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Airwheel Q3 review - electric unicycle, anyone?

Tom Morgan
5 Feb 2015
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
799
inc VAT

It won't instantly make you as cool as OK Go, but Airwheel is still a lot of fun - if you can get the hang of it

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Specifications

Warranty: One year RTB, Details: www.theairwheel.com, Part code: Q3

Ever since the original Segway arrived, then got swiftly banned here in the UK, we've been eagerly awaiting the next ridiculous alternative mode of transport. Airwheel might be it; it's a self-righting electric unicycle that promises 16kph downhill speeds with little effort. Two self-contained 14in wheels sit underneath an 800W electric motor, straddled by two pedals. You simply put one foot on each pedal, stand up straight and lean forward to move forwards, lean back to slow down, and lean sideways to steer.

It sounds simple enough, but - as we quickly discovered - it will take a lot of of practice before you're hopping on to head down to the shops.

The Q3 itself is no larger than a briefcase, though it weighs a considerable 13kg so you won't want to be lugging it too far. It might be available in a choice of black or white, but whichever colour you opt for you're going to turn heads riding it in public. Although it's perfectly legal to ride on pavements, the sheer spectacle of a vehicle/toy such as this is enough to turn heads.

Using a combination of gyroscope and attitude control stabilisation, the Q3 is "self-righting" in the sense that it won't tip forward or backward unless you lean into it, but that won't stop you toppling to one side. This is arguably the biggest issue with the machine; unless you have the time and patience to learn to use it without losing your balance, you simply won't be able to stay on it for more than a few feet at a time.

With no handlebars like the Segway, and no way to stand still on it meaning you have to keep moving forwards to stay balanced, it's a tricky learning curve that isn't helped by the incredibly basic and poorly translated user manual. There are plenty of videos on YouTube, but most seem to show Airwheel experts moving at speed rather than tips for beginners.

You're basically learning as you go, which means you can expect to fall off - a lot - and lose control frequently. Lean too far forwards and the Q3 takes off at quite a pace, and with no kill switch should you lose your footing it can veer wildly out of control if you take one foot off the pedals. It spun round and whacked us in the shins on more than one occasion. Lesser models include a stabiliser brace that should keep the unit under control when learning, but one wasn't included with our Q3 review unit.

The chassis may be made from plastic but the pedals are made of metal, and can seriously hurt when they collide with your legs. Unfortunately losing control means you're almost certain to damage the machine when it crashes to the ground, and by the end of our few weeks of testing the Q3 was scratched and battered. Arguably more irritating than the damaged chassis is the high-pitched wailing it makes whenever it detects a fall, or you lift it more than a foot in the air without switching it off first. The only way to stop it is to power it on and off again. It's practically an idiot siren - if it sounds, it means you've fallen off and everyone instantly looks at you.

Even once you get the hang of things on a smooth surface, like concrete, carpet or tarmac, it becomes a completely different beast when you hit an uneven surface like cobblestones. We passed the Q3 around the office and everyone that tried it eventually settled into a rhythm indoors, but as soon as we moved outside it was clear who had truly mastered the wheel. It doesn't seem to be a transferrable skill, either, as the people that tried it with skateboarding and snowboarding experience struggled just as much as those without.

The 300W internal battery should last for between 12 and 28 miles on a single charge, with a series of LEDs showing how much power you have in reserve. It takes roughly two hours to fully recharge. It charges using a proprietary cable, meaning you'll need to bring it along should you actually use it to commute to work and plan on taking it home again afterwards, but we doubt whether that's even possible. According to the Airwheel website the machine is waterproof and can be ridden in the rain, although the user manual contradicts this. It also suggests a full set of elbow and knee pads plus a helmet, to avoid busy roads and streets, and not to take it off-road.  

It's simply not practical as a commuter device, in operation or in cost. The top of the line Airwheel Q3 reviewed here costs an eye-watering £799, which is more expensive than a mid-range road bike, although lesser models do go as low as £500 - you can see the entire range on the Airwheel website. Were it to include a more detailed manual, better training aids and more respsonsive cutout mechanism it would almost make sense, but as it is today it feels like an overly ambitious first attempt.

Despite this, it's a rather fun gadget. Yes, you will look a bit of a prat riding it, even after you've managed to master forward movement without wildly flailing your arms, and you'll need a silky smooth surface to practice on before you can even begin thinking about taking it out in public, but it's a unique way to get around and a lot more fun than a pushbike.

SPECIFICATIONS
Maximum weight22st
Motor800W
Battery300W
Weight13kg
WarrantyOne year RTB
Detailswww.airwheel.com
Part codeQ3

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