Makes chewable nugget ice quickly
Easy to use and clean
Syncs to smartphone
Not a dupe for Sonic ice
We purchased the FirstBuild Opal Nugget Ice Maker so our reviewer could put it to the test in her kitchen. Note: FirstBuild is a co-creation community backed by GE Appliances with a goal to get products to market faster. This global community was behind the development of the Opal Nugget Ice Maker, which launched in FirstBuild's first year (2014-2015). Products are then scaled up to large-scale production in GE’s factories, which is why you might sometimes see this product listed as GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker and others as FirstBuild Nugget Ice Maker.
Not all ice is created equal—at least that’s what fans of “nugget ice” will tell you. This special variety of ice is most often found at restaurants like Sonic, and it’s actually made differently than the ice in your freezer. However, with the FirstBuild Opal Nugget Ice Maker, you can finally have nugget ice, also known as pellet ice, pebble ice, or even “Sonic ice,” at home!
However, the price of this niche product may very well stop you in your tracks. While the Opal Nugget Ice Maker is marketed as “affordable” compared to other similar ice makers, it’s still a big investment. I wanted to see if this machine was worth its hefty price tag, so I used it over the course of several weeks, testing out its ice in all sorts of drinks and even comparing it side-by-side with real Sonic ice.
Setup: Simple enough
I was extremely excited when the Opal Nugget Ice Maker was delivered—so excited, in fact, that I made the poor decision to carry it inside while wearing high heels. I wouldn’t recommend this course of action, as the package is heavier than it looks. The machine itself is 44 pounds, and the package probably adds a couple more. Learn from my mistake and wear practical shoes when you pick it up.
Thankfully, carrying the box was the hardest part of the setup. The ice maker arrives fully assembled, so it’s mostly just a matter of unpacking it and setting it up on your counter. The machine measures 10.5 inches wide, 15.5 inches deep, and 17.25 inches tall; while it fits perfectly underneath my cabinets, it’s a fairly big appliance that takes up quite a bit of counter space—I can see it being a burden in small kitchens.
Before you can use the Opal Nugget Ice Maker, you have to run a cleaning cycle. There’s a little switch on the back of the machine that lets you put it in “clean” mode, and the whole process took me about 10 minutes. Basically, I just had to fill the machine with water and turn it on. It cycles water through all the inner compartments to flush them out. When it finished, I drained the water from the machine. Then, it was time for ice, ice, baby!
Design: Surprisingly sleek and simple
Stainless steel kitchen appliances are my weakness—and I have way more than I care to admit—so it’s really no surprise I loved the look of the Opal Nugget Ice Maker. The machine has a minimalistic stainless steel exterior with a see-through plastic pull-out ice bin and a single light-up control button. It comes with an optional black plastic drip tray and ice scoop as well.
As mentioned above, the ice maker slid easily under my cabinets with about an inch of clearance. However, it needs 3 inches of clearance on the sides and back for adequate ventilation per the manufacturer. I also recommend you place it close to a sink—read the section on cleaning to see why.
Overall, the design of this machine is straightforward and effective. The plastic bin slides out easily, and it stops in a tilted open position that makes it easy to scoop ice. There are no complicated controls—just the On/Off button. My only complaint is that the button isn’t very “button-y.” Personally, I like when a button “clicks” to let you know it’s been pressed, but this one doesn’t. I always end up mashing it, and half the time, it doesn’t work on the first try.
Performance: Nice ice!
With regular ice, water is simply frozen into a hard cube, but with the Opal Nugget Ice Maker, the ice is made by scraping ice flakes off a stainless steel cylinder inside the machine. The flakes are then pushed through a hole, pressing them into small, cylindrical nuggets with more air pockets than regular ice—similar to scooping up snow to press into a snowball. Because they’re made this way, nugget ice cubes are supposed to be easier to chew, and many people say they retain the flavor of the drink as well.
To start making these special cubes, I removed the ice bin to access the water tank and used a large measuring cup to pour 10 cups (2.5 quarts) of water inside. After replacing the bin, I pressed the control button, which glows white and pulsates to let you know it’s working. At first, a stream of water flows into the ice bin, but there are holes in the bottom that let the liquid drain back into the water tank. This stops after a few minutes, and the first ice gets dropped into the bin around 15 minutes after you turn it on.
Want fresh ice to be waiting when you get home? This ice maker has Bluetooth technology that lets you set a schedule via your smartphone.
Don’t be alarmed—the first cubes are not “cube-y” at all. They’re pretty mushy and wet. It gets better, though. After five more minutes, the machine starts popping out perfect nuggets, and it can churn out about 1 pound per hour. The bin can hold a total of 3 pounds of ice, and if the machine runs out of water, the button will glow blue. (Note that you can also buy the Opal Side Tank, an add-on that increases the production by three times.)
I had seen several comments about the Opal Nugget Ice Maker being loud, but the noise level wasn’t bad, in my opinion. It gives off a low hum while making ice, and while you can definitely hear it working, the noise level isn’t intrusive—it won’t overpower your conversation or the TV. The machine occasionally makes weird scraping or squeaking noises, but the instruction manual says that’s normal.
Overall, the ice maker is quick and simple to use and churns out ice as fast as can be expected. It doesn’t have any type of refrigeration to keep ice frozen, but if you want to run the machine all day, water will drain back into the water tank as the ice melts and be reused to make more ice. This way, you’ll always have a fresh supply ready and waiting.
Ice Quality: Not an exact Sonic dupe
To properly assess the quality of the nugget ice from the Opal Ice Maker, I went to the master: Sonic. “Sonic ice” has somewhat of a cult following, and I wanted to see how Opal’s ice measured up to the OG.
When tested side by side, it’s clear that the Opal ice isn’t an exact dupe for Sonic ice. Opal ice comes out in half-inch cylinders, and they’re actually pretty solid. Sonic ice, on the other hand, is half the size and a lot more pitted. If you look at the two next to each other, the Opal ice looks white like normal ice, while the Sonic ice takes on the same color as the drink. Similarly, Sonic ice breaks apart more easily when you chew on it thanks to its pitted surface. The Opal ice becomes more like Sonic ice when you let it melt in the drink for a half hour or so.
When tested side by side, it’s clear that the Opal ice isn’t an exact dupe for Sonic ice.
That’s not to say the Opal nugget ice is bad—it definitely isn’t! It’s easy to chew and works well in all sorts of drinks. I tried it in everything from soda and cocktails to a copycat recipe for Sonic Cherry Limeade, and I liked that it soaks up a little of the drink’s taste. If you prefer ice made with filtered water, the company sells water filters specially designed for use with the Opal ice maker that last three months at a time.
Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best ice cube trays.
Features: Schedule ice from your phone
Want fresh ice to be waiting when you get home? The Opal Nugget Ice Maker has Bluetooth technology that lets you set a schedule via your smartphone. While its app doesn’t have a ton of functionality, it does give the status of the machine and provide a scheduling option. It also lets you turn the inner light on and off.
It’s a large investment for a unitasking appliance—you really have to love nugget ice for this machine to be worth the splurge.
I found the app to be well-designed and handy—especially if you don’t want the machine to run all day—but I don’t think I’d use it that often. It’s simple enough to just turn the machine on or off when needed.
See more reviews of our favorite smart home devices available for purchase.
Cleaning: Clean twice a year
When I wanted to drain the water from the Opal Nugget Ice Maker, I found it to be a simple task. I just detached the two silicone tubes on the back of the machine, pulled out their plugs, and angled them into the sink. The water drained out, then all I had to do was reattach the tubes.
Keep in mind: This task is much easier to do if the ice maker is placed near the sink, as the machine is quite heavy and cumbersome to move. I wouldn’t want to carry a water-filled machine around the house.
Beyond draining after use, the manufacturer recommends flushing the Opal Ice Maker once a week with a weak mixture of bleach and water, as well as deep-cleaning the machine every six months. They sell a descaling solution to flush out the inner workings, the same way you’d clean a coffee maker, and the cleaning setting makes this task easy.
The worst part of the Opal Nugget Ice Maker has to be its price—more than $500—but since it’s been out for a few years now, you can get it from third-party retailers for less. Still, it’s a large investment for a unitasking appliance—you really have to love nugget ice for this machine to be worth the splurge.
Competition: The cheapest on the market
If you want true nugget ice, made from compressed ice flakes, the FirstBuild Opal Nugget Ice Maker is actually one of the cheapest options on the market. There are other countertop models that claim to make “nugget” or “pebble” ice, but most of them actually just make O-shaped ice cubes. The only other nugget ice makers are for commercial purposes and cost several thousand dollars. By that standard, the Opal is a bargain!
Take a peek at some of the other best ice makers you can buy.
Buy it if you love nugget ice.
The FirstBuild Opal Nugget Ice Maker is quick and easy to use, has a sleek design, and makes high-quality nugget ice. However, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you love nugget ice enough to spend so much on a unitasking appliance that will ultimately take up a fair bit of counter space.
- Product Name Opal Nugget Ice Maker
- Product Brand FirstBuild
- MPN Opal01
- Price $549.00
- Weight 44 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 10.5 x 15.5 x 17.25 in.
- Material Stainless steel and plastic
- Capacity 2.5 qts.
- Ice Making Rate 24 lbs. per day/1 lb. per hour
- Warranty 1 year, limited