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AmazonBasics Microwave review: Alexa makes you popcorn, orders more in this compact, affordable microwave

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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.

Alexa adjacent

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.

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Don't forget the popcorn.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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. 

Ding!

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.  

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