September 22, 2015
It’s a scooter… it’s a segway…it’s a hoverboard? These two wheeled gadgets are spreading like a technological epidemic; people in major cities, sales guys at tech startups, and even students are being observed riding around on these strange new gadgets. From YouTube celebrities and Instagram stars to well known athletes, self balancing scooters have hit the market in a big way, and are likely to be at the top of holiday wish lists this year.
To see what all the fuss was about, we got our hands on one and ran it through a gamut of trials. And by running the gamut, I mean trying not to kill myself or hurtling this 20 lbs thing at people.
Self-Balancing Scooter Review
Note: The intro audio is a little funky, but it's not important anyways.
Self Balancing Scooter Specs
There are quite a few models of self-balancing scooters, and this particular version is what I would call the entry level edition. It costs about $280, goes between 6-10 MPH, and doesn’t have some of the extra bells and whistles. Interestingly enough, this looks almost exactly like the popularized version, Phunkee Duck, but their units cost $1,500 (their specs say it’s lighter and can take on more weight though).
During the review I went just under 3 miles with an average speed of 5.6 MPH, but this was also on a mostly flat trail. The maximum distance on a full charge is about 15 miles. A full charge takes between 2-3 hours, which is powered by a lithium-ion battery. The device itself weighs just over 22 lbs and is about 2 feet long. We also used it over several weeks at the office. Unfortunately we only had one, or there would have been a fun upgrade to jousting. Comparing the outside travel to indoors, it's easy to see why this is designed for smooth, flat surfaces.
The suggested maximum weight is listed at 220 lbs, and anything in excess of the limitations will negatively affect overall distance and control. It’s made from a hard plastic, and based on the work I put it through, it’s pretty durable. During the review it flew off the path a few times, ran into metal furnaces, and all of this usually did more damage to me than anything. However, on the fenders it gets pretty scratched up, but on other versions they do have a leather like material to reduce that.
The device itself is controlled by four different sensors, two under each foot. Once you find your footing, the sensors kick in and help you balance. There are also some novelty LED lights, a battery indicator, and balance indicator.
The craziest version I’ve seen out there has a bluetooth speaker built in, and supposedly there is a hand remote to control the direction as well. Regardless of brand and price, these all essentially share the same design, battery power, weight restrictions, and speed.
Getting Zen aka Balancing
If you tend to call yourself clumsy, a self-balancing scooter may not be for you. Granted I’m not the most stable person on the planet, I ran into quite a few things as it accelerated to its maximum speed. To get on the thing, I found it was easiest to hover over one side with my left foot, and then hop on with my right. This way both feet hit the sensors at about the same time. When I had some friends try it out for the first time it usually resulted in what look like some awkward thrusting or totally busting their ass.
On a flat surface, this thing feels like you're flying; however, looking back at the video footage, it’s about the same speed I jog. It also works well on flat carpets, but brick based pathways and gravel are definitely not its friend. Roaming around Georgetown in Washington DC you generally find three things: Hills, brick pathways, and a lot of people. At slow speeds, the board takes them in stride, but add a bit of speed and you’ll be launching the 20 lb death machine right into the street or at a crowd of tourists in line for some cupcakes.
The instructions are also pretty clear (as clear as broken English can be) that the gadget really is designed for flat surfaces anyways. Additionally, according to the driver safety section “children, the elderly, and pregnant women are not allowed to drive,” and “do not drive after drinking or taking drugs.” Luckily for us, you ride this thing rather than drive it, so I’ll just chock the strange rules up to be an opinion based on a strange repressed engineer. My favorite line is where it describes how to operate it and balance, “you are forbidden to swerve violently when driving fast, otherwise will cause dangerous.” So with that I say ride on little Timmy, ‘Merica! But seriously, be careful and watch your kids if you let them ride this thing, but they will probably be better at it then you anyways.
It’s Not Really a Hoverboard
Regardless of the hype around Lexus and what some misguided Instagram stars say, hoverboards are not yet a thing. In reality, this is essentially a segway without the handle bar, and according to a recent lawsuit, segway would agree. Whatever you call it, even Bieber and Jamie Foxx have them.
Haters aside (and there will be a lot of them), this thing is a lot of fun. Although I personally couldn’t replace my 5 mile commute with it due to the terrain, if they had some larger wheels that could be a possibility. For now, I see this as a fun way to get around, terrorize the people I work with in our office, and do donuts in my very small apartment. Because these are also a bit more on the expensive side of the spectrum as far as toy based gadgets go, combined that with a lack of any major console release this year, self-balancing scooters will certainly be on a lot of wish lists during the holidays.
Recommended to Buy: Yes, but not the ridiculously expensive branded ones. This model cost $290, and other unbranded models can be found on Amazon and various other sites.
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