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The Coolest Cooler review: Is the Coolest cooler than being cool? If you have $500, then yes

The Coolest Cooler is a 55-quart cooler equipped with cool extras like a USB charger, Bluetooth speaker and built-in blender. Is this Kickstarter record-holder enough of a party animal to justify its price tag?

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Ashlee Clark Thompson
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Ashlee Clark Thompson Associate Editor

Ashlee spent time as a newspaper reporter, AmeriCorps VISTA and an employee at a healthcare company before she landed at CNET. She loves to eat, write and watch "Golden Girls" (preferably all three at the same time). The first two hobbies help her out as an appliance reviewer. The last one makes her an asset to trivia teams. Ashlee also created the blog, AshleeEats.com, where she writes about casual dining in Louisville, Kentucky.

8 min read

Editors' note, March 1, 2016: The manufacturers of the Coolest Cooler are looking for investors to help complete orders for backers who supported the project on Kickstarter. Only one-third of people who bought a Coolest during the company's 2014 Kickstarter campaign have received their cooler, said Susan Towers, Coolest's marketing director.

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The Coolest Cooler

The Good

The Coolest Cooler is the Swiss Army knife of outdoor equipment. The spacious wheeled 55-quart cooler comes with a deceptively powerful Bluetooth speaker, convenient USB charger and built-in blender, all of which are powered by its integrated rechargeable battery.

The Bad

It's a $485, AU$657 cooler with a blender that's just so-so.

The Bottom Line

Despite its high price (and so-so blender), the Coolest Cooler ultimately succeeds in creating a one-stop shop for portable power, cold drinks and hot tunes that's ideal for party-minded tailgaters, beachgoers and picnickers.

In a letter to backers, founder Ryan Grepper said the company underestimated how much it would cost to make and deliver the Coolest to backers. "The process is well underway to find the best partner, and then ramp up production and get every backer his or her Coolest as soon as possible. However, at this point, we can't estimate exactly when this will happen," Grepper wrote. This latest delay comes after reports in December that early Coolest supporters were upset when the the product became available on Amazon before they received their coolers.

The Coolest Cooler began as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 that touted the project as "a portable party disguised as a cooler, bringing blended drinks, music and fun to any outdoor occasion." In just 52 days, 62,642 backers pledged $13,285,226 to bring to the market a cooler packed with a blender, a Bluetooth speaker, a USB charger and other add-ons. The amount of money the project raised made the Coolest the most successful Kickstarter campaign at the time. The Coolest started coming off the line in July 2015, and now anyone in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can order one online -- for a whopping $485. (At the current exchange rate, AU$657 in Australia.)

The Coolest Cooler is made for the SkyMall catalog. Like the items that tempt airline passengers to impulse-buy from flying altitude, the Coolest is a fun, frivolous and expensive product that will be useful for some and a waste of money for many others. Having spent some time with it, I can say this cooler has a lot to love, especially if you enjoy outdoor entertaining.

The design is thoughtful and consumer-friendly, food and drinks stay cold over an extended amount of time, and the Bluetooth speaker and USB charger work well. That said, the Coolest has some flaws, specifically with the limitations of the blender. And it's hard to hand over nearly $500 for a cooler, especially when a consumer can buy the independent components of the Coolest for far less money. (Specifically, a big ol' cooler, a portable hand blender and a Bluetooth speaker with USB charging capabilities -- such as the JBL Charge 2+ -- will run you about $285 total.)

But let's be honest: products like the Coolest Cooler aren't about practicality or thrift. Ultimately, this is an entertaining product that works well overall and fulfills many needs of the (slightly tipsy) outdoor enthusiast. It's a cooler for someone who spends most of their year outside, likes blended drinks and doesn't want to make separate purchases for their party needs. If that's your idea of a good time, warm up the credit card and enjoy.

Coolest Cooler is a hot product with a price that leaves me cold (pictures)

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Kitchen sink not included

The Coolest is just a big cooler when you strip down the extras. It's 25 inches long, 19 inches wide and 18 inches tall (63.5x48.3x45.8cm) with a 55-quart capacity (almost 48 imperial quarts). A pull-up handle and two sturdy back wheels make rolling the Coolest similar to transporting a heavy piece of luggage. There's also a bungee cord that lets you carry extras on the top of the Coolest.

Inside the Coolest, there's a removable insert that doubles as a cutting board. The insert divides the Coolest into two compartments -- a large space for drinks and/or food and a smaller section for blender ice (because no one wants a frozen margarita with ice that's been keeping a pack of bologna cold). With the insert in place, I still had enough room to pack nine food and drink packages with a variety of sizes into the large section and cover it with 10 cups of ice. I popped in some thermocouples to measure the Coolest's internal temperatures over a 4-hour period. The Coolest stayed well below the recommended 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius), an important performance measure to keep food at safe temperatures.

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I fit all these products into the largest section of the Coolest, plus 10 cups of ice. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Coolest uses smart design to fit in a host of extras. The split lid opens from the sides so you can independently access each section of the Coolest. The blender and its control lever are built into the smaller left lid, and there are four cup holders built into the right lid.

The hefty 20-volt, rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers the blender and USB charger is located beneath the left lid. The underside of the left lid also has dedicated spots on which to sit the blender pitcher and lid when you fill it with ice, a minor detail that adds a lot of convenience. Unfortunately, the battery's bulk limits how high you can pile ice or other items into the small side of the cooler. An LED light and the USB charger are also located on the left lid. Beneath the right lid, the Coolest has a ceramic paring knife in a safety holder and four plates.

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Four plates and a ceramic knife are just a few of the helpful extras included in the Coolest. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

There's a storage compartment on the front of the Coolest that holds the rechargeable Bluetooth speaker. The back of this compartment is magnetic, so you can stick the included wine opener in the compartment without having to worry about it getting away. There's also a bottle opener with a magnetic cap catcher next to the storage compartment. Details like these solve problems you didn't even know you had.

Blender is a one trick-pony

The standout feature of the Coolest is the blender that lets you make fresh, blended drinks in the throes of an outdoor party away from the comforts of a kitchen. But the blender disappoints in its performance and versatility.

The blender's 48-ounce pitcher is covered with a limited amount of measurement marks and an illustration for how much ice to use with your drinks. Those measurements aren't very helpful if you're making a drink without ice, such as a smoothie with frozen fruit.

The blender is easy to use. The blade construction is similar to the Oster Versa and the Nutri Ninja . You fill the pitcher with your ingredients, sit the pitcher in the blender on the lid of the Coolest and pull the red lever to get it going. The blender is designed for short bursts only; it automatically shuts off after 20 seconds, even if you keep the lever engaged. This eliminates more complicated recipes, but I'm sure Coolest's creators didn't envision its customers making whipped cream on the cooler.

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The Coolest has a blender built into the lid for blended drinks on the go. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Coolest's blender is made for smoothies and frozen drinks, so I bypassed our usual blender tests in which we see how well a blender makes pesto, cheese sauce, almond flour, almond butter and pancake batter. Instead, I made frozen margaritas and smoothies.

I gave six cups of ice, one cup of tequila and one cup of margarita mix a 20-second whirl in the blender during which I held the power lever until the unit stopped blending. I ended up with a batch of margaritas composed of grainy bits of ice I had to chew through to enjoy the drink. I expected a more slushy consistency for this frozen concoction and was disappointed with the crunchy texture.

The blender also had a hard time breaking down frozen strawberries straight from the freezer when I made several batches of smoothies. The Coolest blended 94.77 percent of the ingredients I threw in, which means there were a few marble-sized chunks of frozen strawberries that the blender didn't demolish. In comparison, the similar, US-only $40 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender scored a 96.41 percent and the $529 Vitamix 7500 (also US-only) blended 98.46 percent of its content.

The Coolest's blender isn't perfect, but it is sufficient for a gathering. In the next generation of Coolests, I'd like to see a removable blender with multiple speeds. That would extend the usefulness of the Coolest and give the consumer more control over the blender.

Coolest is all about that battery, Bluetooth speaker

The techie features of the Coolest live up to the cooler's lofty name. The Coolest's user manual promises that the battery will last for 16 blends, depending on if you are also using the USB charger that runs on the same battery. I used the blender 16 times and intermittently charged my phone, and the battery still had plenty of juice as illustrated by the power indicator on the battery. I'm confident that the battery would hold up well at an outing, but if you need to go the distance, you can invest in a spare for $55 (AU$75) more.

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The Coolest's 20-volt battery packs a lot of power into the cooler. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Bluetooth speaker is just as notable as the battery. The easy-to-grip water-resistant speaker is 6 inches long, 2 inches wide and 4 inches tall (15x5x10cm), which makes it easy to slip into the Coolest's front storage compartment. As with all such speakers, you can wirelessly pair nearly any smartphone, tablet or iPod Touch, and then play any audio therein.

As far as music controls go, you can only adjust the volume, play or pause your music using the speaker, which is good if you're finicky about people messing with your playlist. The speaker gets really loud for such a small, handheld unit, but -- as with nearly all such portable Bluetooth speakers -- the sound begins to get distorted when you turn the volume up to the max. Happily though, the speaker also kept streaming music from my phone from as far away as 100 feet (about 30.5m). In other words, the speaker may not blow away the best models from Bose, Ultimate Ears, JBL or others in this increasingly competitive space, but it does a good job overall.

You can buy a second Coolest Bluetooth speaker for $79 (AU$107) to double up the audio action, but doing so cuts the audio range.

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The Bluetooth speaker that comes with the Coolest fits into a storage compartment on the front of the unit. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Final thoughts

I don't host outdoor get-togethers; I don't tailgate, either. But I can't deny the appeal of the Coolest Cooler. It's an expensive toy that is sure to bring a lot of fun and attention to the folks who buy it. But should you? Well, if you don't order the Coolest, you're going to pay about half as much to assemble the same basic functionality -- cooler, speaker, USB charger, blender -- in a more ad hoc (and far uncooler) fashion. But if you can justify an extra $200 to $250 as a party premium to tie everything together in one handy package -- and keep your expectations for the blender in check -- the Coolest Cooler may be well be your ultimate barbecue buddy. And you can return the Coolest within 30 days if you're not sold on this ultimate cooler.

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8.0

The Coolest Cooler

Score Breakdown

Features 9Usability 9Design 8Performance 7
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