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Can cheap microwaves from Argos and Russell Hobbs rival Panasonic?

Budget microwaves can be brilliant, but there are some drawbacks when you pay less

Can cheap microwaves from Argos and Russell Hobbs rival Panasonic?

Our independent microwave tests show that you don’t have to spend a lot to get a great microwave, and some cheaper brands could actually last longer. 

Our latest tests have uncovered a brilliant Best Buy for less than £50. With an overall score of 82%, it’s one of the best microwaves we’ve tested, and is about as cheap as you’ll get for a new microwave.

Paying less will usually mean making some sacrifices on features or looks, though.  Many budget models lack basics such as auto-defrost, or are too small to fit your dinner plates inside.

If you only want quick-and-easy heating, you might not mind missing out on these extras. Head to our round-up of the best microwaves to see which cheap microwaves are worth buying.

Cheap vs expensive microwaves: how they compare

Cheap microwaves may be minimalist, but we’ve found that some can do an impressive job of the basics, defrosting and heating food quickly and evenly. The lack of extra settings can also mean they are nice and simple to use.

In general, the more you spend the more likely you are to get a good microwave.

However, we’ve found several excellent microwaves costing less than £70 that we recommend as Best Buys, and have just uncovered an absolute bargain Best Buy microwave for £45.

Spending more won’t guarantee better cooking results, though. Most expensive microwaves don’t live up to their premium prices, and cooking performance can be very hit and miss across all price ranges.

Some pricey microwaves are terrible at cooking evenly, take longer than you’d expect to heat your food, and lose power when used to reheat several meals in row, meaning that whoever’s third around the dinner table will end up waiting longer to eat.

Head to our microwave reviews to compare models by price and get the best for your budget

Cheap microwaves: what do you miss when you pay less? 

The main things you’re likely to lose out on with a cheaper microwave are advanced cooking settings and interior space. Here’s a snapshot of what you get with cheaper models and more expensive ones, based on three recently tested models

Budget: Argos Value 17L Manual Microwave, £35

  • Cheap and compact
  • Maximum plate size of 27cm
  • No auto cook/defrost programs

This £35 Argos Value microwave is about as cheap as they come. As you might expect for a microwave at this price, it has basic dial controls for power level and cooking time, and that’s about it. There’s nothing in the way of auto programs, so you’ll have to set the time and power manually each time – even when defrosting.

Budget models like this one tend to be compact in design. This might be a good thing if you’re short on space, but they’re also usually pretty cramped inside.

For every microwave we test we measure the widest dish we can get through the door without tilting it. This Argos model can only fit a 27cm dish inside, which is smaller than some dinner plates.

But, if all you want is something small and simple to warm up the occasional bowl of soup or leftovers, a cheap microwave like this one could be a good option – provided it does the job well.

Read our full Argos Value 17L Manual Microwave review to see whether it can heat and defrost as well as its more expensive rivals.  

A little more: Beko MOC20200C Retro Microwave, £55

  • Retro design
  • Maximum plate size of 28cm
  • Four auto programs

If you’re after a bit more character in your kitchen, you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice style for price.

Models such as this Beko MOC20200C make the most of their minimalist design to offer a vintage twist, opting for soft curved edges, pastel shades and chrome accents.

Just like the Argos model, it’s on the small side, only having room for a 28cm plate. It offers a modest four auto programs, including dedicated settings for making popcorn or reheating a hot drink, as well as auto defrost. 

Read our full Beko MOC20200C review to find out whether this microwave is a cheap and cheerful buy.

Premium: Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ microwave, £154

  • Flatbed (no turntable) design
  • Maximum plate size of 35cm
  • Nine auto programs

Microwaves from brands such as Panasonic and Samsung range from around £80 to more than £150. For your money you can expect a more modern design, slimline profile, touch controls and auto-settings aplenty.

The Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ has a sleek black and silver exterior, a large, bright LED screen and touch panel controls that should make it easy to program.

Expensive models can have up to 30 auto programs dedicated to specific tasks. This model has preset programs to take the guesswork out of everything from warming up soup to melting butter or chocolate.

Paying more usually also means more cooking capacity. This Panasonic can fit a 35cm dish through the door. The flatbed (no turntable) design will give you even more space, as you won’t need to leave room for dishes to rotate.

Can it cook effectively, too? Read our full Panasonic NN-SF464MBPQ review to find out.

What about combination microwaves?

Combination microwaves tend to be more expensive than basic microwaves, but can grill, bake and roast food as well as microwaving. 

This means you could reheat a lasagne and then use the grill to brown the top, which can be quicker than doing the same in the oven.

Find out more about the different types of microwave in our full microwave buying guide.

Pay less, pay twice: do cheap microwaves last?

When it comes to cheap microwave brands, such as Argos, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, some are a better bet than others if you want a microwave that lasts for longer.

In April 2019 we asked more than 3,470 Which? members who owned a microwave about their experiences, including if and when their microwave developed any problems.

One supermarket brand proved itself to be ultra-reliable, with only 8% of its microwaves developing any sort of issue in the first eight years and all of the faults reported being minor. However, another supermarket own-brand came out the worst, with 17% of owners reporting problems by the eight-year mark, and many of these being serious enough that they needed replacing. 

Find out which microwave brands you can rely on, and discover the most common microwave faults and how to fix them, in our full guide to the most and least reliable microwave brands.

Prices correct on 7 August 2019

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