Table of Contents
- 1 Starter Kits For New Vapers
- 2 The Cig-a-Like
- 3 Smoking Versus Vaping
- 4 A Word About Nicotine (again)
- 5 Guidance
- 6 Hard Smoker – A Definition
- 7 Tom McBride
Starter Kits For New Vapers
The secret to finding the right e-cigarette is discovering one that satisfies you and keeps you off tobacco cigarettes. Sound easy doesn’t it?
Like a few million smokers or recent ex-smokers in the US and UK you’ve decided it’s time to leave tobacco cigarettes in the past. You enjoyed smoking, but you’ve seen enough evidence that cigarettes will take years off your life (or kill you) and you’ve decided that you want to live a while longer. Since electronic cigarettes are being talked about in the mainstream media nearly every day the possibility that there just might be something to them has convinced you to try one. But which one? That’s not an easy question to answer when you don’t know where to turn for unbiased information.
Hi. My name is Tom McBride. I do not have a dog in this fight. To me, the only thing I care about is the quality of the e-cigarette I use, that it do the job of keeping me off cigarettes, that it provides me with delicious flavored vapor, with enough nicotine to satisfy my cravings, and that the hardware I buy last a long time. Sound familiar?
I don’t care who makes the hardware or the e-liquid I use as long as it’s a quality product. And I will tell you the truth as I see it about every electronic cigarette I’ve ever personally used. Ultimately the decision is yours, but you can trust that I’m not going to try and sell you something, least of all something that I know won’t do the job. I don’t make a dime from anything you decide to buy, and neither does Spinfuel for that matter. My goal is to provide you with enough information about certain brands that I have tried, and tried for more than a day or so, in order that you have enough inside information so you can choose a product that is going to work for YOU, the first time.
Will my recommendations for your first starter kit be the one that you will use for the rest of your days? Probably not, but they could be. You might decide to get deeply involved with electronic cigarettes, even to the point of someday owning a pair of custom made e-cigarettes and a handful of $150+ rebuildable atomizers, or you could decide that finding a good substitute for tobacco cigarettes is as far as you want to take it. Either way is perfectly fine.
The purpose of the first starter kit is to provide you with a kit that you will enjoy using, and keep you away from the pack of cigarettes you know are only as far away as the nearest convenience store.
Sure, e-cigarettes are much cheaper than tobacco cigarettes, but the initial investment is not. The best thing you can hope for is finding a decent product without wasting your money.
The problem with most e-cigarettes is that they look like cigarettes, i.e., thin batteries, tips that light up, cartomizers that look like the filter end of a cigarette, (hence the term cig-a-like) and for a large number of users they just can’t seem to get enough of a punch from the e-cigarette cig-a-like to keep them off cigarettes. That’s why you see so many unhappy ProSmoke, Green Smoke, South Beach Smoke, et al users always looking for a bigger and better experience.
These brands might advertise like crazy and sell a lot of starter kits (even the con artist brands sell enough starter kits to keep them in business), but for many people that “vape” these brands they (the brands) just can’t do the job and they are soon tossed in the trash. That’s not to say that there are not many happy vapers using these brands, but there are many more who are not satisfied with them and within a month or so they either move forward to something better, or go backwards and start smoking again.
Smoking Versus Vaping
Smokers have one serious advantage over vapers. Cigarettes satisfy immediately. It doesn’t matter if you are a pack a day smoker or someone that smokes only socially; cigarettes do the job. That’s the allure of smoking, and that’s the reason 43 million Americans still continue to smoke. If it was easy to emulate an actual cigarette do you have any doubt that most smokers would have thrown away their expensive cigarettes by now and jumped on the e-cigarette bandwagon?
Unlike most entry-level e-cigarettes, smokers can take the meanest drag from their tobacco cigarette and it doesn’t quit on them. Sure, the cigarette can become “hot boxed” and they might cough their brains out, but when someone really needs a smoke they can light it up and smoke it as fast or as strong as they want and it will give that much needed hit of nicotine and a wicked amount of smoke that satisfies like nothing else. New Vapers are ultimately disappointed in their early choices for that very reason. Sooner, rather than later, a new Vaper is going to pick up that e-cigarette and need it to deliver that cigarette ‘punch’ they’ve grown accustomed to and it won’t be there.
But things are looking up, and e-cigarette technology is getting better at delivering that cigarette experience without the worry about the whole “4000 deadly chemicals, second-hand smoke, and yadda yadda yadda”. I’ll explore this in more detail below.
In The Beginning… there was the Tom Smoker
As I mentioned in the previous article on nicotine, vapor, throat hit and pacifier vaping, I learned to smoke between classes in high school. I was a furious smoker and it stuck with me for many years. Although electronic cigarettes have calmed my fierce smoking rituals I still ‘vape’ harder than most people. If you smoke like I did, or vape hard like I do now, then for the sake of this series I’m going to call you a “Tom Smoker”. But don’t take it personal.
Last year, when I first began vaping, I ran into problems with every brand of cig-a-likes I tried. One of which was ProSmoke. During the ProSmoke review period Julia and I were constantly exchanging emails with one of the ProSmoke reps trying to find out why their e-cigarettes would stop working if you took a strong drag from it. This “defect” of the ProSmoke brand drove me crazy.
Over and over the rep kept telling us to slow down, take nice even drags. Naturally that didn’t help me because that’s not how I vape and it’s not how I smoked. It was better for the e-cigarette itself, but it left me “wanting” something awful. By the end of the review period I was ready to throw the ProSmoke starter kit in the fireplace. I almost did too. They god I wasn’t the lead writer on that review.
And for the record, no matter how gentle Julia, John, or anyone else tried to vape a ProSmoke e-cigarette they (the Prosmoke e-cig) just would not perform well. I understand some people like them though, and if you like this type of e-cigarette then the brands I recommend below are probably too powerful for you. I will offer 3 additional brands in the next article that gentler smokers/vapers will enjoy.
But, it wasn’t only the ProSmoke brand that gave me fits; it was every cig-a-like I tried. Others, like Chelsey or Lisa, (old Spinfuel Staffer’s who are happy back in New Hampshire and no longer working for Spinfuel), were very light smokers, or at the most average smokers, and they quite enjoyed many of those weaker battery cig-a-like brands. I needed something much more powerful and that is how I wound up going through larger and larger e-cigarette batteries until I found something that would satisfy me. In future articles in this series I will cover the larger batteries in detail.
A Word About Nicotine (again)
There is no getting around it; nicotine is addictive. Switching to e-cigarettes successfully means “vaping” e-liquid that has enough nicotine to curb your cravings. There is no hard and fast rule about what nicotine level you should start off with, but I can give you a bit of guidance by example. Ultimately though it’s just something you’re going to have to play around with until you find the right level. Once you find it, once you’re smoking habit is well behind you, then you can begin thinking about backing down off the nicotine levels if you want to.
In the beginning the nicotine level that I found that worked for me was 2.4% or 24mg. For whatever reason I never needed to go any higher than that. I’ve known some people that vaped nicotine levels as high as 36mg and even one guy that likes 48mg, but unless you were a real heavy, 3-pack a day smoker, you should start at 24mg and if you find it difficult to take drop down to 18mg. If 24mg isn’t enough for you then go up to 36mg for a while, but try not to stay there any longer than you have to. The reason will become self-evident, in a nutshell, if you become a pacifier Vaper at 36mg or higher it’s not going to be easy to back down from those levels later on.
After a year or so of vaping I am now at the .8mg level. I think if I tried to vape 24mg today I’d get sick. My advice? 24mg to start if you smoke a pack a day or more, then back it down to 18mg and feel free to stay there as long as you like. The throat hit at 24mg and 18mg is excellent with most e-liquids, and with high PG blends even 8mg can provide a nice throat hit.
Hard Smoker – A Definition
As a smoker who learned to smoke while in high school I picked up the nasty habit of trying to smoke an entire cigarette between classes, in the bathroom no less. Unless I was consciously aware of my smoking I would usually tear through a cigarette in 3 minutes or less. That doesn’t relate well with e-cigarettes. So if you smoke, or smoked, how can I put this, vigorously, then you need something that can keep up with you, and an e-Liquid that is definitely at the higher end of the PG and nicotine spectrum. For people like you and me e-cigarettes are a difficult switch to make. How’s that for honestly?
“I Smoked Like Tom”
If, as a Tom Smoker, you want to stay with a small footprint (cig-a-like) e-cigarette you need to take advantage of these marvelous little inventions called “mini-clearomizers”.
A clearomizer* is very different from a cartomizer*. Instead of looking like the filter end of a tobacco cigarette (cartomizer), a clearomizer is somewhat longer, it contains a wick* instead of a wadding of absorbent material, and rather than soaking up e-liquid into a stuffed cartomizer the clearomizer draws the free standing e-liquid into the wick, which carries the e-liquid to the atomizer* where it is then vaporized as usual. A clearomizer allows for a clean burning e-liquid, a clean, truer flavor, and a substantial amount of vapor. In addition, a clearomizer should provide a bigger throat hit. In theory anyway. Clearomizers vary in performance quite a bit, and to avoid confusion I’ll hold off discussing the various types of clearomizers and atomizers for another part of the series.
These little mini-clearomizers come in 2 sizes that I know of (so far), .9ml, and 1.3ml. There are 3 brands that I have personally tried that offer these little clearomizers for use with there mini-batteries. Two brands use the .9ml “T4” clearomizers, only one uses the larger 1.3ml clearomizer. Although they look similar (see photos), they perform differently.
As a “Tom Smoker” you will definitely find any of the 3 brands below much more satisfying than the standard cig-a-like that uses standard resistance cartomizers. All three starter kits below are new; they did not exist when I was working out my own needs last year. Had they been available I would have probably saved a lot of money buying different starter kits all the time (What? You think just because I work for Spinfuel I didn’t have to buy my own stuff?)
Three Mini-Clearomizer Starter Kits
Panda eCigs – (owned by the same people that own Apollo Cigs) The Panda Evolve is a decent enough brand, with an okay battery. It sports a better-than-average 230mah (most cig-a-likes are about 180mah), and the actual performance of the battery is better as well, but still just okay. What I mean by that is the Panda is a better performer than most cig-a-likes, including Green Smoke, South Beach, Blu Cigs, and ProSmoke, but they are #3 in my list of the brands that I could vape and satisfy my vaping needs.
The two factors that make them a poor choice for the Tom Smoker are price and the capacity (of their little clearomizer). The mini-clearomizers hold a scant .9ml of e-liquid, which will last an ex-smoker like us about an hour and a half, tops. In addition, I had real problems taking any kind of serious drag from the battery + clearomizer combination.
Others here at Spinfuel seemed to do okay with Panda, and the brand is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but the biggest issue overall was the price. For a mini-battery cig-a-like w/clearomizers they are wicked expensive, as you will see.
Starter Kit: $59.95
Panda eCigs admits that their Evolve is designed for medium smokers, and that makes Panda a decent company in my book right off the bat. The amount of lies and false claims made by cig-a-like brands are legendary. So Panda gets my respect for their honesty. Believe me this is a bigger deal than you might think right now.
You can customize your Panda e-Cigarette by choosing an automatic or manual battery from a selection of 6 colors. The choice of automatic or manual is yours, but I would suggest one of each with your first kit to see which one you like the most. I prefer the manual battery with all brands because you will always get a more powerful drag from a manual battery.
When it comes time to buy new batteries the Panda Evolve will set you back $12.95. Trust me when I say that this is not a bad price considering so many other high profile cig-a-like brands charge much more.
The Starter Kit:
- 2 – Panda rechargeable 230mah Lithium-ion batteries (fully charged they last 3 hours) – choice of automatic or manual and color
- 1 – BONUS Five-pack of cartridges in the flavor and strength of your choice
- 2 – Panda Micromizers (0.9ml – a full tank averages 300 puffs)
- 1 – Panda E-Liquid 10ml – your choice of flavor and strength
- 1 – Deluxe USB Charger
- 1 – Two pronged wall adapter
For an ex-smoker like me I would rate the Panda Evolve a perfect “C”. They are light-years ahead of ProSmoke (F-) as well as the other popular cig-a-likes, Green Smoke (D-) and South Beach Smoke (D). The killer for me was not so much the performance it was the price. $60 is, as you will see, too much for what you get.
Next up is the Halo Cigs G6. The G6 battery is a little better than the Panda Evolve if you go with their 78mm version. If you go with their smaller 65mm battery than they are about equal. The 78mm battery puts out a nice 280mah so you’ll be able to get a longer vape life from it over what you would the Panda Evolve, as well as handling a stronger drag. It is also much more aesthetically pleasing than the Panda Evolve battery and they charge faster too. The mini-clearomizer holds .9ml of e-liquid, the same amount as the Panda Evolve. In addition, both Panda Evolve and Halo Cigs G6 use a slip-in drip tip, which makes them both feel very cheap.
The G6 was able to keep up with my style of vaping longer than Panda Evolve, but because I am hard on the batteries I found myself changing out the battery a little too often, at least more often than I thought I should have to.
Halo G6 Starter Kit: A “Tom” style kit would be 2 of their 78mm batteries, one manual and one automatic (until you decide which method you prefer), a 5-pack of Low Resistance Cartomizers*, a wall charger and a USB charger. The box is a nice padded black with the Halo logo emblazoned on it.
You get everything that the Panda Evolve offers you in the starter kit. However, the G6 is a better battery in 9 different colors, and you can choose regular cartomizers or the Low Resistance cartomizers. For “Tom-like” ex-smokers the LR cartomizers are going to give you a much warmer vapor and more of it. I don’t want to drag you into the differences between SR (standard resistance) and LR (low resistance) cartomizers other than to say that LR cartomizers burn hotter than SR cartomizers so they vaporize the e-liquid faster, warmer, and cleaner. The only drawback is a slightly less battery life. Besides, this is supposed to be about mini-clearomizers.
There is one more drawback to the Halo G6 starter kit; as of now you cannot choose their .9ml clearomizers in lei of the 5-pack of cartomizers. But since you’re going to spend $15 LESS (can you believe that? I mean honest to god!) You can pick up at least 2 of them as add-ons and still come out ahead of the Panda. The .9ml clearomizers from Panda and Halo are right around $3.99 each. Additional G6 batteries are only $12.99 in both the 65mm and 78mm. Again, these quality batteries are less expensive than many of the cheaper batteries sold by many cig-a-like brands. The Halo Cigs G6 Starter Kit earns a solid B
The Bullet by Triple 7 (777 eCigs) – The Tom Smoker’s Choice
The third, and best, cig-a-like brand that provided me with a great vape, especially for a small battery setup was the 777 eCigs Bullet. Although slightly larger than the G6 and Panda Evolve, the battery is an amazing 320mah. Plus, the mini-clearomizer holds 1.3ml of e-Liquid AND the drip tip is a screw on drip tip, so there is no worrying about leaks or having the drip tip pull out when you’re walking around with one in you pocket or purse.
A Shock To The System
Here’s where HONESTY really comes into play when you visit a vaping website looking for real information. I admit I like the Halo eCigs Triton, (a 400-1300mAh battery system that are larger than cig-a-like batteries and not appropriate to this part of the series) and I enjoy using the G6 on nights out, but when you compare the mini cig-a-like starter kits of the Panda Evolve the Halo G6 with the battery and mini-clearomizer of the 777 eCigs Bullet they both fail. There is no other way to put it; the Triple 7 Bullet beats them both in performance. That’s not to say there aren’t some negatives as well. (Nothing’s perfect), and I’ll get them below.
The Triple Seven Bullet Standard Starter Kit $49.95
- 2- 320 mAh Battery – manual only
- 2- Re-Fillable 1.3ml Tank
- 1 Wall Charger
- 1-USB Charger Cable
But it gets even better. For the SAME price as the Panda Evolve, $59.95 the starter kit is:
- 2- 320 mAh Battery – manual-only
- 4- Re-Fillable 1.3ml Tank
- 1- Bottle of e-Shisha or e-Liquid (42 flavors to choose from)
- 1 Wall Charger
- 1 USB Charger Cable
I can’t state it any clearer than this; when you compare the Panda Evolve, at $59.95, to the Triple 7 Bullet at $59.95 it is almost embarrassing. Not only do you get 320mAh batteries instead of 230mAh batteries, you get twice as many clearomizers, and the clearomizers are far better than the Panda Evolve clearomizers. I honestly feel bad for people that buy the Panda Evolve when something so obviously much better is available for the same price.
About The Negatives
When we reviewed the 777 eCigs standard starter kit one of the things I was disappointed with was the color and finish of their excellent batteries. I’m not sure why, but Triple 7 decided on a glossy finish (like many do) in the least attractive colors I could imagine. I always wanted to email them and tell them to have their batteries sport the same rubberized paint that Halo Cigs uses. I never did tell them, but it would have given 777 eCigs a little better profile had they done so. IMHO.
The fantastic batteries 777 chose for the Bullet come in glossy black and stainless steel, two fine choices. But that’s it. Because the Bullet is so superior to other “clearomizer starter kit packages” I wish they would jazz up their batteries to include a multitude of rubberized, deeply saturated colors.
The Triple 7 batteries ARE 320-mAh but at $19.95 they are just a little out of my reach. Since Panda and Halo can offer their less powerful batteries for $12.99 I’d like to see the Triple 7 Bullet battery at somewhere around $14.99. When it’s time to replace a Bullet battery, or add one to your setup, $20 is a bit of bite, but if you replace or add one at $15 it’s a much easier thing to justify. Maybe it’s just a psychological thing, and maybe I’m just cheap, but there it is.
Video Reviewers on YouTube
I don’t want to cause trouble with any other review site or video reviewer working in our industry, but I found it very disappointing to see a video review by the famed PBusardo for the Panda Evolve. He pointed out some negatives, but his general attitude was that it was a decent buy, and no doubt convinced several people to plop down $60 for the starter kit. I just down understand how someone could do that knowing full well that for $15 less a much better starter kit was available by Triple 7. The Panda is simply no match for the Triple 7 Bullet and I really believe PBusardo should have known better.
Once More, With Feeling…
The Triple 7 1.3ml mini-clearomizers feel like real clearomizers, not some cheap knockoff. Their screw-in drip tips cinch the deal for me. They are $1.00 more than the .9ml Panda and .9ml Halo eCigs, but with almost 50% more capacity and a screw-in drip tip it’s damn well worth the extra buck. Though, really, if they dropped the price to match the Panda and Halo clearomizers I think they’d own the market in mini-clearomizers.
Making The Choice
If you can identify with the type of smoker I used to be, if you are looking for a small footprint that the cig-a-likes offer but need a powerful vape and a system that can handle it, then the choice is pretty clear. The Triple 7 Bullet is the best of the 3 brands that are currently offering the mini-clearomizers.
It goes without saying that not everyone smokes like I used to, and for that reason I’m going to recommend 3 starter kits that are cartomizer-only starter kits, but still offer high quality components. Not everyone is going to like refilling clearomizers a couple of times a day, so for them the prefilled cartomizer is their best option.
Clearomizer: (Clearo) A clearomizer is the transparent version of a cartomizer. Designed to allow users to see how much e-liquid they have left. Many have ml graduations for the capacity of e-liquid left. Made of very easily breakable plastic in order to remain transparent. A wick or wicks, are generally used for the juice delivery to the coil. There are top coil and bottom coil configurations. Many versions are constantly evolving in order to improve the performance the user desires. `
Cartomizer: (Carto) The cartomizer combines a heating element and a juice delivery system into a single unit. It is disposable and not considered to be refillable, although many users manage to do so. Cartomizers can come in a single coil, dual coil, or even a triple coil configuration. Single coils use one coil and our standard in cartomizers. Dual coils have two coils and our commonly used in tanks. Having more than one coil has the ability to produce twice as much vapor or the same amount twice as fast from the standard.
Atomizer: (Atty): The heating unit of the electronic cigarette. Metal wire wrapped around a core and is contained in a metal housing that screws into the battery. When electricity from the battery is applied it vaporizes the e-liquid. This generates the vapor.