You buy a microwave oven about as often as you buy other major appliances - which isn't very often! If you're interested in buying a microwave, there are some things to consider. It's a good idea to think about these topics, make a list, and take it with you to the store so you easily compare features and make an informed decision. Buy the best appliance you can afford - but stay within your budget.
You can comparison shop online. Consumer Reports is the place I always go to research appliances before I go to the store.
Consider What You Cook
If you are a light user, your microwave is used primarily for melting and reheating, or perhaps making popcorn. You don't need lots of fancy features, so don't pay for them! If you enjoy experimenting with products and use your microwave to prepare entire meals, look for the latest innovations and more variable features. If your children use the microwave, ease of use and safety features become more important. You can even cook things like spaghetti and meatloaf in the microwave oven!
A higher wattage will cook foods faster. Most microwaves have power that falls between 600 to 1200 watts. Recipes written for the microwave usually specify power of at least 800 watts so the foods cook evenly.
Countertop or Over the Stove?
Where are you going to put the microwave?
Countertop models are most popular - you just plug them in and start cooking. Newer types of countertop microwaves put the controls on the door, so there is more capacity in a smaller footprint. Built in microwaves require professional installation, and are usually more powerful with more features.
Over the stove microwaves can have fans built in, have more options, and save valuable counter space. I have an over-the-stove microwave and a smaller one that is on a shelf in my kitchen.
You'll be amazed at the features microwaves have. Sensor cooking cooks the food based on humidity in the oven from moisture released from the food. Preprogrammed cooking starts with one touch: you add the food, tell the appliance what you are cooking, and start. Programmable cooking lets you to select power changes and timing. Combination microwave/convection ovens let you brown and crisp food too. Other options include minute plus options, automatic one touch defrost, perfect popcorn features and more. You don't need all of these features, but some are nice to have.
Size and Your Family
The size ranges for microwaves include compact (0.5-0.8 cubic feet), mid size (0.9-1.3 cubic feet), family (1.4-1.6 cubic feet), and full size (1.8-2.0 cubic feet). The larger your family, the larger your microwave should be.
Also consider reliablity ratings. If you have children, a safety lock should be included. What you cook also has a bearing on the size you choose. If you cook casseroles, for instance, make sure that the dishes you use will fit inside the appliance with room to spare.