If you think that microwaves seem like an antiquated appliance category, you're only half wrong. It's true that microwaves, as a group, have not seen many of the smarter updates of other appliances. I'd love to see a touch-screen microwave, for example. No such luck. For now, we must be satisfied with modest updates in the way of sensors and enhanced cooking methods.
While lacking in most of those newer microwave features like convection or inverter cooking, the 1,200-watt Whirlpool WMC50522AS still rates as a high-quality appliance, performing well in all of our tests. Occasionally, it performed a bit too exuberantly and overcooked certain food items. The Whirlpool will, however, cook a good hamburger, as well as stand up to the usual demands of microwave cooking.
A sticker price of $279 makes the Whirlpool a reasonably priced countertop microwave, though you might find this price less digestible when you compare it with the 2.2 cubic footPanasonic NN-SD997S, which you can find for as little as $166. The Whirlpool is a fine microwave, but it's tough to recommend given that the cheaper Panasonic boasts both inverter technology and advanced sensors for a broader range of cooking options.
The Whirlpool's design doesn't harbor any surprises and nothing makes its appearance stand out like the Panasonic's blue display screen and sleek exterior. Then again, microwaves aren't known for their curb appeal. The Whirlpool comes in white, black, and black-on-stainless steel. The buttons and display screen feel well-designed and easy to use. This sturdy overall design and solid construction instills a lot of confidence that the Whirlpool will last for a long time.
With 2.2 cubic feet of internal capacity and a depth of nearly 20 inches, the Whirlpool WMC50522AS spans nearly the entire depth of standard countertop. For $120, Whirlpool sells a trim kit enabling you to install this microwave in a cabinet to give the appliance a finished, built-in look. Many actual built-in units start at $500, making this $399 combination purchase of trim kit and microwave more cost-effective and appealing. The similarly-sized, $299 Panasonic offers the same option, though the trim kit costs more.
The 16-inch turntables inside both the Whirlpool and Panasonic significantly outmeasure those of the Sharp R820JS (12.75 inches) and Amana AMC2166AS (13 inches). With this extra space, you can cook/reheat a large dish or several smaller dishes at once. As with all appliances, the amount of usable space matters far more than the amount of cubic feet. For the most part, a microwave's usable space is relegated to the turntable, making the Whirlpool's diameter all the more important.
The Whirlpool also includes moisture sensors, primarily intended for steaming vegetables. These sensors work well, take some of the guesswork out of cooking, and are a useful addition to what is otherwise a fairly ordinary microwave.
We devised our tests to assess core functions, settings which might be useful for the average consumer, and additional elements boasted by the manufacturer, such as the Panasonic's inverter technology, or the Sharp's convection grill.
In our first test, we assessed how long it would take each microwave to bring one cup of water to a rolling boil. As the Whirlpool emits 1200 watts of power, it made short work of this test and the water reached a boil at around two minutes and 20 seconds each time.
From there, we began our preset tests, starting with (what else?) the popcorn preset. Nearly every brand of popcorn dictates that you follow their instructions and never use the popcorn preset. We tested them anyway.
On average, a 3.2-ounce bag of popcorn contains 448 kernels. The Whirlpool left an average of 80 unpopped kernels or 18 percent. We saw similar results in the Amana and Panasonic, all of which beat the Sharp by leaps in this test. In addition to cooking fluffy, great-tasting popcorn, the Whirlpool cooked it quickly, requiring 1 minute and 50 seconds compared with 3 minutes with the Sharp.
Potato presets seem nearly as ubiquitous as popcorn presets. I ran this test three separate times, each with one Idaho potato, with weights from 12.4 ounces to 13.15 ounces. Like the Sharp and the Amana, the Whirlpool's potato preset asked for the number of potatoes to be cooked, rather than the weight. The microwave automatically set its timers to cook for four minutes and thirty seconds after which the manual prescribed five minutes of resting time. The Whirlpool delivered a well-cooked potato with crisp skin and insides that mashed easily with a fork.
The Whirlpool's higher wattage seems to be the key to its success so far. I expected it to work just as well when we tested frozen dinners. Here, I used Stouffer's single-serve lasagna and macaroni and cheese, the former for its density, the latter for its even representation of the category of frozen dinners.