AmazonBasics Microwave review: Alexa makes you popcorn, orders more in this compact, affordable microwave
Update, Sept. 10, 2020: CNN published a report Thursday citing significant safety concerns around this microwave and other AmazonBasics-branded products. We can no longer recommend this product until Amazon resolves the issues. Our original review, published in 2018, follows.
For $60, you can buy this AmazonBasics Microwave and find out what it's like to say, " Alexa , microwave 3 ounces of popcorn." Spoiler: It feels pretty natural. It doesn't save you any time -- you still need to walk up and put the food in, after all -- but in our voice-activated, everything-connected world, it seems like an obvious next step.
To be clear, the new AmazonBasics Microwave -- available as of today at Amazon.com -- doesn't have a microphone built-in. You'll need an Echo speaker nearby to parse your commands. But with Echo Dots going for as low as $24 during the holiday sale season, that hardly feels like a burden.
In fact, the Microwave is one of the first products to make use of Amazon's new Alexa Connect Kit. Aimed at third-party device makers, the Alexa Connect Kit is supposed to make it easier to incorporate Alexa commands into other products. That makes the Microwave as much a proof of concept for Amazon as it is something you might want to buy. There's a good chance it will lead to other products like it, and not just other microwaves .
You'll find the AmazonBasics Microwave most useful in a smaller living space with one or two people. With a 700-watt power rating and 0.7 cubic foot design, it's not meant to support a family of four. It's priced accordingly, but keep in mind most microwave recipes assume you have a 1,000-watt model. Expect some trial and error when you first start using it. It also doesn't help that the preset Alexa commands don't always produce the best results.
A recurring revenue hook by way of an optional, automatic popcorn-reordering feature adds some additional convenience. This microwave isn't perfect, but there's a lot to like about it, and Amazon says it can improve the presets and other features via software updates over time. I wouldn't recommend any product on the promise of unspecified future upgrades, but based on what it can do today, I can recommend the AmazonBasics Microwave. It's a low-risk investment with some useful features you won't find in other microwaves in the same price range. Just be ready to navigate around the lower wattage cooking power.
A small microwave with some Alexa smarts
$60 is about the going rate for a standard 700-watt, 0.7-cubic-foot microwave, at least on Amazon. With essentially no premium to buy this Alexa-equipped AmazonBasics version, what's there to lose?
A microwave of that size and wattage can only cook so much food at a time. I tried cooking four, full-length strips of bacon in Amazon's Microwave, and they brushed the walls as they spun around inside, generally making a mess. It will also take longer to cook things than in a higher-wattage model. I wouldn't downgrade from a 1,000-watt microwave just for this one's Alexa integration. You can even find 1,000 watts of cooking power in a 0.7-cubic-foot chassis for the same price.
All that is to say you have to really want to talk to your microwave to seek out the AmazonBasics Microwave. Don't be ashamed! There are plenty of things to like about the way Alexa works here. Saying "Alexa, microwave for 2 minutes," or "Alexa, stop cooking" feels like the way we should have been using microwaves all along. Unlike an oven or a toaster, microwaves are digital natives. They represent a quick service, stop-and-start vision of domestic progress that pairs naturally with Alexa's robotic acquiescence.
As with any voice assistant right now, there's a learning curve. You need to learn to say "Alexa, microwave one potato," as opposed to "microwave one baked potato." The latter simply won't work. Amazon includes a crib sheet in the box, and you can find a complete list of commands on this Amazon help page.
You may also need to adjust to cooking at a lower wattage. Most packaged microwaveable food gives you instructions assuming you're cooking at 1,000 watts or more. If you cook a lot of that kind of thing, get used to looking up conversion charts.
Amazon has also equipped Alexa with a decent roster of preset cook commands. You may need to specify the amount of an item by weight or by number, but you can say "Alexa, defrost 13 ounces of peas" and she'll set the time and power level automatically.
Not all of the presets work well. The Microwave made one baked potato without a problem. When I asked it to cook three of them, only one came out fully done. It defrosted the aforementioned peas thoroughly via preset, but it couldn't completely defrost a 4-ounce chicken breast, even after two passes.
Amazon says it will add more preset commands to Alexa over time, and that it can also tweak the existing presets. Good. They need tweaking.
The Microwave itself doesn't have an Alexa microphone built-in. You need a separate Alexa speaker to issue voice commands to it. It does have an Alexa button, though. Press it, and it puts your Echo speaker in listening mode, letting you bypass the Alexa invocation and simply say "one cup of coffee," instead. It's easier by a second or two.
One benefit of working alongside an Echo speaker is that the Microwave can import your wireless credentials if you've enabled Amazon's Wi-Fi Simple Setup feature. You initiate the setup process through the Alexa app, and overall getting the microwave online and associated with your account is relatively painless.
Another plus: You don't need to set the clock on the Microwave, nor adjust it for Daylight Savings Time. It pulls the time information down from the internet automatically.
You might also notice the Auto Popcorn Replenishment option in the Alexa app. Turn this feature on, and Amazon will monitor your usage of the Popcorn preset, either via the button or via an Alexa command, and automatically send you popcorn when it detects you're running low. It will start tracking after it sends you an initial batch, and it can only keep an accurate count if you use the Popcorn preset going forward. Amazon also offers a 10 percent discount if you use the replenishment feature.
Amazon only lets you order popcorn in bags ranging from 1.5 to 2.75 ounces. You need to specify how much popcorn you want to cook with the preset, by weight, and it only goes as high as 3 ounces. I asked Amazon if it intends to offer replenishment for other types of food in the future. It wouldn't comment on that, but it did affirm that it will not use customer usage data to determine how it might expand its offerings.
You can't add the Microwave into any Routines in the Alexa app. Routines are Amazon's rule system for triggering home automation actions (for example: if the backyard camera detects motion, turn on the bedroom light). It's probably best that Amazon left the microwave off that list.
Amazon points to the GE Smart Countertop Microwave as evidence that its partners can still make Alexa products that are differentiated from Amazon's own product line. The GE microwave, which came out this past August, is unique enough, with 900 watts of cooking power in a larger, 0.9-cubic-foot chassis and a bar code-reading Scan-to-Cook feature. It works with most of the Alexa microwave commands, but not all the presets, since they're power rating specific.
GE's microwave also has a more premium price than the AmazonBasics model, coming in at $140. That's a lot given its power rating, which suggests there's room for another entrant or two. I'd like to see that happen. With the right combination of price, power and preset tweaking, the voice-powered microwave feels like a natural addition to the greater mix of smart home product categories. Feel like taking a stab, Google ?
By itself, the AmazonBasics Microwave is recommendable. It also makes a convincing argument for Amazon's Alexa Connect Kit. Imagine the Alexa integration here extended to blenders, toaster ovens, slow cookers... I'm not saying every one of those products will be good, but Amazon has set a strong example here, and I suspect it's one that other manufacturers, and likely Amazon itself, will try to duplicate.