What Is a Hoverboard?
Great Scott! It's actually happening! Hoverboards are commonplace, and as Marty McFly would say, "Whoa, this is heavy, Doc."
Unfortunately, we are the bearer of bad news. Unlike the boards in Back to the Future, none of these hoverboards float, fly, or are designed to leave the ground in any way. These "hoverboards" are actually two-wheel, self-balancing scooters, exploding in popularity (with a tiny dash of controversy) in the past few years.
While there are a few boards that can actually hover, such as the Hendo Hover, or the Lexus Hoverboard, these are incredibly expensive, restricted to certain surfaces, and unavailable to the general consumer.
Relying on internal accelerometers and gyroscopes, these machines vary the speed and direction of the wheels to stay underneath you and maneuver, all powered by a lithium battery pack.
This last part may stir some memories of news reports in the past few years, and lead you to your next question:
Are These Safe? Don't These Catch Fire?
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) , as of July 6th, 2016, there were over 99 reported incidents of:
"…battery packs in self-balancing scooters/hoverboards overheating, sparking, smoking, catching fire and/or exploding including reports of burn injuries and property damage.
This resulted in the recall of over half a million units by 10 firms. Now, as you may be panicking based on that information — fear not! This spurred the creation of a dedicated safety standard pertaining directly to hoverboards by Underwriters' Laboratory, or UL. UL is an independent global safety science company that devises safety standards for a variety of products classes, and will test and certify specific products if they meet the standard. This standard is known as UL 2722 and was created to evaluate the safety of the electrical system on the hoverboard. In addition to the exhaustive battery of tests that UL conducts, they also have produced a video with helpful safety tips
Now, enough with the doom and gloom — We consider the establishment of a UL safety certification standard for hoverboards and their battery systems to be an important advance, and like the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), we encourage readers to choose a hoverboard that has been UL certified. Now we can get to the fun stuff: Why would you want one?
Why Would You Even Want One?
These are fun. Really, really fun. Fun enough that we felt bad about how much we liked them. These completely passed the test of not just being a novelty for 10 minutes, and then disregarded, but have been used consistently since we got them, for everything from entertainment during meetings, to lunchtime pizza runs.
In all honesty, these are extremely fun toys, and in some specific cases, can actually be practical as a method of transportation. However, the majority of the hoverboards out there are much more suitable as a toy than as a method of transportation. In addition, while hoverboards are becoming increasingly popular, they definitely are not commonplace, and you will tend to draw a crowd with mixed opinions of your new board.
While you will become an expert in no time, it's helpful to have a friend around to spot you and/or protective equipment (like a helmet and pads) on until you feel comfortable on your new board.
Types of Hoverboards
Now that you know the types of hoverboards available, and made the decision to purchase one, it's time to determine which hoverboard is the perfect fit for you and what to look for when buying one. We've put together this step-by-step guide to make this process as easy as possible, and get you hovering away as quick as can be!
Step 1: Does the Hoverboard Meet UL 2722? Are You Sure it Actually Complies?
Don't buy a hoverboard that doesn't meet the standard. Period. While it may be tempting if you find a board at a reduced price on the internet, just don't do it. Given the past history of non-UL certified hoverboards lighting on fire, the risks of choosing a non-UL certified product today are just too great, and simply unwise. All the products we recommend considering buying have passed the UL 2722 certification tests.
Want to double-check that a manufacturer's claim of being UL 2722 certified is accurate? UL maintains a searchable database of manufacturers and models that have passed their tests. Just enter FKIS as the category code to see all currently certified hoverboards. This is always a good idea, as we found more than one chance where an advertised board may not have actually met the standard.
Buying a used board? It's always a good idea to check that you aren't purchasing one of the earlier boards that has been recalled, or came out prior to the UL certification
Step 2: What Are you Riding On?
Whether you are looking for an awesome toy, a way to do the occasional trip in style, or are looking for a daily commuter workhorse, the first step in narrowing down your selections is to determine what surfaces you plan on using your new board. You will quickly realize that not all hoverboards are created equal when it comes to riding them for significant distances, or handling varied or off-road terrain. While you initially may think that obviously you will stay on pavement, you may still want to look at boards that exceed at outdoor capabilities. Many of these products are really only meant for smooth pavement, and small cracks, rougher roads, or any amount of off-pavement riding can prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. Other boards excel at this, and can handle bad pavement, dirt, packed sand, and grass with ease.
If the pavement you plan on riding on is nice and smooth, then you should be fine with what we refer to as a "standard" hoverboard. These models have smaller wheel sizes (approximately six-inch diameter) and a hard, rubber tire that doesn't offer much in the way of absorbing shock. These smaller wheels are also not as adept at rolling over thresholds and cracks, as they stop rather than rolling up and over. While these boards falter at imperfect surfaces, they are much faster to turn, more responsive and snappy, and overall more fun. These models are also typically less expensive, and come in a wider variety of colors.
An ideal board all terrain board will have have larger tires — preferably pneumatic — with grippier tread. This can provide you the traction and shock-absorbing capabilities you need. In addition, the larger tires will more easily roll up and over small obstacles, rather than getting stopped in their tracks. You might also want to look for a model with larger, more comfortable footpads to make it a little easier to keep your balance as you tackle the roughest terrain.
Thinking of taking your hoverboard on your next business trip or vacation? Think again. Many airlines have banned these products from passenger flights, so it's always a good idea to check with your airline operator to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the airport. In addition, some cities have various regulation on where these can be ridden. When in doubt, ask!
We would put the most emphasis on a board's wheel size and grip, as this will be the biggest factor in determining the board's ride. The correct wheel size and tire type can maximize your fun if you are looking for the most agile, fun board on smooth surfaces, or give you a smooth trip if you are looking for a burly board that can handle every bump, crack, or piece of gravel you might encounter on the way.
Step 2A: Planning on Commuting?
You may even be considering one of these as an option for your daily commute, or to fill in a gap in your current one. What's not to like about a small, portable electric vehicle to get you the last mile. An ideal board to use as a commuter vehicle will have have larger tires — preferably pneumatic — with grippier tread. In addition, it would have large, comfortable footpads, a decent range, a relatively high top speed, and be able to be easily carried into your office, or onto various forms of public transit, including airplanes.
However, you may find that it is nearly impossible to find a hoverboard that matches these traits — though some are getting close! You may want to take a look at other product families, like an electric skateboard. These may better serve you, as they have the speed to keep up in the bike lane, can be less cumbersome to carry, and some are even allowed on airplanes. These do have a few drawbacks, as the learning curve can be much steeper and almost completely lose their fun factor in smaller areas. Remember to always check your local rules and regulations to make sure you are allowed to ride there, whether it is on an electric skateboard or hoverboard. These products all contain lithium batteries, and consequently have limits on their shipping and transportation.
Step 3: What if I Break My Hoverboard? What Do I Do?
Having a company that is approachable and that stands behind their product is of paramount importance. Based on our empirical evidence, these products aren't the most durable, as we broke a handful of them in our testing.
We have noticed a trend that many of these newer electrical tech products are prone to breaking. Good customer support and a warranty from a reliable company can make all the difference in the world between a minor inconvenience and a complete loss of your investment with these products. Almost half of the hoverboards we bought either failed, had a faulty charger, or forced us to contact the manufacturer in some way to resolve the issue. If you do not purchase your board from Amazon or some other reputable dealer, you may find that it takes numerous phone calls and emails to get a replacement or solution for a defective product or component.
We would recommend attempting to contact a manufacturer before purchasing to ask a question, or to clarify their warranty policy. This can be a good litmus test for how easy they are to contact, and how responsive they are BEFORE you spend your hard-earned money.
Step 4: Time to Accessorize?
One final thing to consider, and really small enough to be an afterthought on your purchase decision, is what extra features and accessories (original or aftermarket) you would benefit from. Many of the hoverboards have built-in bluetooth speakers so you can have your own personal soundtrack while riding.
However, these definitely are not the highest quality speakers around, and it is always possible to carry a portable bluetooth speaker with you as you hover around. Besides speakers, there are protective skins available in a variety of colors to protect the shell of your board from the scuffs, scrapes and cracks that can occur when you have to rapidly dismount your board. A carrying case can make a nice addition, as these products are just heavy enough to be cumbersome and are somewhat awkward to hold. These skins and cases are usually third-party accessories and aren't compatible with every board.
If being able to use a carrying case or skin is important to you, make sure to take a look at the "Fun Factor" metric in our full review. We ordered a generic case and skin and rated how well they fit each board for a component of the score.
While we are still waiting anxiously for a board that actually leaves the ground, these products make a good interim measure. While they don't quite render walking obsolete, these are a fun way to get around and can provide countless hours of fun. Just remember to check local laws and regulations before you go and purchase a UL certified board to ensure that you are hovering around both safely and legally.
For the results and analysis of our findings, take a glance at our comprehensive hoverboard review, or take a look at our How We Test article for a detailed look at our procedures for our testing process.