The "best e-cig" is a hard title to bestow. E-cigarettes come in so many different shapes and sizes, catering (quite literally) to so many different tastebuds and bank balances that crowning one vaping kit as the best e-cig offering out there can be contentious.
But, as vaping becomes more mainstream, for those looking to give up smoking when the usual nicotine replacement therapies just aren't cutting it, electric cigarettes could be the answer you're looking for.
Back in the hazy, Olympics-filled days of 2012 Giz UK ran an article looking to find The Best E-Cig. In the few years that have passed the e-cigarette market has expanded apace and vaping has become far more mainstream. We thought it time to revisit, for a good old round of *echo sound filter* Battlemodo-o-o-o-o-o.
There are zillions of Chinese cookie-cutter vapes out there that can be bought from all corners of the internet, but as this is Giz UK the focus will be on the brands that are vying for the top-spot among us tea-and-crumpets lovers. We're talking Vype, Blu, VIP, and E-Lites – the ones that stock refills in the Co-op, or put out suggestive adverts in the telly breaks.
The rankings are split into two categories, starting with tanks. These are the devices that have a large refillable receptacle for e-liquids, and which are operated with a click button to release that sweet sweet vapour. The second category is taken up with e-cigs, the cigarette-style sticks that take replaceable cartridges. For the jargonists out there, these are your clearomizer models (tanks) and cartomizers (e-cigs).
The aesthetics, quality of vapour and vaping experience, ease of use – both operating and charging – and affordability are the main criteria to which these have all been put through their paces. There will be a couple of wildcards cropping up that flutter in between and above the two groups, but that we believe deserve a mention as a means of giving context to the categories.
Important note: the following products are not advertised as smoking cessation devices. They contain nicotine, which is highly addictive. E-cigarettes cannot be called a nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the UK as they're not approved by the Medicine and Health products Regulatory Agency – there are plans to regulate the market in 2016, according to the NHS.
1st Place – Vype eTank – £19.99
Made from a smooth, matte plastic material the Vype eTank looks and feels great. There is no unnecessary shiny details or 'look at me'-ness about it – just a clean, well-sized design, with nice little details like millilitre measures for liquid on the barrel. One of the biggest scoring points for the Vype eTank is how easy it is to refill: unscrewing the mouth-piece from the top of the device reveals the receptacle for the e-liquid, which is the dripped in to the desired level.
Both the following two tanks, the Blu Pro and VIP Photon, require that the clearomizer is detached and then turned upside down to bung in the juice. That's not so bad in theory, but in practice it can lead to a sticky situation: more than once did I go to unscrew either the VIP or the Blu, forget to hold to upside down, and was left with skin-irritating e-liquid on my hands and clothes.
What's more there's a little plastic cap inside the tank that helps to prevent juice dripping into the central mechanism, as seen in the image above. This is a feature missing from either the VIP or the Blu.
The Vype eTank produces a really impressive amount of vapour from its 650mAh battery, with the company's proprietary juices not giving any hint of scratchy 'throat hit'; I could take a pretty deep lung-full of vapour without any discomfort. The Vype flavour range for e-liquid is great, too. A small gripe comes in the form of Vype's bottles: they are so hard to squeeze to get the juice out that they might as well be made of glass. A bigger gripe is the price of refill liquid, which comes in at £4.99 per 10ml.
It's always going to work out better value than real cigarettes, but over the long-term will still add up. In fairness, the competitors' prices aren't drastically cheaper, with Blu costing the same at £4.99 and V2 just 50p cheaper. This is where VIP can show off one saving grace, seeing as its juices cost between £2 and £3.95 – depending on how fancy-schmansy the flavours are.
If it were a bit heavier, the overall feel of the Vype eTank might be improved. Where the design is quite lightweight, it might worry some that it would lack longevity – but at £20 it isn't pretending to be a super high-end device anyway. It also has one of the smaller batteries among the models tested at 650mAh, so did require recharging sooner than might be ideal – but at the same time reaches full charge quickly.
TL;DR – an excellent, highly recommended tank e-cig with really good flavour options (even if they are quite pricey). Great all-round performance.
2nd Place – Blu Pro Kit – £19.99
If the Vype felt a little too light, the Blu has no such problem. It has a good weight and is well-balanced. Like the Vype, it has a nice matte finish so feels lovely in the hand – that's a pretty important design aspect considering how much these things are held.
The Blu Pro falls down when it comes to how well it vapes. For one, the actual cloud of vapour produced never seems particularly satisfying, even on a full charge. While I am not expecting plumes upon plumes of vapour, like you might see with a heavily tricked-out mod unit, the amount produced never even seems 'creamy' or fulfilling – while also being really quite heavy on the 'throat hit', which will be enjoyed on personal preference, such as smokers looking for cigarette-style scratchiness (I thought it was a tad harsh in my testing, even as a seasoned smoker of 'real' cigarettes).
The Blu liquids I tried were good (though the 'Red Bull' flavoured one that packed NRG taurine is sure to be a Marmite option) and are stocked widely in the Co-op, Morrisons, WH Smith and Asda, which is a big plus for those times your liquid runs out and more is wanted sharpish. So, of the big brands, Blu has nailed market penetration. Of every flavour tried across the brands, the 'strawberry lime' from Blu is the best tasting – just lovely. The one big downside is that Blu only sells its liquid in 18mg strength, which may be a bit strong for some, and gives no option of scaling back the nicotine content if desired.
The Blu Pro packs a bigger battery than the Vype at 950mAh, and over the few days that I used it I only charged it once. As for the charging itself, it's rather fiddly to get the correct section unscrewed (leading to one of my accidental spills) and once you do, it requires a clunky, large screw-top connector to be attached, which looks a bit basic is comparison to the sleeker charging options from V2 or Vype.
TL;DR – a nicely designed thing that you can refill from the Co-op, though doesn't produces lots of vapour and has the harshest juice of anyone tested (even if it is also the tastiest).
3rd Place – VIP Photon Tank – £19.99
It comes in 3rd place but any podium position isn't particularly deserved by the VIP Photon tank. First and foremost, it is far too big: with the clearomizer cap attached (which has the subtly curved appearance of a Champagne bottle of all things) the Photon extends to a silly-looking 17 centimetres; for comparison, the far more attractively-sized Vype eTank is four centimetres shorter. The Photon's circumference is nigh-on exactly the same as all the other tanks shown here, so its legginess certainly stands out.
Of all the tanks, the VIP Photon's vaping experience also stands out – as being the worst. All of the tanks here 'crackle' slightly as the powerhouse inside the barrel turns the liquid into vapour, but the VIP Photon crackles regularly with such force that I found myself recoiling on more than one occasion. As for the juice itself, if you do pick up any VIP e-liquid, avoid the Kentucky Tobacco blend: it tastes like burnt hair.
To give it its due, the VIP Photon has a really big battery at 1,100mAh, so I haven't had to go near charging during my few days with it – but that's about where the positives end. The overall design is much like the identical tanks that line the shelves of cheap electronics shops and the 5th page of Amazon results.
TL; DR – Avoid the VIP because there are much better options out there.
V2 Pro Series 3 – £75.00
The V2 Pro Series 3 is a wildcard here for a couple of reasons: firstly, V2 is not attacking the UK market on the advertising front to the same extent as the over players; secondly, the Series 3 works differently from the rest of devices here in that it also is a '3-in-1' vaporiser that can also work with dry loose-leaf material (ostensibly, cannabis) as well as 'wax', which is to say cannabis concentrates. Because of this tri-functionality, the V2 Pro Series 3 is a far more expensive device, replete with bells and whistles that put it in another league to the Vype, the VIP and the Blu. Still, it is a great device that might be worthy of your time as it can be a brilliant e-cig.
First up is the superior design. The all-metal body looks and feel great and is perfectly weighted. Unlike every other design that I had time with, the V2 Pro Series 3 has a lovely magnetic-socket charging system that use LED lights and special blink-patterns to show what's going on. That few seconds saved through simply attaching a magnetised lead, over the time it takes to screw on the other designs' chargers, adds up to a far better user experience.
The flavour choice from V2 is rather good, even if some of their names sound more like Derek Zoolander pouts (we're looking at you, Congress and Sahara). Plus, the bottles have a really good, long spout to easily drip the liquid into the barrel. As for vapour production, it's great at it. Always smooth, hardly a crackle and certainly satisfying. The battery lasts an age and a pretty white LED lights up when vapour is inhaled.
The Pro Series 3 is thrice as expensive as the others tested, but to say it is three times better isn't too much of a recommendation stretch.
1st Place – E-Lites Curv – £14.99
E-Lites has been in the e-cig game from day one, and that time seems to have gone towards producing a really good product in the Curv. It's just different. The oval form-factor is a subtle differentiation from all the round ones on the market, and that slight change makes a big difference. Also, I am a sucker for the colour green, so am drawn like a mosquito to the attractive halo of emerald light emits from the end when puffing away. Even the charging unit stands out: the Curv is popped downwards into a charging hole in a dongle, as opposed to clunkily being screwed into a socket like every other one I tested.
The E-Lites is also the only e-cig that doesn't screw into place to work; it is a simple pull-away 'plug' connection between the cartridge and the battery unit, which makes changing cartridges and charging the E-Lites Curv really simple and quick. Those few combinations of features easily helped the Curv cruise to the top spot today.
Vapour production is just about right, easily pumping out more of a cloud than others in the grouping. A little more flavour choice would be welcome, seeing as the only options at present are 'Regular', 'Menthol' and 'Light'. As for price, two tips together cost £7.99 – that's a tad more than the others – but the longevity of each cap is impressive, with scattered use over a number of days still resulting in a decent fill of vapour.
2nd Place – Vype eStick – £12.99
Before talking about anything else to do with the Vype eStick, we have to talk about the box it comes in because is is great. The plastic case has LEDs on the outside, to show how charged the e-cigs are on the inside. There's also an LED light ring around the socket you keep the e-cig, that flashes pleasingly when you insert a cigarette. It's those kind of little design touches that help to create an overall better product experience.
Before singing its praises anymore, I will say that the joint between the cartridge and the battery unit is a little flimsy; this seems to be because the joint is more akin to a click and twist bayonet rather than a more secure screw-top. Other than that it is only the size that I can't get along with. It is the smallest e-cig in the grouping by far, at 83mm long, and in my hands at least feels lost.
Beyond those gripes I can only find positives. The Vype eStick produces quality vapour and battery power has not once been an issue, seeing as the box keeps the e-cig powered up. The charging box itself has a 500mAh battery, which is plenty to keep the going for a few days; there are also two slots for cartridges squeezed in. A pack of four refills costs £5.99, which is one of the better price-points we've seen, and of course Vype's enticing range of flavours ('Dark Cherry', 'Fresh Apple', 'Crisp Mint') stand out from what the competition offers. A really decent product all round.
3rd Place – V2 CIGS – £22.95
While the design of the V2 Cigs is not the most exciting, its functionality and versatility brings it up the rankings.
The great range of flavours (I was especially fond of green tea menthol) is twinned with a decent vapour production on every pull, which is all held together in a robust build. The design does little to particularly be exciting (it at least has a shiny, smooth barrel and different-coloured cartridge butts to make it stand out a bit, unlike the VIP 80) but as it does its job of making vapour well, it can be forgiven.
Refill cartridges are reasonably priced on V2's website at around £18 for 12 (depending on promotions), and of all the types tested, the V2 cartridges kept pumping out vapour longer than others. For an overall performance, while lacking some of the bells and whistles of the other brands, the V2 e-cigs can be highly recommended.
4th Place – Blu Starter Kit – £14.99
While the Vype eStick is just a bit too small, the Blu e-cig is only a little bigger but feels just about as small as an e-cig should go (the Vype is just 83mm long, and the Blu is 98mm; the VIP 80 measures just over 100mm, but for my money the 110mm oval E-Lites is the perfect size).
The all-black, matte paper-covered design of the Blu e-cig feels good, and the blue light that illuminates on the end of stick is a nice touch. The battery is middling at 145mAh, meaning it ran out of puff (literally) a bit sooner than its competition. As for the flavours, the cherry cartridges I tried were perfectly pleasant, but suffered from not producing lots of vapour – a bit like its Pro tank sibling. I was using the basic starter kit, but for a few quid more you can get a USB charging box in which to keep the e-cigs, which is much like the Vype one, but still not as neatly designed.
Overall the Blu e-cig is good but by no means great. It does little to excite and when it comes to the meat and potatoes of the vaping experience, it is forgettable.
5th Place – VIP 80 – £9.99
Combining a crackly vaping experience and poor flavour quality is VIP's go at your common or garden e-cig. I'm actually quite surprised that in the few years that VIP has been going now, it hasn't updated the design of its basic range, seeing as it looks like a bargain-basement thing that could have been purchased in the embryonic days of vaping.
In fairness, the VIP 80 does produce a decent amount of vapour (after all the crackling) and is solidly built, but looking just like a cigarette it does nothing to excite nor be memorable, so it slips to the end of the list. Also – the refill cartridges are pretty pricey at RRP £10 for 5, which does not help the VIP's cause.
Vype ePen – £14.99
Vype's ePen is a bit of a funny case. It is without doubt a cartomizer, meaning it takes a cartridge refill, so is much like the other e-cigs above. But due to its larger form-factor and dual-power button it seems to masquerade as a tank. Sadly, it doesn't live up to the performance of a tank, and to an extent falls short of the more basic e-cigs.
How so? Well the Vype ePen is really loud when it's vaping, both from the crackle of the vapour being created, and the whistle of air that goes through the unit when vapour is drawn from it. We're talking much louder than its cartomizer cousins, and the larger tank models. The noise is more pronounced with the high voltage 'up' setting that it is with the lower voltage 'down' setting but is definitely a concern on both counts.
People looking for a large handheld e-cig would be better off with a tank, and people after a more simple cartridge-and-puff set-up should look to get one of the smaller, cheaper e-cigs listed above.