Need to know
- We compare cheaper microwaves against similar models more than four times the price
- Our tests prove that paying more won't guarantee a better machine
- We lab-test more than 40 microwaves – become a CHOICE member to see our full reviews
Have you ever splurged on the pricier model thinking that a higher cost must equal a better product?
Well, when it comes to microwaves, the proof is in the (reheated) pudding – and our expert testers have found that cheaper models can often outperform more expensive ones.
In fact, in our latest microwaves reviews, four of our recommended models cost under $300, while plenty of pricier high-end machines miss out on a recommendation altogether.
Hands on: CHOICE expert Fiona Mair tests a microwave's reheating performance with 12 different needles measuring temperature.
To test if you truly get what you pay for, our experts (including Fiona Mair, above) compared two budget models from Kmart and Panasonic against premium ones from Smeg and Miele. They looked at key criteria including reheating, defrosting, noise and cleaning, and found that you don't have to spend a fortune for a high-performing microwave. Here's what they found.
Microwave comparison: Smeg vs Kmart
You may think a cheap and cheerful Kmart product could never measure up to a high-end European brand such as Smeg, but when we looked at these models in the lab, the Kmart came out on top.
In fact, despite the 27-litre, 1000-watt Smeg costing nearly four times as much, the 25-litre, 900-watt Kmart scored higher for both performance and ease of use.
Both models are good at defrosting frozen food and cooking vegetables. But the Smeg is likely to leave your leftovers cold in the middle, with a reheating score of just 44%, while the Kmart model is very good at evenly reheating food.
The Smeg is also a pain to clean, with lots of small holes inside the machine that can accumulate dirt, and it's surprisingly loud, with a noisy fan and noticeable vibration.
The Kmart microwave lacks a couple of the features offered by the Smeg, such as the ability to adjust the timer during cooking and a grill function. But the Smeg is even worse at grilling than it is at reheating leftovers, so this feature may not be very useful – and almost certainly isn't enough to justify the $289 price difference.
Microwave comparison: Miele vs Panasonic
Just one point separates these models' overall scores – but the price difference is a whopping $1230.
There's not much between them in terms of performance: both models scored well across the board. The Panasonic takes the cake when it comes to reheating leftovers. But the Miele is a bit better at defrosting a whole chicken and received a perfect score for cooking vegetables.
Just one point separates these models' overall scores – but the price difference is a whopping $1130
Neither model is particularly easy to use, with confusing controls, loud fans and interiors that are tricky to clean.
Despite its high price tag, the 25-litre, 900-watt Miele lacks a lot of the features offered by the 31-litre, 1000-watt Panasonic, including a delayed start function, multi-stage cooking option and auto reheat programs.
The Miele does come with a decent grill and a two-year warranty, versus one year for the Panasonic. But considering you could buy the Panasonic several times over plus a benchtop grill and still have spare change from the Miele's $1599 price tag, it's probably not worth it.
However, Miele as a brand delivers in terms of customer satisfaction and reliability: it scores 96% for brand reliability and 89% for brand satisfaction. By comparison, Panasonic scores 91% for reliability and 84% for satisfaction. (It's important to note that this is for the brand only, not for individual products.)
Miele is also ahead on ethics and environmental impact. Its Shop Ethical rating is B ("Some praise, no criticism"), while Panasonic is rated as F ("Criticisms"). Shop Ethical rates companies' environmental and social impact; we report on this in our reviews but it doesn't affect a product's CHOICE Expert Rating.
If sustainability, reliability, ethics and customer satisfaction are significant factors in your purchasing decisions, the Miele is well worth considering.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.