A Microwave Oven With a Brain!

Nov 3, 2008 (Updated Nov 27, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Sensor Cooking really works and makes cooking easy and drama-free. Great Value.

Cons:The manual could be more explicit or offer more cooking tips.

The Bottom Line: This microwave stands apart from others by offering features which actually work and are not just there to add buttons for selling appeal. This product offers good value.

As an electrical engineer I enjoy the wonders and accept the limitations of microwave ovens. I have grown to accept the fact that they can superheat water, turn bread into material suitable to half-sole a boot and no matter how careful one is, can turn cold butter into a pool of liquid. Yet, life today would be difficult without them because they do a number of things exceptionally well. Whirlpool has stretched that list of can-do items considerably with the addition of their "Sensor" technology which works amazingly well in this appliance.

Product Abstract
This is a 1.7 cubic foot, 1200-watt microwave oven with integrated, automatic turntable. The design is basically square and can accommodate taller dishes than most while being wide enough for casserole dishes. Controls are basic and straight-forward with a few well-documented specialty buttons and features.

Product Instruction Manual
The "Use and Care Guide" assumes some very basic familiarity with microwave ovens but covers safety and basic use practices very well and in clear, concise language. The 15-page booklet is an easy read and communicates features very clearly. If I could add one line it would be on the front saying, "Don't make it harder than it is." This oven is very easy to use as I will illustrate.

Unique Features
Some of the unique features of this oven include Jet Start and Sensor Cooking. Jet Start is an easy, one button way to cook or heat food. Place something inside, close the door and then press Start once and you get 30 seconds at full power. Press again for one minute and so on to add time in 30-second increments up to three minutes. You don't need to press start after doing this. It will start automatically. This is a fast way to take the chill off a cup of coffee or slice of pizza.

Sensor Cooking is more involved and where this appliance really shines. The oven is pre-programmed to cook a number of common foods with the touch of a button. THere are no plug-in sensors as we saw on older microwaves of the past. The "sensor" is a moisture sensor which can sense the moisture coming out of food and adjust cooking time as this moisture venting changes. For example, I cooked three baked potatoes of different sizes. Other ovens have made an assumption that all potatoes are exactly the same texture and size and perhaps that is why I have never liked a potato which was baked in any microwave oven until now. I placed two small and one large pre-fork-stabbed potatoes in the oven, separating them evenly per instructions. I touched the Cook button until it came up on "Bk Potato". That was it. The oven turned on and began to rotate and heat the potatoes. After about a minute the display changed to show a countdown of time remaining. I did not have to tell it the quantity, weight or guess at the cooking time. One button. That was it. In only about nine minutes, it shut off and alerted me that it was finished. I carefully inserted a fork into the two smaller potatoes and they were done to perfection. The third and much larger was almost there. I have no doubt if I had not purposely tried to fool it with such a large size disparity that all would have been done equally.

I removed the two which were done and re-started on the third, expecting the oven to try and incinerate it. I assumed that it would think we were starting with a fourth potato and not one which was 3/4 done. To my amazement, this oven was able to use its sensor to tell that this potato was mostly cooked. It quickly switched over to the time display and showed a remaining 1:17, far less than would be required to cook one potato. It KNEW what it was dealing with and finished off the last potato perfectly. After letting them cool, I found that these potatoes did not have any hard spots at all. They were creamy and done as if they had spent a couple of hours in a conventional oven. Sensor cooking is pro-programmed for baked potatoes, frozen vegetables, fresh vegetables, frozen entrees, rice, fish, seafood and popcorn. In fact, there is a special Popcorn button. Just place a bag of popcorn in the oven and close the door. Then touch "Popcorn" once for regular size and twice for snack size and that's it. The oven starts by itself and pops the corn based on the amount of escaping steam and finishes perfectly. We have not had any burned popcorn with this oven. It's just done right.

Power Settings and Manual Cooking
Power is adjustable from 10% to 100% in 10% increments. Selecting a power level is totally easy, followed by cook time. Simple, no hassles or confusion. What is unique is that these power settings actually mean something on this product. Warming butter has always been a disaster. It would always come out hard on the ends and molten in the center with other ovens. I tried one full stick at 20% for 12 seconds and it was uniformly softened. I have never seen that happen before. I am just used to dipping bread into the lava that usually results. Again, this oven was amazing.

Care, Use and Additional Notes
The finishes on this product are good, durable and of high quality. Keeping it clean is very easy with some kitchen spray cleaner and a cloth. The front control panel is a sealed membrane unit which will take a good cleaning without leaving crud in corners or compromising the function of buttons.

I bought this to replace a unit made by another company which had enough leakage from the power supply to cause our WiFi network to go down when it was in use. While this can't be a problem for many, I can say that this Whirlpool microwave does not interfere with our WiFi, phones, or other communications devices. It is very well-behaved.

Final Impressions
We tend to take things like microwave ovens for granted these days but it is good to know that there is at least one company which is still innovating and improving on a concept which has become somewhat generic. The Sensor Cooking which has been pro-programmed into this appliance really sets it apart and provides excellent consumer value above and beyond what one normally expects from a microwave oven. This oven sells for $319 in stainless steel which matches our kitchen but the same oven is available in white for $200. Either way, I consider it to be a bargain and a well thought-out appliance.

UPDATE: 11/27/08 - After extensive use of the Defrost Mode, I can report that this is the first microwave oven that has actually done this properly. Defrost Mode asks for the type of food being thawed and then the weight. It then uses its moisture sensor to adjust power level on the fly, even truncating it's own selected time cycle when necessary. This morning I defrosted a glass jar of pre-cooked, ground sausage. It came out thawed, not re-cooked, room temperature, not hot. It was perfect. Our experience with this product just keeps getting better.

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