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 Amazon Alexa 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 what we learned.
Not an Alexa speaker
Let’s get something straight, right away: No, the AmazonBasics Microwave ($60, available for pre-order, shipping in November) 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 device, 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 dumb 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.
It does seem a bit creepy to see the device start running without anyone touching it
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 device. 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.
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 summoning, “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.
We tested out the device by using an ear of corn and a potato, during Amazon’s launch event. We said, “Alexa, microwave 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 microwave takes the guesswork out of cooking things like potatoes, which inconveniently don’t come with cooking instructions.
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.
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, from our understanding. Cool, or gimmicky? We will be putting this feature to the test (who doesn’t love popcorn?) and have more clarification in our full review.
The weird part about the microwave is that 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?
But, we can see where this technology could 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 the example Amazon provided, which is not knowing exactly how long to cook things like potatoes.
Daniel Rausch, vice president of Amazon Alexa devices, told Digital Trends at the Amazon event that 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.
Aside from the debate on whether Alexa is really necessary in a microwave, keep this in mind: The AmazonBasics model is priced at just $60, and that’s an excellent price for any microwave, smart or dumb. Others seem to agree: it’s already listed as the number one microwave best seller on Amazon’s website, one day after its announcement.