FirstBuild's Opal Nugget Ice is the first relatively affordable nugget ice maker, and it will be irresistible to die-hard pellet ice addicts.
All ice isn't created equal, just ask a fan of nugget ice. Also known as compressed or pellet ice, nugget ice enjoys a fervent following and is highly praised for its soft, crunchy texture, and slow melt time. Unfortunately nugget ice is hard to find, only sold at select restaurant chains and gas stations, and home nugget ice makers have traditionally been luxury devices with multi-thousand dollar price tags. Chewable ice addicts now have a reason to celebrate. The $499 Firstbuild Opal Nugget Ice has arrived, and with it the ability to churn out pounds of nugget ice in just hours right from your kitchen countertop.
Of course that's still a lot of money to spend on a single-function small appliance. Even so, for those who absolutely must have access to nugget ice in their homes, the Opal is a game changer. It's the first and only approachable option for mainstream consumers to make this frozen novelty for themselves.
Standing 17.25 inches high and measuring 10.5 inches wide by 15.5 inches deep, the Opal Nugget Ice is larger than your typical home kitchen appliance. It dwarfs even the biggest drip coffee makers and is closer in size to a mini refrigerator or even toaster oven (set on its side). Tipping the scales at a hefty 44 pounds, it's no lightweight either.
In spite of its size and heft, the aesthetic of the Opal is pleasingly minimal. With smooth stainless steel running across its flat surfaces and rectangular chassis, you likely won't notice just how massive the Opal actually is. It also has just one, circular button surrounded by a slick-looking LED ring. This LED ring glows in different colors to communicate the Opal's status.
The bin itself functions as a square window to view ice production as it happens. When you pull on the corners of the clear bin, it slides out to reveal a cube-shaped container, You can either let the bin hang down at an angle for quick ice access, or remove it entirely.
Inside and directly under the ice bin is the Opal's water reservoir. Since the Opal lacks a dedicated water line input, you must supply this tank with fresh water from your sink. One tank load of water will let the Opal fill its bin to its full 3 pound capacity, which takes about 3 hours.
You can even link the Opal Nugget Ice to your phone or tablet (via Bluetooth) and control it using a mobile app. Unfortunately the software doesn't actually do much. Opal has numerous sensors which detect when the ice bin is full, or when you have removed it. Likewise they notice if the water tank is empty. I wish if the app could alert me with notifications for when I need to refill the tank water, empty the tray, or that it's due for a cleaning.
Currently the app only displays the Opal's current status but can't send alerts. What you can do within the application is tell the Opal to stop and start making ice , dim or brighten its LED ring, and place ice creation on a schedule.
The Opal Nugget Ice I tested worked very well. The unit met and slightly exceeded its claimed ice making rate of 1 pound per hour. In my experience my Opal test unit managed to pump out 1.06 pounds of cylindrical pellet ice in 1 hour. At the end of 3 hours the gadget had a full 3.1 pounds sitting inside its collection tray.
I admit I then got greedy and tied to squeeze even more ice out of the machine but I don't recommend it. I gently vibrated the tray periodically to level the surface of ice inside the tray. Otherwise nuggets pile into a pyramid and trip the tray sensor which then halts ice production. While I did eek out a little extra ice (3.5 pounds) the increased weight tended to crush ice pellets at the bottom of the tray into slush.
Similarly, when the Opal first begins making ice its texture is soft, wet, even slushy. As the appliance cools, however, ice quality improves so that after 30 minutes you should have solid nuggets.
There are some drawbacks to the Opal Nugget Ice. First of all, it's loud. Unless you enjoy the sound of a vibrating compressor, a pump, and a fan, I suggest placing the Opal in a far corner of the kitchen or better yet in the basement. I also found that filling the water tank can be a chore. It sits far back in the machine, making it hard to fill with a large pitcher without spilling.
The Opal also isn't a true freezer and can't store ice indefinitely. Ice sitting in the tray will eventually melt, its runoff dripping into the water tank below. This fact combined with the lack of a water line means that if you leave it unattended, the Opal could conceivably reuse the same water indefinitely. That possibility strikes me as a little gross. I would never leave stagnant water in my coffee maker or refrigerator, much less recycle it.
Regardless of its high price compared with other countertop appliances, the $499 Firstbuild Opal Nugget Ice ($449 on pre-order) works as promised. The machine makes nugget ice fast, and it's easy enough to use.
Given that the alternatives (like this luxury unit from Scotsman) cost thousands of dollars, First Build has, yes, disrupted the market with the Opal. Even though I suspect most people will still have a hard time justifying $500 for an ice maker, even those that really like nugget ice, for the passionate few, homemade nugget ice just became a lot more accessible.