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Smart Home

AmazonBasics Microwave works with Alexa to take your voice commands

And the $60 microwave will automatically order more when you run out.

The AmazonBasics Microwave is available for preorder. Amazon will begin to ship it later this year.

Ry Crist/CNET

You expect to hear about new smart speakers, displays and software at an Amazon media event. But small kitchen appliances? Not so much. That's why the $60 AmazonBasics Microwave that works with Alexa is one of the most interesting products the company announced Thursday. 

You can use voice commands to control the microwave when it's connected to a smart speaker equipped with Alexa, Amazon's voice-activated assistant. The microwave also has quick-cook presets that cook specific dishes automatically. This means you can tell your smart speaker, "Alexa, microwave two potatoes," and the microwave will begin to heat your dish. There's also an "Ask Alexa" button on the touchscreen control panel of the microwave; you can press this button and bypass Alexa with commands like "Cook for four minutes."

This chipset includes the Alexa Connect Kit, which powers the AmazonBasics Microwave.

Ry Crist/CNET

The AmazonBasics Microwave works with Alexa by way of the Alexa Connect Kit the company included in the appliance. The toolkit lets developers turn analog appliances into Wi-Fi-connected smart home products that connect to Amazon-managed cloud services. 

The idea of a microwave that uses Alexa seemed like a farce when rumors about it surfaced earlier this week. Why would you need a virtual assistant to run your microwave? And why would Amazon want to make one? According to David Limp, the senior vice president of Amazon Devices, the ubiquitous microwave was long overdue for an upgrade. 

"The user interface is stuck in the late '70s," he said during Thursday's media event at Amazon headquarters in Seattle. 

In reference to the latter question, the microwave provides an opportunity for Amazon to try out a new developer's toolkit and to do what the online retailer does best -- sell you stuff. The microwave includes Amazon Dash Replenishment, a service that automatically orders products from Amazon when you run low. Upon release, the microwave will only be able to reorder popcorn, but it's not far-fetched to predict that Amazon will expand this capability to more microwave-friendly, packaged foods. 

Amazon isn't the first to turn to the microwave as a gateway to voice control in the kitchen. GE Appliances just released its Smart Countertop Microwave that also works with Alexa. Whirlpool's Wi-Fi-enabled Smart Over-the-Range Microwave also works with Alexa along with Google Assistant, Google's voice-activated assistant.

It's still unclear whether or not we need a microwave that accepts voice commands to make our lives more convenient. I could see it addressing accessibility issues of folks who might have a hard time pressing buttons on a microwave. And saying what you want rather than pressing it into the microwave could be useful if your hands are occupied or dirty. But if you're already at your microwave ready to cook a plate full of pizza rolls, how much harder is it to punch in a cook time?

Amazon Echo event live blog: Catch all the latest news, pictures and updates from CNET.

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