We tried making Sonic's famous ice nuggets at home—and this is what happened

Cool new ice or a hot mess?

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UPDATE: The Opal Nugget Ice Maker is now available for purchase on Amazon.

The Opal Nugget Ice Maker (MSRP $499) is charming, crazy, and awesome. For those not in the know, nugget ice is ice that's made from compressed flakes rather than a solid block like you'd get from a tray or traditional ice maker.

If you've ever been to a Sonic Drive-in, this is the kind of ice served. In fact, that's where the idea for this started: customers driving to Sonic just for the ice. Now you can make it at home.

If you think paying $499 for a standalone ice maker is silly, you might be on your own. This device was funded by Indiegogo and raised three times the goal amount in a single day, a total of over 2.7 million dollars.

We tested the Opal to see if that money was put to good use.

The Setup

Setup takes about 20 minutes, and most of that time is spent waiting. After unboxing, the instructions say to clean the ice tray with a little soap to get rid of any plastic-y smell. Then you're supposed to fill the reservoir to run an internal cleaning cycle, which lasts about 15 minutes. When the cleaning is done, you drain the "dirty" water into the sink via a pair of hoses in the back.

Credit: / Jonathan Chan

The Opal was created by FirstBuild, GE's micro factory for niche ideas.

What we liked about the whole process is that Opal is always giving feedback that it's doing something. There is an LED ring around the main button that pulses and spins, indicating what's happening. It's color coded: white for making ice, blue for needs more water, and yellow for cleaning.

And even if the ice maker isn't in view, you can use the bluetooth-enabled app to get status updates. It's not the most app useful ever, since bluetooth has a limited range, but it turns any smart phone into a remote control.

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Credit: / Jonathan Chan

Before you use the Opal, you should run a cleaning cycle to get out any packaging odor. The drain hoses are also pictured here.

Unfortunately, the Opal tips the scales at over 40 pounds empty, jeopardizing the manufacturers claims of portability. It's a real pain to move around, especially when you have to periodically drain the thing to keep it clean.

Making Ice

The Opal took about an hour to create 14 ounces of ice, which is quicker than a tray in the freezer, but not as convenient as your built-in ice maker in the fridge. The Opal does have a timer that can be accessed with the app, allowing you to schedule around parties or your own nugget-ice needs.

Credit: / Jonathan Chan

The Opal made this much ice after two hours, and used 330 watt-hours to do it.

Chewing on a regular ice cube is a great way to quickly damage your teeth. But nugget ice breaks easily when you bite into it–a texture between eating a snow cone and a slushy. It's a much better mouth feel compared to regular ice cubes.

Credit: / Jonathan Chan

The app lets you schedule when you want the ice maker to turn on.

If you don't use all the ice, the tray is situated so the melt flows directly back into the reservoir. Opal suggests you replace the water every 25 hours.

Is it worth it?

We think the Opal will satisfy nugget ice lovers, but at $500 it's not for the general public, and the bluetooth app does feel like a last minute add-on.

Still, the design is elegant enough to live on any countertop, and at the end of the day, the Opal makes high quality nugget ice. Should we really expect more from a nugget ice maker? If you're sold, you can buy the Opal Nugget Ice Maker on Amazon, or direct from the manufacturer.

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