The hoverboard wars are all but over with casualties on either side. Swagways, Segaways, Wamboards, and Zoomers have all been relegated to the back of the garage and now that most of these things are recalled and new ones can’t be sold. There is a vacuum forming in the “dumb little Segways for your feet” category so enter the granddaddy of two-wheeled locomotion, Segway, and their MiniPRO.
Segway is now owned by robotics company Ninebot and, like Lenovo and the ThinkPad line, care has been taken to ensure that a superior Segway-like experience is on offer. If you’ve ever ridden a Segway before or after acquisition you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The Segway is an iPhone of personal transporters: it just works. The MiniPRO is in a similar vein.
First off, understand that I couldn’t test this thing on a long ride mostly because I was afraid and I didn’t want to fly off the board into the street. I live in Brooklyn and there are a lot of broken sidewalks between me and the chicken wing places I frequent. This was a personal fear and shouldn’t dissuade you from treating this like a small bike or commuter skateboard if you have good sidewalks. It’s that good.
The MiniPRO is the first “professional” hoverboard. This means it won’t go crazy if you step on it wrong, it means it won’t explode in flames, and it means that almost anyone can ride it. The key is the joystick-like pole in the middle that lets you use your knees to easily turn the board hither and yon. While the original hoverboards were akin to skis, this thing is more like a sled – you have full control at all times and all you have to worry about is not hitting a tree on purpose.
With enough space you can turn this thing in leisurely arcs or you can turn like a tank, stopping entirely and picking a direction before you head off again. Either way works fine. The board also offers excellent training for first-time riders. To get started you pair it with your phone and run through a short but helpful tutorial. This does two things. First it forces you to be very careful because you’re actually holding your phone in your hand while you’re on the board. Second it teaches you the basics without moving too fast. You can unlock higher speeds with more usage but you’re probably going to want to hang in the low speed mode for a while.
Interestingly the app lets you control the MiniPRO remotely which turns it into a platform for robotics projects and other systems. This feature is underbaked but usable.
The absolute best thing about the MiniPRO is that it won’t run away from you. Like the original Segway you have to be truly reckless to fall off of this thing. Getting on is a breeze – you step on with one foot and the thing remains upright and perfectly still. Slap another foot up there and you’re in business. Previous hoverboards were usually far dumber than this one and started spinning you immediately, resulting in great America’s Funniest Home Videos clips and/or mortal injury. Sure it will roll down a hill if you don’t place it correctly and it can get a little hairy at high speeds but generally you’re as safe on this as on a bike (which means you should wear a helmet and potentially knee pads if you want to make sure you don’t smack yourself up.
Riding the MiniPRO is, then, far superior and far easier than you expect. It is one of the first hoverboards I could actually ride without fear and except for the aforementioned bad sidewalks I could truly see this as a mini-commuting device. The price point – $999 but $699 during Prime Day – is far higher than you’d expect but given that this thing can go 14 miles at about 10 miles an hour (the battery life was generally excellent) you’ve got an interesting alternative to walking. The savvy among you will note that getting off the MiniPRO and just hoofing it is far cheaper and better for you but we must also remember that we should boldly hover into a bright, battery-powered future.
Who is this thing for? Well, at $999 it’s an expensive way to get around. It is, however, silent, fairly safe, and very fun. Unlike the previous hoverboards it won’t fling you off into a brick wall and, thanks to Segway’s IP, it offers a smooth, almost magical ride. I won’t pretend that there needs to be a MiniPRO in every home. I will say that it could be a good solution for warehouse workers who need to move from shelf to shelf or folks who might not be able to make a long walk but still want some fresh air. Like most technology it is not perfect but it is surprisingly cool and the potential is there. My advice? Try before you buy and decide if you want to scoot like Space Man Spiff down the thoroughfares and boulevards of your town or plod like a bold neanderthal while the future zooms by. Either way it’s a win.