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Oster Versa Performance Blender review: Oster's Versa proves powerful but tedious

I used the presets during testing, and they turned out to work pretty well. Both have smart combinations of speeds and occasionally spin the blades in reverse to keep everything moving. Both options will run the same preset route no matter what, and if something does get stuck, you'll need to finish your food with another mode. Still, for the most part you can make a smoothie by pushing the button and walking away, knowing when the blender stops, your drink is done. That's a nice option to have.

To test the actual performance of the blender, we ran it through our usual series of tests designed to check its basic functionality, its flow, and its ability to work through difficult stress tests. We crush ice, and make smoothies, whipped cream, and pancake batter to start, then up the difficulty by making pesto. We test the limits by trying to work 2 cups of whole almonds into almond flour, then into almond butter without any additives. Finally, we drop in an entire 8-ounce block of cheddar to see what happens.

The Basics

I started with smoothies. Getting a consistent drink was a slower process than I would have thought given the 1100 watts of power. The Nutri Ninja turned out a great smoothie in 10 to 15 pulses with only 900 watts. After 15 pulses, the Oster Versa still had large chunks of strawberry sitting on top of the mix. It wasn't quite done after 30 pulses. Once I held it down for a few seconds, it finished the job, and it creates a cycle well enough if you let it run, but I wasn't impressed with the speed of this simple task.

Next, I used the smoothie preset, and it started to change my mind. The blender ran on its own for about a minute, turning the blades forward and backward and doing a pretty good job of keeping everything moving. The result was a great drink without any chunks.

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After using the preset, my smoothie was ready to drink. Andrew Gebhart/CNET

The next run on the preset wasn't as successful, one of the strawberries got stuck in the blades early, and I wasn't seeing the same flow that I did the first time. I pulled it off when the run stopped automatically, just to see, and it still turned out better than I expected. A few small chunks hadn't finished processing. I could have easily fixed the issue with an final pulse or two, but it was good to know the preset isn't perfect every time. Though, it came pretty close.

Most budget blenders struggle to crush ice. Given the time it took the Versa to make a smoothie, I expected it would need a bit of help to get through 2 cups. This was the first time the Versa pleasantly surprised me with its performance -- it gave me a fine powdery snow in all three tests within 15 to 25 pulses -- and it wouldn't be the last.

Whipped cream again took longer than I expected, but after 60 pulses, the results looked great and it passed the flip test -- it held its shape and remained in the jar even when I inverted it. Pancake batter showed me the machine's tendency to flick small particles to the walls, and I had to help it get through the mixing process by scraping the sides a few times. Little bits could also be found beneath the blades after it was done, showing that they aren't perfectly positioned to scrape the bottom of the container.

Stress Tests

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Getting ready for the pesto test. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Since the Oster Versa took a little longer than expected on the basics, I doubted it would be able to complete the stress tests. Fittingly, it started to struggle and jam as I tried to turn tightly packed spinach with some spices and oils into pesto. But as soon as I turned down the speed, the blades were able to work through the jam and grab the remaining loose leaves of spinach. I turned it back up once it had worked through the ingredients once and I had smooth pesto in no time. The dedicated food processor attachment did the same task in even less time.

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After the pesto test. Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Oster Versa was even able to turn whole almonds into almond butter, a task usually only mastered by the top end machines. It took 13 minutes, which is longer than our benchmark of 10, and I had to help it by mixing the almonds several times, but those accommodations are more than reasonable for a budget blender.

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It even turned almonds into almond butter. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Oddly, it was the 8-ounce block of cheddar that showed just how well this Oster can work. My surprise after the pesto and almond test was magnified when it decimated the cheese with only a little assistance necessary from me. Even better, it left the small chunks of cheese edible, something many of the high end blenders can't say as they tended to burn the pieces with the heat from their engines and hard working blades.

I tried the cheese again with the dedicated food processor and shredding disk. This time, I wasn't able to fit the whole 8 ounce block, but I cut it in half to make two long pieces, and slid them both down lid's feed tube. It worked like a charm, as the accessory quickly turned both chunks into nicely shredded cheddar. It was the first time any blender cheese test left the result both edible and aesthetically pleasing.

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Perfectly shredded cheese. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Anecdotal tests

The 20-ounce jars work well, and even made a smoothie a little quicker than its big brother. In all smoothies, I noticed a few collected strawberry seeds after the blending completed, and checked the Versa's ability to break down small things like seeds and stems by putting in a half cup of black peppercorns.

The big jar just bounced them around when I pulsed the blades. Once I left it on, it managed to grind them pretty well, but a few kept bouncing no matter what I did. Thus, in terms of breaking down seeds and stems, an advantage goes to a dedicated smoothie machine like the Nutri Ninja, or the more powerful blenders that decimate everything, like the Ninja Ultima or the Blendtec Designer Series Wildside Blender .

Still, it'll get the job done pretty well. In fact, once you find the right combination of pieces, it'll get every job done pretty well.

Conclusion

Our four main criteria for blenders -- design, usability, features, and performance (with performance as the most highly weighted in determining the final outcome) -- were split down the middle with the Oster Versa. Both design and usability didn't prove poor enough to classify it as broken, but were both notably weak, particularly compared to the other blenders we've tested. That said, the $150 Oster Versa is more diverse than anything below its price range, and it's much better than the $60 Oster Beehive .

In terms of performance, the Oster Versa keeps up with our bests machines that cost twice as much and more, such as the $549 Vitamix 750 and the $259 Ninja Ultima . For the discount, though, you're losing out on sturdier machines that are more compact and easier to use. If that's a sacrifice you're willing to make for the cost, then once you get past the initial learning curve from the myriad accessories, buying the Oster Versa might make you feel pretty smart.

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