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Despite having friends that have broken limbs skateboarding, I decided to buy myself an Electronic Longboard.
I’m still a kid at heart, despite my ongoing age…

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.11.00 AM

The board I chose to buy is what looks like a copy of the Boosted Board. The design is different though, but its close enough to look like a copy of sorts. Mine is from a company called BenchWheel out of Hangzhou, and although mildly expensive, isn’t too bad in Electric Skateboard pricing terms, especially in comparison to the similarly specced Boosted board at $1499.

I was originally planning to get the Stary board, as its made in Shanghai, and I was watching their Kickstarter, but sadly they don’t seem to want to sell it locally.
So, I scanned Taobao for similar products, and decided on the BenchWheel, as it looked reasonable quality-wise compared to the other options.

BenchWheel is currently available on Taobao for 2899RMB (about 450$USD odd at this moment in time)

They have 2 models for sale – the B board, which is a standard longboard, and the C board, which is a skinnier board at the ends.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.11.45 AM

I bought my BenchWheel on Monday, had it delivered on Wednesday (the magic of Taobao), and have been riding it for a whole 2 days now. I’ve never ridden a skateboard or longboard before, and I’m finding it very easy to ride. I’m already comfortable using it on the road for short trips in light traffic here in Shanghai. Took me about 5 minutes to find my balance, and after about an hour riding around my compound avoiding pedestrians and small rodent sized dogs I felt comfortable enough to take it outside on the street with the bigger traffic.

So far I’m quite happy with it. Top speed is faster than I want to go still, and the battery life is quite decent @ +-20km. The entire bottom length of the board is essentially battery.

Having played with most of the things available here, from e-scooters to airwheel’s, I think a Longboard is the most fun/ practical in daily use, especially for last mile from metro -> home.

All in all, it feels like a decent quality item. The parts are solidly built, and it doesn’t feel like cheap crap.
I haven’t tried a Boosted board or other US brand boards though, so can’t compare to those, but I do know what cheap crap feels like, and this isn’t that.

Some notes on using it
The BenchWheel has a carry handle, but I think there needs to be something smoother around the handle as the sandpaper gets rough.
Its light enough to carry short distances, which is good.

Remote control feels comfortable to use. The speed acceleration is good – its not crazy from stopped, it feels like they ramp up in a curve rather than giving you full throttle immediately. Braking on the other hand feels like they give you too much – you need to be more careful braking as its almost too fast on the controller.

Controller could do with some labelling, there are way too many leds that show different colors (red or green).
The bottom 3 show board battery status. The top two are speed allegedly, although they do flash when the board isn’t sync’d.
The remote and the board time out if not used and left on. The lights stay on, but the remote does nothing. Turning both off then on again resolves that. Looks like it does that when left 3-5 minutes unused. I’ve already hit that once or twice tonight talking to people about the board and not using it for a few minutes, then it doesn’t want to work.

My manual is in Chinese, and the instructions are not very clear – I had initial issues syncing the remote with the board despite reading the instructions, and repeating the steps a couple of times.
Their online support was good (aliwang), and I resolved it, but the manual needs to be much clearer.

I’ve actually had a go at making a better english manual here – http://computersolutions.cn/downloads/benchwheel/

I’ll re-iterate, this is really fun to ride. I’m actually excited to go out and ride around, which is good.
I’ve also been quite lucky in that I haven’t fallen yet. Having a brake and not going too fast helps a lot, as you can just jump off if you feel like falling.

Some tech details
N5065 270KV motors x 2 – Not sure what brand, haven’t opened it up yet.
Batteries in a 6S 4P (22.2V nominal @ 6 x 3.7V/ 25V peak/ 20v get off the board before you kill the batteries 😉 ) config using 18650’s @ 8800MAH / 210WH
Wheels are 80x45mm 78A hardness
Board is 920x240x15mm
7.9KG total weight.
Has a carrying handle cut out in the board (useful!)

Dual motors @ 1800W

Expanded view
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.59.16 AM

Underside view
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Whats missing
It feels like a strong version 1.0
That said this is whats missing:

    • Lighting – they need to add underlighting to the board (they actually came out with some the day after I bought mine, grr!, so will be adding mine when it arrives in my next taobao shopping order).
      Carrying handle – great idea, but the board sandpaper surface chafes, so it needs some smoother tape around the handle area.
      Design – There are tons of cool skateboard designs. BenchWheel have completely ignored that and gone with a horridly bad logo font choice and rather basic and bland black board color. This totally needs some work. Luckily you can buy cool stuff on taobao, so thats a fairly easy remedy.
      Packaging – Very white box. Mine actually came slightly damaged, although the board was fine. They need to work on that.
      Battery indicator – The Marbel board has a battery indicator on the board. They need to add something either on the top of the board, or underneath the board with a bar for charge value like you get on electric mopeds and scooters. I might mod mine to add that, as thats fairly easy to do. There is a battery indicator on the remote, but its not too accurate / useful.
      Manual – the existing one isn’t so clear on a few things, even in the Chinese manual.
  • Some action shots below.

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    Full set on Flickr

    Video:

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    I’ll prefix this with my initial recommendation – don’t buy till they make it work.

    First though, a little introduction.

    I’m unhealthy. I like gadgets.
    I’m up for trying something that will improve my health.
    With that said, Arstechnica had a little opinion piece on a motion tracking device called the Fitbit – its a motion sensor that tracks how much excercise you do during the day.

    My interest was piqued, and I bought one based on the writeup there.
    Unfortunately my user experience was completely different to the one in the review.

    Ordered and got mine online via Taobao, it arrived within 2 days, which was pretty good (although that has zero to do with fitbit, and more to do with the shop selling them here in China..)

    Untitled

    There are chinese equivalents to this on the market, but as people have found, the chinese generally spend more emphasis on the manufacturing side over the software engineering side. Mostly as factories here mostly do OEM work, rather than the longer term more lucrative, but riskier development.

    FitBit

    China pedometers/ health sensors or Japanese ones (Citizen, and Casio mostly) are in the 150rmb range with USB, and about 300-400 for wifi ones (from a cursory check in taobao)

    As stated, software is generally the difference between these things – Chinese can make good hardware, but software usually takes a backseat, hence my getting a US made (well Singapore made) device like the FitBit.

    This is 700rmb locally, which matches up with the 99$ price + some profit for the seller.

    Build quality is not as good as you’d expect for the price. It feels cheap, and has that its going to break within a month or two feel. The clip that it comes with has sharp edges, and pokes into your sides if you wear it. A little more care on the moulding process, and use of a softer plastics mix would yield a much more consumer friendly device that the current one.

    FitBit

    Packaging is quite a bit too over engineered imho. The transparent box the device comes with is nice, but essentially useless once out of the box. I’d rather they spent the money on the clip and device instead of on the packaging used.

    That’s the physical side, onto the hardware.

    Out of box experience isn’t great (I’m a Mac user).

    You get told to download the App, which I did, and install.

    Unfortunately the App just doesn’t work. You can’t signup. You can’t bypass the App either to use the device. This isn’t a network issue, as its the same over a VPN or without (which often is the issue within China).

    Looking at the console logs shows that their site is returning a site is offline message to the app, but the app doesn’t display this, nor does their site indicate in any manner that its down.

    eg

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac.local MacUserInterface[5076] : Processing action 'http'...
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac.local MacUserInterface[5076] : Ignoring unexpected HTTP response [19].
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac fitbitd[5076]: : Request for http://client.fitbit.com:80/device/tracker/uploadData completed.
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac MacUserInterface[5076]: WriteHTML called with NULL target.
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac.local MacUserInterface[5076] : Processing action 'http'...
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac.local MacUserInterface[5076] : WriteHTML called with NULL target.
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac.local MacUserInterface[5076] : NULL-targeted HTML:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Fitbit - Maintenance
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    We'll be back soon!

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Fitbit.com is currently undergoing a little planned maintenance. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    P.S. Yes, we're still counting your steps!

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]: Fitbit Team
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:
    Apr 11 12:34:08 Lozs-iMac com.fitbit.fitbitd[5076]:

    Ok, so the app doesn’t work that well.

    How about the website and integration?

    Well, the very first thing I tried their also didn’t work.
    Their Facebook signup sync doesn’t work either.

    "Unable to finish authorization with Facebook. Received Facebook error response of type OAuthException: Error validating application. Invalid application ID."

    I’d really like to like this, but so far I’m really underwhelmed.
    If it actually worked I’d probably be introducing this to all my friends and expounding on the virtues of exercise and gadgets and such, but not in this case.

    I haven’t been able to use mine yet, and I’m already fairly unimpressed with what I’ve seen so far. It has glimmers of brilliance – the unit has a neat display that shows steps counted, and possibly some other custom messages that I would be able to set if their software actually worked, but I can’t.

    Will see what their support is like, and update this further when I get replies.

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