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Retro Friday: Dial-Operated Microwave Ovens

Posted by nik on June 10, 2011

An instance of where modern technology got it really, really wrong is with microwave oven controls. This a very longstanding complaint from countless people, yet idiot manufacturers still to this day produce ovens with baffling controls when all we want to do is heat up coffee and soup in the quickest way possible.

The thing to remember about a microwave oven is that it’s an oven first. Anything else it does takes away from the job it’s supposed to do. What this means is that if you have to even think for a second how to operate a microwave oven, that’s confirmation you’re dealing with a poorly-designed appliance. You should never have to think nor ‘get used to’ how one of these ovens works.

Can we be saved from this misery?

Yes. The answer is to go retro and purposely seek out a microwave that uses dial controls instead of a membrane keypad (which almost all do).

First, a modern microwave:

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You see a whole bunch of buttons (most of which you’ll never use) and a clock that has to be reset each time the power goes out and when Daylight Savings kicks in. This is a microwave that needs to be programmed just to work, and that’s stupid. Remember, it’s an oven first.

Here’s a microwave still made new (thank God) that uses dial controls:

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You see two dials and only one button for the only thing that matters: to open the stupid door.

The top dial is for heat power, the second for cook time. That’s it. No clock. No programming required. No need to press ‘Start’. As soon as you turn the cook dial, the oven is on; it doesn’t get any easier than that.

If you hate-hate-hate your current microwave, purposely seek out one that uses dial controls. You’ll love the simplicity, ease-of-operation, and the fact you’re not required to preset anything other than heat and cook time.

“It’s weird to see a microwave oven without a digital display.” No, it isn’t. You’ve been fooled into thinking an oven needed a digital panel just to work. It doesn’t and never did. Two dials and a door release is all you ever needed.

6 thoughts on “Retro Friday: Dial-Operated Microwave Ovens”

Hilary Graham says:
Please tell me the make and where I can buy this. I have a friend who is blind and she cannot operate the digital microwaves, and her old one is on its last legs.
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David Clough says:
My microwave only has one dial and a cook/start button. No way to adjust a power setting. It is really simple.
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romwell says:
Your post sums up succinctly everything I think about microwave interfaces. Two dials and an open door button is really the best interface.
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Aaron Fournier says:
I never thought about it before, but you are very right. I was used to one with dials, but recently needed to use one with a membrane keypad and it’s really frustrating to operate.
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David M says:
Agreed, for some things analog is much better.
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Douglas Marques says:
Exelent point! I thought it was just me! I bought a microwave 12 years ago and had to replace it after 8 years. I really miss the old one because I mostly needed two controls to operate it: the time dial and the start button. Sometimes I used the power dial too. My new microwave is so stupid that it seems to be based on technology 10 years older that my old one! To set the timer I have to press a lot of buttons and it beeps very loud every time I push any button, even the start button, or even when I open the stupid door!!! It pisses me off and I can’t do anything about it. After some months I tried to find one with dials but in vain. I wonder why this kind of “devolution” happens, because minimalist design is more and more common.
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