You’ve probably seen the hottest gadget this holiday season used in places, but wondered what it was, as people moved from place to place standing on what appeared to be a moving board while their feet did nothing.
Why, it’s almost like they’re hovering, except they’re not, so what on earth is this thing people call a “hoverboard”?
What is a hoverboard?
First of all we need to get this out of the way: a hoverboard is not actually a hoverboard.
Possibly because it was the 30th anniversary of “Back to the Future” and we still didn’t have a board that hovers that these gadgets were given this name, but the devices branded with this moniker are certainly not hovering.
Rather, these are technically “self balancing electric scooters” or even “self balancing boards”, but because neither of these names are sexy, more people are referring to them as “hover boards”.
Let’s just get this out of the way: that’s a preposterous name. So-called hoverboards don’t hover, don’t fly, and about they’re not even technically boards.
What they are is two rather thick platforms set out with sensors that pick up on the minute pressure movements exerted by the feet, with this technology connected to a battery and two wheels to allow you to move forwards, backwards, or turn slightly.
So they’re not hoverboards. Self-balancing boards, maybe, but certainly not hoverboards.
Still, we’re going to keep calling them that in this article because that is how they’re being marketed, so if you’re trying to find out about these things, here’s how you’ll do it.
Is it dangerous to use a hoverboard?
Like any motorised piece of transport, it can be a little risky getting on a hoverboard, and that’s because this is a gadget that moves, and can move quickly.
In fact, any form of transport, even short haul transport, can be dangerous.
Bicycles can be dangerous. Skateboards can be dangerous. Hey, walking can be dangerous, too.
So given that these manual forms of transportation can be dangerous and there are no electronic parts, it stands to reason that a motorised gadget can be just as dangerous, if not moreso.
As a point, motorised self-balancing scooters can reach a maximum speed of 10 to 20km/h depending on which brand it comes from, making them not terribly slow, and fast enough to do some damage if you fall off, which can happen simply by standing on them and not being comfortable with how you stand.
In fact, while a few in the office are quite good at these things, some are scared to get on, while other reviewers in Australia have broken limbs or electronics devices just using them.
Use with caution, and if you have one, practice, practice, practice. Preferably with protective gear.
What makes a hoverboard different between brands?
Quite a few of these self-balancing-still-not-hoverboards are making their way out for the holiday season, with brands such as Kaiser Baas, Sky Walkers, and a few others releasing them locally.
The brand is one thing that will separate them, as is the price, but really, the majority of the difference appears to stem from the battery being used.
At least one company — Sky Walkers (above) — told GadgetGuy that it relies on a Chinese company Zhuoneng New Energy Technology for its board, but went further and gained “IEC 62133” certification for its battery to make sure they were stable. Likewise, Kaiser Baas told GadgetGuy that its Revo Glider featured a Samsung battery that had been certified for various charging standards around the world.
But not all are the same, and in recent weeks, some hoverboards are causing excess damage to households thanks to batteries exploding.
As such, if you are looking into a hoverboard seriously, ask its maker who makes the battery and if the battery is rated for various charging standards in Australia. If they look at you like you’re crazy, avoid.
Is a hoverboard legal to use?
Legality is one of those other sticky issues still-not-hoverboards are having problems with, and much like the selfie stick, these things are getting banned left, right and centre.
In Australia, there aren’t many places you can take a hoverboard out in public on, with private property being fine — we saw a guy driving one inside a shopping centre the other day, wondering if the end of civilisation had arrived now that walking was pointless — now that most states have made it illegal to use on footpaths.
We say “most” because in Queensland it is completely acceptable to take these things out in public, one of the few states to keep it that way.
As far as legalities, we’d check with your local transport department to find out what the hoverboard classifies as, or just keep it to inside a home where the ground is solid and firm, because that also lends itself to safety.
Some of the companies selling them have even started including material aimed at informing buyers of this, which is at least responsible.
That’s good, too, because one of the catches with these boards is that because you have to apply pressure either forwards or backwards to move it, making hills and uneven surfaces produce problems when using the board, pushing you forward or backwards and then possibly toppling you over.
Worse, though, is that if the board is illegal and a member of the constabulary catches you using it, you’ll have to fork out between $300 and $700 for a fine. Merry Christmas.
Are they portable?
We’re not trying to dump any negativity on definitely-not-hovering-boards, but one thing they are not is portable.
In theory, you can see why people would think they are: like a mechanical scooter, they look small and compact, and the sort of thing you’d just hoist under your arm and take with you.
Unfortunately, the weight of these things is a little prohibitive, with the various sizes weighing between 8 and 12 kilograms, making it heavier than most backpacks, and sort of like carrying a large computer around.
To put it into perspective, think of it as carrying one long block that weighs as much as a bag or two of groceries.
A hoverboard is not light, and given they have maximum weight limits of between 90 and 120 kilograms, it technically can’t be. There are tyres, a motor, and a battery all adding to the big weight.
As such, hoverboards really need their own luggage, and unless you’re used to carrying heavy items with you, there’s a good chance you’re going to complain about it every step of the way.
So should I buy one?
So with all of this information out of the way, we get to the most important one: should you spend the money on one?
It all depends on whether or not you think you will use it.
While at least one person in the office loves their time with the hoverboard, the general consensus is that these are gimmicks that will disappear over time.
Some retailers and e-tailers are already removing them from their shelves and listings, and given that these aren’t cheap — ranging from $600 to $1000 — they’re not a gadget purchase you’ll probably take lightly.
If you think you’ll use it often or have the cash to spread around, look into it, otherwise, we’d probably spend on another gadget, but that’s just us. You might love the idea of never walking in your home again.