Ninja BL491 Nutri Ninja Auto-iQ Compact System review: This blender is not a Ninja star
One of my main complaints in my positive review of the original Nutri Ninja was the lack of a bigger jar with measurement lines. The new Nutri Ninja Auto-IQ Compact system not only has that, it also a more powerful motor as well as a food processor attachment, a dough blade, and a stainless steel cup. At $160, it's more expensive than the $90 Nutri Ninja, but the price is still more than reasonable, especially compared to $400+ Vitamix and Blendtec blenders.
The Ninja Auto-IQ should be a home run, but it's not. The main 48-ounce jar isn't very well designed, and as a result, its blending performance is sub par. The other pieces work fine, and the food processor attachment is a nice addition to the Nutri Ninja package. The Nutri Ninja Auto-IQ Compact System is still a fine blender, but it's not as special as it could have been.
Unmasking the Ninja
With an 1,200-watt motor, you get plenty of power for your dollar with the Ninja Auto-IQ Compact System. The base works with the various attachments, and has suction cups for feet that helps it stay upright as it blends your food.
You can buy this powerful Nutri Ninja with all of its attachments from the company site for $160, as well as Best Buy, Sears, Target, Amazon and other small appliance retailers. If you don't want the food processor attachment, you can save $30 and go with the $130 Nutri Ninja Auto-IQ Complete, which is the same system otherwise.
Both models are available in the UK, though unfortunately not in Australia at the moment. The international versions are called the Nutri Ninja Auto-IQ Pro Compact and Pro Complete respectively. On Amazon.co.uk, the Compact is priced at £180 and the complete at £150. The US price converts to approximately AU$215 for the Compact and AU$175 for the Complete.
Blending on the go
A single-blade attachment fits into both to-go cups and the 48-ounce food jar. With the to-go cups, that makes for an easy process of blending, swapping out the blades for the lid and walking out your door with your smoothie. It's a nice design that Ninja's employed for some time, both on the Nutri Ninja, and the to-go cups of the great Ninja Ultima.
It works quite well for smoothies in particular, but having the lid on the bottom still causes some annoyances, as I noted in the Nutri Ninja review. You won't be able to scrape the sides or help your blender in any way during tougher assignments.
The food processor
Other annoyances include the finicky food processor lid. I like the food processor attachment in general, it adds versatility to the package in terms of what you can blend, but it takes some skill to get the lid exactly in the right spot so you can push down the lever and seal it.
Get the lid on correctly, and the food processor will make pesto within seconds and even pulverize a full 8 ounce block of cheddar. The food processor did quite well on most of our stress tests, while the to-go cups held their own, as expected, on the basics like smoothies.
The main jar
Both results help redeem this Nutri Ninja system, as the main jar doesn't do either the heavy lifting or the fundamentals particularly well. The blades don't reach low enough or wide enough. Not only does that inhibit flow, but I consistently found small, untouched pieces of food stuck under the blades or pushed away to the sides.
At top speeds, the blades will push thick ingredients up and away, while keeping small particles trapped underneath, creating a cavity and causing them to spin fruitlessly.
Both the low speed and the Auto-IQ buttons help with this issue, but they don't fix the problem, and it shows that the poorly designed main jar doesn't know how to harness this Ninja's 1,200 watts for truly powerful blending. This jar is sorely missing the tower blades of the Ninja Ultima.
The blades for the food processor look similar to those, and it handles tough blending much better as a result. Neither the food processor nor the main 48-ounce jar could complete our toughest stress test, though - turning raw almonds into almond butter. It's a tall order, but the best of the best, including the Ninja Ultima, pull it off.
Put any blending jar onto the base, and the display lights up letting you pick your options and start blending. You'll twist the jars to lock them in, and I liked how secure they felt once in place. The blending options themselves aren't as impressive.
The Auto-IQ feature refers to the Extract, Blend, and Chop buttons along with the Smooth Boost add-on. All three just run a preset schedule of pulses varying in length and speed. None of them actually change based on what's in the jar.
According to a Ninja representative, the settings are "optimized by an internal culinary team to break down ingredients based on program. For example, Extract is developed to break down whole fruits and vegetables which require longer blending time because of fibrous ingredients."
In practice, that means the Extract program is 10 seconds longer than the Blend program. The programs allow you to hit a button and walk away for a minute, and the different speeds and pulses will get the ingredients down towards the blades better than just leaving it on straight for that same minute. But I'm disappointed the machine doesn't sense torque or do anything else that actually adapts to your particular mixture. That's what I imagined when I see the Auto-IQ feature claiming "One touch intelligence."
The buttons also don't guarantee results, as I still had chunks of strawberry left in the mixture of frozen strawberries and OJ after hitting the Blend button. The buttons add a little convenience, but they don't unlock the secret potential of the blender any more so than staying by it and pulsing the blades yourself.
Take away the disappointing elements of the Nutri Ninja Auto-IQ Compact System -- primarily the lackluster 48-ounce jar and the unintelligent one-touch intelligence -- and what remains are the to-go cups of the original Nutri Ninja and a solid food processor attachment. Paying an extra $70 for this package over the $90 standalone Nutri Ninja feels like a steep increase since the food processor is the only worthwhile part of the upgrade.
Given that the $130 Auto-IQ Complete doesn't even have that, I recommend passing on the Complete system since it won't offer any elements above and beyond the Nutri Ninja that aren't lackluster. The Compact System sits more in the middle ground. It's not a bad buy if you like the brand, and want a Nutri Ninja with a little extra versatility. Alternatively, consider the similarly priced $150 Oster Versa or KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender or the slightly more expensive $200 Breville Hemisphere Control Blender.