Hoverboards, mini-Segways, Swegways or self-balancing boards – whatever you call them, are in demand in the UK in early 2016. As with any new product on the market, you can buy them almost anywhere in a variety of shapes and sizes, but what is the best hoverboard for you? Can you get one with built-in speakers to connect to your mobile? Can you get ones with built-in GPS? Here, we talk to you about the different features to consider when buying a hoverboard, as well as the laws regarding using hoverboard use in public areas in the UK in 2016.
Update: In mid-December 2015, after removing all hoverboard listings from its website, Amazon is now offering full refunds and is urging customers to recycle their unsafe hoverboards. More info can be found in the "Hoverboard buying advice warning: Buying from China" section of this article.
While we cover the different times of hoverboard available to buy in this article, if you're looking for an actual hoverboard to buy right now you should see our round-up of the best hoverboards available in the UK right now.
Best hoverboards: podcast discussion
Which hoverboard should I buy: What to look for in a hoverboard
Different types of hoverboard: AirWheel vs hoverboard
First things first, it’s important to mention there are two main designs of ‘hoverboards’ – the board and the wheel, nicknamed the AirWheel. Though the two are very similar in terms of concept, they’re controlled in different ways – mainly thanks to a lack of handles for control, one of the key features of the hugely successful Segway. See also: Best smartphones of 2015 & 2016
The board is formed of two pieces with a wheel on each side, connected by a hinge in the center, allowing them to rotate independently of each other. With this in mind, the user only has to step onto the pressure-sensitive pads and lean forward to go forward and back to go backwards, and if they want to change direction, all they need to do is push one foot further forward than the other. Pushing the left foot forward will cause the left wheel to go faster and turn the board to the right, and vice versa. Though it may sound confusing when explained, it only took us a few minutes to get used to the system and it provided us with a great level of control over our positioning and movement.
The second type is the wheel, better known as the ‘AirWheel’. Instead of having wheels on the outside of the board, the AirWheel has a large wheel (or two, depending on the model) in the middle of the rideable with pressure-sensitive paddles on either side for the user to stand on. Unlike the board that uses two wheels, the AirWheel only has one which makes turning from side to side a little bit more difficult. Any drastic change in direction when standing still has to come from swivelling your hips and using your body weight – a far less practical way of riding, in our opinion, but it has its benefits as you’ll soon find out.
See also: Best hoverboards to buy in the UK 2015
Hoverboard wheel size: What hoverboard wheel size do I need?
Like with many modes of transportation, the size of the wheels is important to consider. The generic hoverboard has quite small wheels, around 6.5-7in in size, to make it smaller and more efficient. While this is fine for smooth surfaces, hoverboard users may find that these smaller wheels will wheel spin when coming off the ground on an uneven surface (like many of Britain’s pavements) and when the wheel regains contact with the ground, it’ll jerk forward and cause some users to lose control – especially when riding at high speed. This means that hoverboard users have to ride slowly over uneven surfaces, even at walking pace, to make sure they stay balanced and safe.
The use of smaller wheels also means that hoverboards won’t perform well against curbs, or any other kind of slightly elevated surface. We’ve found that it can manage to go across rugs if you gain enough speed, but you wouldn’t find us attempting to mount a drop curb on one!
More recently we’ve started seeing two new wheel sizes enter the market; 8in and 10in. The 8in wheels should provide a slightly higher level of stability than than those using the 6.5-7in wheels, whilst preserving its relatively small and compact form factor. With this being said, if you’re looking for something that could handle off-roading, we’d advise the 10in variation. The 10in variation is visibly larger than its smaller counterparts – almost to the point where it looks out of proportion – but handles off-roading on grassy, uneven surfaces with fewer issues.
However, the AirWheel features a much larger wheel, around 11.6-14in in size, that should handle uneven surfaces with ease, especially when compared with its’ board counterpart. The fact that there’s only one wheel should negate any issues with losing control on uneven surfaces, as we’ve observed with riders on our daily commute. Surfaces that we struggle with, with our hoverboard, AirWheel users glide over with ease. We’ve even seen advanced AirWheel users grab their rideable between their legs and jump up to pavements from road level, something that cannot be done with the hoverboard.
See also: Best smartwatches of 2015 & 2016
Hoverboard maximum weight: Am I too heavy to use a hoverboard?
Weight is an important element to consider – both the weight of the hoverboard and the rider. Generally, standard 7in hoverboards carry a weight limit of around 100KG, or around 15 stone 7 pounds for those of us in the UK. We’ve found that they will still perform with people slightly over the limit, but overall balance may be slightly affected. For those of us that weigh more than 100KG, you have two options; you can either opt for the 10in hoverboard or the AirWheel, as generally speaking both can support heavier riders, with a weight limit of 120KG, or 18 stone 8lbs.
In terms of the weight of the rideables, there isn’t much difference between the different models on sale. Of course, the weight may vary slightly depending on the model you buy, but generally 7in hoverboards and AirWheels are around 10KG. It’s worth keeping this in mind for times when you can’t ride the hoverboard, and will have to carry it (public transport, up stairs, etc) as carrying an extra 10KG of weight can tire you out pretty quickly. The 10in hoverboard weighs slightly more, up to 12.5KG, and has bigger wheels which result in a hoverboard that’s more awkward to carry. The AirWheel has a handle built in for easy carrying, but hoverboard users will have to fork out for a carry case, which costs around £12-15 on Amazon.
Are hoverboards waterproof? Can you ride a hoverboard in the rain?
Waterproofing is something to keep in mind when purchasing a hoverboard, especially with our typical British weather. We’ve researched and found that as a general rule of thumb, most boards have a waterproof rating of IP54, which means they’ll survive a splash of water but not much else. There may be exceptions to this rule that we haven’t yet found, so it’s worth verifying with the manufacturer before you purchase. The manufacturers of the AirWheel on the other hand claim that it’s actually waterproof, meaning you’ll be able to ride it in rainy conditions (although we wouldn’t advise this!).
Hoverboard speed and range: How long does a hoverboard battery last? How fast are hoverboards? How far can I travel on a hoverboard?
The speed and range of the hoverboard is also something you may want to consider before purchasing. The top range of hoverboards can vary between models, as some premium boards boast ranges of 13-17 miles compared to the standard 12-14 miles that most offer. However, all models can roughly manage around 10mph at top speed, though with the state of UK pavements and a general lack of space, we don’t think you’ll ever really hit the top speed.
The AirWheel is slightly more varied than the standard hoverboard, though, dependent on which model you purchase. Cheaper models only have a range of around 4-6 miles, and its only when you pay more money that it becomes slightly more impressive; high end AirWheels’ have an average range of 24-28 miles. The AirWheel has a slightly faster top speed too, at 12mph, but as we mentioned above, you’ll hardly ever manage to hit the top speed in the UK.
It’s also worth noting that the range and top speed of both variants of hoverboard is just an estimate, as heavier people may experience a slightly smaller range and slower top speed.
Hoverboards extra features: Hoverboard GPS, Bluetooth speakers and keys
Some hoverboards offer additional features to make their branded boards more enticing to users. While these were a rarity at first, you’re now able to buy hoverboards with built-in GPS for global tracking, hoverboards with a car-key like remote to turn it on and off and even hoverboards with built in Bluetooth speakers. We’re not too sure these ‘premium’ models are worth the extra money, as it adds nothing to the overall performance of the device – but at the end of the day, it comes down to personal use and whether you think you’d benefit from these additional features.
Hoverboard buying advice warning: Buying from China
As many have seen in the news recently, a spate of ‘fake’ hoverboards are making their way to the UK – in fact, 15,000 of 17,000 hoverboards examined from several UK ports were deemed dangerous by the National Trading Standards agency. Many Chinese manufacturers produce their own non-branded hoverboards ready for purchase, at a much lower price point – but issues with the on-board battery and charging cable can cause them to overheat and explode.
These fake hoverboards can usually be identified by the style of box it’s shipped in – if it’s a garish box with “Smart Balance Wheels” or “Smart Balance Board” written on the side with poorly written instructions, they are likely to be fake and you should stop using it straight away. Stay away from cheap hoverboards too – if you find a hoverboard for £150-200, it’s probably too good to be true. Our advice is to go to verified UK resellers, read reviews of specific models of hoverboards before purchasing to verify quality, or browse those listed in our “Best hoverboards to buy” article.
Interestingly, it seems that Amazon has removed all listings of hoverboards that may pose a risk to consumers. As first reported at Best Reviews, hoverboard reseller Swagway claims that Amazon is requiring all hoverboard manufacturers to produce some kind of proof that their boards comply with safety standards. It seems the company is doing more to ensure that all hoverboards bought via Amazon are safe and adhear to correct safety standards. You can read the full statement from Swagway here:
"Amazon just sent out a notice to all "hoverboard" sellers to "provide documentation demonstrating that all hoverboards you list are compliant with applicable safety standards, including UN 38.3 (battery), UL 1642 (battery), and UL 60950-1 (charger)."
Swagway already meets all those certifications and is happy that Amazon has decided to take steps to weed out the low quality boards. As safety is always on the forefront for Swagway, we're glad that this is taking place, especially in light of recent concerns with the fires with the poor quality batteries.
On that note, we're also in the process of working on measures, to help consumers identify between an authenic Swagway and the many imitation boards that are adding our branded logo to their unauthorized boards. Meanwhile, we ask that consumers only purchase from authorized retailers as an added precaution."
Following on from this, the internet giant has sent out two seperate emails to those affected. The first email was sent to those that the company thinks may have bought unsafe hoverboards, and reads: "We’ve received information that your order purchased through the Amazon.co.uk website is unsafe for use as this product is supplied with a non-compliant UK plug." The email finishes by advising customers to dispose of their unsafe hoverboards at a recycling centre, and noted that they'll be recieving a full refund.
The second email was sent to everybody that bought a hoverboard from Amazon (dangerous or not) warning that Trading Standards has raised concerns about potential safety issues with the built-in lithium batteries and the chargers. The email includes a link to safety tips, and also informs customers that if they'd rather not keep the product, all they need to do is contact Amazon customer services.
But what about those of us that have bought a 'fake' hoverboard elsewhere? You'll be glad to know that online sales are largely covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations within your consumer rights. According to the law, from the moment that you made the purchase until 14 days after you recieve your item, you should be able to cancel the order and obtain a full refund. Simply contact the seller within this period to arrange your refund.
See also: Most anticipated games of 2015 and 2016
UK Hoverboard law: Is it illegal to ride my hoverboard in the UK?
Before you head out and buy yourself a hoverboard, there’s something you should know; it’s illegal to ride them on public roads and pavements in the UK. This was recently reiterated by the Crown Prosecution Service that said that all such “personal transporters” including hoverboards and Segways are banned from public footpaths. But why is it illegal to ride your hoverboard on the pavement?
Even though hoverboards have only popped up recently, they’re illegal thanks to a 180-year old law. The 1835 Highways Act states that people cannot use the footway to “lead of drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description” which, sadly, includes hoverboards. But notice how it only mentions footways and not roads – can you ride your hoverboard in the road like a bike?
Again, nope. Any motor vehicle used on the road needs the user to be licensed and insured, as well as the ‘vehicle’ itself, according to the ‘European community whole vehicle type approval’, or ECWVTA. It has to be road legal, which requires the hoverboard to match a host of conditions connected to construction of various elements. But what about bikes? Apparently as standard pedal bikes don’t feature a built-in motor, they don’t have to play by the same rules.
Although with this being said, we’re not sure that riding a hoverboard in public will land you in prison. The only recorded prosecution of someone riding on a pavement was back in 2011, when a Barnsley man was fined £75 for riding his Segway on the pavement, despite Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik arriving at court on a Segway in support. Apparently the fine can rise up to £500, though this hasn’t yet been issued to a hoverboard rider. More recently, a video has surfaced showing a police officer riding one in London, so they can’t be that bad/dangerous.
Is it illegal to ride my hoverboard in the US?
Apparently so, at least in New York City, according to CNN Money. The site reports: "They are not considered motor vehicles so they cannot be registered," a DMV spokeswoman told CNNMoney. "According to state law, a first violation shall result in no fine. A second or subsequent violation shall result in a civil fine not to exceed $50."
Read next: Best LEGO gifts and gadgets of 2015