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Dud or diamond? – The VCOT from Ewildfire

VCOT from Ewildfire

So, it’s that time again. The postman delivered a parcel from China last week, I’ve been playing with a new gadget since then, and now it’s time to give all you Heat not Burn fans the inside scoop on the latest and greatest (well, we’ll see about that) in tobacco vaporisation technology.

This time, my new toy is the VCOT from Ewildfires. It’s the latest product from Shenzhen, the Chinese industrial region that’s become the global hub of e-cigarette manufacturing and is now trying to grab a foothold in the HnB market as well. We’ve already reviewed a few devices from Chinese companies – the iBuddy i1, EFOS E1 and NOS – and a couple of them were pretty impressive. So how does the VCOT stack up?

The Review

The VCOT is brand new – so new that I’m not going to go through the traditional unboxing experience. The retail packaging hasn’t even been designed yet, so my review sample turned up in a plain cardboard box and a nest of bubble wrap, with no accessories. There wasn’t even an instruction manual; that arrived by email. It wouldn’t be fair to comment – or even speculate – on packaging and accessories that I haven’t seen, so for this review I’ll only be looking at the vaporiser itself.

As I said, the VCOT is brand new, and its designers have obviously tried to push the technological envelope a bit. Like the NOS we looked at a few weeks ago it’s a temperature-controlled device that lets you set the operating temperature to get the vape you want.

Bottom view of the VCOTApart from the temperature control feature, the VCOT is pretty conventional. It uses PMI’s widely available Heets, for a start. The body is basically rectangular with rounded edges and corners, and it fits nicely in the hand. You can’t hold it like a cigarette, as you can with iQOS, but it’s comfortable enough. It’s also very light. The body seems to be all metal and made in three parts; front, back, and a strip that forms the top and base as well as holding it all together.

So if the body is all metal, how come the device is so light? The answer is that the metal is very thin. The front and back are stamped out of sheet. I don’t know what the sheet is, but it isn’t steel – I couldn’t get my neodymium supermagnets to stick to it. It could be aluminium; the glossy, deep blue finish looks like it could be anodised.

Unfortunately, the thin metal gives the VCOT a slightly flimsy feel. If I squeeze the body between finger and thumb it flexes slightly and lets out a chorus of creaking and clicking sounds. Shaking it isn’t reassuring either; something – probably the battery pack – rattles around inside. That isn’t just an annoyance, because if things are free to move it increases wear and tear on wiring, so the device is more likely to fail (more on that later).

Top view of the VCOTMoving on, the VCOT has the usual Heet-sized (more on that, too) hole at the top, protected by a sliding plastic cover. The cover feels solid and has grooves moulded into its surface, so it’s easy to operate. The heating chamber itself is similar to the EFOS – there’s no spike or blade, and the heating element is built into the walls of the chamber. On the base of the device is a micro-USB charging port and an air intake hole that lines up with the heating chamber.

All the work is done at the front of the device, on an inlaid black plastic panel. At the top of this is the power button, and at the bottom the temperature up/down buttons and a blue LED to show current status. In between the buttons is a 0.7” OLED screen, which gives a nice clear, bright image.

So, on build quality, the VCOT isn’t really up to the standard of the other devices I’ve reviewed. Even the plastic-bodied EFOS has a much more solid feel to it. On the other hand the VCOT does pack in a 2,200mAh battery, which hints at good battery life, and it has the advantage of temperature control. If a gadget performs well I can easily overlook a creaky casing. So how does the VCOT stack up when it comes to actually vaping?

Vaping the VCOT

Putting a full charge in the VCOT takes about an hour, which is pretty reasonable, and you’ll know when it’s done – the LED on the front blinks brightly while it’s charging, and the battery indicator on the screen makes it easy to see how much progress you’re making. When the LED and screen switch off it’s fully charged and ready to go.

Loading the VCOT is pretty simple; all you have to do is slide the cover back and push the tobacco end of the Heet into the heating chamber. This has to be done carefully though, as there’s a bit of resistance for the last half inch. With no blade or spike to force into the tobacco, this turns out to be because the heating chamber is a tighter fit than the EFOS. Still, I managed to get all my Heets in without breaking them, so it’s not a major problem.

With a stick in the chamber you can now turn the VCOT on by pressing the power button five times. I think I’ve already vented my feelings about this; a single long press on the button is just as resistant to accidental activation, and these microswitches won’t last an infinite number of presses. Again, though, this isn’t a big deal.

Once the device turns on you’ll see the temperature readout on the screen start to rise. While it’s heating up you can use the up and down buttons to adjust it to the temperature you want. The temperature range is from 220-250°C, which seemed a bit on the low side; iQOS runs at 350°C, and when I played with the NOS a few weeks ago it was happiest between 320°C and 335°C. The VCOT seemed to be pitched a little low, but as it turned out this wasn’t really an issue.

Here’s something that was an issue; it takes forever to heat up. Our current champ in that respect is the NOS, which went from room temperature to 325°C in a mere nine seconds. The VCOT took just over a minute (61 seconds, to be precise) to show 250°C on the display, and that just isn’t good enough. Then it kept me hanging on for another 20 seconds before it buzzed to tell me it was ready to vape.

The vape’s OK, if you set it to 250°C.

A few little issues

A vaping session on the VCOT lasts for three minutes and 30 seconds. When your time’s up it simply buzzes and switches off; there’s no warning to give you time to grab a last puff. Then it’s time to take out the used Heet – and that’s where the fun really begins.

With most of the HnB devices I’ve tested (the Glo and NOS are honourable exceptions) I’ve had the occasional stick leave its plug of tobacco behind in the chamber. This is mildly annoying, but no big deal; you can easily take the top of the device apart and dig out the debris with a brush.

Burned and broken Heets – not a good sign.

With the VCOT, about half the Heets I used broke off at the joint between the tobacco plug and the hollow section above it. The first time this happened (which was also the first Heet I vaped with it) I found, to my annoyance, that there’s no way to dismantle the device for easier access to the chamber. I had to resort to digging out the tobacco with a bit of wire, then using a brush to clear the remaining debris.

Examining this debris, and the Heets I managed to extract in one piece, was interesting. The display might say 250°C, but the inside of the chamber is getting hot enough to char the Heet’s paper tube quite badly – and, a lot of the time, it’s burning it to ash. That seems to be why so many of them break; the paper disintegrates and lets the foil liner stick to the wall of the chamber. The actual tobacco isn’t burned, like it was with the EFOS, but I’m still not convinced this is really in the Heat not Burn spirit.

I also found that, sometimes, the VCOT just doesn’t work. I’d press the button five times, the display would light up, then the temperature readout would stick at either the high 20s or the high 40s. If I left it alone, an error message would flash up on the screen – “CHECK FPC!” – or it would just turn itself off. After some fiddling I found that sometimes pulling out the Heet would unblock it; the temperature would start to rise, and I could put the Heet back in and wait for it to reach operating temperature. Other times I had to plug in the charging cable briefly, which seemed to reset it, then I could power it back up again.

Conclusions

I’m conscious that this is a pre-release device, so I don’t want to be too hard on it. The VCOT has some potential. It’s compact and has decent battery life – a full charge will see you through a pack of Heets and maybe a little more. The vape is acceptable at the higher end of the temperature range. If it’s priced appropriately it could be a reasonable choice for those on a budget – as long as these points are fixed:

  • The heating chamber needs to be made slightly larger; it’s too tight. With no way to dismantle the device for cleaning, its tendency to tear the ends off used Heets isn’t acceptable.
  • Heat up time needs to be radically reduced, to 20 seconds or less. More than a minute is simply not good enough.
  • Reliability needs to be improved. I expect a device like this to work properly every time I switch it on. The VCOT doesn’t.
  • Whatever’s rattling around inside needs to be fixed in place. Any movement risks weakening, and eventually breaking, soldered joints. Is this the cause of its unreliability? Could be.

Deal with all these issues and, as I said, the VCOT might have some potential. It does have temperature control and its battery life is better than the NOS, so there are a couple of positives there. However, right now I just can’t recommend it. Get an iQOS instead.

iqos and 60 heets special offer

 

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HnB UK Exclusive Review – the Lil from KT&G

KT&G Lil and Fiits

Last November we posted an article about an interesting new entry into the Heat not Burn market – the Lil, from Korean Tobacco and Ginseng. Since then we’ve dropped a few hints that we were trying to get our hands on one, and more recently that one might actually be on its way to us. Well, that turned out to be a longer process than we expected. In fact, when it comes to getting things out of Korea, it’s probably easier to get your hands on Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear secrets than a Lil. We did it in the end, though; the elusive device arrived last week, along with a supply of sticks for it, and since then I’ve been busy giving it a thorough test.

As you might remember from our first article on Lil – go on, read it; you know you want to – I said it seemed to resemble Glo more than iQOS. I was partly right about that, and partly wrong. It does rely on a fairly beefy internal battery, like Glo, whereas iQOS outsources most of its power storage to the charging case. Where I went wrong is in saying that it heats the sticks externally rather than using a blade like iQOS. In fact it doesn’t have a blade, but it does have a spike, just like the iBuddy i1 I tested a while ago, so it’s much closer to the iQOS in concept here.

The Review

Lil open box showing unitAnyway, the Lil arrived in a smart cardboard box with a magnetically-closed flip-up lid. Inside the first thing you see is the Lil itself, resting in the usual plastic tray. Lifting that out reveals a cardboard flap; underneath there’s a quick-start card and instruction manual, neither of which I read (not out of laziness – they’re printed in Korean only) and all the bits and pieces you need to get it running and keep it that way. Specifically, there’s a USB cable, a plug for it (presumably South Korean, but I stuck it in a German socket and nothing exploded), a pack of pipe cleaners and a rather neat little cleaning brush.

The Lil itself is quite a bit taller than the Glo, but not as wide. Unlike the iQOS you can’t hold it like a cigarette, which might be a problem for some

Lil plus accessories

people, but I found it fitted nicely in my hand. The body is made of hard plastic and feels rock solid. It’s in two parts; they’re held together by a handy sticker explaining (in Korean) that if you twist a used stick a couple of times in each direction before pulling it out, it won’t leave the tobacco stuck on the spike. I wish I’d known this before trying the iBuddy, but anyway, if you remove the sticker you can pull off the top of the body and partly disassemble the heating chamber for cleaning.

On first handling the Lil I thought the build quality wasn’t up to that of the iQOS and Glo. For example, the top of the body is a piece of copper-coloured metal, and it looks a bit tacky. A slot in it holds a round, very plasticky button which slides back to reveal the heating chamber. After playing with it for a week, though, everything seems solid and reliable; it just isn’t quite as polished as its rivals. The only other features on the body are a micro USB port at the bottom and an LED-illuminated power button on one side. A smart copper-coloured Lil logo on the front completes the design. One minor point is that you can’t stand the Lil on its base, which is slightly convex; if you try it will just fall over.

Testing!

Lil top view showing slider cover

Once I’d finished playing with all the bits in the box, I plugged the Lil in and left it to charge. The LED in the power button changes colour to show the charge level, with a deep blue colour indicating a full charge – which takes about an hour and a half from empty. Once I had the battery fully topped up it was time to start testing it, so I dug out the sticks that came with it and had a look.

KT&G’s sticks are branded as Fiit, and I had two packs of them to play with. One was Fiit Change Up with a name in Korean, and the other was Fiit Change Up with a different name in Korean. Externally a Fiit looks very similar to a Heet – I’ll come back to that – but the Change Up ones I got have a small plastic capsule embedded in the filter. Leave that alone and they’re plain tobacco; crush it by squeezing the filter and they instantly become menthol.

Like its competitors Lil is simplicity itself to use. Just slide the cover back, insert a Fiit into the chamber, then hold the power button down until the device vibrates. After that all you have to do is wait until it heats up to operating temperature. Here’s where I started to get excited; the Lil heats up very fast. In fact I had to time it a few times before I completely believed it; this thing is ready to go less than 15 seconds after you let go the button.

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The Lil Experience

Lil unitWith the Lil warmed up, now came the moment of truth: What does it vape like? Well, I can say that if you like the iQOS, you’re not going to be disappointed with the Lil. It’s at least as good as its better-known rival; there’s plenty of vapour, and it’s rich, warm and satisfying. Once the Lil is at running temperature it will keep going for four minutes or (I think) 14 puffs, whichever comes first. Ten seconds before it powers down you’ll get a warning buzz so you can grab another quick puff from it.

First I tried a couple of Fiits without breaking the capsules. That delivered a very good tobacco flavour, pretty close to an amber Heet. The flavour did tail off a bit over the last few puffs, but I’ve learned to expect that. I crushed the capsules in the next few, and got a very cool, clear menthol vape. Sadly I never actually liked menthol cigarettes very much, so I left the rest of the capsules unsquashed, but at least I tested the concept. I don’t know what temperature Lil runs at, but from the taste and quality of the vapour I suspect it’s similar to the iQOS. I also checked a few sticks after use and didn’t find any signs of charring, like I did with the EFOS E1, so I don’t think there’s any risk of smoke being produced.

Incidentally, when I say I check these things I don’t just glance at them and think, “Yep, that looks OK.” I have a stereomicroscope, and I take sections of the stick and look at them under it. With the iQOS, Glo, iBuddy and Lil there really are no signs of charring. At HnB UK we take science seriously, and we’re happy to do a little of it ourselves.

Keeping the Lil running was also simple. The battery will heat about 20 sticks on a single charge, so if you’re not a heavy user it should get you through the whole day. Cleaning was simple with the supplied brush, and you also have the alcohol-soaked pipe cleaners to apply the finishing touches. A quick clean once a day will keep it in perfect working order.

Conclusions

Overall, despite some initial doubts about the build quality, I would say the Lil is an excellent device. It’s the equal of iQOS, with its higher battery capacity making up for the extra weight and bulk, and in my opinion it has a clear edge over the Glo, iBuddy and EFOS. The big disappointment is that it’s only available in South Korea.

If you do find yourself in South Korea, and you’re contemplating buying a Lil, I would say go for it. Don’t worry about keeping it supplied with Fiits. Remember I said earlier that a Fiit looks very similar to a Heet? It’s also pretty much exactly the same size, and the internal structure is much the same, too. Lil will work just fine with Heets, and I’m not taking a guess about that; I put two packs of Heets through it and they performed flawlessly.

Now here’s some more good news. Just six months after this impressive gadget hit the market, KT&G have already released the Lil 2. This is smaller and lighter, and also features an even easier cleaning system and upgraded heating element. Initial sales figures are impressive; KT&G say it’s sold 150,000 units in its first month, which is three times what the Lil did. With no signs yet of upgrades to its rivals, many Korean HnB users might be tempted to switch to the Lil 2 when their current devices need replaced.

As excited as we are to have been able to review the Lil, Heat not Burn UK are committed to bringing you the latest HnB news. That means brushing off my dinner jacket, ordering a large martini (shaken not stirred), loading my Walther PPK and going in search of the latest heated tobacco technology. As soon as a Lil 2 makes it out of Korea – and we’re already on it – you’ll read all about it on HnB UK.

iqos and 60 heets special offer

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KT&G Enter The Heat Not Burn Market With The Lil

KT&G Lil and Fiits

Korea Tobacco & Ginseng Corporation, better known as KT&G, are the leading tobacco company in South Korea. It looks like they have seen the light with regards to tobacco harm reduction, because they’ve just launched their very own heat not burn product – the Lil.

The product is more similar in design to the BAT Glo than it is to the PMI iQOS, but it uses an internal spike to heat the processed tobacco rather than having a central heated blade like PMI’s iQos does. The tobacco stick that Lil uses will be called Fiit. It will also be interesting to see if KT&G run into any patent issues in the future from either PMI or BAT, due to the nature of the tobacco sticks.

The device itself will be available in two finishes –  Creamy White and Saffron Blue. KT&G are saying that the unit holds enough charge for 20 Fiits to be used without the need for charging. In the past we’d have been sceptical of a claim like that, but when we reviewed the BAT Glo we found that it did indeed hold enough charge for 20 uses with a fair amount of charge remaining. As the unit is almost the same size as Glo we expect that the Lil’s battery will also be as good as Glo’s is.

Lil is currently on a very limited release in South Korea, but it’s set to gradually roll out to the whole of South Korea.

Will KT&G release it worldwide? That’s a tough one to call, but we doubt that it will. It may well end up in the Asian market but we doubt that it will go as far as Europe or the USA. We would love to be proved wrong though!

As for cost, the Lil has been released at a price that’s similar to Glo and a bit cheaper than iQOS. The Fiit tobacco-filled sticks are going to be priced similar to the Heets and NeoStiks used by its competitors. There is currently a very real possibility of a tax hike going through the South Korean National assembly; that would ramp up the tax on a packet of Fiits, punishing people for having the temerity to switch to a less harmful option –  and, of course, keeping those tobacco taxes rolling in.

Heat Not Burn UK will be trying to get our hands on a Lil so that we can give it a full going over in the near future for one of our extensive reviews. Also if we can get our hands on enough of them we will be selling them right here on this website along with PMI’s iQOS that we are already selling in large numbers.

UPDATE (13th Nov 17) As expected Korea’s national assembly have decided to tax heat not burn products to the same level as regular combustible cigarettes, thereby punishing people for choosing to use a safer alternative to traditional smoking. There’s not a lot else to add other than saying this is an incredibly moronic decision and will do nothing to help reduce South Korea’s smoking prevalence which currently stands at 19.9%. Expect the price of HEETS etc. to rise from next month in South Korea.

UPDATE (11th Dec 17)

According to a new report from Korea Joongang Daily pretty soon there will be a chance that Heat Not Burn refills will cost MORE than conventional cigarettes in South Korea. How on earth can reduced risk products be priced higher than regular cigarettes? How is this going to help reduce the high smoking rate in South Korea? We have a feeling that there’s something dodgy going on here.

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the Lil uses a spike to heat the processed tobacco rather than being externally heated (like the BAT Glo) as stated in the original post.

 

iqos and 60 heets special offer