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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Panasonic NN-SD297 Over the Range Microwave Review

Panasonic Over the Range Microwave NN-SD297The choice of an OTR microwave should not be taken lightly. These appliances are in the most hostile places in the kitchen and subject to extremes of heat and humidity, often while being in use. A poorly engineered oven that doesn't last very long in a permanent installation is not a great move, especially if its primary function as a range hood exhaust fan can't perform.

Followers of this blog are aware that we recently renovated our kitchen. They also know that we own mainly Samsung appliances, including our range, refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. So it may seem a bit odd, given our preference for Samsung, that we went with Panasonic.


Since we decided to go with an OTR (Over the Range) microwave in our kitchen design in order to maximize space, choosing the right appliance took on new importance. Basically this is not a microwave, but a range hood that happens to do double duty as a microwave. Any OTR microwave must be an excellent range hood first and having good microwave performance is just a bonus. To put it another way, microwave ovens have become commodity items used mainly to reheat food and make the occassional bag of popcorn, something that even a basic $50 tabletop could handle no problem.

Basing our criteria on ventilation power, we were quite surprised to learn that only 2 manufacturers, Samsung and Panasonic, met our minimum requirement of 400 cubic feet per minute. We thought this was going to be a no-brainer: A Samsung OTR microwave would give us the fan performance we wanted, and it would match our other appliances. We went off on a tour of the usual appliance retailers in search of the higher-end model SMH8187 (SMH8187STG) to see what it looked like.

We were actually very disappointed, mainly because the unit did not harmonize very well at all with Samsung's other appliances. This was most apparent in the rather cheap looking membrane touch panel, whereby the Samsung range and dishwasher both have smooth glass touch controls. Build quality was nothing to write home about either: about on par with any commodity microwave. Just the same, I did my research about Samsung OTR microwaves in general, and I did not like what I found: lots of issues with reliability and durability, with some people reporting exhaust fan and electronic failures under daily use in a scant 8-9 months.

We had no qualms about going with Panasonic. Our very first microwave was a huge Panasonic Genius that we bought for nearly $800 in 1985. This was a great performer that saw daily use until 2002. We gave it away when we sold our condo and would not be surprised to learn that it is still faithfully chugging along. After looking at the available OTR models, we settled on the top-end NN-SD297 mainly due to its beautiful all-metal design with a partially mirrored glass door, and its huge 2.0 cu. ft. capacity. After shopping around over the summer (we were in no rush as the reno was to start in September) we negotiated a 15% discount and 24 months no payment at the Bay and took delivery. We had the microwave professionally installed by the renovation team's electrician, and have been using it for about 2 months.

So far, we are extremely satisfied with this unit. Its primary function as a range hood has been more than adequate
in terms of power and noise. This unit has twin "squirrel cage" fans like the type you find in most car ventilation systems, which are relatively quiet given the amount of air they can push.

After comparing with other OTR microwaves, we are convinced that most manufacturers either over-rate their fan performance or Panasonic under-rates. This microwave seems to be pushing a lot more air than its 420 CFM rating. The only thing we find odd is that there are 3 sets of buttons for the exhaust fan. Two buttons control fan speed (one for "Super" and "Turbo" and one for "High-Low-Off") and one controls an auto-off timer. I fail to see why a single fan speed control wouldn't be better, as there are only 4 speeds. The true test of the effectiveness of the exhaust fan came when using my son's rather tall boil kettle (30 qt capacity) used for brewing beer. This generates a lot of steam very close to the range hood. This did create quite a bit of condensation on the door and underneath, but the fan actually picked most of it up.

This appliance has not failed to disappoint as a microwave, either. First, it is very user-friendly. Since microwave controls are generally a multistep process (time, power, start) it can often be confusing what goes first (was that time first, then power? or set the power level then the time?). The Panasonic makes this much simpler by putting primary functions on top with buttons, and menu choices done underneath with rotary knobs. The oven even prompts by lighting up the next option! For example, when you press the power level button, the Time/Weight knob flashes, and once you set that, the Start button flashes. This is a bit hard to describe, but in use it is very logical and even gratifying to use.

In terms of features, we had previous experience with Panasonic's Genius sensor cook technology, and it works quite well. This is a humidity sensor that when triggered, determines the remaining time depending on what program was selected and how long it took to trigger the sensor. With our old microwave, we would use perhaps 3 or 4 of the 20 available programs mainly for reheating food and cooking fresh and frozen vegetables in a very consistent way regardless of quantity.

Things have been much simplified in 25 years. We have tried about 7 of the 15 available programs and have been very impressed with the results. We are also quite amazed at the Inverter Defrost function, which does an excellent job of defrosting just about everything we have thrown at it (except bacon...which no matter what will cook around the edges). The Sensor reheat has taken all the guesswork out of warming leftovers.

One thing we have not mastered are some of the more advanced programming functions that involve multiple steps. With this oven, you can set a 4 stage cooking program that can include a combination of multiple power levels, delay start and stand times.

On the downside, there are a few annoyances. First the 2-level hood light is a great idea, but the nightlight is much too dim. The other is that setting the cook time with the knob is a bit hard to get used to due to a feature that accellerates the faster you turn the knob. It either increments the time too slow or too fast, and finding the right time usually involves going back and forth somewhat.

In conclusion, we are very pleased with this microwave and are beginning to get more use out of it with its advanced functionality. This is mainly that the sensor and inverter defrost actually work as advertised. It is also an excellent range hood. We have no hesitation in recommending Panasonic OTR microwaves. Our only real complaint is that some of the more advanced features of the Dimension 4 (convection) are not included in any of Panasonic OTR offerings.


23 comments:

besttoaster said...

Great review. When it comes to finding the best cheap microwave many people overlook the basics and end up regretting there purchase further down the line.

David said...

I'm considering buying this based on your review and completely agree that it is a stove hood first and a microwave second.

Are you still happy with yours?

Is the stove hood powerful enough to use a high-power range?

Random Royalty said...

@David

Still very happy after almost 6 months. Working flawlessly, including The Genius sensor settings.

While the fan is very powerful and adequate for a standard electric or gas range, I would recommend a traditional range hood if you have or are planning on getting a big gas range (like a 36-40" Viking, Wolf or Bluestar).

David said...

Thanks for the reply. I am looking at a 30" BlueStar or Bertazzoni, but sadly I do not have the space to spare to get a real stove hood :( Believe me, I would love to get a monster that requires me to tether the cat down before I cook, but I just don't have the space for it.

Based on your recomendation and looking at specs, this looks like pretty much the best over-the-range microwave I can get though, so I will go ahead and order one. Thanks for the information.

P said...

Do you have your microwave vented to the outside? If so, what is the required ducting that it uses?

Random Royalty said...

@P

Our microwave replaced an existing range hood that was vented to the outside, the ducting was already in place.

There is standard rectangular shaped metal ducting designed to fit between joists and crossbeams inside walls and ceilings. The microwave is designed to mate to it.

Farhan said...

Hey, Thanks for this review. Keep it up, I would like to hear more from you.
Recently I bought PEL Microwave.

jim said...

It's now June of 2010 and I've already purchased an OTR for my kitchen but the fan is SO loud I can't stand it. I am now finding that the MOST important aspect of an OTR is the noise factor. I want to know the QUIETEST stainless steel OTR on the market.

KenderDragon said...

Thank you. Your review was quite helpful. Just ordered mine based on your opinion. Sears should pay you. ;)

KenderDragon said...

Thank you. Your review was quite helpful. Just ordered mine based on your opinion. Sears should pay you. ;)

Rebecca said...

I could not be more unhappy with my Panasonic OTR microwave. Plastic parts began breaking within 3 years of installation, including the door latching mechanism (both sides of latch broke within a year of each other, the tabs that hold the electrical panel onto the cabinet, the brackets that hold the trim in place, etc. The plastic is crumbling in place.

Rita Roves Honor said...

Anybody have anything recent to add about the Panasonic NN-SD297 or NN-S255W? I am searching for an OTR Microwave to act mainly as a Fan/Vent, and secondly as a leftover food heater/popcorn maker, since I cook only with my gas stove. Countertop space is very tight, but I cannot afford to replace every year or so. Random Royalty, are you still happy? How long did yours last?

Rita Roves Honor said...

Anybody have anything recent to add about the Panasonic NN-SD297 or NN-S255W? I am searching for an OTR Microwave to act mainly as a Fan/Vent, and secondly as a leftover food heater/popcorn maker, since I cook only with my gas stove. Countertop space is very tight, but I cannot afford to replace every year or so. Random Royalty, are you still happy? How long did yours last?

KenderDragon said...

I'm still happy with my NN-SD297. Everything working like it should. The only tiny small complain I can do, is that it making some noise when there is something heavy on the rotating plate. It's really just a small thing. The fan is silent when needed. The fan is noisy, but very effective when you need it (Steak cooking ;) ) The microwave cook like it should. Really, can't say anything bad.

Rita Roves Honor said...

Thanks KD. Just wondering if anyone else has owned one for more than 2 years is still happy with it. Maybe I am being unrealistic, but am hoping to get at least 3+ years on this one before having to change. Glad you haven't had any nightmares KD. Random Royalty, do you have anything to add?

randomroyalty said...

@Rita

Coming around 2 years and no problems. This microwave has been a charm.

Like KenderDragon I have experienced noise from the turntable when the microwave is operating. The noise comes from the rollers on the plastic ring. A little lubricant (e.g. cooking spray) does the trick.

Also this microwave lets you turn off the turntable, which is probably a good idea for the heavy stuff.

4cravens said...

since yours is installed can you tell me why you think it can only be 12-13" deep cupboards to fit the mic? Mine are 16 and I don't want to drill holes if it turns out it doesn't fit.
thanks

randomroyalty said...

@4Cravens

The microwave itself is 14" deep.

You can mount flush to your cabinets and leave a space at the back, or even add 2" mounting spacers at the back if you really want to secure the oven.

Smokezz said...

We have this microwave... it's failed 4 times in 2.5 years. We're not getting it fixed again. Avoid this microwave.

mary said...

Good review, ours came with our house when we bought it 5.5 years ago and we have had no problems till a few months ago. The fan works fine but sporadically the microwave portion won't work past 3-4 seconds and then it powers down. I was looking at options whether it is worth while getting it fixed or finding a new model, but from all the specs online, the templates look different and I dread redrilling my drywall to re hang. I hadn't even thought of noise (and all my previous microwave hoods) have been very quiet.

Thanks

audvidgeek said...

This is a great review! I need to purchase a range-hood microwave for a new home I am moving into. A few questions about this model: Does it use a turntable with a stationary magnetron, like many of the cheaper microwaves these days do? If it does, where is the magnetron's output port, on the side (not so good, leads to uneven cooking), or on the top (better). Or does this oven use the the older / higher end style "stirrer" magnetron that scatters the radiation, but keeps the food stationary. Also, many over-range microwaves have a HUGE flaw in that they cool the magnetron with the range hood's airflow (on some cheaper models, the range hood's exhaust fan is the ONLY fan the unit has, and it performs double-duty exhausting the microwave's food compartment and exhausting the range hood) The reason this is a flaw because it can carry hot, dirty air over the magnetron in the oven not only making it overheat, but also depositing cooking residue on the magnetron and causing it to fail quickly. So, does this unit have a separate fan/ cooling system for the microwave?

mybede said...

Something short-circuited in our NN-SD297, after only 2 years of use. Repair tech said this was caused by humidity coming up from the cooking we do on the stove, and that we shld always run the fan on Turbo. Unacceptable! Turbo is noisy, we do use it at times but only when essential. These appliances shld be designed for such use. I will ask Panasonic about this.

medicineman said...

Having similar issues as 'mybede'; most often shuts down when boiling water; I mean total shut down, timer/clock, fan, nothing works ! only solution is to disconnect power for 5-10 minutes, then re-connect.
Definitely sounds like a short; not wasting my time trying to get it fixed.