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Amazon is now selling a $60 microwave that you can talk to through Amazon Alexa, as long as you already own an Amazon Echo speaker.
That means you can ask it to cook you stuff, instead of fiddling with microwave controls and digging through cooking pre-set menus. It's good, and I think I'll replace my aging home microwave with it.
Here's what you need to know:
Look, I get how silly of an idea this is. Have we as a civilization become so lazy that we can't just tap a couple of buttons to cook a bag of popcorn? Yeah, maybe we have. At least if you're like me and don't fancy yourself much of a conquistador of the kitchen.
I really liked using Amazon's microwave, since I'm squarely in the target audience. Amazon told me that it found most people keep tapping the "add 30 seconds button" on microwaves and don't ultimately know how long to cook something. So, the thing you're trying to cook, maybe a refrigerated cheeseburger, ends up being too cold or too hot.
I started my morning off asking Alexa to reheat my coffee. I should have asked to heat up a cup, because Amazon then asked me "how much volume?" The proper question should have been "Alexa, reheat one cup of coffee." When I said that, Alexa automatically set the timer for 1:15 and started the microwave. There are dozens of presets like this available at launch, like for my coffee or reheating soup or apple cider.
You can also defrost some foods, such as vegetables or meat. It's a good idea: Normally I have no idea how to cook things without a label.
I asked Alexa to defrost what I guessed was 12 ounces of frozen chicken, and it set the timer for 8:48. It worked!
Amazon told me it worked with a food science lab to get the proper timings for all of these food items.
All of this is really easy to set up.
You just open the Alexa app on an iPhone or Android device, tap an icon for "devices," then choose to add a microwave. The app walks you through the rest of set-up and even connects to your Wi-Fi automatically if you've already set it up with an Echo or Amazon Fire TV product.
As I mentioned before, you need to have an Amazon Echo if you want to give the microwave instructions by voice — there isn't a speaker built into the microwave — but any model will do. Once I connected it to the Echo through the app, I was able to talk to the microwave through the Echo.
There's also a button on the microwave that automatically activates the Echo you have paired up if you don't want to say "Hey Alexa" every time.
The Echo that connects to the microwave can be used for anything else, too. So I used it to play music in the kitchen, to hear how the New York Giants were playing on Monday night and more.
It's a pretty small microwave at 0.7-cubic feet, so you can't toss a bunch of slices of pizza into it as you might with a bigger one. But Amazon told me that the size and the power (700 watts) are the most popular it sells online, so I guess people like these smaller microwaves.
Also, there are some things Alexa doesn't know how to do, and that can occasionally cause confusion.
I couldn't ask it to cook up a frozen dinner of beef teriyaki I had sitting in the freezer by voice. The frozen dinner said to cook it in an 1100-watt microwave for up to 4 minutes and 30 seconds, but I had no idea how long to cook it in this less-powerful microwave.
Amazon said it's adding other presets in the future, but it's still kind of limited. But this was really not a big deal. I just entered the time and power setting in manually like I normally would on any other microwave.
It's just not that smart ... yet.
It's also important to understand that Amazon wants to use the microwave to help sell you things.
The company says that's not the end goal of the microwave — rather it just wants to make things easier for consumers — but it's definitely an added convenience that some people could find off-putting. For instance, you can automatically have it reorder popcorn when it knows you're out. That means I could enter in that I had 3 bags of popcorn left and the microwave would count how many times I microwaved popcorn, then automatically order more. I didn't set this up, particularly because I rarely eat popcorn and don't need bulk re-orders of it.
That's part of a bigger story at play here: The microwave is a proof-of-concept for something called Amazon Alexa Connect Kit. This is a hardware development kit it's giving to partners such as Procter & Gamble, Hamilton Beach and others, so that they can build this functionality into other devices. That means someday Amazon may be able to track how much soap you use in a future Alexa-connected dishwasher, coffee you drink from a coffee machine, and detergent you use in a washing machine. Then, it could reorder all of that for you directly from Amazon when you run out — if you want it to.
Do you need a microwave you can talk to? You probably don't.
But if you're fascinated with the smart home and using your voice to control everything, even down to warming up a cup of coffee, then sure, the Amazon Basics Microwave works well. College kids would probably love it, if you need ideas for the holidays, and it's only $60, although that assumes you already have an Echo handy. If not, you can pair it with the Echo Dot for another $40 or even less (since the Dot is often on sale).
I'm redoing my kitchen at home, though, and I need something much larger and maybe a little better looking. Amazon's microwave is as plain as can be, with a glossy black surface and old-school green clock interface (which, by the way, updates itself so you never get a blinking clock when the power goes out).
But, ultimately, it works, it's cheap and it's cool. Plus, it's a taste of what Amazon's working with other partners to build. Expect to see a lot more of these sorts of home appliances in the near future.