Product Review: BodyMedia FIT Body Management System

12 04 2011

I have mentioned a few times that I wore a ""BodyMedia device last summer and really got a lot of value from it. I learned what I needed to know about my daily calorie expenditure versus consumption. So much so that after a few months, I sold the device on eBay and went about my life.header_armband3

But, as I have gotten deeper into training for my upcoming Half Ironman race, I started to miss the data I used to get from the BodyMedia. I wanted to know how many calories I was burning in a day, and I wanted to know how much I was really sleeping every  night. I also want to lose about 10 pounds (nice idea, but probably not practical) before my big race.

So, last month before we went on vacation to Utah, I hit up my peeps at Amazon Fresh the day before we left and had a new ""BodyMedia on my doorstep before dawn – just in time to take it skiing. Have I  mentioned I love Amazon Fresh?!

I have been wearing it pretty consistently since then, and have found out they have made some great improvements to the device since the version I previously used. I have found this little gadget so useful that I thought I’d write up a review about it and share what I’ve learned.

While the device is marketed primarily at those looking to lose weight, it can also be very helpful for endurance athletes who are concerned about maintaining weight and measuring sleep.

I’ll go over the details of what you get and how to use it, as well as nuances and tips/tricks I have discovered from using it. The coolest thing about this updated version is that it now has Bluetooth and has an app for both iPhone and Android. I’ll get into these apps a little later on.

You may have heard of the competitor to the BodyMedia, the BodyBugg, as this is the device that Biggest Loser contestants use. While the two are actually very similar, there are some differences – namely the ability to monitor sleep – that set the two apart. Here is a nice chart that compares the two based on functionality.

What’s Included:

Out of the box, you get:

  • Armband (grey strap)
  • BodyMedia monitor (white)
  • A user’s manual
  • A quick start guide
  • A mini-USB cable

Before you can use the device, you need to do a few things.

  • First, you need to plug the monitor into your computer via the provided USB cable to let it charge. To do this, you just pop the white device out of the grey armband and connect it to your computer for about 3 hours. image
  • Second, you need to set up a BodyMedia account so that you can sync your data from the device. This is done at their website, www.bodymedia.com. In this process, you enter some key statistics about yourself so the monitor can get a “starting point,” so to speak. Additionally, this account is where you will go to download and view data from your device.
  • Third, once you have a BodyMedia account, you can download and set up the BodyMedia app for your iPhone or Android. I have an iPhone, so that’s what I’ll talk about in this review.

Setting up Your Goals

Before you get started, you’ll want to set up some weight loss (or maintenance) goals so that the device can set up your “program,” or, what your daily calorie burn, step, calorie consumption, and activity goals will be to meet your weight goals.

Here is my Goals page. You can see that I have set up a goal to lose one pound a week. In order to do that based on my activity level, I need to burn 2940 calories a day and eat 2440. Sounds so simple. Ah, but it’s a challenge!  I very rarely get both metrics exactly right in a day. A more practical person would set a lower burn and consumption rate, but, I am a goal chaser!

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Don’t worry if you think you’ll change your mind about your goals. You can go in and change these at any time. So, start with what you think you want to do (perhaps “Get Active”) and then adjust over time as your goals change.

Using the Monitor

Once the monitor is fully charged and your goals are set up, you are ready to start tracking calories. You simply pop the monitor back into the armband and secure it around your left arm behind the triceps muscle and just go through your day as usual. There is no need to over tighten the armband – you want it secure but not super tight. If you over tighten, you’ll just end up with irritated skin (trust me).

It should be noted that the device is not active unless you hear this little “boop-be-boop” noise from it. This can take anywhere from 1-10 minutes after you put it on. That noise lets you know everything is good to go and you are officially tracking calories. I suggest not leaving your house until you have heard said “boop-be-boop”  noise to avoid potentially awkward social situations…

As far as tracking calories, there are two aspects to this:

  • Calories In. This will need to be manually logged and requires diligence. (Wouldn’t it awesome if there was some way to track this by just scanning foods before you eat them? Dreamy but not possible!)
  • Calories Out. The BodyMedia takes care of this for you!

CALORIES IN

With the ""BodyMedia, you get access to their own food logging system. I’ll be totally honest: I don’t use their food logging system. I find it cumbersome and slow. If you have never logged calories in any kind of app or website, you might find it okay, but there are so many better choices for this task. So, I use the Lose It! app on my iPhone for logging and don’t worry about inputting any calories into either the BodyMedia app or website.

The one benefit to taking the time to set up your food logging in either the app or website is that you will see a visual comparison of your calories burned vs. calories consumed in your online and app dashboard. To me, the time saved by using Lose It! is worth it. I just keep a little Excel spreadsheet that I input calories eaten and calories burned in one week chunks. It works for me, but you may want to have everything in one place.

CALORIES OUT

This is the meat of the product, so I’ll try to cover as many aspects as possible.

With your online BodyMedia Account, you get a dashboard that shows you what your body has been up to for the day. You can show information at a daily, weekly, or monthly level.

Here is a snapshot of one of my days recently. Each little area is expandable, so while in your Dashboard you can drill down in a particular area to get more info. You’ll notice here that I don’t have any “Calories Consumed” because I don’t use their calorie logging feature.

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Here, I have drilled down on the calories burned section to show the detail you get by expanding the section.

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Notice that there is a grey slider just above the graph in this image. You can move that slider closer together or farther apart to get a calories burned snapshot for a certain time period. On this particular day, I ran on the treadmill for almost two hours between 4 and 6 p.m. If I want to know how many calories that exercise burned, I just move the sliders closer together. From 4-6 p.m, I burned 1209 calories. Pretty cool to see, huh?!

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If you so desire, you can also see calories burned information down to the minute level by moving a little blue line across the data with your mouse. During the heart of this workout, I was burning 11.5 calories a minute. It should also be noted that eating was the last thing on my mind after this workout – it was a doozie!

A second bit of data that I find valuable on the Dashboard is my sleep information. Here you can see that I am a fidgety sleeper. Some nights I do well, some nights I don’t. The ""BodyMedia tracks time laying down and time sleeping, and tells you your sleep efficiency percentage (ratio of laying down to sleeping) so you can see what is happening overnight.

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Apparently most adults have about an 80-90% sleep efficiency. I usually see about 83%, but this particular night I was up a lot for some reason.

GETTING DATA

In order to see information on your Dashboard, you need to download data from your monitor. This involves removing the monitor from your arm and plugging it into your computer. You just snap the monitor out of the armband, plug it in via the mini USB cable, and you’ll see a little pop up that your data is now downloading to your account.

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The monitor can store 14 days worth of data before you need to download, but the battery only lasts about a week. So, at the very least, you should download once a week.

I like to download every couple of days, but I want updates more frequently than that, and that’s where the iPhone/Android app comes in.  The app lets you take a snapshot of where you are throughout the day without removing the armband.

To get real-time data via your phone, you do have to sync the monitor to the app, which requires depressing the little button in the middle of the monitor and waiting for the “boop-be-boop” noise. Translation: Don’t sync the monitor in a library. Or a church. Or, while waiting in line at the grocery store. Or, do. But, don’t be surprised when people look at you weird because your arm is beeping!

Here is a mid-day snapshot from a day when I was seriously slacking. (Okay, it was a rest day, but, you can see, I didn’t do much.) In this image, you can see the battery level on my monitor (the little battery image in the top left), as well as key stats about my day.

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Calories burned, activity, and steps are all transmitted via Bluetooth. For some reason, sleep does not sync via Bluetooth. It will remain at 0:00 until I sync the monitor with the online app, at which point, it will update. I have seen some folks complain that the syncing doesn’t always work, but honestly, I have had about a 98% sync success rate with the app. I can only remember one or two times where I couldn’t sync when I wanted to, and when I tried again later it worked fine.

I have also used the app real-time while running on the treadmill. I just prop it up onto the little shelf, sync it, and start running. Then, I see calories burned and steps taken updates throughout my workout. It seems to refresh data about once every minute. There is a lag, but it is not significant.

Like the online Activity Manager, the iPhone app has the imagecapability to do food logging. Also like the online version, the food logging is slow and cumbersome. I just don’t use it. I  used it for one day and wanted to pull out my hair. But, if you use the logging feature, you will see your real time deficit or overage information between the top and bottom sections of this screen.

In general, I find the iPhone app a huge improvement over the very plasticky “watch” device that you used to have to use to get real-time updates. It’s convenient, free, and works well enough for my needs. I would love to see some sort of integration with other calorie tracking apps so that you could just sync up your data across apps and not have to input calories into the BodyMedia app specifically. Calorie counting is definitely not their forte, so it would be nice to see them farm that out to a company that does specialize in making counting calories easy.

WEEKLY AND MONTHLY VIEWS

For those looking to monitor trends over time, the online Activity Manager allows for snapshots of your daily stats over a 7 day, 14 day, 21 day, or 28 day period. This deeper look is pretty interesting to see how you are doing over a more macro instead of micro level.

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Here we can see that from February 27-March 26, I burned almost 2500 calories a day, walked about 8500 steps a day, and slept an average of 6:40 per night. Interesting data, I think, but I am an admitted geek and enjoy this sort of analysis.

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These charts are pretty cool for seeing trends. Since I have “hard” days and “easy” days in my training plan, I can see those expressed over the month to see if I’ve had too many hard days or not enough in a very quick view. I can also see trends of where I may be slacking. This graph is interesting because you can quickly see that meeting my 2900 calorie burn goal happens much less frequently than I would like…

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MANUALLY INPUTTING ACTIVITIES

There may be times when you do an activity but don’t wear the device. For me, this is when I go swimming, as the monitor is not waterproof. But, never fear! You have the opportunity to manually input activities in your Activity Manager through the “Edit Off-Body” screen.

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You simply click “Edit Off-Body,” an a pop up window appears. From this screen, you see the times when you weren’t wearing the monitor, and can select what you were doing during that time from a list of activities.

In this case, I was swimming, so, I have selected swimming and my speed, and then I click “Save” to save the activity to my Dashboard. You’ll notice that the manually-edited activity time is much more rigid looking than naturally-occurring activity. I now have a solid block of time between 8:30-9:30 a.m. which reflects my swimming time.

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Note: I have noticed when I do a manual off-body edit and then sync my iPhone app that the edits do not appear in the app. The Bluetooth connection to the monitor appears to override the online edits. This is not a big deal to me, but, you should keep it in mind. Hopefully BodyMedia will fix this glitch in future updates to the app.

PROS AND CONS

I could continue to deep dive into every screen available in the Activity Manager, but I think you sort of get the picture that you can get a lot of data out of this tiny little device. So, let’s talk about pros and cons.

Pros

  • Small, lightweight, and barely perceptible. I honestly forget I have the monitor on. It’s about half the size of a credit card (horizontally) and about 1/2” thick. It’s weight is really insignificant. I have walked into the shower several times and had to run out to remove it! (The device is not waterproof.)
  • Highly accurate. I have found the device to be really very accurate, with the possible exception of biking. I have read a lot on this topic, and other folks appear to agree that it underestimates calories burned during biking and spinning. In general though, if I calculate out my Basal Metabolic Rate, and then add in the various activities I do throughout a day, I find that the monitor is very close to that projected number. But, I don’t have to do a bunch of math every day – I just let the monitor tell me what I’ve done!
  • Easy to use. Really, the device is pretty simple. There is one button on it that you press to sync with your phone. Otherwise, you just wear it.
  • Easy to clean. I wipe down the sensors on the back of the unit every day with a cotton ball with a bit of rubbing alcohol on it. That’s it.
  • Highly motivating. When you look at your progress throughout the day, seeing real numbers is amazingly motivating. I have been known to grab the dog and go for a walk – even if I’ve had a workout already – to meet my daily step or calorie burn goal. It’s like having a live-in trainer tell you what to do, without all the yelling.

Cons

  • Ongoing cost of ownership. In order to download your data, you need a BodyMedia subscription. It’s free for the first three months, but after that, it’s anywhere from $6.95-$9.95 per month, depending on how long you commit.
  • Potential for skin irritation. I haven’t had this problem since I figured out not to over-tighten the device, but if you have sensitive skin, you could experience skin irritation from the metal sensors. The keys here are to move the device around (i.e., don’t put it in the exact same spot every day), keep it clean, and, make sure not to put the armband on too tight.
  • Weak calorie (input) tracking capabilities. I’d say the “calories in” tracking aspect of the whole package is the weak link. If BodyMedia wants to really improve their offering, they’ll get their act together on the tracking aspect. Page load times need to be improved and the food database needs to be dramatically expanded. For now, using a non-integrated calorie tracking app or website is your best bet to avoid frustration.
  • Notice-ability. Personally, I don’t care about this. But, if you wear a lot of sleeveless or tight-fitting shirts, people may  notice this monitor on your arm. Be prepared to explain what it is (people are fascinated – I have explained it a lot) or cover it up!

OVERALL IMPRESSION

Overall, I think this device is pretty darn amazing, especially for something that only runs about $220 US.

It uses a lot of different inputs received from your body to do a pretty good job of telling you what you do in a day. It may not be 100% accurate, but it is definitely accurate within a small tolerance. When the data from ""BodyMedia and my food tracking shows at least a 3500 calorie deficit over a period of time, I can back that up on the scale with weight lost. It is just that simple.

I am a data-driven person, so I like to see in real numbers what is happening. This also helps me not get down on myself. I know if I don’t have the numbers to back up weight loss, I shouldn’t be upset about not losing weight. It helps keep me rational!

I think folks that are looking to lose weight and not succeeding could find a lot of benefit out of this device. Weight loss comes down to math, pure and simple, and this device tells you in no uncertain terms if you are really on a path to lose weight. It also doesn’t lie or sugarcoat anything – it tells you what you are really burning, not what you “think” you are burning. It is human nature to overestimate energy expenditure and underestimate food consumption, but as long as you consistently wear this device, there will be no need for estimation.

They say knowledge is power. This device gives you all the knowledge you need to succeed in weight loss. It takes the guesswork out of the “how many calories do I need?” equation, and leaves you to do the real work – eating right and exercising to hit your numbers.





Product Review: Black & Decker G48TD Grill and Waffle Baker

6 01 2011

41ETY7RGKTL__SS280__SS280_If you grew up in the late 70s or early 80s as 2Chili and I did, your mom probably had a waffle maker that looks almost exactly like this. Mine did. I honestly don’t think Black & Decker has changed the look of this waffler in 30 years.

But, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’m not really an over-the-top kitchen gadget person, and most of my kitchen purchases are the direct result of necessity or, in this case, something breaking. If you’ll allow me to elaborate just a little further, we’ll get to the review shortly.

I just adore waffles, and a couple years ago, 2Chili bought me a Belgian waffle maker as a last minute Christmas present. We have since come to our senses and stopped exchanging Christmas gifts, but even though I knew that particular gift was a last minute stab in the dark (along with a quesadilla maker we also no longer possess), I really liked it. I made waffles till the cows came home. I would make up a big batch, freeze them, and then have Belgian waffles at my disposal, knowing 2Chili wouldn’t touch them because they were, as he put it, “some of those healthy waffles.”

Problem was, a couple months ago, it just stopped working. I think the heating element went out, but, it would no longer actually fully cook the waffles, leaving me with an annoying mess each time. After the fourth time of scraping partially-cooked waffle out of all of its nooks and crannies, I gave up. You’d think I’d have stopped after the second time, but I really didn’t want to believe my precious machine was busted. I was a sad panda!

Little did I know this was the first in a trifecta of kitchen appliance deaths that later included our toaster and blender, all in the span of one week.

Thankfully, waffle relief was just a click away at my favorite place on Earth, Amazon.com. I really am not much of a shopper, so Amazon appeals to my desire to avoid large hoards of people, long lines, and cashiers who wish to make asinine comments about whatever one might be purchasing. The only thing better than Amazon itself is Amazon Fresh, our grocery delivery service that also delivers a selection of items available from Amazon. After looking through what was available in the waffler department, I selected this classic B&D and it came with my groceries the next day. The magic of the internet. I love it!

I have proceeded to waffle up a storm, but this waffler has a twist – it is also a grill! Surprisingly, I have used the grill part more than the waffler, making 2Chili’s favorites like tuna melts and French toast. I don’t think my  mom’s waffler did that little trick!

So with that, here is my list of Pros and Cons for your consideration if you’re in the market for a new waffler.

Pros

  • Price. At $37.99, it is on the lower end of average. Not super cheap, but not super expensive. Honestly, I was willing to pay more for a solid waffler, but am not complaining at less than $40. Perhaps the price is so low because the R&D was done ages ago…
  • Easy to Clean. Unlike my dead Belgian waffler, you can actually take the plates out of the machine to clean them. This is wonderful! You just pop them out, clean ‘em, and pop them back in. They are secured with a clip that is easy to undo/redo. This feature alone makes the waffler absolutely worth it. You can actually get it clean (the plates are not dishwasher safe, however.)
  • Even Heating. Historically, I couldn’t make a grilled cheese that is exactly the same level of brownness on both sides. Since this grill heats from the top and bottom, it’s almost like a guaranteed perfect sandwich, and I can do Paninis now too. Not that making French toast is hard normally, but it is really easy it is to make French toast with the top and bottom concurrent heating.
  • No flipping. If you have a Belgian waffler, you know what I mean. With my old waffler, you had to fill up the bottom plate and then flip over the whole contraption so it could cook. The latch inevitably came lose, and it was kind of a balancing act to keep the waffle flipped over to cook.
  • Wide Range of Temperatures. Instead of one set temperature, you can manually control how hot the unit gets, depending on what you are making.
  • Reliability. I have been using this 2-3 times a week for a couple months now, and so far, haven’t had the slightest twinge of a problem.

Cons

  • Looks. This waffler looks like it belongs in the 70s. It just does. The stainless steel casing gets smudgy because it is shiny, but the real beef is the knob/temperature control area. It is beyond dated-looking.
  • Square Waffles. Square waffles are perfectly fine, but they do not have the panache of the deep-creviced Belgians. I’m sorry, that’s the truth! Round Belgian waffles just seem fancier.
  • The Case is Hot to the Touch. Perhaps not the best for kids, the outsides of the waffler get pretty hot. I haven’t had any problems, but, if you have kids, they probably need supervision as if they were cooking on the stove.
  • The Plates Need Occasional Seasoning. This doesn’t bother me one bit, but if you’re not into “maintenance,” keep that in mind.

The Verdict

While I wish this waffler didn’t look like a prop from That 70s Show, I am very happy with it. It has been perfect! I’ll trade in my fancy Belgian waffles for the ability to reliably make waffles, square or not. If you’re more into reliability than looks, and want the ability to multi-task, I think you will be happy with it too. If you can’t fathom the idea of giving up those deep Belgian waffles, perhaps keep looking.

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If you enjoyed this review and decide to purchase this waffler, please consider using this link to purchase through Amazon.com, as Test Kitchen Tuesday will receive a small referral fee for your purchase. Thank you!





Product Review: Ninja Professional Blender

26 11 2010

Don’tcha just love to blend?

I don’t know about for you, but for me, blending is cathartic. It lets me get out my pent up anger on innocent pieces of fruit and vegetables. A few pulses, a swirl of the blades, and even the most frozen of items can be turned into liquid deliciousness. I love to blend so much that I wrote an ode to green drinks on my non-cooking blog last month.

A few weeks ago, I dropped the glass jar of my trusty red Black & Decker blender, and had a dilemma on my very messy hands. Initially, I thought I’d just replace the broken glass jar and go on about my day. But, replacement jars cost almost as much as a new standard blender, and, once you add on shipping, they can be more.

Ironically (or perhaps coincidentally), 2Chili had been on my case to buy a heavier-duty blender because he felt I blended enough to warrant something beefier. Translation: he was annoyed by the length of time he was required to listen to smoothie blending during football games or other important entertainment. He had a fair point.

After quite a bit of research online, I could not find a blender on Amazon.com, my preferred shopping destination, that met the “looks good” and “gets good reviews” qualifications I had in mind. As much as I would have liked to get a Vita-Mix, I couldn’t pull the trigger on a $500 blender. So, we got in the car and headed to Target one night to see if perhaps there was something there that at least fit the “looks good” category.

We came home with something called the Ninja Professional Blender. It was the only one they had, and, we came this close to not getting it because we couldn’t figure out how to get the blasted thing off its base in the store. Turns out the floor model was glued together. Jeesh.

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So, is it all ninja-like and stuff?

Well, I have never met a ninja, but I imagine if ninjas could blend, they would blend at least this well. I have given it some fairly decent challenges, like frozen cubed pumpkin, and lots of ice, and it blends them up like nobody’s business. It has some cons, though, which I’ll get into below. For the record, removing the jar from its base just requires a very simple twist.

Pros:

  • Very powerful. It has a 1000 watt motor. For the price (roughly $99 not on sale), that is pretty amazing.
  • High volume. At 72-ounces, the pitcher can hold a lot of whatever it is you are blending.
  • Locking lid. The lid locks down, and you can’t run the motor without the lid locked. This is good from a safety perspective, but also from a “no splattering” perspective. How many times have you had the blender lid blow off and its splatter everywhere when blending up a pretty full jar of goodness? I am not embarrassed to admit that happened to me quite a bit in the past. No longer. The lid locks down and doesn’t budge until you release it with a “release” button.
  • Nifty pour spout. You can blend up your favorite smoothie and pour it out neatly, without worrying about that landslide of smoothie that could come flying out at any minute if you’re not careful. This is a nice touch!
  • Blends pretty much anything in no time. I would say my blending time has been cut at least in half, if not by 75%. Because there are three blades that rise into the blender, instead of just one at the base of the jar, there is less of a worry about getting the delicate balance of liquid-to-solids down just right. Put in your ingredients, and either pulse to combine, or blend at a speed of “1,” “2” or “3,” and the machine takes care of everything. I can blend things into an ice cream consistency now because the machine will blend with a lot less liquid.
  • The blades are removable. No more scraping at the bottom of the blender jar to get out that last bit of whatever you’ve blended – just release the lid and pull out the blades, and you can easily remove all the mixture.
  • Easy to clean. I was initially leary about putting the jar into the dishwasher, even though the instruction manual says it’s dishwasher safe. But, after a few times of cleaning it with the other method listed — putting a drop of detergent into the jar, with the blades in tact, fill with water to the 3/4 line, and blend for 20 seconds — I decided to try out the dishwasher. And, I can confidently report, it is perfectly dishwasher safe. After about 10 dishwasher cycles, it still looks brand new. No fogging, which is what I was worried about. I think this plastic must be very heavy duty, unlike the plastic on my food processor jar!

Cons:

  • It is tall. The assembled blender just barely fits under our upper cabinets. I have to be really careful sliding it under the cabinets, as the “release” button on the lid protrudes a bit and can get caught on the face frame of the cabinet. Also, it can be awkward to fill using the water spout in your fridge (if you have such a thing, as we do).
  • The blades are removable. Yes, I know that was also a “pro.” The thing is, if you’re not careful and leave the blades lying around, they can do serious damage to human flesh. Just ask 2Chili. He managed to cut his hand the very first night we had the blender. After that, I started either cleaning the blender immediately, or, if I put it in the sink, I made sure to store the blades in the blender jar.
  • The jar is plastic. I really, really didn’t want a plastic jar, as we all know what happens to plastic over time. It gets foggy and scratched. But, I did break a glass jar, so I guess there is no really perfect solution here. Just be careful when removing the blades, because if you touch them to the jar, well, the jar scratches.

The Verdict:

I found it amusing that product description for this blender states that “it’s a socially positive appliance that can bring joy to all.” I doubt it will really help you in social situations unless you are a margarita-blending maniac or you regularly hang out with the crew from Jamba Juice. But, it does blend and it blends well. If you are looking for a heavy-duty blender with a low-duty price, you might want to check this one out. I have never used a Vita-Mix, so I can’t compare this “professional blender” with the gold standard for blenders. For my very pedestrian purposes, it works great!

If you enjoyed this review and decide to purchase this blender, purchasing from Amazon via this link – Ninja Professional Blender – helps support Test Kitchen Tuesday by providing a small referral fee from Amazon. Thanks for stopping by!