It's literally been years since we last owned a microwave. So long, we had to throw out the question of what to use the convenient kitchen appliance for besides reheating food and boiling a cup of water once we received a test unit from Panasonic. The Panasonic NN-SD688S Prestige Microwave is their newest countertop model, a smaller sibling to the larger flagship models, and we were curious to see how microwave technology has improved since we last used one outside of an office commons kitchen... The most touted feature of the Panasonic NN-SD688S Prestige Microwave is something called Inverter technology, a variable heating/power microwave system (normally microwaves use on and off states to adjust cooking levels instead of adjusting the actual power). This results in more even cooking and a wider range of foods to be cooked using the microwave. Think of it as the inbetween of a microwave and convection oven, like adding a subwoofer to a 2 speaker sound system. It's not full surround sound, but the variable power makes a difference in providing a level of nuance lacking in most typical microwaves. So how did we like the handsome stainless steel clad Panasonic NN-SD688S Prestige after years of abstaining from nuking food and liquids? Here's what we liked: very well constructed and sports a handsome front which didn't make the appliance an eyesore. The dial gives the microwave an audio receiver look which we quite liked compared to the typical soft button interface. The footprint is modest, though not tiny, at 16" by 20-3/8" by 11-7/8", and it sat well ontop of our fridge (partially out of necessity, since it was the only free grounded outlet). There's a mind boggling amount of options offered by the Prestige's interactive multi-lingual screen, with plenty of things to dial and press while programming for proper cooking.
Food did heat up and cook more evenly compared to previous memory of microwaves from the past, with noticeably less hot and cool spots, but with the same limitations that brought us to the conclusion we're fine being a microwave-less home (microwaving shall forever be a reheat appliance despite the wide range of As Seen on TV cooking tools available for microwaves). Also, although the wide myriad of adjustable and customizable features are enticing for those who like power user options, for an immediate out-of-the-box use, this microwave was a bit daunting with a complex interface. The unit's range of features could more easily be simplified for quick and casual use, but with a few days of use, it becomes mostly apparent how to take advantage of all the programmable options. All in all, we really liked the Panasonic NN-SD688S Prestige Microwave. We quickly become accustomed to using it on a day to day basis as an appliance of convenience. We were even a bit sad to pack it up for return, but we should be fine returning to a household without its aid. We're luddites/cooking snobs in this regard. And yes, if you must ask, the Panasonic NN-SD688S Prestige Microwave pops a mean bag of popcorn. Available for about $160 online.