The GE Smart Countertop Microwave with Scan-to-Cook Technology wants to make it easier than ever to cook a quick snack or a frozen dinner. With the GE Appliances Kitchen app, you can scan the barcode on your prepackaged food of choice. If the food is in GE's database, the app will send the proper cooking times and settings to your microwave so you can simply toss in your food and hit Start.
GE's smart microwave also works with Amazon's digital assistant Alexa, so if you have a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo, you can say something like "Alexa, add 30 seconds to the microwave" and it'll work. Unlike Whirlpool's microwaves with a similar scan-to-cook feature, which cost $640 and up, GE's microwave packages in all of its smarts for a reasonable $140. You can find plenty of higher-end "dumb" microwaves for roughly the same price.
While I love the idea of the "scan-to-cook" feature in theory, in practice, it won't actually save you much trouble. The feature won't convert a recipe's cooking time if it's recommended for a different wattage than this microwave. GE claims that it has 3,000 meals in its database, but I still found lots of frozen meals from big brands that didn't work. As a whole, the feature and the app still feel as though they're in beta. The Alexa skill works well, but even though this microwave is reasonably priced, I'd wait to make a purchase until GE has a little more time to develop its primary feature.
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting, but when I took the GE Smart Countertop Microwave with Scan-to-Cook Technology out of its box, I was a little disappointed at how ordinary it looked. At a glance, it won't stand out from any other microwave you'd find at the store.
Similarly, in my mind, I pictured something impossible for the scan-to-cook feature. I wanted to toss in a bag of popcorn and find every kernel popped when I came back. I wanted to take a meal out of the box and toss it in, then return a few minutes later to a perfectly cooked dinner. I suppose, in my imagination, this microwave stirred the food for me and took care of initial steps like puncturing the film. Hell, maybe it even plated it for me.
Obviously, this GE microwave won't do any of that. The scan-to-cook feature essentially means you won't have to punch the cook time into your microwave, but you'll still need to read the directions and get involved on any intermediary steps.
The smarts of this microwave stand out in more subtle ways. If you need to heat a meal on defrost or medium heat, scan-to-cook will make that adjustment for you. You can see the status of your microwave on your phone, and you'll get a push notification when it's done cooking. Plus, you can use your phone to add 30 seconds to your cooking time if your popcorn doesn't quite sound fully popped.
You can do the same with a voice command to Amazon's assistant, Alexa. The Alexa skill for this microwave is great. With a voice command to any Alexa-enabled device, you can pause or stop the microwave, add time to your current countdown, start cooking for a specified amount of time, or even activate one of the microwave's presets such as "beverage."
Better yet, you don't have to use any invocation words like "ask GE" that were previously customary for controlling GE appliances with Alexa. Link your GE account with your Amazon account via the Alexa app, and then you can say something simple and intuitive like "Alexa, microwave on high for one minute," and it'll work responsively.
If you're interested in a microwave that has an app, works with Alexa and can scan your meals and set times on its own, you can buy the GE Smart Countertop Microwave with Scan-to-Cook Technology now for $140. Use the company's site to find retailers in your area. The product is only available in the US for now.
Smarts aside, GE's machine fared well enough on our ordinary microwave tests. It's a little small and underpowered for the price, with 900 watts of cooking power and 0.9-cubic-foot of usable space. Other 900-watt countertop microwaves from big brands cost as little as $55, and you can easily get 1,100 to 1,200 watts of power for the same price as this GE microwave, so you are paying some premium for the smarts even if it's not an exorbitant one.
The button presets generally don't kick on with a single press, but ask for a bit more information. You can find them all decoded on a sticker on the upper rim of the interior. For example, press popcorn and you'll need to specify if you're cooking a 1.75-, 3.0- or 3.5-ounce bag before hitting Start. Keep pressing the popcorn button to toggle through the options.
Surprisingly, the potato preset was the best performer on the machine. I didn't even realize you could cook a raw potato in a microwave, but I cooked a single and a pair of 6-7 ounce spuds with the preset, and they all came out of the machine hot and soft throughout. Given that you select potatoes by number rather than weight, I'm guessing this machine wouldn't be nearly as effective at cooking bigger ones.
The popcorn preset was, as expected, disappointing. We've yet to test a microwave with a preset more effective than just listening for the popping to stop, which is why most popcorn brands advise against using the preset. Defrost and reheat worked as expected, but the beverage button didn't heat my mug of water as hot as I normally like for my tea.
When you're ready to level up your microwave, you can connect it to the internet by downloading the app and pressing the "WiFi Connect" button. The app will walk you through the process, but it didn't go smoothly for me. I had to call customer support, who instructed me to tell the app I was connecting a dishwasher instead of a microwave. Customer support was friendly, but that glitch was a sign of things to come.
Even when it's working properly, the app is extremely bare-bones. You can turn notifications and sounds on or off, you can add time to the microwave or stop it from running, and you can scan food. That's it. You can't add extra accounts to the microwave. If your significant other wants to scan food as well, they will either need to use your phone or log on with your account.
Once you've scanned an item successfully, your phone shows the directions, but the app's directions look like they've been hastily typed in. Some steps will start midsentence. Capitalization is frequently off, and I found the occasional typo. "Philly Cheese Steak" Hot Pockets were called "Chilly Steak and Cheese."
Mistakes aside, reading directions from a block of text usually wasn't as helpful as reading directions on the box the food came in. Most microwaveable foods include illustrations and careful formatting for their directions to help you get the gist quickly. The "scan-to-cook" directions forgo all of those extras and just port over the text.
You'll get a push notification when you scan an item, which will include your cooking steps. Unfortunately, I couldn't expand the notification on my Google Pixel, so the included text generally fit half a step and was pretty useless without opening the app.
The microwave will advance to subsequent steps if the recipe calls for a mid-prep stirring. Open the door after the first cooking time elapses and the second time will automatically pop on the display. You get a notification at this midway point too, which is helpful in letting you know that you need to take action, but the text is still useless. You also can't advance steps yourself in the app if you want to skip ahead for any reason.
The sloppy text and janky interface all build to a general feeling that this app and this scan-to-cook feature are still very much a work in progress. The database of recipes feels like a work in progress as well. GE claims that you can scan more than 3,000 different items. I scrolled through the current list, and it covered most of the recognizable brands of prepackaged food that I know. I was disappointed right off the bat that Trader Joe's meals weren't there, as they're my personal favorite at the moment, but I figured GE needed to start somewhere.
Unfortunately, 3,000 might not be enough for reliability, depending on the stock of your local grocery store. More than half of the foods I scanned at my local megachain were misses, and that includes items from big brands such as Sara Lee, Stouffer's, Banquet and more. You can't even narrow your focus to certain brands. Weirdly, the Philly Cheese Steak Hotpockets I mentioned earlier are in the database, but Pepperoni Pizza Hotpockets don't work. Stouffer's mac & cheese works, but the lasagna doesn't.
If you want to be sure something will work so you can make use of this microwave's main feature, you can always scan it in the store, but that means spending more time shopping in order to have your microwave punch in numbers for you. Smart features are supposed to make your life easier. Right now, this one doesn't.
Putting the scan-to-cook feature aside, the GE Smart Countertop Microwave Oven works well with Amazon's Alexa and will send you push notifications when your microwave is done cooking. That alone might make the reasonable $140 price feel worth it for some, and I wouldn't fault you for splurging as the scan-to-cook feature will only get better with time.
Given that the microwave only offers 900 watts of power and 0.9-cubic-foot of space, I'd recommend most stay away until the main feature gets a little more developed. For $140, you can easily find a much more powerful microwave. That said, I actually admire this GE Microwave. The innovative scan-to-cook feature might one day be incredibly useful, especially for those with impaired vision. Even now, it's a cool idea, but it's an idea that needs a little more time to cook.