier.

The GE JES1145SHSS also scored high in the most important categories of power and size, and it scored the best in reheating pizza. It includes Quick Cook functions, whereas the Samsung microwave does not. You don't get more than a one-year warranty, though, so you have to hope no defects show up after 366 days of ownership.

An excellent choice for a smaller and more affordable microwave is the Oster OGH6901. It scored very high in our cooking tests and offers many convenient options, such as a reheat button with sensor cooking. You can't find any information about this microwave on Oster's website, but you can call customer support with any questions you have.

Another great microwave that's also less expensive is the Haier HMC920BEWW. It did well in our tests, but it is missing a 30-second button, which is a huge convenience.

Wattage isn't always indicative of how well a microwave cooks food – at just 900 watts, the Oster OGH6901 outperformed the Sharp R-309YK, which clocks in at 1,000 watts. A number of factors go into making the best compact microwave. Read our reviews to find out more about each microwave to choose the one that's best for you.