Vaping is a popular activity, one that has a real a 21st-century twist to it. The technology behind vaping is relatively new. The consequences of doing it are mysterious and potentially very dangerous. And yet, vaping seems better than what people in the 20th century did to their bodies—namely smoking cigarettes. If you’re doing that or just want a new hobby, vape pens are a pretty effortless way to get started.
But seriously, proceed with caution. Many vape juice varieties contain nicotine which is addictive and harmful. Vape pens are regulated the same as tobacco cigarettes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means you have to be 18 or older to buy them. These disclaimers are especially relevant right now because the companies that sell them are coming under increasing scrutiny. Just this week, the biggest vaping company in the country, Juul, announced that it would stop selling most of its flavored pods in stores and would minimize its social media presence, after drawing criticism for marketing to minors.
So assuming you’re legal and okay with the health risks, let’s get you started vaping! For this edition of Battlemodo, we took three of the top vape pens on the market—Juul, Rubi, and myblu—and put them through the wringer to find out which one’s the best. Our three battles—cloud, battery, and flavor—cover the most important aspects of using and enjoying the devices. You might be surprised who came out on top. (Just kidding, you probably won’t.)
Part of the fun of vaping is blowing fat clouds of vapor. Some call it “cloud chasing.” If that’s the experience you’re after, however, vape pens probably aren’t for you. Sleek little vape pens have smaller batteries that are designed to be portable more than anything, while custom-built mods with bigger batteries are best for cloud chasing. That said, you might want to simulate the act of smoking with at least a skinny cloud. You might also just want access to nicotine through a more discrete vaping experience.
For this battle, we blew clouds with all the vapes and measured the results, not only the cloud size but also how quickly it dissipated. The Rubi, a vape pen made by Kandypens, produced the biggest, thickest cloud. This might be because there are a couple of extra vents on the side of the battery that allows you to draw in more air. The myBlu, by e-cigarette giant Blu, also yielded a pretty dense cloud, although drawing on the thing felt pretty harsh. The clouds from both of these devices also hung around a while.
The Juul experience was different. Depending on the draw, the cloud size was almost as big as the Rubi and the myblu, but it seemed to dissipate more quickly. Bryan, my co-tester, and I liked this because it makes for a more discrete vaping experience. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to vape casually without making a big deal out of it because you’re cool. If you think huge clouds are cool, you should think about going down to the vape shop and buying a mod!
This battle is a bit more technical than the last. In order to understand the role a battery plays in the entire vaping experience, you really have to learn about the basic mechanics of the device.
The bulk of the hardware is a lithium-ion battery that’s not much different than what’s in your phone. You charge it up, and vaping drains it down, based on the particular battery’s voltage. Then there’s the pod that contains the vape juice. (Vape juice is the liquid that helps create the vapor, and it often contains nicotine.) In addition to vape juice, these pods contain a wick that transports the liquid to a heating element called a coil. When you pull on the vape, this makes the battery heat the coil, which vaporizes the liquid on the wick, which you then draw into your lungs and enjoy. It’s worth pointing out here that the Juul and the myblu call for pre-filled, disposable pods, while the Rubi uses refillable pods that work with the vape juice of your choice.
All that said, battery size will impact how long you can use the vape before it’s dead, but it’s not the only factor. Of the three vape pens we tested, the myblu had the largest battery at 350mAh, and the Rubi came in second at 280mAh. The Juul is a seemingly wimpy 200mAh, although it’s also the only battery that contains an accelerometer that ensures the battery turns off when you’re not using. The Juul is also the only vape pen we tested that uses a proprietary charger. It’s a little cradle that plugs into a USB port, and it’s also very easy to lose. The Rubi and myblu pens have a micro USB port on the battery for charging.
Our original idea for testing the batteries on these bad boys was pretty dumb. We were just going to vape from all three of them until there was only one vape left standing. That test quickly made us feel clammy and nauseated, so we leaned harder on our longer-term experiences. After a couple weeks of regular use, we found the Juul’s puny battery died in less than a day, despite its fancy features. The myblu’s big battery did last more than a day, although we realized that it operates at a higher voltage than the slightly smaller Rubi battery. In the end, the Rubi not only lasted a long time but also charged quickly and worked most consistently.
Flavor is sort of a tricky title for this battle. All of these vape pens support a wide variety of flavors, each of which is appealing to different groups of people. These ranges include basic flavors like tobacco—which tastes less like tobacco and more like generic vape flavor—as well as more exotic ones like Juul’s Cool Cucumber—which tastes like nightmares, in my opinion. The important point is that with Juul and myblu, you’re limited to the flavor options the companies offer because they come in pre-filled, disposable pods. With the Rubi, you can choose any vape liquid on the planet and put it in the refillable Rubi pod.
What this battle is really about is flavor quality and consistency. Whether you like the way a particular vape juice tastes matters almost as much as whether the vapor itself hurts your throat or makes you feel like gagging. From there, it’s also important for the range of flavors to offer a comparable experience. That means that one company’s tobacco pods should not vape any better than the same company’s mango pods. In thinking about the battle this way, we simply tested a wide range of flavors and pods to figure out which vape provided the best overall taste and experience. We also let a group of Gizmodo Media employees do a taste test, and we factored those results into our overall calculus.
The results were pretty stark in the end. Without a doubt, myblu came in last place. While some of the pods worked well and tasted okay, much of the time, it seemed like the myblu was delivering an unpredictable, toxic assault on our senses. The myblu also leaked and spit more than the others. The Rubi was somehow similar, although the results were more predictable. Again, this vape pen uses refillable pods so you can choose your vape juice. The problem is that these refillable pods seem to degrade over time, and the experience gets worse as they do. After a couple of refills, I found that an old pod would turn light brown vape juice into a dark brown mess, and the vapor that used to taste nice and clean had adopted an off-putting acridity.
This is where Juul excels. This vape pen and its pods are consistently good. Each pod has the same easy pull and clean flavor whether the pod is full or empty, and we almost never experienced issues with leaking. Yes, Juul pods are expensive at $15 to $20 a pack. But you really are paying for quality and consistency.
Having cleanly carried two out of three battles, Juul is the clear winner in this Battlemodo. This is the vaping equivalent of saying that Apple wins the competition for best smartphone. Juul is one of the most expensive vape pens you can buy, and a lot of people disagree about how the company does business.
But it became the market leader for good reasons. Juul makes a good vape pen. Juul makes good pods. Juul also markets the shit out of them and is arguably harming our children. But still, if you want to get into vaping, getting a Juul is your best bet.