Xiaomi/Ninebot Mini Scooter Review

Here we have one of the few self-balancing boards that aren’t Chic Robotics or PhunkeeDuck clones. This little guy comes from Chinese dream team of Xiaomi and Ninebot. If you recall, Ninebot bought Segway, so they have supreme credibility in the self-balancing transport game.

So, What is It?

This is not a “hoverboard” in the same way that the PhunkeeDuck, IO Hawk, and the rest are, but it should definitely be reviewed alongside them. It’s in the same price class, works the same from the rider’s perspective, and fulfills the same purpose. It looks related as well.

So is it a mini-Segway or a beefed up hoverboard? Well Ninebot markets it as a mini-Segway, but as a consumer I have to ask myself if I put my five or six hundred dollars down on this or the Swagway. Price is not a factor here, we have to look purely at features.

Does This Mean I’m Shallow?

Let me say this straight away – the Mini is not a cool-looking machine. It looks like the front end of a golf cart. Hoverboard-style products are cool because they look like the front end of an Audi or BMW. Low ground clearance and sporty styling have contributed to the perception that these are cool and not dorky.

Ninebot isn’t a company chasing a fad though; they’ve been making innovative personal transport devices for years now, integrating the pedigree and knowledge from Segway. This is not a company chasing a quick profit by capitalizing on a fad. That’s why they’ve made design decisions aimed at creating a better vehicle and have not ended up producing something that looks cool but is impractical. Also, as far as I can see, the Mini only comes in black and white.

Ground Clearance Sale

The big, rugged wheels allow you to traverse cracks in the sidewalk and other minor issues that would leave a Swagway stumped. I suspect this will also help reduce damage to the scooter significantly. In terms of terrain practicality the Mini has just about every hoverboard beaten. The only place I can see this as a negative might be inside an office building or other enclosed space with doorways. Where a Swagway or Phunkee Duck can scoot you through most door frames, the Ninebot Mini may require you to duck.

Twin Turbo

The Mini has two 350W motors, which means there’s plenty of power on tap. You can tackle fifteen-degree inclines (the same as with a Swagway) and there’s a top speed of about 10 miles per hour. This is about what most hoverboards give you as well. There are self-balancing boards that will hit 15 miles per hour, but I suspect the speed on this machine is governed, thanks to safety concerns. Range is respectable at nearly fourteen miles, although in real-world use it’s probably closer to ten. Still, that should handily get you to school, the train, or the office, where you can charge up again.

One area where the the Mini does fall short is in weight capacity. The maximum payload weight it supports is a mere 187 lbs. Now before you go making a comment you’ll regret about people’s weights, remember that even the average adult with a backpack is going to edge right up to that figure. The Phunkee Duck can (unofficially) handle 400 lbs. That’s a big difference.

Joystick

You may have noticed the shaft running up the middle of the scooter – one of the other big differences between the Mini and something like a Swagway X1 – this is actually a leg operated control stick used for steering. It’s a novel system and people who’ve tried it say that it’s perfectly intuitive, but it seems to lack the elegance of simply having pressure sensitive pads to handle steering. It does double as a handy way to carry the Mini though, which only weighs 28 lbs. This is lighter than the average hoverboard, thanks to the fancier materials Ninebot has used.

An Apple by Any Other Name

Xiaomi is developing a reputation as “China’s Apple” – a company that actually innovates, bringing new things to market. They are hell-bent on matching the big boys like Samsung and Apple when it comes to design, technology, and quality. So far it seems that they have a real shot at this, so it isn’t surprising that the Mini has some neat tech features you won’t see on a Swagway.

There are front and rear lights for both safety reasons and because they look cool. They signal when you’re turning or braking to warn pedestrians. The headlights are color-changing, which is really neat. The coolest feature by far though, is the fact that the Mini can be remote controlled from a smartphone app. You can drive it around like an RC robot. As soon as someone steps on, it’s local control only though. So put the pranks you’ve just thought up to bed. As far as I can tell this feature has no practical value whatsoever, but – damn, is it cool.

Shut Up and Take my Money!

I like the Mini a lot. This is a product that really brings the original promise of the Segway to us mere mortals who are not millionaires. It does a better job of this than the many low-profile six-inch hoverboards, but it doesn’t match their style factor.

Something like an IO Hawk is a cool sports car that may catch fire or chuck you in a ditch. The Mini is like a safe and practical SUV. The grownup in me wants to buy this; the kid in me wants to buy something else.

Weight limitations on the Mini are, however, a real problem. This scooter may not be fast enough or strong enough for many users. There’s a 2016 Pro version of the scooter that has uprated 400W motors, an 18.6 mile range and a 220 lbs weight capacity – improvements that largely solve most of the issues I have with the Mini. But the improved model will carry about a $150 premium over this model, which takes it out of competition with the Swagway X1.

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