The $259.99 Ninja kept pace with the $529 Vitamix and the $454.95 Blendtec at almost every step. This is not to say that, if you already own a Vitamix or Blendtec, you should regret that decision. Both are excellent appliances that performed consistently well, but they also cost more than my monthly student loan payment.
All things considered, if you don't put your blender through a lot of rigorous tasks, you don't need a blender with this kind of power and will likely be perfectly content with the $39.99 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart (Model 56206). If, however, you want a blender that can slice its way through virtually any food as well as replace many small appliances in your home, including a meat grinder and food processor, the Ninja is an excellent value.
With 1,500 watts, 2.5 horsepower, and a range of 3,700 to 24,000rpm, the Ninja Ultima is a powerhouse blender. It's loud, so as stated, the Ninja name is more about effectiveness than stealth.
The Ninja measures 18 inches high at its tallest point, with a countertop footprint that's 8 inches wide and 9.5 inches deep, comparable to the KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender. My one complaint about the exterior is that the blender looks a lot larger than it is. While it is similarly sized to the KitchenAid and the other large blenders, it looks so much bulkier, perhaps because of its angular shape or tinted blender jug.
I appreciate the 72-ounce blender jar and how much capacity the machine has. To make this large pitcher even more functional, Ninja has a removable quad blade that reaches up the height of the blender. I love the quad blade, but I love even more that it's removable. This means that for large quantities of food, the additional blades make short work of the blending process, but for smaller tasks, the bottom blades are more than sufficient.
This brings me to my favorite aspect of the Ninja line of products, as I have experienced it both with this blender and my Ninja Kitchen System 1100 at home. Ninja likes to give you options. With the Ultima BL810, the Ninja gives you two 16-ounce, single-serving-size cups that hook directly onto the blender base via a blade lid. Once your smoothie or shake is blended, you trade this blade lid for a traditional to-go cup lid. I see a lot of potential for this feature. The Ninja made a smoothie in the to-go cup in five pulses. You could load the cup with your smoothie ingredients the night before, attach it to the blender base, and have breakfast and be out the door in seconds.
The Ninja Ultima is really easy to use, but it requires you to be a little more hands-on than other, comparably sized blenders. For example, you must lock the pitcher in place with a clockwise turn. Also, the blender won't start unless the lid is on the pitcher and secured by locking the handle downward. This may be a nuisance for some, but given the power and number of blades inside the Ninja, I appreciate it as a safety precaution.
The control panel feels responsive, and Ninja includes a guide for matching the power settings to a specific task, and whether or not to use the removable blade. This guide helpfully nudges you toward getting the most out of the Ninja's customization features and its various blend settings.
As with all blenders, cleaning is a great concern; how easy a blender is to clean may factor heavily into how much you actually use it. For example, my previous blender had a lot of parts that all required separate hand-washing, such as the pitcher, blade attachment, rubber seal, and lid components. Because it was such a hassle, I rarely used it.
Blenders are better now. Most, including the Ninja, feature attached blades and instruct you to fill the pitcher halfway with warm water and a few drops of dish soap and then to run the blender on a lower speed for 10 or so seconds to clean it. Rinsing and air-drying is the most time-consuming part of this very, very simple method. This is also true for the single-serve cups, making them even more convenient. The Ninja's pitcher and cups are also top-rack dishwasher-safe. The lids and removable blade will need to be hand-washed. Given this, I would stick to the first method.
The Ninja is a formidable machine and, naturally, merits caution when you interact with its blades. Taking out the quad blade to clean it might be intimidating for some people, but of course if the blade were fixed, hand cleaning would be terrifying. Exercise caution around the blades and the Ninja should cause you no more safety concerns than any other high-power blender.
While I'm really excited about the Ninja's features and options, what I care most about is its performance. It did not disappoint. As I said, the Ninja performed on par with the Vitamix and Blendtec, but also with the less expensive, $199.99 Breville. Performance is what truly drew me away from desperately saving pennies for a Vitamix and convinced me that my Ninja blender is as good, especially for the price.
We devised a series of blending tests, some of which simulated real usage scenarios and some that assessed the functional limits of each blender. Preliminary tests included crushing ice as well as making smoothies, pesto, and pancake batter. More rigorous tests were, in many cases, more revealing and involved milling whole almonds into almond flour, turning that almond flour into almond butter, making whipped cream, and determining whether or not a blender could grate/shred/blend an entire 8-ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese.
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