When we first heard rumors that Amazon might be introducing a microwave, we thought: Huh, a microwave? You mean, like the kind in a kitchen that warms a Hot Pocket during hangovers? That’s weird.
Our initial surprise was followed by more questions — lots of them. What does Amazon, maker of Kindles, Fire TV devices, and Alexa Echo speakers, know about microwaves? Will the microwave also be an Alexa speaker? If Amazon is going to build microwaves with an Alexa speaker, does this mean we’re going to see other Amazon appliances in the near future? Is Amazon trying to make every single device we own talk back to us? And finally, what does all this mean for humanity?
Okay, maybe we didn’t go as far as pondering the meaning of life with an Alexa-enabled cooking appliance, but you get our point. What is Amazon doing, exactly, by making a microwave?
We knew that we had to answer at least some of these questions by testing out the device. Here’s how it went.
Not an Alexa speaker
Let’s get something straight, right away: No, the AmazonBasics Microwave ($60) is not a device with an Alexa speaker. There’s no playing music, getting weather details, or asking your microwave to lock your front door (although, wouldn’t that be a cool party trick?).
It does, however, work with an Alexa speaker, like an Echo or Echo Dot (you can’t use it with a first-generation Echo or Echo Dot, but all others are fine). Without an Echo device within Bluetooth range, the microwave just becomes a regular small appliance.
The oven itself looks like a basic, no-frills microwave. It’s a small countertop model that is 17 inches long by 14 inches deep and 10 inches tall. It has everything a normal microwave does: There is a door on the left and a button panel on the right, with an LCD that shows things like time remaining. You can manually type in the amount of time you want it to cook and choose from 10 power settings. Like we said, a basic microwave.
Plug the microwave in, put the glass tray inside, and it’s good to go.
There’s only one feature on the device that differentiates it from regular microwaves, and that’s the big blue “Ask Alexa” button at the bottom center of the control panel. This is one of the two ways you can control the microwave with your voice.
The device is 700 watts, weighs about 22 pounds, features 0.7 cubic feet of cooking space, and should fit nicely under any cupboards if you’re worried about space.
Physical setup of the microwave setup is easy: plug it in, put the glass tray inside, and it’s good to go. Adding Alexa voice control takes a few extra steps. Assuming you already have a compatible Amazon Echo speaker, open the Alexa app, tap the add devices icon on the lower right corner of the app, and follow instructions from there. When the microwave beeps and the time is automatically set, you’ll know you’re connected. A Wi-Fi button illuminates on the display screen letting you know that you’re connected and ready to go.
If you’re setting up your first Alexa device or haven’t downloaded the app, it’ll obviously take longer, as you’ll need to connect the speaker to your app and your Wi-Fi network first.
Alexa, cook me a potato
So, how does the device use Alexa to cook? There are two ways, both of which require the use of an Amazon Alexa speaker.
The first is by putting something in the microwave, and then saying things like, “Alexa, reheat a cup of coffee.” Your nearby Alexa speaker will respond by saying, “Okay, reheating coffee,” and the microwave magically starts. It does seem a bit creepy to see the device start running without anyone touching it — sort of like a haunted appliance.
The second way to use your voice to cook your food is by pushing the “Ask Alexa” button on the microwave itself. From there, you can eliminate the “Alexa” wake word altogether and simply say “two minutes,” and your Alexa speaker will respond by saying “cooking two minutes,” and the microwave will whirr to life.
“Alexa, reheat one cup of coffee” set the microwave for one minute, 15 seconds and gave us hot coffee.
We tested out the device by using an ear of corn and a potato. We said, “Alexa, microwave one potato,” and the second-generation Echo Plus nearby lit up and then a few seconds later responded with, “Okay, cooking your potato for six minutes and 35 seconds.” Then the microwave came to life, spinning the little spud around on the tray even though we’d only touched the microwave to open it and put the potato inside.
The cool thing about the device is that Alexa and the microwave have multiple settings that take the guesswork out of cooking things like potatoes, which inconveniently don’t come with microwave cooking instructions. Amazon has a list of more than 30 tailored commands you can give to Alexa, including instructions for heating noodle soup (“Alexa, reheat one cup of noodle soup”) or defrosting different cuts of meat (“Alexa, defrost 8 ounces of chicken”). Amazon plans to add more commands as it receives feedback on what’s needed, Amazon Devices Vice President Charlie Tritschler told Digital Trends.
We tested out several of these specialized commands in our test kitchen. “Alexa, reheat one cup of coffee” set the microwave spinning for one minute, 15 seconds and gave us hot coffee, which is what we wanted. But “Alexa, reheat one dinner plate” set the device to six minutes. Our leftover chicken and pasta plate was very hot and a little bit rubbery, but not as overly nuked as we thought it would be. (We’d normally just heat up the same dinner plate at two minutes on high and hope for the best.)
We should note that our dinner plate, at 10.5 inches in diameter, is the biggest item we can fit in the small machine, so don’t expect to reheat large casserole dishes in this appliance.
An interesting feature is automatic popcorn replenishment. After the microwave is set up, you can pick your favorite popcorn brand through the Alexa app. Every time you use your voice to command Alexa to heat up popcorn, it tracks how much popcorn is left in your pantry and reorders when you’re low, via Amazon’s Dash Replenishment system. Auto popcorn replenishment only works if you use Dash to order and your voice to do the cooking, or if you keep track of your popcorn stash via the app when you buy it elsewhere.
Is this necessary?
We can’t help but wonder if asking Alexa to cook your food seems a bit fussy. We still have to get up and put the food in there, why not just push a couple buttons on the device while we’re standing there? Is an Alexa compatible microwave really necessary?
The AmazonBasics model is priced at just $60, and that’s an excellent price for any microwave, smart or dumb.
The jury is still out on that, but we can see where this technology will be helpful. One big example that comes to mind is how the microwave could help those who are sight-impaired accurately cook their food. Another is that it takes the guesswork out of cooking. Not knowing exactly how long to cook things like broccoli, and having the machine cook it perfectly based on voice commands, saves us all from rubbery veggies.
Regardless of necessity, the AmazonBasics model is priced at just $60, and that’s an excellent price for any microwave, smart or dumb. That’s the point, Amazon officials say.
“We wanted to make sure that it was obvious you could add this intelligence without adding cost,” Ben McInnis, senior manager for Alexa smart home, told Digital Trends. McInnis said the AmazonBasics microwave isn’t so much about the microwave itself, but about the technology inside that Amazon plans to offer to third-party manufacturers who are interested in incorporating Alexa into their devices. Amazon is currently working with companies like Hamilton Beach, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of our appliances connect to Alexa in an effort to make meal time easier.
The AmazonBasics microwave is covered by a one-year limited warranty.Our Take
There are a lot of things to like about the AmazonBasics Microwave. If you’re looking for a small, simple microwave, the appliance is about as affordable as it gets. We love that the appliance is smart enough to know exactly how long to “bake” our potatoes. This technology could be great for sight-impaired people needing assistance in the kitchen. We also appreciate that the appliance is a vehicle for the technology that Amazon has developed in an effort to work with third-party manufacturers.
But we still have a few reservations. An Amazon Alexa speaker is required to tap into its voice control capabilities, adding to the overall cost. We wonder why Amazon didn’t just put the speaker inside and charge $100. And we wonder if voice control for a microwave is really something that all of us will use on a regular basis.
Is there a better alternative?
GE’s Smart Countertop Microwave Oven costs $139 and features Amazon Alexa integration and scan-to-cook technology. GE has a scan-to-cook app that lets you shop for packaged foods that work with the device. But we got mixed results using the technology during our review of the device.
If you don’t need Amazon Alexa integration, there are dozens of microwaves you can buy around the $100 mark that work just fine. But with or without Alexa, the AmazonBasics microwave is still competitively priced.
How long will it last?
It’s a basic, no frills microwave, and how long it lasts will depend on usage. Heavy users might see wear and tear more quickly. As for Alexa integration, we’re sure that Amazon will continue to support the platform and continue to add more bells and whistles as the company receives feedback about what’s working.
Should you buy it?
It depends. If you’re in the market for a small, low cost microwave, then yes. At $60, it’s an affordable option that works well. If you are interested in the Amazon Alexa technology, consider the fact that you’ll also need to buy an Amazon Alexa speaker that works with the microwave if you don’t already have one, adding a minimum of $50 to the cost. Paying $110 for a microwave is still pretty cheap, but something you need to consider. You can always buy the microwave and use it without connecting it to an Amazon speaker.