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Cheap Microwave Ovens Buying Guide

The inexpensive microwave ovens arena is dominated by companies such as GE, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sharp, and Kenmore, which also manufacture upscale models. What distinguishes a cheap microwave oven from its expensive counterpart is a combination of size, power, design, and array of functions.

The cheapest microwave ovens are compact (interior capacity of less than one cubic foot) and just right for dorm rooms and kitchens with limited counter space.

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Prices start to climb with size, although we found good cheap microwave ovens that qualify as mid-sized (1.0-1.5 cubic feet of interior space) or full-sized (more than 1.5 cubic feet of interior space). Size is associated with power, and the larger the microwave, the more power it generally has. Higher wattage means more heat and faster cooking. Compact microwaves typically run on 600 to 800 watts compared to mid-sized and large ovens that run on up to 1650 watts. Microwaves aren't particularly small appliances, and even a compact microwave takes up space on a counter or table. The smallest microwave ovens are about 18 inches wide and the largest about 27 inches across. Unfortunately for frugal consumers, the space-saving alternatives -- e.g., over-the-range models that also serve as range hoods, models that fit under cabinets, and models built into dedicated cabinets -- are too pricey for Cheapism's taste.

On the other hand, all but the cheapest microwave ovens feature a variety of functions that add spice to food-prep adventures. Features you'll definitely want on a budget microwave oven include automatic or quick-touch settings for edibles such as rice, baked potatoes, and frozen vegetables; a defrost setting; pre-programmed power levels; and a rotating turntable. A few of the best cheap microwaves also incorporate sensors that account for the humidity level inside the oven. A time-extender button is a handy convenience. Not surprisingly, the higher the price of a microwave, the more functions you get. Sharp, for example, makes a countertop model with a starting price of $828 that steams, browns (with convection heat), and microwaves. In the mid- to lower-price range, Kenmore combines a pizza oven with a microwave oven a model that sells for $200 and Daewoo has added a toaster to its KOG-867T9 model (shopper alert: this one is hard to find).

Review continues below

After checking prices and specs and poring through scores of reviews, we found four cheap microwave ovens that meet the important criteria for features and performance (thorough cooking or heating, ease of use, and durability). Heading the list is the Panasonic NN-H765 (starting at $141), a full-sized cheap microwave oven with high-end features and user-friendly controls. Sitting alongside is the mid-sized Oster OGG61403 (starting at $100) with its simple functionality and a handle, rather than a button, on the door. Our runner-up picks include the mid-sized Kenmore 6633 (starting at $140) with its easy-to-clean rounded interior and even heating, and the GE JES1142SJ (starting at $99) for its value and ease of use.

We also uncovered two cheap microwave ovens that don't provide enough value for the money. The Haier MWM12001SCG (starting at $149) combines a microwave with a convection oven and grill, but users say these extra functions don't work well. The LG LMA1180ST (starting at $100) is relatively barebones and cheap enough, but consumers gripe about noise and a short life span.

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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