I hadn't ridden a hoverboard — the increasingly popular self-balancing rideable that definitely doesn't hover — before today. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to; I can't skate for the life of me, and have a habit of falling off moving things at CES. But after spending some time with the upcoming new model from Swagway, one of the biggest hoverboard makers, I have a much better idea of why they exploded in popularity over the past year.
Even if they really don't hover.
Hoverboards have, of course, gotten a lot of negative press for exploding in ways other than their popularity. And the Swagtron, Swagway's new version, is designed to sidestep that criticism by prioritizing safety. The Swagtron's plastic chassis is fire retardant, as are the rubber footpads, and the lithium ion battery is encased inside an aluminum chamber to "contain the beast," as Swagway CEO Johnny Zhu evocatively put it to me. Razor, another prominent hoverboard maker, is also showing off a new model at CES that is said to not explode.
Beyond safety features, the Swagtron adds a carrying handle to the underside along with Bluetooth speakers, just in case you don't feel conspicuous enough riding a hoverboard on the sidewalk. And while this is probably not a great idea to do this while you're riding the Swagtron, there's a new mobile app that lets you adjust speed settings, check how fast you're going, and see your remaining battery life — which, by the way, should take you between 15 to 20 miles depending on inclines and the weight of the rider. The hoverboard weighs 22.5 pounds and goes up to 10 miles per hour.
The Swagtron is one of the most intuitive tech products I've used in a long time
This being my first hoverboard experience, I can't speak to how much better the Swagtron may or may not be to what's already out there on the market. I can say that I found it surprisingly easy to ride; the helpful Swagway PR rep told me to forget about balancing myself and just trust the board itself, and that turned out to be great advice. Once I was standing, I didn't need to be told anything else — going forward, backwards, turning, and stopping all just works with minor shifts in body position. In fact, it occurred to me that the Swagtron is one of the most intuitive tech products I've used in a long time. If my six-foot-four frame and its high center of gravity can ride it without breaking a bone, I think most people would have to try pretty hard to hurt themselves on one.
I did get to compare the Swagtron to the original Swagway X1, which the company pointed out to me is tuned to be a little bit faster than the prototype of the new model at this stage, and also offers a slightly smoother ride. Beyond these differences, which Swagway says will be ironed out by the Swagtron's release, the riding experience is pretty much identical.
That's to say that the Swagtron doesn't really change the hoverboard game — it just adds a few neat features. But Swagway's effort to focus on quality is likely to pay off in the short term at least, seeing as it's one of the only companies you can easily buy a hoverboard from through vendors like Amazon, which pulled cheaper knockoffs from its store last month. The Swagtron should bolster the company's reputation for legitimacy when it goes on sale later this year.
But really, my biggest takeaway from my encounter with the Swagtron today was that it, and presumably other models too, are a total blast to ride. I wasn't expecting to have as much fun as I did zipping around an impromptu track and weaving in and out of tables, but it only takes personal experience with the product category to understand why it's taken off so dramatically — despite the silly name, hoverboards are a genuinely novel and accessible creation. CES remains full of surprises.