Ninja Nutri Ninja BL450 review: This mini ninja has power if not flexibility

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.2
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Usability: 6.0
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 5.0
Review Date:

The Good Despite its small size, the Nutri Ninja competes with high-end blenders when doing the basics. The streamlined design makes it easy to use and clean.

The Bad It has the power to do more, but the single-serve-only setup and difficulty with dry foods prevent it from being an effective multitasker.

The Bottom Line This is a powerful and effective single-serve blender that won't cost a fortune, just don't expect it to go too far beyond the line of duty.

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Because of its size, I questioned the power of the Nutri Ninja. Fortunately, this single-serve blender more than put my concerns to rest and nailed all of our realistic usage tests. For $90, it makes smoothies as well as some $400 and $500 models. What's more, it completes these tasks quickly and with style. The single-serving containers easily transform from blending jars to travel-ready cups.

However, Hamilton Beach has also released plenty of models that can do simple things like smoothies, and they typically retail for $40. Newer versions of this discount brand, like the Stay or Go model even include similar to go cups. Sure, the Nutri Ninja looks better and blends quicker, but other high-end blenders multitask to justify the cost increase. Without a larger container, Nutri Ninja couldn't effectively perform food processing tasks.

With 900 watts at the Nutri Ninja's disposal, a bigger jar with measurement lines might have rounded out the product and made it a steal. As it stands, all you're getting for the extra $50 over a Hamilton Beach model is speed and style. That's not enough for me to universally recommend this product, but if all you're looking for is an easy-to-use, single-serve smoothie maker, the Nutri Ninja is certainly worthy of your consideration.

Design and usability

Ninja has produced several high end blenders, including one of our office favorites, the Ninja Ultima. The Ultima retails for only $260 and can match the $400 to $500 models across the board. For the Nutri Ninja, it has streamlined the design to a quick-and-easy single-serve model, dialing the power back from 1,500 watts with the Ultima to 900, and in doing so, getting the price down to an MSRP of $90.

You can purchase the Nutri Ninja at all major retailers throughout the US and Canada. It's referred to both as the Nutri Ninja and the Nutri Ninja Pro, though there's no difference between the models. Though the suggested retail is $90, many places are currently selling it for $100. It is not currently available overseas.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Nutri Ninja looks similar to the much-hyped NutriBullet, and indeed, since the box runs through a comparison of the former to the latter, it was obviously designed to compete and win over some of the health-conscious smoothie makers interested in the "nutrient extraction" of these machines. Nutri Ninja even boasts a patented "Pro Extractor Blade" for cutting through skins, seeds, and stems so you can access all of the health benefits offered by various kinds of food.

If you have another high quality blender and are wondering if you're missing out on some secret extra process employed by the Nutri Ninja or NutriBullet, rest assured, you're not. "Nutrient extraction" simply means it's good at chopping up fruits and veggies, that's it. Compared to store-bought fruit juice loaded with sugar and artificial flavoring, it will be more healthful.

If your blender is old enough that making smoothies involves picking out chunks of seeds and pulp when you're done, sure, advantage to the new guys. That said, most modern blenders can make smoothies with ease. In fact, every blender we've tested at CNET aced this basic test, including the $40 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender.

The advantage of the Nutri Ninja is the amount of power it packs into a small and relatively cheap machine. 900 watts is a solid increase over the 700 offered by Hamilton Beach and the 600 of Nutribullet. It spins its blades at 21,000rpm. Again, this is impressive since the NutriBullet can only reach 10,000rpm. There are plenty of 1,000- or 1,500-watt blenders, including others by Ninja, but those typically sell for more than twice as much.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Nutri Ninja also boasts a significant cool factor. It's sleek and simple. In the box, you'll find the motorized base, the blade attachment, a 24-ounce cup, an 18-ounce cup, and two custom-fit lids. The instruction manual is simple and helpful, and they've even thrown in a recipe book to help you get started if you purchase this blender with healthful eating in mind.

To use it, load your ingredients into either cup, seal it shut with the bladed lid, flip it over and put it on the base, turn it to lock it in place, then push down in pulses until your ingredients reach the desired consistency. When your smoothie is ready, unlock the cup from the base by turning it in the opposite direction, remove it and flip it, then unscrew the blades. You can run out with that cup in hand, grabbing a sipping lid and turning it into a to-go container as needed.

It's easy, effective, and fun to transform your blending container into your drinking cup. The Nutri Ninja has enough power to prepare your food quickly, and I liked that through pulsing I have direct control over the thickness of the mixture. If you need something finer, you can hold the container down on the base and it will stay on, but the manual recommends pulses.

You can place the cups and lids in the dishwasher for cleaning, including the blade attachment, then simply wipe off the base when it needs it with a damp cloth. Normally, no food will contact the base outside of spills, so a quick occasional wipe-down will do. Alternatively, you can fill up either jar with warm water and a little dish soap and pulse it a few times. Rinse everything off and you'll be good to blend again unless you were just mixing something particularly sticky.

The pieces fit together well and offer a solid grip despite not having handles. Altogether, I was able to make a smoothie from scratch and clean up for the next round within a couple of minutes.

That's not to say the design is without flaws. Both jars are intentionally narrow to allow them to fit in cup holders as needed. When blending, that occasionally would cause tightly packed foods to jam in the middle and fail to reach the blades. Putting the biggest foods on the bottom helps, but because you'll flip the container 180 degrees from filling it to blending with it, just be sure to plan ahead and keep in mind what the actual bottom will be.

Flipping to blend also works against this Ninja with any syrups or sticky liquids you include in your recipe. When I prepared a pesto with olive oil, it naturally flowed to the bottom as I put the ingredients into the container. I attached the blade and flipped it to place it on the base for blending, and some oil remained stuck to the top.

A few blenders have small openings you can use to scrape the sides while your mixing jar is in place. The Nutri Ninja's simplicity works against it here; there was no way I could help it out other than giving it a shake, which didn't solve any of the serious jams. Without openings, it's also more difficult to tell if your drink is done, especially if it's coating the walls of the container after a couple of pulses, and you can't push that residue down without taking it off the base and removing the blades.

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Be careful with those blades. Colin West McDonald/CNET

If you blend something thick, including something as basic as ice, having to pull off the blade attachment to access your food can prove problematic as it'll gather around the blades near the opening and force you to tug the lid to remove it. Once you get the blades off, be careful not the leave them lying around. The fact that they're a separate, small attachment worried me. I would have appreciated a safe way to store them without reattaching them to a cup. If you make two smoothies, they'll be sitting out, exposed somewhere until you're done drinking out of those containers.

The little annoyances and missteps of the Nutri Ninja added up for me as I tested it. I still like the design and find it easy to use, but the limitations prevent it from being an all-purpose blender I could recommend to anyone.

Features

Mostly, it's the lack of features that hold the Nutri Ninja back from greatness. For multipurpose blending, the Nutri Ninja just doesn't have enough room or options to help you get the job done. Yes, 900 watts is enough for most tasks, but it's missing the equipment necessary for serious cooking. This lack of options is really what you're sacrificing for the cheaper price.

The base doesn't have a single button, a bold choice for a blender and again, one that works fine for smoothies and light tasks. However, without a button, there's no way to keep the blender running without pushing down on the jar. There are no presets to use for different speeds or pulsing settings. Press down and it will blend. That's it.

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No buttons means it puts form over function. Colin West McDonald/CNET

An on-off button and a bigger jar with measurement lines would have been simple but highly meaningful additions. The Ninja Ultima has this and includes the handy to-go cups. They are an extra, not the star, and the Ultima works better as an all-purpose machine because of it. Sure, it costs much more, but the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Blender retails for $40, includes two cups for on-the-run blending, and has a 32-ounce jar with a wider circumference to allow more food to reach its blades.

The Stay or Go has less power to offer, but did the smoothies, pesto, and coffee grinding just as well, albeit a bit slower. On top of that, the Stay or Go includes an on/off switch, so the extra time required won't be quite as tedious as you can leave it blending while you multitask.

The Nutri Ninja is a simple machine, and $90 isn't bad for a one-trick wonder, but it falls a few features short of being a great deal.

Performance

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