2 Stores11 Reviews
Pros: Superb, fast/accurate cooking, high end looks, super easy to use, top notch Panasonic quality.
Cons: Sensor Cook choices should display actual name of the food not a code number.
[UPDATE 8/25/2009: After having owned this Panasonic NN-SD997S oven for nearly two years now, the oven is still in perfect operating condition and still looks almost brand new. We have had house guests remark how simple and intutive this oven is to use, with the knob control to set the cooking time.]
I bought this superb NN-SD997S Panasonic microwave oven recently to replace an ancient Litton Generation II microwave that lasted for 20 (!) years before it finally gave up the ghost.
The old microwave oven was a built in unit and I wanted to replace it with a high end, built in microwave using the latest technology. It also had to look great, be large and be easy to use. And because I expect more from a built in unit, it had to be a top name brand. Panasonic has always delivered superior technology and value for dollar since the 1960's and this Panasonic Genius Prestige series oven is no exception. And for what you get, the price is excellent. It is comparable and in some ways better than some ovens by other major appliance makers that are selling in the $400 range.
The Genius Prestige series is Panasonic's top end of microwave ovens. They also make a combined microwave/convection oven in the series. The one I purchased and am reviewing here is a microwave oven only; however it has some very advanced features that I will mention a bit later that make it cook at about double the speed of a conventional microwave oven.
The NN-SD997S is a full-size oven at 2.2 cubic foot capacity. It is usable as either a countertop unit or a built in, In fact there is an available trim kit that can be purchased separately, Panasonic part numbers NN-TK929SF (in 27" width) and NN-TK939SF (in 30" width), if you want to build into a new home or you are remodeling your kitchen. It is quite large for a countertop oven though, and is at the top of the size range for what would normally be considered a countertop.
I shopped carefully for this oven because it had to fit the existing cutout as was used by the old Litton, so it needed the same form factor: 23-7/8" wide, 14" high (and at 20" deep a bit deeper than most but if still fits in the cutout). Rather than purchase the Panasonic trim kit, I reused the existing Jenn Air trim kit so it matches the oven, which is a Jenn Air.
This Panasonic oven is really a sharp looking unit that will light up your kitchen. It goes well with high end appliances like Jenn Air rangetop and oven for example. Mine is a Jenn-Air range top with a separate oven that is built into the wall, and the microwave goes over the oven. The Panasonic NN-SD997S has a very nice looking brushed stainless steel front. The door and control panel are stainless. The display is a blue fluorescent display that exudes quality. No cheap looking LCD screen or garish LED here. It is like the display on a piece of high end audio equipment. It is a look that exudes quality and high end, without being flashy. They do make white or black plastic faced models in the Genius line that sell for about $50 less, but trust me, go ahead and spend a little more for the stainless finish you will thank me later. The inside of the oven is a nice epoxy finish, with a very large turntable I believe it is 15" in diameter.
There is one part on the right side of the interior, a piece of plastic that almost looks like a label or packing material. You might be tempted to peel it off. Don't. It is part of the sensor which is a key to the operation of this oven. The user manual give a big warning about leave it alone. My wife even mentioned it, said hey shouldn't we peel this off? Luckily I had read the manual and said no, don't do it. Fair warning.
This oven is full of great features but they are not gimmicky type features, rather they are all well thought out and make the cooking easy and practically foolproof. I will start of with describing how basic tasks are done, then get down to the nitty gritty of the advanced features. In the case of the NN-SD997S oven advanced does not mean "complicated", advanced means "the oven does more work so you don't have to".
One unique and excellent feature that sets the NN-SD997S from other microwaves including some in the Genius series, is that there is no numeric keypad for setting the cooking time. That's right: there are no numbers on the control panel. Instead the cooking time is set by twisting a large control dial. As you twist slowly it starts out 1 .. 2 .. 3 .. seconds, then goes up by 15, 30, 45 etc. The oven has some logic to it because if you spin the dial quickly it goes up more quickly. The knob has an unlimited number of turns. If you spin it really fast and let go, like with a flick of the wrist, I find each turn adds about 3-1/2 minutes. It is really like a radio dial, as you turn it to the right the time increases, and as you turn to the left it decreases.
So to do a basic "set the cooking time, and cook" operation you just dial in the cooking time you want. As you turn the dial the entire dial lights up with a blue glow, and the Start button starts to blink with a blue LED. when you press Start it starts cooking, and the timer dial quits glowing blue.
I can't emphasize enough how convenient it is to use a dial instead of typing in numbers to set the cooking time. It really makes the oven simple to use.
If you just want to cook for 1 minute or 2 minutes etc, simply press the Quick Min button. You don't have to even turn the dial. Press once, you get one minute, twice you get two minutes, etc. Then just press Start to cook.
There is the de rigeur Popcorn button too, just press the Popcorn button, toss in a bag and press Start.
This is a very powerful oven at 1,250 watts of cooking power. And more than just the high wattage, the Genius Prestige series have an interesting feature called Inverter cooking technology. Looking at their web page, the Panasonic marketing folks mention that it is based on chaos theory which is a mathematical branch of physics. Panasonic engineers have solved and I will say yes, solved, one of the common problems of microwave ovens which is uneven heating. Sometimes you get cold spots and hot spots with other microwave ovens. The Panasonic Inverter technology mixes the microwaves, combining waves in a regular pattern with waves in a "chaotic" pattern so the microwaves seem to cook evenly in every corner of the cooking chamber. This is what people use a convection oven for, but with the Genius Prestige series, you get pretty much the same effect without the convection oven. It still does not brown the food like a convection oven though.
For example if you put in a coffee mug full of cold water, in 1 minute the water is scalding hot; in under 2 minutes it is at a high, rolling boil.
The oven also has a sensor in it that automatically cooks the food for you. That's right, you do not have to set the cooking time in most cases. Suppose you want to reheat food from the refrigerator. You just press the Sensor Reheat button and press start. It doesn't really matter what is on the plate. The NN-SD997S has a temperature sensor that knows when the food is done. They do say that if you put the food in a Tupperware with the cover on, loosen the cover a little so the sensor can detect the steam coming off the food. Also if you use plastic wrap over the food Panasonic recommends venting it, ie. poke a couple of holes in it. The sensor they use (apparently) is not a straight infrared sensor, it (apparently) can also detect steam from reheated food. If you leave the food uncovered you need not do anything special, the sensor easily detects the steam rising off the dinner plate.
Anyway this feature works GREAT. How many times have you tried to reheat a plate of refrigerated food and you wind up playing a guessing game with the oven? You know the drill, heat it for a few minutes, try it, rats it is too cold better nuke it for another minute or two. Well, with the Panasonic NN-SD997S that is all way in the past. The oven knows then the food is reheated and ready for you to eat. If you like food piping hot instead of hot, or lukewarm instead of hot, you can tell the oven this by pressing a button labelled More/Less. This lets you adjust the temperature of the food. Me, I just press the Sensor Reheat button and press Start. Two buttons, and the oven reheats the food to perfection.
Where the Inverter and the sensor really shine is when you are defrosting food. The NN-SD997S defrosts food really, really fast without managing to either pre-cook the food or leave icy cold spots in the foot. I don't know how they manage it, but they do it. Even if you never used this oven for anything else besides defrosting frozen meat, poultry or seafood, the oven would pay for itself. You just put the frozen food in the oven. Press the Inverter Turbo Defrost button. The screen says TURBO DEFROST -- SET WEIGHT and the time/weight knob starts blinking in blue. You then dial in how much the frozen food weighs. Then press Start. It defrosts the food to a tee. It is all based on the weight of the food. If you bought it from the supermarket or fishmarket it will have the weight labelled right on the package. If you froze it yourself, best to use a kitchen scale. I know this, if you enter the weight accurately the NN-SD997S does a superb job of defrosting the food without precooking it. That means meat will be a little warmer than room temperature but will not turn grey it will still be pink. Shrimp will still be grey, not pink (A Good Thing). I think you get the picture.
There is also a Sensor Cook feature. This is a nice feature. I have just one or two nits to mention. First the good. It can cook 18 kinds of food completely automatically. You press the Sensor Cook button, then turn the dial until it is that kind of food, and press start. You do not have to enter a cooking time or how much the food weighs. The sensor automatically detects when the food is cooked. That is the good, now for the bad. The oven identifies what kind of food it is by a code number. For example 1 is Oatmeal, 2 is Breakfast Sausage, 3 is Omelet, etc. When you turn the dial it counts up the numbers, 1, 2, 3 etc. and you stop when it reached "your number", then press Start. Wouldn't it be nice if the display said Omelet instead of 3? Here it is a good idea to keep the book handy. I printed up a list of the 18 foods and their numbers and keep it near the stove. Here is the list of Sensor Cook codes:
1 - Oatmeal
2 - Breakfast Sausage
3 - Omelet
4 - Soup
5 - Frozen Entrees
6 - Frozen Pizza (single)
7 - Frozen Pocket Sandwich
8 - Potatoes
9 - Fresh Vegetables
10 - Canned Vegetables
11 - Frozen Vegetables
12 - White Rice
13 - Brown Rice
14 - Frozen Dinners
15 - Ground Meat
16 - Fish Fillets
17 - Pasta
18 - Stew
The most useful ones in my opinion, are Soup, Frozen Pizza, TV Dinner (they call it frozen dinner, I call it TV Dinner), and Frozen Entrees (like frozen Burritos, chicken wings and the like). However it is worth mentioning that the NN-SD997S microwave oven can also serve as a rice cooker, and has separate Sensor Cook settings for white rice and for brown rice. We eat a lot of rice but use a Tatung rice cooker which steams the rice. Have not tried the NN-SD997S oven yet. When I do I will update the review. But the Japanese eat a lot of rice and Panasonic is a major Japanese company, so I would expect it to do a good job of cooking rice, especially if there are 18 preset Sensor Cook foods and 2 of them are dedicated to cooking rice.
Rounding out the nice feature list we have the Keep Warm setting. This does what the name implies, it will keep a plate of hot food or whatever else you are cooking, warm for up to 30 minutes. To use it you just press Keep Warm, then the dial lights up blue, and you twist the dial to how many minutes you want to keep the food warm. If you forget what to do just look at the screen it will say KEEP WARM -- SET TIME and the dial starts blinking. I think even if you never read the instructions you could figure this one out just by doing what the oven instructs you to do.
Finally, the NN-SD997S bids you bon appetit by saying ENJOY YOUR MEAL when the food is done.
To Recap: This oven is really large, 2.2 cubic feet will easily fit a 5 pound chicken with room to spare. It is powerful and heats evenly and quickly. Panasonic puts a lot of the same technology in their high end Genius Prestige series as they do their commercial line of ovens. This is quite a handsome oven, very stylish looking. I know it is hard to get excited about the appearance of a cooking appliance, but if you have high end appliances in the kitchen this NN-SD997S will match the appearance of the best of them. The oven is really, really simple and convenient to use. A lot of manufacturers add features to microwave ovens but often they are hard to use. The NN-SD997S will tell you what to do, in a nice way of course, if you press any button and do not know what to do. Here's a tip, page 28 of the manual has a diagrams of all the features and depicts what button to press and what knob to turn. This is a good overview. The oven cooks FAST the fastest microwave oven I have ever seen, and it cooks evenly too. And the sensor does a great job of automatically cooking your food.
Well worth the two hundred dollars, in my mind it is an incredible bargain for two hundred dollars. I give the NN-SD997S oven my highest endorsement.