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Levitating gadgets will disappoint you

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I’m here to issue an important but disappointing warning: that super cool new gadget on Kickstarter that floats? You should not back it. It will, I can say with almost complete certainty, disappoint you.

I’ve been fascinated with hovering gadgets for a couple years now because they just keep popping back up. Floating clocks, turntables, speakers, incense holders, light bulbs, and a surprising number of plants have successfully made their way through crowdfunding sites. I did some quick math based on the results of a Kickstarter search for levitating products and found that, so long as it’s successful, the average campaign for a levitating product raises around $140,000. Most successful campaigns raise less than $10,000.

Two companies have been particularly successful at taking advantage of this. The first, and probably the most recognizable, is Flyte. Flyte rose to popularity after crowdfunding a floating light bulb that, at least in photos, appears to be a surprisingly elegant mixture of modern and retro design. It’s since released a planter and a clock and has raised over $1.6 million on Kickstarter in total.

But, in person, Flyte demonstrates where all of these levitating products go wrong. What looked brilliant in photos looks more like a toy up close: the bulb is made of plastic, probably because you’d regularly break a floating glass bulb; it doesn’t light up very well (on the Nikola model, two LEDs barely fill out its fake looping coil); and getting it to float is a challenge. The power brick also seems to hum when the electromagnets activate, which is not comforting — and surprisingly not an issue unique to this floating product, either.

Levitating X’s floating cup.

I don’t think I would be so critical of Flyte’s bulb if the company wasn’t trying to pass it off as something dramatically nicer than it is. But it’s sold for $369, and photos on the company’s site make it look so good it could serve as a clever art piece of sorts in your home or apartment. Someone I work with remarked that they’d pay $50 for it at a museum gift shop, which felt like a much more accurate reflection of what this product is like in person.

Flyte isn’t alone in charging a lot more for floating gadgets than they appear to be worth. Levitating X, the other company that’s gone through multiple major Kickstarters, sells an assortment of floating products, including some plates, some cups, a fake plant, a display pillow, and some statues. Pricing is close to $200 in most cases — it’s $350 for the 3D-printed statues, one of which arrived cracked and broken when Levitating X sent samples to our office — though you’ll pay less if you don’t need to buy a base since one base can be used to levitate any of the company’s products.

Lasermad’s Levitating Nixie Clock.

I must say, I found one exception when it comes to the quality of floating gadgets, and that’s the Levitating Nixie Clock from Lasermad. The clock has its quirks — a whole lot of them — but it looks and feels like what it is: a strange and pricey DIY project for an excited hobbyist. Even so, I would still recommend getting the normal, non-hovering version of the clock if you want one. It turns out, magnetic levitation of normal objects is actually just a big hassle.

After a couple weeks of playing with all these things, my takeaway is that levitating gadgets are probably only good for restaurants and stores that want a catchy way to display something in a front window — and even then, probably only the tackiest of them.

We ran through all of these products on the latest episode of Circuit Breaker Live. You can watch the segment above, or see the full episode below.