Your Microwave's Preset Buttons Are a Lie

Most microwaves are dumb boxes that can only turn on and off.

Credit: / Daniel Wroclawski

If you're like most people, you probably never use most of the buttons on your microwave—popcorn, Potato, Frozen Dinner, Cook by Weight, and Defrost by Weight, and many more. However, as Thrillist points out in a new report, you're not missing much. Those buttons don't do anything you can't do yourself.

Here at, we test dozens of microwave ovens, and we've known this industry secret for some time. We even pointed it out in our review of the Panasonic NN-SN973S Countertop Microwave.

But let's just say it again: Most microwaves can only output microwaves at a single power level.



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When you select a lower power level, all the microwave is doing is turning the magnetron (the device that beams microwaves into your food) on and off at timed intervals. The same concept also applies to preset buttons (like popcorn and potato) and the defrost setting.

But if you feel like you've been swindled by your microwave manufacturer, it's worth remembering that these presets are actually helpful. Without them you'd have to manually turn your microwave on and off to achieve the same results, which kind of defeats the purpose of microwaves: convenience.

That said, there's one company that has made real improvements to microwave technology. Panasonic has a patented inverter technology that allows its microwaves to truly adjust the power being put out by the magnetron. Thrillist notes that the patent will expire soon, allowing other microwave manufacturers to incorporate their own versions of the tech.

Our tests with the enhanced Panasonic NN-SN973S showed that its Popcorn preset was "one of the best we have seen," and we were also impressed by its Genius Sensor cooking mode. The only feature that didn't perform well was the machine's Defrost function, which shows that inverter technology alone won't make a better microwave.

So don't be tricked by all the fancy options on your microwave. Unless it's a Panasonic—or unless it incorporates acoustic, humidity, or temperature sensors—those buttons probably aren't all that special.

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Panasonic NN-SD681S Countertop/Built-in Microwave with Inverter Technology

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