When it comes to microwaves my parents and I have very different views. Because our first microwave was a 700 watt commercial Panasonic oven, bought solely for its power and auto cook programs, it also had a novel pull down door and was a breeze to use. It also cost in excess of £400 at a time when other ovens on the market were half the price and sported 500 watts total power. That first microwave lasted over 19 years and between it my mum purchased one of Panasonic's first bread makers which is still working and as good as ever (13 years old!). In 2005 just before I entered teacher training, my parents' Panasonic oven suddenly stopped working. They purchased an NN-A725 model but within a year it kept stopping intermittently and Panasonic accepted fault and gave us a brand new microwave and a one year guarantee. * This is a long review! *
Priced at £255 on the market this Combination Inverter 4 NN A722 model seemed to be the cat's whiskers on everything it did sporting a 1000 watt quartz grill & fan assisted oven function, a similarly easy to auto cook program selection, super fast 1000 watt microwave and many outer attachments all wrapped up in a classy looking silver panelled design. With a capacity of 27 litres the Panasonic NN-A722 has managed to accommodate mostly all types of food packages and plates on its well-made glass dishwasher safe turntable.
In use the NN -A722 is just as easy to use as our old Panasonic oven and for those not used to Panasonic, I'd faithfully rely on the fact that I think Panasonic were one of the first to invest their time in easy to locate functional touch pad controls with big lettering against the competition in the 1980's such as Toshiba or Sharp who played about with mechanical dials and a couple of buttons. Roll on twenty years later and it's of no surprise to find that companies have tried to copy every aspect of Panasonic. Over other cheaper cost brands I've used, I've often missed the simplicity of just putting the food in, setting the heat level, press for the exact time required and start it. This has been a procedure that is now almost standard on all microwaves but with one vital difference; although most microwaves have the same 99 minute total settings on the time pad, Panasonic offer individual seconds for experienced cooks who want to put the precise timings in without compromise.
One feature I adore is the "Delay Start," button for example. In effect it serves as a timer and doesn't ever power up the microwave. I use the Delay Start whenever I'm boiling an egg or waiting for jelly to set or really when something needs to cook or set for a limited period of time. The Delay Start can be activated and uses the same alert of five beeps for the oven when cooking or defrosting has finished. I also use it when I'm waiting for my Hometek steam mop generator to heat up.
For multi stage cooking however the Delay Start works as a "Standing" time function. On most ready meal packages these days (Weight Watchers from Heinz in particular) they've started to include a "standing time" between cooking and when the cooking has finished. On the NN-A722 the selections of 9 different heat levels are obtainable. Thus you can select a mix of cooking programs to suit the food you are preparing. Say you want to heat up soup but don't want it to boil and you've just taken it out of the freezer; on the NN A722 you simply select Simmer (and there are three levels of simmer available), input the time and then select another heat level such as Defrost, select the time and then if you feel your soup needs another burst of heat at a different rate, that too including the time can be selected. Then just press start to get the Panasonic working. When the oven reaches through the single program you've selected it lets you know it has reached that stage by sounding off two beeps before it starts into its next phase. For me this is ideal when I'm not too sure about the food I'm cooking or have second thoughts about some of the timings/heat levels I've previously entered.
Unlike our commercial oven that had similar actions with multi-stage programmed cooking, the NN A722 cleverly decides what comes first with the multi-stage cooking programs you've selected. Sometimes when I do it, the Panasonic will go into Defrost mode first before Simmer and then heat levels and over Delonghi's insistence to show power watts for cooking at different levels I much prefer the standard "High, Low, Medium," titles that appear in the easy to use LED green screen at the top of the control panel.
Most food I've cooked in this microwave comes out well cooked and the speed of it is very impressive. When cooking with the fan assisted oven, the Panasonic also serves up very well even though it can be a clunky solution to having put in additional metal dish covers and then a low level grill (you also get a high level grill for the grill function) the noise of the oven is low whenever it is cooking. You can put your finger on Panasonic's marketing such as their "Inverter" technology where universal heat means all areas of the oven are included but I don't really go in for all the hype but would say its an excellent all rounder.
Such accessibility is something I'll admit is an instant boon to owning Panasonic ovens that have the multi timing pad and Delay Start feature. There are other features such as Chaos Defrost that puts the Panasonic directly into control of what you are defrosting and has a Weight function where you can punch in the weight of the food you're about to cook. The problem is that over the easy and instant access of manually selecting heat controls and timings, the quality of the food that comes out can sometimes still be frozen!
This is where the features of trying to make life easier can get difficult because whilst heavy reliance could be trusted upon with earlier Panasonic oven programs the NN A722 demands a bit more of your time. In the past Panasonic auto cook programs had one default program and you selected it via the food menus on offer. On the NN A722 you have to further select the weight of the food and manually enter it after you've selected the various Meat, Fish and Vegetable selections. Whilst this may sound easy to do the NN A722's weight function can't be over ridden and as such I spend less time using the auto cook programs and the Chaos Defrost and just prefer to tap in cooking times and heat levels manually. Luckily the Panasonic does feature a difference of conversion button from pounds to kilograms and a further two buttons to select levels. However it means you have to put up with incessant beeps from the oven whenever you do this. Additionally out of the auto cook menus there's a Curry/Chinese style food auto cook program but it only refers to reheating and not actual cooking from the word go. Other controls include a very handy child lock button for children with inquisitive and curious minds!
Last but not least the Panasonic's interior is very easy to clean out due to its all stainless steel interior and for most of the walls, grease and oil will happily come off. Where the grill element is, it is protected by a flush fitting perforated edge that cannot be removed. Here is where the problems begin!
The problem of cleaning means that if you use the microwave for its combination function and regardless of its wonderful non-stick glass metal cover, bits of food inevitably get stuck to the element and there's no way of cleaning it unless you steam clean that area. However the Panasonic has to be completely dry before you can use it again and getting to the element is made difficult by the perforated grill that cannot be removed. Additionally the fan at the back is easier to access but it still has a perforated piece of flush metal cast into the microwave wall that makes cleaning difficult. Where the door seals and hinges are concerned, food particles are easy to get to however and the touch pad is at least damp cloth washable. Externally however the squarish nature of the Panasonic has a very light silver painted metal on it and can often buckle when moved out of the way for general cleaning.
Last week our Panasonic started to look different from one angle of the kitchen. I couldn't find what it was until I activated the oven door (the light goes on automatically) and realised that the outer door that shows the decals, power rating and "Inverter" name had slipped out of its housing dangerously revealing the inner glass door at one side. When attempting to push the plastic acrylic upwards to fit it back into the doorframe the whole window fell out! Panasonic's customer services were very unhelpful and since the microwave went out of production last year, there are no replacement doors available and a special order would need to be made from Japan with a high cost engineer sent out to fit it. At one point they suggested that my parents had put undue pressure on the door for the window to fall out! Aside from opening and closing the door (and never roughly) I can't really see how they would have subjected the door to so-called pressure!
On the basis that this oven cost in excess of £250 I was most surprised at Panasonic's response and there is no way I'm using the oven again until I or my mum will buy another one for safety reasons. Even though the company gave us this free because of a different model that had numerous electrical faults it suddenly points the finger at Panasonic's not so-solid reliability and design.
Although the NN A722 is no longer made or on sale, it provides some insight into the use of what Panasonic are now incorporating into their ovens. Although performance is excellent and most foods are cooked to excellent standards, their build quality for me is below par. Sadly for Panasonic it means that any eventual purchase will mean a highly extended cost price guarantee on the payer and that their build quality isn't as good as it once was. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2009
Short name: Panasonic NN-A722