$264 Microwave vs $919 Microwave: How Many Bells and Whistles Should One Box Contain?

$264 Microwave vs $919 Microwave: How Many Bells and Whistles Should One Box Contain?
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The first commercially available microwave was invented in 1947. It was almost 6ft tall, and weighed 340 kilos. It was not very practical. But, these days, microwaves can do just about anything. The question is, though: should they? Over the years more and more brands have come out with microwaves that can air fry, act as regular ovens, crisp the top of your pie, and other things that sound useful until you remember how much easier it is to use your actual oven for those things.

So, when I heard about a 4-in-1 microwave that costs the same as an entry-level oven, I was curious about whether it could live up to its claims of fanciness. Maybe this would be the one to redeem the genre of appliance. However, disaster struck and none of the review units were going to arrive in time for my deadline. Then, like an angel of mercy, someone from Appliances Online offered me an opportunity to test their one-day (or even same-day, if you order before 12pm and live in one of the selected metro areas) shipping option, and the microwave showdown was back on. The microwaves were ordered at 4pm, and they arrived at 10:15am the next day.

The competitors

LG microwave in its spot in our kitchen
Competitor number one: LG Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

In the affordable, 1-in-1 corner, we have the catchily named LG MS2596OB 25L NeoChef Microwave Oven. There’s a lot to like about it. The door pulls open, so you’re not going to have the latch on the door die before the motor. It has capacitive touch dials instead of number buttons, which isn’t great because they’re more likely to die before the microwave function does, but it’s possible to adjust the time with the door open or closed, and so there are two things that would have to break before rendering the microwave useless, which is good.

A black mark against it is that you can only adjust the time in 10-second increments. I can be quite particular about the time I like to heat certain foods for, often wanting to adjust by the second, so this is not great for pedants. But it’s also possible to just press stop a few seconds early.

A good mark is that it sings a happy tune instead of just beeping. My wife finds this intolerable, whereas I find it utterly charming. It also looks really sleek and nice, and it has a moisture sensor inside to help the auto programs, which is handy for people still getting the hang of cooking. Plus, it works with the LG ThinQ app to diagnose any problems that might come up. It’s a microwave that’s just smart enough, but isn’t trying to be anything other than a microwave.

Panasonic microwave on a bench top
Competitor number two: Panasonic. Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

In the fancy, 4-in-1 corner, there’s the Panasonic Four-In-One Steam Combination Microwave Oven NN-DS59NBQPQ which retails for $919, but is currently on sale for $796. This thing is a beast. It has a nifty oven-style door, which is super helpful. Oddly, it doesn’t have a turn table, but still heats evenly, presumably through witchcraft.

The four things it does are: microwave, steam, grill, “air fry style”, and oven, which to me seems like five, but what do I know? The website says it has “6 combi cooking options”, which is again, more than four. But, the important thing to know is that it cooks in a wide variety of ways.

While it is a bit of a beast, and definitely takes up a bit of bench space, it is much smaller than I expected.

The controls are a bit confusing, because a lot of it is controlled by a dial, and you have to read the directions on the LCD screen, which isn’t wide enough to any of the messages it’s trying to convey, so you’re just reading a stock market ticket to find out if you’ve chosen the right option. With practice, it’ll likely get easier, but it’s something to keep in mind. It is very easy to clean, refill the steam reservoir, and those are pretty key.

I also found that the first few times I cooked with it, it had a really strong chemical smell that flavoured all the food. This is pretty common with ovens, and is why you’re supposed to run a cleaning cycle on new ovens before using them for the first time. You just need to cook it empty at 220C before putting any food in it to get most of the coating off (but it’s easy to miss this info, buried on page 14 of my manual). Given the smell dissipated the more I used it, I think it would just be a good idea to run a cleaning cycle a few times before using it and you should be fine.

Let the tests begin

To test the two microwaves, we came up with a variety of things to heat to see what worked, what didn’t, and who these devices are best suited for.


Container of peas about to go into a microwave
Image: Alice Clarke

Peas are really the most important test for me. They’re what separates good microwaves from great ones. I eat frozen peas with every hot meal I have at home, and I’m very particular about how they’re prepared. They should be just lightly undercooked so as to keep the juiciness. I’d rather have lukewarm peas than overdone ones. But I’m also an extremely impatient person, so they need to be cooked fast.

This was the test that I had the least amount of hope for the Panasonic 4-in-1 in. Every other microwave I’ve ever used that has claimed to be able to do more than one thing has taken 5+ minutes to heat peas, instead of the 1:56 I’m used to. So, I have to admit to going in with an expectation of failure.

But, shockingly, both microwaves utterly hit it out of the park. I put a steam container of peas in each microwave for two minutes, and both of them slightly overcooked those peas. The LG NeoChef overcooked them slightly more than the Panasonic 4-in1, so the LG NeoChef was perhaps slightly more efficient than the Panasonic, but not in any real way that anyone would notice if they weren’t doing side-by-side tests. I would probably do the peas for 1:40 in the LG NeoChef from now on, and go for 1:45 in the Panasonic 4-in-1, for example. It’s that close.

Verdict: Everybody wins

Hash Browns

Crispy Hash Brown in the Panasonic 4 in one microwave oven
Image: Alice Clarke

I put some hash browns in auto program 12, frozen potato fries, which is an ‘air fryer style’ way to cook chips (or hash browns) in the Panasonic 4-in-1. The oven took about 20 minutes to preheat, and uses a specific grill tray. You can only set the cooking time by weight, and the minimum quantity is 200g, so you have to be really committed to consuming hash browns. It then took about 22 minutes to cook, and it was basically perfect for air fryer quality. I prefer oven quality because it is crispy on the outside but moist on the inside, whereas air fryers tend to just dry them out. But, it was air fried.

Unsurprisingly, microwaving frozen hash browns in a normal microwave makes them soggy, so this wasn’t really a fair test. But it was a deeply unpleasant eating experience.

Verdict: Panasonic 4-in-1, no contest

Lightly defrosted bolognese sauce

Two microwaves side by side: Panasonic and LG
Look at that glorious bolognese. Image: Alice Clarke

Much like the peas, microwaving pasta sauce yielded similar results. Both microwaves evenly heated the sauce. I was surprised, given the lack of turntable in the Panasonic 4-in-1. Since I keep chipping microwave turntables, this is a big tick in its favour.

Steamed carrots

Barely steamed carrots out of the Panasonic 4 in one microwave oven
Still not fully cooked. There were more sticks originally, but I was hungry. Image: Alice Clarke

This is where it gets interesting. I cooked the carrots on the grill tray on the steam setting in the Panasonic 4-in1 and just in a normal microwave-safe steam dish I got from Woolies in the LG NeoChef microwave. I assumed that the Panasonic would destroy the LG NeoChef in this test, given the 4-in-1 has a whole steam setting, but no.

After two minutes in the steam basket in the NeoChef, half a (large) carrot worth of sticks was perfectly cooked, utterly delightful. The 4-in-1 on the other hand left the other half of the carrot still raw after two minutes, and took 7 minutes for it to be just cooked (but still crunchy on the inside).

The idea of a steam function sounds good, and it will likely be better if you’re doing fillets of fish that wouldn’t fit in a small steamer bowl, but is just inefficient for everything else.

Verdict: LG NeoChef wins

Sausage rolls

Perfectly cooked sausage roll on a grill tray
This is how it is done. Image: Alice Clarke

This was a good test of the normal oven function of the Panasonic 4-in-1. I cooked it in the oven at 190 for 10 minutes and the home made (and then frozen) sausage roll was basically perfect. So good.

Sad looking microwaved sausage roll.
This is a crime against sausage rolls. Image: Alice Clarke

After one minute in the LG NeoChef it was a food crime against humanity. It was hard and soggy at the same time, and I don’t even know that that happened. Don’t do it.

Verdict: Panasonic 4-in-1

Who are these microwaves for?

Surprisingly, both of these microwaves are absolutely excellent, they’re just designed for different use cases.

Normally microwaves that try to be a lot of different things really suck, but this one actually walks the walk (except on steaming, which is weird). However, every single time I got it to do anything other than microwave, I just thought about how much easier and better it would have been to do in a proper air fryer (which doesn’t take as long to heat) or a normal oven (which holds more and is easier to use). The Panasonic 4-in-1 is for people who live in studio apartments, tiny homes, or other places where they can’t necessarily have all the kitchen appliances be their own thing, and in that situation, the Panasonic 4-in-1 is ideal. It seems like a product designed for those countries where you’re expected to bring your own kitchen appliances (including ovens and dishwashers) to rentals, which isn’t as much the case here.

For everyone else, a microwave that just focuses on being a microwave, like the LG NeoChef, makes more financial sense, particularly if you have an oven built into your kitchen.

Where to buy LG 25L NeoChef Microwave Oven: AppliancesOnline ($267) | Bing Lee ($249) | The Good Guys ($249)

Where to buy Panasonic Four-In-One Steam Combination Microwave Oven: AppliancesOnline ($792) | The Good Guys ($849)

This article has been updated since it was first published.

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At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.