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Pod Mod Review – The Vype ePen 3

Vype ePen 3

I’ve talked about pod mods a couple of times recently, and last month I reviewed the new iQOS Mesh from Philip Morris International. I have to admit that although I usually vape on complicated high-power devices that could give military smokescreen generators a run for their money, I do like these simple but effective new e-cigarettes. They’re small, and easy to carry around. They don’t dribble liquid into my pockets. They don’t need backed up by a pocketful of liquid bottles, massive spare batteries and recoiling kit. And they give a decent vape, too.

Anyway, I’ve spent the last week testing the latest pod mod from British American Tobacco – the Vype ePen 3. This follows on from previous Vape pod systems, and it’s pretty state of the art. Is it like JUUL? Not quite – that’s a unique product and, thanks to the EU’s idiotic laws on nicotine levels, is only available in the UK in a watered-down version that everyone is telling me doesn’t work very well. The ePen 3 was designed from the start to work within the restrictions imposed by our masters in Brussels, and that means BAT have taken a different approach.

What I’ve been playing with recently is an ePen 3 starter kit and three packs of refill pods, so let’s cut the waffle and see how it went.

The Review

The ePen 3 comes in a neat little cardboard box. Slide off the outer sleeve and open the lid, and you’ll find the device wedged into a couple of recesses in a plastic insert. Lift it out and underneath is a pack of two pods – one Blended Tobacco and one Crushed Mint. You can also open a flap at one end of the box and rummage around inside the insert; there’s a USB charging cable hidden in there. It’s not fancy packaging, but it works.

Getting back to the device, this is a sleek and lightweight unit. In fact it’s very lightweight. The body is entirely plastic, which makes sense in a pod mod. It doesn’t need the extra strength of metal to cope with heavy batteries or attaching an atomiser, so plastic both cuts costs and reduces weight. The ePen 3 is so light that I could slip it in my pocket and forget it was there. That doesn’t really happen with my usual Rouleaux RX200, which is approximately the same size and weight as a young elephant.

I’d call the ePen 3 cigar-shaped, except it isn’t. Well OK, it’s the shape a cigar would be if it was flattened into a rounded-off diamond profile. Again this makes it easy to slip in a pocket, and there’s no danger of it rolling off your desk either. It’s pretty simple, too; there’s a micro USB charging port in the base, and an open top end to plug in the pod. Apart from that the only control is a single power/fire button on the front of the device, with a nice embossed Vype logo below it.

The pods just snap into the open end of the device; they seem to work either way up, so there’s no chance of screwing up here. Each pod holds a TPD-compliant 2ml of liquid, and there’s a choice of three strengths – 6, 12 or 18mg/ml. Personally, with a relatively low-powered device like this I’d go with 18mg/ml every time, especially if you’re a smoker looking to quit, but if you really want the lower strengths they’re available.

You get a choice of seven flavours with the ePen 3 – Golden Tobacco, Blended Tobacco, Crisp Mint, Infused Vanilla, Dark Cherry, Fresh Apple or Wild Berries. As well as the starter pack that came in the kit I got packs of Blended Tobacco, Crisp Mint (although for some reason they actually said “Master Blend” and “Crushed Mint. Oh well; same thing) and Wild Berries.

Vaping the Vype

Anyway, after I got bored of fondling the ePen – which took a while, because it has a rather nice soft-touch finish – I plugged it in to charge. A full charge takes around two hours, but it arrived with the battery about half full. The LED in the power button glows red while it’s charging, so once that went out I grabbed a pod and went to work.

Actually getting a pod out of the packaging was the worst part of the ePen experience. They come in blister packs, and they’re pretty tough. I tried just pressing the pod out through the foil backing as usual, and I couldn’t do it. This wasn’t a case of weak fingers either; I shoot an English longbow as a hobby, so if anyone ever sets up a finger-wrestling tournament I’m probably in with a good chance there. These packs are just tough. I eventually took a knife to the foil and got it out that way.

Once you’ve managed to extricate a pod it all gets much easier. Snap the pod into the device – as I said, there’s no way to mess this up – then press the fire button quickly five times to power up. A green LED will glow for a few seconds to show you it’s switched on, and then all you have to do is press the fire button and take a puff.

So this was the moment of truth. How well does the ePen 3 actually vape, and is it good enough to act as a replacement for cigarettes? Well, as you’d expect this is no sub-ohm powerhouse, but does it work? Yes it does. Vapour production isn’t massive, but it’s definitely more than adequate. The vapour is dense and satisfying, much more like a good clearomiser than an old-style cigalike. The flavour was also excellent with the Blended Tobacco and Mint pods, although I found the Wild Berry a bit weak and artificial.

When a pod is empty the power switch blinks red and the device shuts down, telling you it’s time to wrestle with the packaging again and fit a new one. I got through about two pods a day, which at £3.49 a pack makes this a lot cheaper than smoking. Vype say a full charge on the battery will last a whole day. I think that’s a bit optimistic myself, but it does have a pass-through mode, so you can easily vape as you recharge.

One thing to be aware of is that the ePen 3 does like turning itself off. If you hold the fire button for more than eight seconds it turns off. If you don’t press the fire button at all for ten minutes it turns off. If the pod runs dry it turns off. You’ll probably find yourself clicking away at the button quite regularly, but this is a minor nuisance at worst; overall, vaping this little Vype is a pretty positive experience.

The Verdict

I have to say, I was impressed with the ePen 3. It’s compact and lightweight, simple to use and works well. If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful pod mod that gives a good vape and a painless user experience, this one from British American Tobacco is definitely worth a look.

 

 

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So What’s A Pod Mod?

Pod mod

When I started writing about Heat not Burn I didn’t think it was going to be controversial. Well, I was wrong. The thing is, I’m a vaping advocate and my name isn’t exactly unknown in the e-cigarette debate. As far as I was concerned, HnB was all part of the same concept – a safer alternative to cigarettes that has the potential to save the lives of smokers.

Unfortunately, it seems not all vapers agree. Over the last couple of months there’s been an astonishing string of attacks on HnB by some people who, even if they’re just YouTube reviewers, really should know better.

The actual arguments these people use are silly, with a bit of ignorance sprinkled on top – did you know a Heet was just a cigarette that’s been dipped in PG? I sure didn’t, and I’ve watched them being made. There’s also a lot of conspiracy theory rubbish about how PMI are trying to take over vape shops by asking them if they want to sell iQOS. PMI have enough money that, if they wanted to take over vape shops, there’s a much simpler way to do it – just buy them.

Anyway, after a few conversations, I’ve worked out that what really annoys them is they think HnB is the “wrong” way to use nicotine. Part of that is that it that they use tobacco. It’s amazing how completely some vapers have swallowed the line that tobacco itself is bad, when in fact it’s just the smoke you should avoid. The involvement of the tobacco companies seems to cause a lot of tears, too; some vapers sound scarily like Deborah Arnott of ASH when they get onto the subject of PMI, BAT and all the other companies whose products they were happy enough to buy for decades. Lastly, some of them just seem to be vape snobs. If you’re not getting your nicotine from a boutique liquid, vaporised by hand-built coils powered by the latest high-end mod, you’re no better than a filthy smoker.

Well, I don’t care about any of this. I’m fine with tobacco, I’m too adult to blame the tobacco industry for all the cigarettes I freely chose to buy from them, and I’m not a snob. If someone couldn’t care less about fancy mods and liquids, and just wants a nice simple device they can pick up at Tesco’s tobacco counter, I’m fine with that. And this brings us, finally, to pod mods.

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What’s a pod mod?

The first thing I should say about pod mods (also known as pod vapes) is that they’re not really mods; the name seems to have stuck to them because it’s sort of snappy and it rhymes. What they really are is the latest incarnation of the old-style cigalikes a lot of us started vaping with. The difference is that while cigalikes were awful, pod mods are actually rather good.

If you’ve already seen a pod mod you’re probably thinking that they don’t actually look very much like cigalikes. You’re right; they don’t. The basic concept is pretty much the same, though. They have a compact battery with an automatic switch, no controls, and the liquid is contained in a disposable cartridge (the pod) that snaps on to one end. There are three main differences, though:

  • Abandoning the cigarette shape lets them pack in a lot more battery capacity while staying slim and compact enough to be held like a cigarette.
  • The coils are a lot more powerful and efficient than a traditional cigalike
  • Using sealed pods, rather than wick-stuffed open cartridges, leaves space for a lot more liquid

So that’s the advantages of a pod mod over cigalikes; how do they compare to the typical devices used by experienced vapers like myself? Well, this is where things get subjective. I like my big, heavy, leaky devices. I spend most of the day at my desk writing articles and blog posts for you, so the fact my mod is stuffed with multiple 18650 batteries and is about the size of a half brick doesn’t bother me at all. All my tanks are a bit dribbly, and my favourite RDTAs tend to dump their entire contents if you tip them too far, but when they’re sitting on my desk that isn’t a problem.

On the other hand, when I actually have to go outside for some reason the e-cig I always reach for is my Vype Pro Tank, which is small, light and never leaks (and it’s sold by a tobacco company, if anyone cares). If I had an even smaller device that was still capable of delivering a decent vape, I’d take that. I’ve actually had some experience of this, thanks to a couple of pod mods I was given to test last year; I wouldn’t use them at home, but for going out and about they’re excellent. Here are some of the leading pod mods:

 

JUUL

JUUL starter kit

The pod mod everybody’s talking about right now (although mostly for the wrong reasons) is the JUUL. This ultra-slim device was only available in the USA and Israel, but it’s now available in the UK and the company, in between arguing with idiots who’re imagining an epidemic of teenage “JUULing”, is planning to roll it out around the rest of the world over the next couple of years.

JUUL is a tiny rectangular device with a USB port at one end, so it can be plugged directly into a laptop to charge. It’s fed on tiny leakproof pods that hold 0.7ml of liquid; the liquid itself is a bit special, and part of the reason for JUUL’s amazing success – it currently makes up 70% of e-cig sales in US convenience stores. Instead of the usual freebase nicotine it contains nicotine salts, which deliver a faster, cigarette-like hit, and it’s also very strong at 5% nicotine (although this has to be cut to 2% for the European market, thanks to the ridiculous EU TPD).

Heat Not Burn UK being all about harm reduction has a sister website that may well start selling the JUUL here  in the UK in the very near future, so watch this space!

MyBlu

MyBlu starter kit

Previously sold as the Von Erl until Fontem Ventures (part of Imperial Tobacco) bought the brand, MyBlu is about the same size as JUUL but has a more rounded shape. It’s also generally more conventional – it uses standard e-liquid at 1.6% concentration.

Mesh

IQOS Mesh

PMI’s Mesh is much larger than the JUUL or MyBlu (so it also has better battery life), but it’s exactly the same concept – you just plug disposable pods onto the end of the battery. I have one of these and it’s very good. It also produces more vapour than the other pod mods, so it might be a better option for anyone who’s used to conventional e-cigs. We have also done a full review of this device.

Heat Not Burn UK are now selling the Mesh pod mod along with VEEV flavour caps right here on this website!

iFuse

BAT iFuse

About the same size as the Mesh, BAT’s iFuse is a sort of hybrid – its pods contain a layer of finely shredded tobacco which is supposed to give the vapour a tobacco flavour as it passes through. It’s a great idea, but we’re not sure how well this pod mod actually works.

Pebble

BAT Vype Pebble

BAT’s Pebble is the most unconventional-looking of the pod mods. It’s shaped like the sort of flat stone you’d skip across a pond, and while it looks odd it’s also very comfortable to hold. There’s a nice big battery in there too.

 

So there are already a few pod mods to choose from, but the runaway success of JUUL means we can probably expect to see a lot more options appearing soon, as manufacturers jump on the bandwagon. Overall that’s great news, because pod mods are exactly what a lot of smokers are looking for – a reduced harm option that’s smaller and simpler than a conventional e-cig.

EDIT: Just as we predicted more options are indeed entering the market, including the Vype ePen 3 from British American Tobacco. In November 2018 we did a full review of the device.

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