Smarter and Smarter
We are well into the age where everything is becoming internet-connected and “smart,” whether it makes sense or not. We have room lights that can be controlled by voice and shift colors based on mood. Refrigerators that can keep track of what’s inside them and reorder food automatically. Ovens that can be controlled from your smartphone.
Many of these things are luxuries; upgrades to things that don’t really need them, but can make the little things easier…and, the reason I love “smart” products, more fun to use.
For all of the ridiculous things that connect to the internet now, there are some that leave me legitimately questioning “was this really necessary?” That’s the question I had about our product today: a $100 phone app-connected puzzle cube. You know, the toy that often makes people (including myself) realize they’re not as smart as they think they are?
Successfully Kickstarted last year, the GoCube has recently started making its way to backers and launched for general sale. We were sent one of their production packages to check out the Cube, and figure out if adding internet connectivity to a 50-year-old puzzle makes it worth the price.
Gliding All Over
Right out of the gate, the GoCube gave a solid positive first impression with its packaging. Yes, it’s a standard box with a cardboard sleeve around it, but the box opens on a diagonal to immediately present you with the Cube itself, as well as a thank you note for Kickstarting the product (we received one from the first production batch). One side of the open box glides open to reveal accessories: a charging cable, a charging cradle, and a carrying bag.
The GoCube does not have to be charged to work. After all, aside from its internal smart connectivity, it’s a basic puzzle cube. Without connecting it, the GoCube is a solidly-built product. It has smooth edges making it feel good in the hand, and its various colored blocks are built into the cube rather than being just stickers.
Turning the sides of the Cube is weirdly satisfying, to the point where I’ve been using it as a fidget product just as much as a puzzle cube. The sides have a incredibly smooth glide, followed by a subtle magnetic lock when they’re completely turned 90 degrees. I do wish the magnets would’ve been a bit stronger; when trying to speed-solve the cube, there were a number of times one of my turns would go past the lock, accidentally leading to a 180 degree turn and wrecking my solve.
And…that’s about as much as I can say about the base product. It’s a solidly built puzzle cube, and functions well for what it is. As such, it’s probably the time to look at the difference the GoCube brings to the game: its mobile app.
After fiddling with the GoCube for a while and realizing I still can’t solve these things, it was time to charge it up and go digital. The Cube charges up through a USB cable (there is no wall adapter included, but I’m sure most people nowadays have some spare adapters if needed), and our version came with a pretty slick charging cradle. I popped the Cube in the cradle…and became quickly annoyed at just how brightly the lights in the cube pulse during charging. I wound up setting the cube up behind my monitor while charging so I wouldn’t have constant bright pulsing lights in my peripheral.
Once charged, I hooked the Cube up to its Android app on my phone. The GoCube connects through BlueTooth, and it only took a few seconds for the app to detect it. Once loaded, one of the first functions I was presented with was a tutorial on how to solve a puzzle cube.
This segment walks you through the series of basic steps on how to solve a cube, from base to sides and top. It actually does incredibly well, reading what position the cube is in at each step, explaining via text and video on how each step works, walks you through a few times, then leaves you to your own devices to complete the step. It took some of the mystique out of solving a puzzle cube, though, as I now realized that solving this “puzzle” is just repeating specific series of inputs.
After practicing the combinations the tutorial taught me a few times, I became able to regularly solve the cube…something I’ve never been able to do in my life, and it’s incredibly satisfying. Once out of the tutorial, that’s when I began to realize the real market of this product: speed cubers.
Nearly every interactive part of the app revolves around timing how fast you can solve the GoCube. The main menu includes a timer for solo solving, a Solver that gives you the steps to unscramble your cube, and various statistics on your cube use. You can also take your game online, getting matched with other GoCube owners to compete on who can solve a cube the fastest. There don’t seem to be a ton of people currently playing online matches, but I was able to find a few in the Beginner’s category, and I currently have about a 50/50 win/loss ratio.
Regardless of which mode you select, you have to start off by orienting your cube in a specific direction for the app to follow your turns correctly. While using the Cube in connected mode, I found that the orientation in the app was prone to drifting every few minutes. There’s a button in the corner of the app to instantly reorient the Cube in the app, but having to use it so often became somewhat frustrating.
There are a few other minigames in the app, like a version of Simon and a mode where turning certain sides of your cube plays music…for some reason. Other than that, though, the app is pretty empty. Half of the functions in the app are listed as “Coming Soon,” ranging from other minigames to a “Daily Challenge” and another multiplayer mode.
Slow Your Roll
So the question we have to answer is, “Does a puzzle cube benefit from becoming a smart product?” In the way the GoCube implements its internet-connected tech, I’d have to say that answer is…no, not really.
The GoCube as a physical product is an incredibly solidly-built device. It feels good in the hand and it incredibly satisfying to use. Hell, even the sleek rounded-corner design make it look more like a piece of tech than a simple puzzle toy.
However, between the currently limited app functionality and frankly exorbitant price point, I find this product hard to recommend. You can buy the GoCube without all the fancy accessories our package included for around $80 at the time of writing…a price significantly higher than most other enthusiast speed cubes I’ve seen online.
Cut the price in half, and I could easily call this one a no-brainer for the enthusiast market. Spending another $40 essentially just for an app with limited functionality is a tougher sell. The only real benefit of the smart connection is being able to compete against other GoCube owners online, which doesn’t strike me as worth the cash.
On its physical merits, the GoCube is easily a 9/10 device. As a whole package, with its smart integration and price…I can’t recommend it.
~ Final Score: 6/10 ~
Review unit provided by Particula. Product images and screenshots taken by reviewer, header image courtesy of Particula.