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The People's Panasonic: Place, Press, Power & Plate Up!
Member Name: Nar2
Advantages: Cheap price, basic "touch" microwave, does what it says, smart & functional
Disadvantages: 700 watts, Pesky weight programs, Pulses in between cooking.
The landlord's old rusty Belling microwave is in some sorry state due to over use and under cleaning from the last tenant and I wasn't prepared to let the old thing power up food for my consumption any longer. As such I've been looking for a Panasonic mainly because my parents owned a Panasonic oven without problems for the best part of 18 years before being replaced by another Panasonic oven and then the John Lewis oven (which is a Panasonic). Thus, the age-old question of reliability, brand trust and ease of use in my mind is fully justified in considering Panasonic as a brand even though they are knowingly expensive from the offset. You can imagine the shock and surprise when I discovered the NN-E279WMPBQ model at John Lewis. At a cost of £60 brand new in the shop this product's price was a most unexpected delight. Online, John Lewis has increased the price to £69-00 however.
First of all, the Panasonic NN-E279 has 19 litres capacity to anyone who actually understands the volume of accommodation ("imagine 19 individual litres of milk cartons," I hear my late Father say) but I'm pleased to say my squarish dinner plates that fit a heavy but generous amount of chicken, potatoes and tons of veg fit with no problems! However my rectangular pasta maker definitely has problems and has to be stuck in between each side of the dishwasher safe glass turntable plate bang in the middle or it will just stop turning because of its generic size; this is a problem that happened in the Belling too. Externally the microwave measures 44cm width by a height of nearly 26cm and a diameter of 38cm; space is a priority in my kitchen and this white microwave fits well in the space left over by the old Belling, looks okay and has a nice matt finish. To the eye though the opening cavity is smaller than most even though it is well lit and the door lacks any external handle with preference to a press button release instead. A fan vent is located at the left hand side externally so you do need to make sure nothing is blocking it when placing this oven. In terms of the colour white microwaves whatever brand they are can be difficult to clean if grease/oil is built up from kitchen prep and then the dust forms and this oven is available in black or silver according to Panasonic.
Now in the few years of experience one of the aspects that made me go with Panasonic is that it does have a basic but easy to understand control panel. Reliance is a futile thing however! Heating times are given in 10 minutes, 1 minute and 10 seconds and there are five selective power levels with the "High," "Medium," "Low," "Warm" and "Defrost" options that meet my expectations perfectly. So it is a pity that Panasonic have decided to do away with the selective individual worded pads and just put a central "micro" pad that has to be pushed either once or up to five times to go through the selected programs per need. Luckily the LCD screen has bright green LED's on a black panel and clarity and symbols for the associated wording is very clear but you'll need to look at it all the time to get the heat program you want.
It may well hark back to the 1980s when digital panels were all the rage but the wording is reliably better than "P" for pulsing, something that up until now Panasonic have tried to eradicate with their energy efficient Inverter technology. Pity this one hasn't got it though. Whilst it has general good build quality the noise level is unexpected. Not loud but certainly a little disconcerting because it lacks Panasonic's Inverter technology it will often kick into its pulsing as it goes between cooking and cooling. This happens more when I combine two heating levels at the same time such as "Warm" for 2 minutes and then "High" for whatever couple of minutes left. The oven also carries on with the constant beeping each time a pad is pushed although it is not annoying and the warning alarm at the end of cooking alerts the owner with five final beeps to signal cooking has been accomplished. Those who have owned Panasonic before will relate to this oven well on this point. At least there's a child lock function fitted despite the constant beeps and the whole control panel is flush fitted which aids in cleaning down after use.
Then there's the interior - whilst the interior is acrylic painted, this one is painted in greyish black. For me that answers the perfect situation. If food explodes then it can jolly well do it without attacking every corner on a white surface and making it look ten times worse just because the interior is white! Panasonic have thought wisely here because despite the acrylic interior, the coating is actually non-stick and far better thought out than the standard acrylics that are used in other brands. Four thick PVC feet ensure this microwave doesn't move each time the door is pressed open; it has an 11kg weight so it is quite a heavy oven where the total weight is welcomed against ovens that are liable to slide around.
A sore point for me early on before purchase was finding out that this microwave only has a 700-watt rating, which helpfully puts it into the "C" rating category that is supposedly more "energy efficient". This, folks has NOWT to do with energy rating on electricity bills (because a digital clock when the microwave is at standby mode draws more power in when not used), but simply the time it takes to cook convenience food - for all that it is 100 watts down (simply add a minute more/less for general cooking times dependent on the instructions) - to the "halo of 800/E" ratings that most food cooking directions at aimed at these days, the performance of the Panasonic is generally okay for what I need it to do. A quick look to the specs on Tesco's site however paints a different story - this model apparently fits into the "E" rating which is supposedly more powerful than "C" which states it so on the microwave door. No wonder buyers are confused if the brands themselves don't know what they are trying to pass off! The C rating is lower than E where efficiency is concerned and the Panasonic is able to reheat coffee or tea for example between 1 to 2 mins which is a lot slower than my mum's much more expensive Panasonic based John Lewis microwave that can zap similarly-cold coffee in 30 seconds!
It is the latter features of the Panasonic NN-E279, which can become a bit monotonous after a while even though the user manual is very helpful and has a good understanding of English with good diagrams to match. There are three auto cook programs and three auto reheat programs totalling 6 in all and excluding the further 3 defrost options. Whilst they cater for the "average consumer," on food types such as curry, Chinese meals and Pasta you also have to pad in the weight of the food before the microwave can start. This is an issue, which gets my goat every time! When was the last time you weighed something to cook in a microwave? Do you weigh your coffee mug when it needs to be reheated? I certainly don't!
So, you have a little mince in your freezer that needs defrosting, right? Or perhaps a leg of chicken? For those who eat alone I'd summarize that the basic weight is around 1.5kg at the most. Is there a setting on this Panasonic that can deal with such a low weight? Just about! There are three selective and pre-programmed choices for the defrost function: Bread, Meat Items and Meat Joints. The weight of each food has to be inserted by padding it into the touch control before the program can start. Bread items have a weight range of 100g to 600g (handy for those who make their own bread), Meat Items 200g to 1000g and Meat Joints 600g to 1600g. The programs go into auto cooking mode the moment the Start button is pressed but in some cases some of the programs may stop intermittently so you can check your food and to be fair to the Panasonic, it does defrosting rather well without overcooking the food. This is another issue that I hate about modern microwaves though; our old commercial Panasonic oven just did the defrost without fuss and without interruption. If you wanted to check the food you could do it at any time and if at any time you opened the door to check the food and the door was locked back in, the microwave would start up again. The NN-E279 doesn't have this feature; you have to press the start button again to get the oven going if the door is opened intermittently throughout the cooking process.
For the price, Panasonic's NN-E279 model isn't a bad microwave but I was expecting a bit more following my older experiences twenty odd years down the line. Whilst the interior finish is welcomed and easier to clean than past ovens I've used, the auto cook and defrost functions are something that I probably won't use much, particularly as the weight instructions annoy the hell out of me. On the basis that you'd have to spend £100 for their next level microwave that have the selective pads for each heat level, it is a great pity that Panasonic have been stingy in not providing this on this model. The halo of Inverter technology that reduces noise generally is also missing and its about time Panasonic fitted their touch control microwaves with this noise reduction as standard. Thanks for reading! İNar2 2010
www.johnlewis.co.uk (the price has now risen to £69!)
Summary: Panasonic need to stop being so stingy - could be a lot better thought out.
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