TECH

GE Profile Opal 2.0 Ultra Nugget Ice Maker review: The coolest new smart kitchen gadget

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Some smart home gadgets could be considered essential. A smart thermostat can save you money, and a smart door lock can prevent you from getting locked out. But, unlike those gadgets, it’s hard to argue you need the smart GE Profile Opal Ultra 2.0 Nugget Ice Maker ($579, or $629 with the side tank). However, you may want this gadget — because it makes The Good Ice.

Nugget ice is a hill many will die on — my family included

Yes, $630 is a lot of money for any countertop gadget, let alone one that just freezes water. Spending this much on a connected gadget whose smarts are largely limited to scheduling and asking Alexa to make more ice feels like an even bigger stretch. But nugget ice is a hill many will die on — my family included. It just makes drinks taste better, they cry. Anything that encourages my children to hydrate is a big win in my book.

In case you’re unfamiliar with nugget ice (aka chewable ice, Sonic ice, pellet ice, or, as my family calls it, “the good ice”), it is small pieces of ice made from layers of flaked ice frozen together. It is really quite addictive and goes well in everything from a tall glass of water to iced tea and lemonade. It’s practically required if you’re making Tiki cocktails.

Nugget ice can turn a room-temperature drink into a cold drink in seconds and doesn’t melt as quickly as crushed ice. It’s also really fun to chew on. My daughter likes to get a glass full of ice and chow down.

Sadly, there isn’t a fridge that can make true nugget ice. Samsung makes one that produces “ice bites,” which are small ice cubes, but these are apparently not the same thing. So, it’s go countertop or go to the drive-in.

$629

The Ultra is an updated version of the already pretty great GE Profile Opal 2.0. It claims to make cleaning less arduous by adding new features like a filter to handle mineral build-up.

In the week I’ve had the Opal on my kitchen counter, it has become my family’s favorite kitchen gadget. They love scooping its nuggety goodness into a tall glass of lemonade or filling up their Tervis cup before tackling the summer heat.

The Opal is super easy to set up, simple to use, and makes ice very fast — up to 38 pounds a day. It doesn’t require plumbing, just power, but you will want the optional water tank if you want a continual flow of ice. We only have to refill that every other day on average and have more than enough ice for all four of us.

The Opal is my family’s favorite kitchen gadget

The biggest downside so far is the Opal Ultra is noisy. The tubing makes a high-pitched whining noise as the water filters through, and the ice production clunks gently. But here’s where those smarts do come in handy — you can schedule when it’s making ice in the Smart HQ app to avoid interfering with movie time — or just tell Alexa or Google to turn it off.

The Opal was first launched in 2015, and the Ultra is the fourth version of GE Profile’s popular nugget ice machine. It comes with some behind-the-scenes improvements to make cleaning the unit easier. These include a new scale-inhibiting water filter, a reusable air filter, and alerts that tell you when it’s time to sanitize or descale (on the device and in the app).

All of these enhancements add up to — in theory — more time between cleaning / descaling and should keep the ice tasting better for longer. (The good news for current Opal owners is that the new water filter is compatible with existing models).

Upgrades with the Ultra include a magnetic scoop holder and a stainless steel scoop.

The cleaning / descaling process is lengthy. It requires a special solution (or vinegar, if you prefer) and up to a day of downtime as the stuff does its work. And you need to keep up with it if you want it to keep producing fresh ice. In my short time testing the unit, I’ve not had a descale alert appear, but the sanitize one did, which happens after 25 hours of ice-making.

The sanitizing process was largely painless and took about 30 minutes. However, combined with descaling — which you’ll need to do once every 2 weeks to 4 months based on your water hardness — this gadget requires a lot of maintenance. (GE Profile notes that if you use distilled water in the Opal, you probably won’t need to descale it, but you’ll still need to sanitize and clean.)

The Ultra comes in new colors and with a magnetic scoop holder and stainless steel scoop

Other updates with the Ultra from the current Opal 2.0 model include new colors (white or black in addition to stainless steel) and an upgraded touch display for powering on/off, connecting to Wi-Fi, and checking status. Plus, there’s now a magnetic scoop holder and stainless steel scoop — which makes it easier to store the scoop on the side of the unit and should help with cleanliness.

If you can get the Opal 2.0 on sale that’s probably the way to go. Overall, the Ultra’s upgrades feel like aesthetic and quality-of-life tweaks. You still have to manually clean the machine, even if potentially not as often. Plus, you can buy the new water filter and the new scoop with holder separately starting in August and use them with the Opal 2.0, although that may cancel out most of your savings.

The Opal 2.0 Ultra is very expensive, requires a lot of work to maintain, and takes up a sizeable chunk of my kitchen counter. But it does an excellent job of producing fresh, chewable, crunchable ice that makes any drink taste better. It’s also one of the few smart gadgets I’ve brought into my home that everyone in my family loves — which says a lot.

If you, too, crave good ice and go into this knowing the struggles you’ll need to endure to keep getting it, then you’ll be very satisfied with this gadget.

Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge



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