Our tests have shown that you don’t necessarily have to pay a lot to get a decent microwave, but can Asda’s latest bargain microwave do the trick and compete with the likes of Panasonic?
We’ve put nine new microwaves, from brands including Asda, Panasonic, Russell Hobbs, Samsung and Toshiba, through our tough tests, and found several brilliant buys.
We’ve tested everything from premium combination microwaves costing several hundred pounds, which can grill and oven-cook as well as microwave, to budget microwaves with basic controls – for those who just want to reheat or defrost in a hurry.
Check our microwave reviews to find out which models we recommend, and the mediocre ones to avoid.
Best Buy microwaves – get straight to our list of the best microwaves you can buy
Cheap vs expensive microwaves: what’s the difference?
Choosing a cheap microwave doesn’t have to mean compromising on cooking quality, but you might miss out on interior space and fancy extras designed to take the guesswork out of mealtimes.
Cheaper microwaves have…
- Basic controls – the cheapest models, costing less than £65, will usually just have two dials on the front – one to choose the power level and another to set the heating time.
- Smaller capacity – cheaper microwaves usually have a maximum plate size of around 27cm, compared with 35cm or more on pricier models. This means you may struggle to squeeze in larger dinner plates or rectangular containers.
- Fewer fancy features – budget microwaves tend to lack advanced settings, such as multi-step programming or sensor-based cooking.
This doesn’t mean they don’t do their job well, though, and some people prefer the simplicity.
Overall, we’ve found that price isn’t a good indicator of whether a microwave will heat, defrost and cook effectively.
We’ve uncovered both poor and brilliant models at either end of the spectrum, with the worst models taking ages to heat up food and losing power when used several times in a row.
Microwave reviews – discover the best options for your budget
Asda vs Panasonic – budget and premium microwaves compared
Budget Buy: Asda GM001B-18 microwave, £39
- Simple manual controls
- No auto-cook or auto-defrost settings
- Maximum plate size of 27cm
This Asda microwave is one of the cheapest models you can buy, at just £39. It’s very simple, with just two manual control dials and no digital display.
You’ll have to heat up larger amounts of food in batches, as it won’t fit larger plate sizes, and you’ll also need to check on your food, as the timer dial means heating up will involve some guesswork.
However, if you’re just looking for a compact, basic microwave to heat up or defrost the odd plate of food, this one could do the job nicely.
Read our full Asda GMM001B-18 microwave review to see whether this microwave gets the basics right, and how it compares to pricier rivals.
Splashing Out: Panasonic NN-ST46KBBPQ microwave, £159
- Touch panel controls
- Maximum plate size of 35cm
- Range of auto-cook programs and ‘genius’ sensor
This Panasonic is at the top end of the spectrum price-wise, but for the extra money you can expect a sleek design, bags of interior space and every auto-program under the sun.
Sensor cooking should take the guesswork out of common heating jobs, and there are even special settings for kids meals, and a child-lock.
If you want a larger-capacity microwave that can do some of the thinking for you, it could be a hit.
Make sure you check our Panasonic NN-ST46KBBPQ microwave review first, though, to ensure it’s top-notch at key cooking tasks.
Settling somewhere in the middle
If you find the cheaper models too basic but don’t quite need all of the advanced settings that come with spending more money, opting for a mid-range microwave could be your best option.
If you’re willing to spend between £60 and £80 on a microwave, you can usually expect a couple of auto-cook programs and a slightly bigger capacity, but it won’t be quite as high-tech as some of the more expensive models.
Middle ground: Toshiba ML-EM23P(SS) microwave, £72
- Four auto-cook programs
- Maximum plate diameter of 30cm
- No auto-defrost function
You could certainly be fooled into thinking this Toshiba microwave is far more expensive than it actually is, thanks to its modern, streamlined design and range of auto-programs covering frozen veg, pizza and popcorn.
This model has a slightly wider door opening, meaning you can squeeze in plates up to 30cm wide without tipping them up and spilling anything.
There’s no auto-defrost function, so you’ll have to manually input weight and time if you’re popping food in there straight from the freezer. But if you don’t need to do this often, you might not be too bothered.
See how this microwave fared in our rigorous lab tests in the full Toshiba ML-EM23P(SS) microwave review.
What about combi microwaves?
Combination microwaves tend to be on the more expensive side, as they do much more than just reheat or defrost food.
A combi will also allow you to grill, bake and roast, which could be handy if you need the extra cooking space.
If you’re not going to use these features on a regular basis, though, you’re better off sticking to a microwave-only model and saving yourself some money.
Find out more about the pros and cons of each type of microwave in our comprehensive microwave buying guide.
Do cheap microwaves stand the test of time?
When it comes to bargain microwaves, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of them wouldn’t last longer than a few years – but our research shows that isn’t the case.
Each year, we ask Which? members about their experiences with their microwaves, including if and when they developed any problems. We found that some supermarket brands are up there with more established microwave brands when it comes to lasting the longest.
However, others were poor, so make sure you also check our guide to the most and least reliable microwave brands to discover which brands you can rely on and which models are more prone to common faults.
Prices correct on 15 November 2019.