How does Vype iSwitch – the latest capsule-based vaporiser from semi-reformed tobacco giant BAT – fare against Juul’s silicone valley, multi-billion-dollar 'underdog' (perhaps not)? Read on for the vape pen verdict.
Vaporisers come in a wide range of styles and sizes, from cigarette-shaped disposables sold at most corner shops to large customisable rocket-shaped refillable models capable of producing cumulonimbus levels of sweet-smelling vapour.
However, there’s now a relatively new breed of capsule-based vaporiser on the market that’s a bit like a Nespresso for nicotine. These pens are proving a hit with both novice vapeurs and those more experienced vapers/would-be ex-smokers who want something that’s simple to operate and practical for swapping flavours without getting sticky e-liquid all over the hands and clothes.
The great thing about these vaporisers is that you can easily change flavours by simply snapping in a different disposable cartridge. Also, because each cartridge contains both e-liquid and the all-important e-liquid heating element or atomiser, there’s no need to change the atomiser when it’s past its prime – something that needs to be done on a regular basis with standard, tank-based models.
The downside tends to be that capsule-specific models don’t come with anything like as big a variety of flavours as standard vaporisers… but more on that later.
We’ve already reviewed several capsule-specific models in our popular guide to the Best Vapes (opens in new tab), but a study of online search habits strongly suggests these two brands are the most popular, or at least the ones that people are most curious about.
In the red corner we have two new Vype models from B&H, Lucky Strike and Dunhill manufacturer British American Tobacco (a company that clearly knows which way the wind is blowing) and, in the blue corner, a compact, stick-shaped model from the relatively new vape vendor, Juul – which, you may be interested to learn, is currently valued at $40 billion. Vaping, like cigarettes before it, is big business.
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Vype iSwitch vs Juul: Design
Following the success of its excellent Pebble and not-quite-so-excellent ePen, Vype’s’s latest foray into the capsule market comes in two different variants: the iSwitch and iSwitch Maxx. Both models are palm-sized and easily pocketable though the Maxx is about a third bigger (5cm vs 3.5cm in width) and comes with a larger battery for longer puff time. Both models are covered in grippy velveteen plastic that, it must be said, feels a bit cheap and not especially pleasant to hold in the hand.
The iSwitch and iSwitch Maxx incorporate a push-up and flip-out mechanism that exposes the e-liquid cartridge chamber. To fill, simply slide in a cartridge and close the cover. Unlike some cartridge models that don’t require the use of any buttons, both iSwitch units need to be fired up with a triple tap of a power button. That same button also needs to be held in whilst puffing.
By comparison, the Juul has no buttons at all – you simply put it to the lips and puff. It’s also really, really small, being just 9cm tall, 15mm wide and 5mm in depth.
The base of the Juul is magnetic and snaps into the supplied USB cradle for quick, easy charging via mains or PC. An optional portable charging case is also available, priced £39.99.
Despite its size and the use of metal (aluminium presumably) in the construction of its housing, this vape stick isn’t at all comfortable in the hand because everything’s too angular and the battery charging end feels especially sharp and pointy – some chamfering of the edges would improve both comfort and style.
Juul’s capsules are much smaller than Vype’s and don’t last as long. Also, unlike the much better designed magnetic snap-in system that the similarly-styled Logic Compact employs (reviewed in our best vape guide), this one requires a bit of force to push the cartridge home.
Vype iSwitch vs Juul review: what's it like to use?
Despite the extra size, I'd recommend the Maxx variant over the standard model and for one sole reason: it has three power levels for different qualities of vapour production. Level one produces a little less vapour than the standard iSwitch, level two creates a little more volume and level three is off the scale and comparable with many of the best vaporisers in our current guide. However, there is a caveat.
According to BAT, the Vype iSwitch range is equipped with a ‘Puretech blade’ instead of the usual coil and wick. ‘The precision of the Puretech blade releases the nicotine more effectively, ensuring a consistent vape’, says the blurb.
Well this reviewer isn’t exactly sure why it should be, but even the lowest 3mg strength capsule ripped my throat apart. I simply can’t puff big on either model without coughing and spluttering. And yet I can purchase up to 12mg of loose Nic Salts e-liquid to fill my favourite current pod system, the Renova Zero, and the puff is as smooth as silk with just the right level of grip in the throat. I’ve found a similar problem with Philip Morris' similarly high-tech, slickly-marketed IQOS Mesh. Maybe for all its perceived faults, the good old coil and wick system is best after all.
I had no such issues with the titchy Juul, though their capsules are only available in 1.7% nicotine strengths. The downside for some people with the Juul, will be that it doesn’t produce as much vapour as the iSwitch or even the diminutive Renova Zero. It’s not a deal breaker, mind, but something to consider. After all, one of the best things about vaping is the sight of huge clouds of vapour pouring out of every facial orifice.
Vype iSwitch vs Juul review: e-liquids
This is where things go little pear shaped for both models. Despite the hassle of having to periodically refill a tank with sticky, smelly liquid, the real beauty of standard vaporisers is the sheer volume of e-liquid flavour combinations available. We’re talking literally hundreds of blends from various menthol and tobacco flavours to a raft of tantalising fruit and dessert-like concoctions.
By contrast, the iSwitch has the grand total of… three flavours – Virginia Tobacco, Fresh Mint and Forest Berries.
These come in three nicotine strengths (3mg, 5mg, 8mg). Of these, the Fresh Mint is best, followed by Forest Berries. For a major tobacco manufacturer, the Virginia Tobacco blend turned out to be surprisingly unpleasant – like puffing on burnt toast.
According to BAT, their research tells them the majority of smokers only like a few basic flavours. Well this puffer begs to differ because the more I vape the more flavours I want to try. Don’t get me wrong, I love the capsule method far more than messy, refillable tank systems, but once you’ve bought into a particular brand and model, you’ll find you’re stuck with that manufacturer’s paucity of e-liquid flavours.
The Juul easily wins this round because its JuulPods come in more flavours – six to be precise: Golden Tobacco, Apple Orchard, Glacier Mint, Mango Nectar and Royal Crème. To this reviewer’s tastebuds, Golden Tobacco and Mango Nectar are easily on par with some of the best e-liquids on the market, though the range isn’t quite up there with Bo Vaping’s tranche of 18 tasty potion capsules.
Vype iSwitch vs Juul review: verdict
Let’s start with the choice of e-liquids available because no amount of technical wizardry can overcome an inadequate range of flavours (that would be like visiting Sainsbury’s and only being given a choice of three popular beers). In this respect the Juul wins hands down. Yes, the company needs to add even more flavours to compete with the likes of Bo Vaping but at least its current selection is sound flavour wise.
The same cannot be said for Vype’s iSwitch e-liquid range. I just didn't particularly like the tastes on offer, and anyway there are only three of them.
The Vype e-liquid also seems too strong to me, and it grips too harshly on the throat. Of course, if you're a heavy smoker who's switching to vaping, this may be less of an issue for you.
When it comes to vapour volume, the Vype iSwitch Maxx is the winner, producing very satisfying levels of plume, but only if you can endure the rasp. Design wise, the iSwitch Maxx feels better in the hand while the more compact Juul is better in the pocket.
Final verdict, then? To be honest neither of these models are as efficient nor as practical as my current favourite, the small-but-all-conquering Renova Zero, refillable pod system
However, both of these are worth a punt, particularly Juul.
• The standard Vype iSwitch retails at £29.99 and its bigger stablemate, the Maxx, at £49.99 (opens in new tab)
• The Juul Starter Pack sells for £29.99 (opens in new tab)