Which Microwave Is Right for You? We Break Down the Major Types

Microwaves are essential appliances found in virtually every kitchen. But with so many types on the market, how do you determine which microwave is the best fit?

We’ll compare critical dimensions, installation factors, extra cooking functions, and ideal use cases. With insight on the pros and cons of top brands and models, you’ll be equipped to select the right microwave for your needs.

different types of microwaves

Countertop Microwaves

Countertop microwaves sit directly on a flat surface and offer convenient cooking and reheating. As the most budget-friendly and versatile category, it’s no wonder countertop models dominate kitchens.

Overview and Key Features

Countertop microwaves range from 0.5 to 2.2 cubic feet, spanning compact personal to family-sized options. Without installation requirements, they conveniently plug into a nearby outlet. Prices start around $60 for no-frills models but increase with larger capacity, sensor cooking controls, and smart connectivity.

With portable placement, you can easily move countertops as needed. Dimensions typically fall between 17″ to 30″ in width, 14″ to 16″ height, and 15″ to 20″ depth.

Best Use Cases

For smaller kitchens, supplemental cooking needs, or those on a budget, countertop microwaves satisfy without complications. Renters also favor their simplicity and mobility.

Pros and Cons


  • Affordable starting prices
  • Compact to mid-large capacities available
  • No special installation necessary
  • Easy portability from kitchen to kitchen


  • Take up counter space
  • Limited ventilation

Top Countertop Models

With outstanding performance and convenient functions, the Panasonic Microwave Oven NN-SN67HS bests competitors. Toshiba’s smart EM131A5C-BS microwave also earns rave reviews for next-gen voice control.

Over-the-Range Microwaves

Over-the-range microwaves offer dual functionality as they take ventilation hood placement above your oven or cooktop. By consolidating appliances, they expand counter space.

Overview and Key Features

Priced higher than countertops, most over-the-ranges cost between $170 to $750 depending on sizing and extra functions. Dimensions hover around the 30-inch range in width and 15 to 18 inches tall for standard installations.

Ducted designs filter and exhaust cooking fumes outdoors. Ductless models absorb and recirculate interior air. Over-the-range models typically boast better ventilation power than countertops but require professional installation.

Best Use Cases

For kitchens with confined counter space, over-the-ranges eliminate stand-alone hoods without sacrificing ventilation. Larger families who frequently microwave in tandem with stovetop cooking also appreciate their placement efficiency.

Pros and Cons


  • Expand counter real estate
  • Solid ventilation capacities
  • Seamless coordination with range below


  • Ventilation may fall short of dedicated hood
  • Unable to easily relocate like countertops
  • Professional installation required

Top Over-the-Range Models

GE’s JVM6175 opportunities impressive 1000 CFM ventilation alongside sensor cooking controls. Meanwhile, Whirlpool’s WMH31017HS charms designers through striking visual appeal and reliability.

Under-Cabinet Microwaves

Under-cabinet microwaves install below your upper cabinets for seamless efficiency that maintains precious counter space in smaller kitchens.

Overview and Key Features

Priced similarly to over-the-range models, expect to budget $200 to $1000-plus for under-cabinet microwaves spanning basic to deluxe tiers. Slimmer 15-24″ widths allow unobtrusive mounting while 15″ heights keep installations far lower than traditional models.

Venting travels upwards or back depending on proximity to walls. While some cheaper under-cabinets lack ventilation, higher-end models can compete with over-the-range hoods. Installation requires precision positioning and electrical/ductwork connections.

Best Use Cases

For smaller kitchens needing to maximize every inch of counter space possible, under-cabinet installation creates a convenient cooking command center. The discreet built-in placement also appeals in open floor plans where you prefer appliances blend seamlessly into cabinetry.

Pros and Cons


  • Freestanding aesthetic
  • Open access while cooking
  • Preserve counter space


  • Ventilation capacities vary
  • Reduced headroom clearance
  • Professional installation required

Leading Under-Cabinet Models

Sharp’s SMD2470AS 24-inch under-cabinet microwave takes gold for unbeatable ventilation matched by intuitive controls. Meanwhile, GE’s PEB9159SFSS 15″ model shines among narrower instalments befitting tighter spaces.

Built-In and Low-Profile Microwaves

Similar to under-cabinet models, built-in and low-profile microwaves embedded seamlessly into your cabinetry for an integrated appearance while maximizing roominess.

Defining Built-In and Low-Profile

Built-in microwaves install directly into cabinet cut-outs, achieving completely flush uniformity aligned with door fronts. Low-profile microwaves also conceal within cabinetry but don’t recess as deeply.

Typical Features and Considerations of Both

Achieving cabinet integration requires precise sizing coordination for your space. You’ll also need an electrical source nearby. Compared to standalone models, integrated varieties trend smaller in capacity ranging 1.0 to 2.0 cubic feet.

Priced at the luxury end starting around $500, these customizable appliances cruise well over the $1,000+ mark. Complex installations also translate to higher labor costs.

Use Cases Best Suited

For contemporary kitchen designs prioritizing a streamlined subtle aesthetic, built-in options create a cohesive appearance. They also allow incorporating microwaves in unconventional placements like island columns or butler’s pantries.

Pros and Cons of Built-In and Low-Profile


  • Seamless integration into cabinetry
  • Preserve counter space through unconventional placement options
  • Sleek and modern aesthetic


  • More expensive price points
  • Limited sizing and capacity options
  • Challenging professional installation
  • Lose cabinet storage space

Convection Microwaves

If you crave oven-quality crisping and browning, a convection microwave circulates hot air to achieve coveted texture and caramelization missing from traditional models.

How Convection Cooking Works

Convection microwaves contain a heating element and fan that distribute hot air throughout the interior to surround food. The constant motion of hot air cooks and browns dishes remarkably faster by penetrating food more deeply.

Benefits and Expectations with Convection

With convection microwaves, expect meatloaves springing with savory crustiness, laser-crisp pizza crusts, and flaky biscuits in a fraction of standard oven time. Models with grills take it a step further by adding that quintessential char.

Whipping convection fans also typically double ventilation capacities to rapidly dissipate cooking fumes. However, the enhanced performance comes at a price as convection microwaves run $200 to $1,000-plus.

Top Reasons to Choose Convection

  • Faster cooking while browning/crisping
  • Doubles as superior ventilation hood
  • Combination models allow broiling, grilled, air frying extras

Leading Convection Microwave Models

Kenmore’s Elite 1.8 cu. ft. Convection Microwave wins purchaser esteem for cooking prowess and generous capacity. Panasonic’s Genius Prestige commands with next-level oven and grill versatility perfecting crunchy, juicy textures.

Microwave-Oven Combinations

Why choose between a microwave and oven when combination models provide both? Today’s all-in-one combo microwaves fuse cooking technologies for impressive versatility.

Overview of Multiple Functions

From microwave defrosting and reheating to baking apple pies or broiling steaks, combination microwaves place full oven multi-tasking beside intuitive one-touch microwave cooking. Convection heating also makes the cut in higher-end varieties.

Some combo models even enable grilling, air frying, dehydrating, and yeast proofing for artisan bread versatility rivaling standalone appliances. With celebrations meaning multiple dishes to juggle, their flexibility multiplies possibilities.

Ideal Uses and Shopper Profile

Urban dwellers, smaller households, or anyone craving full-service oven and microwave convenience in a consolidated footprint can appreciate combination options. Units spanning 1.5 to 2.0 cubic feet equip holiday feasting magic for small gatherings.

Notable Pros and Cons


  • Save space combining full-size functions
  • Intuitive one-touch microwave cooking
  • Ability to bake, broil, grill, air fry provides exceptional versatility


  • Very large units may dominate counter
  • Steep learning curves on multi-cooking programming
  • More costly convection models reach $700+ price points

Top All-In-One Models

Cuisinart’s TOA-60 Convection Toaster Oven Airfryer dazzles chefs with leading-edge air frying and convection power packed in a microwave-toaster-oven silhouette. Meanwhile, Panasonic’s 4-in-1 NN-CS89LBBPG Genius claims compact limitlessness thanks to next-level Inverter technology.

Smart Microwaves

Flaunting built-in wifi connectivity, smart microwaves allow monitoring, programming, and voice control convenience directly from smartphones.

Defining Smart Microwave Capabilities

Synced to companion apps, smart microwaves enable remote start/stop, cooking alerts, and programming from mobile devices. Models like GE Appliance’s ABE18TSJSS oven even support Amazon Alexa and Google Home connectivity for handy voice activation conveniences.

While still a nascent category, expect future smart microwaves to interface with other smart kitchen appliances as the Internet of Things homes continually evolve.

Use Cases Best Suited to Smart Models

Busy professionals strapped on time or anyone who thrives on tech conveniences can justify smart models. They lend helpful assistance when multitasking or away from the kitchen.

Key Pros and Cons of Smart Microwaves


  • Remote monitoring/control from smartphones
  • Programming accessible outside the kitchen
  • Hands-free voice activation capacities


  • Priced higher than standard microwaves
  • Dependent reliable wi-fi connectivity
  • Potential hacking vulnerabilities

Top-Rated Smart Models

GE Appliance’s ABE18TSJSS Smart Microwave comes out on top for next-gen Alexa and Google Home voice controls. Meanwhile, Ambassador’s Touchscreen Smart Microwave leverages sophisticated dial interactions.

Choosing the Best Microwave Type for Your Needs

When selecting your optimal microwave, factor in available counter/cabinet space, kitchen size constraints, and cosmetic compatibility. Determine must-have size, ventilation power, extra functions, budget, installation abilities and technology priorities upfront to zero in on perfect solutions.

While countertops models may suffice smaller kitchens, over-the-range and low-profile options better accommodate confined layouts through space-saving consolidated footprints. Under-cabinet placements similarly preserve precious counter real estate in petite galley constructions.

Built-in, convection and combination ovens raise cooking versatility for those craving expanded oven-esque capacities. And smart interfaces cater to those desiring next-gen mobile convenience and voice controls.

Carefully weigh sizing with intended uses. Compacts models measuring 0.5 to 0.9 cubic feet serve individuals and couples adequately. Families typically necessitate 1.5 to 2.0+ cubic feet models suiting larger dishware with bonus wiggle room. Consider your typical microwave usage before splurging on extra-large varieties.

We’ve explored countertop to over-the-range, under cabinet built-in, convection, combination and smart varieties defining today’s microwave landscape. When thoughtfully aligned with your kitchen’s dimensions and cooking requirements, it becomes easier identifying appliances fitting your space and lifestyle.

While nailing exact measurements and electrical provisions for installation presents a more sizable endeavor, the payoffs through efficiency and versatility reward the effort. And investing in the right microwave ultimately leads to greater enjoyment using one of your kitchen’s hardest working appliances daily.

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