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Vaping With Clones And Knockoffs

(Because “The Clone Wars” was too obvious…)

Are Clones and Knockoffs the same?

Should we buy them? And finally, should we even care?

Introduction

Could there be a more hotly debated issue than the vape mod clone issue? If there is, I have yet to encounter it. There is so much involved in the issue of clones, and I’m going to cover as much of it as I can, but I have this nagging feeling that I’m going to miss a key point or two. For that reason, I strongly encourage a healthy (but respectful) debate in the comments.

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To begin with, what is a vape mod “clone”? Why are they such a contentious topic? Should you buy devices — such as mechanical mods and rebuildable atomizers — that you know are clones? And if you do, how do you know which ones are actually good and which ones are junk? Those are the questions I’m going to do my level best to answer for you today.

Clones

Let me first begin by offering my personal definition of what constitutes a “clone”; I think my definition is at least fairly close to the most commonly understood and accepted definition: A clone is a piece of vaping hardware that is a point-by-point third-party rendition of the original developer’s design. To illustrate, allow me to draw your attention to a couple of examples, one of which is very definitely a clone, and the other of which is a little more fuzzy but for which a strong argument of clone status could be made:

The first is the comparison between the SvoeMesto-designed Kayfun Lite and a very popular clone known as The Russian 91%.
Kayfun and Russian 91% John Castle Spinfuel eMagazineCan you tell which one is which without leaning in real close and giving each on the eagle eye? More importantly, if somebody handed you one without telling you which it was, would you be able to tell the difference from their performance? That, really, is the key question, and the answer to that question is what determines whether you’re dealing with a clone or something much, much worse — a knockoff.

Clones typically duplicate the devices that inspire them so closely that they use not only the same (or substantially similar) overall design and details, but in many cases also use the same materials. What this leads to is a piece of hardware that not only looks like a much more expensive original, but performs on par with that original, as well.

(Note* These photo collages were constructed to illustrate the similaraties between these four popular products, despite only two of them being “the real deal”, as it were. Color, light sources, and even scale were tweaked as well as time allowed. If you need more photographic evidence search Google or Bing, there are hundreds.Dave)

But there are relative degrees of how close something is to another device, how clearly it either is or isn’t a clone. I have heard and read that, while it may or may not qualify as a clone in the opinions of many, the Smoktech Magneto was, at least,strongly inspired by” the Madz Modz NZonic mechanical mod. While the exterior cosmetic touches are just different enough, in my opinion, to keep the Magneto just one step from clone status — as seen here:

NZonic-Magneto
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— It’s the cosmetic similarity in conjunction with the Magneto’s introduction of the magnetic firing switch to the sub-$100 mechanical mod market that keep that clone status well within arm’s reach.

But, to reiterate that earlier point: both The Russian 91% and the Smoktech Magneto are, by all accounts, amazing pieces of hardware in their own right. Despite the fact that cloned designs are, essentially, reproductions of more expensive hardware, they are made to perform on par with the products they are imitations of. But there is another class of imitation hardware out there whose manufacturers are not similarly dedicated to delivering high quality at lower prices. I distinguish this lesser class of imitators as knockoffs. And you need to know about them.

Knockoffs

So what is the chief difference between a clone and a knockoff? How do you tell which one you’re dealing with, at a glance? Well, there’s the problem. At a glance, you can’t. Not reliably, anyway. But I have devised a few best practices that should help you avoid them.

1. Mechanical mods and rebuildable atomizers are by far the most cloned pieces of hardware in the industry. They are, commensurately, also the most copied by cheap knockoff artists. Therefore,

2. Know your vendor. If you’re looking for a clone, get it from a well known seller. Research it. Look for reviews, both of the hardware you intend to buy and of the place that’s selling it.

3. If you can, look at the guts. While many knockoffs look identical, or at minimum very similar, to the originals on the exterior, their cheap junk nature will be revealed pretty quickly on the interior. Let me break from the list and tell you a story that illustrates this point.

The very first RBA I ever purchased was (not) a Smoktech “Octopus” Mini. I was still using my very first VV device, the iTaste version 1, and a new “vape shop” had just opened down the street. Knowing nearly nothing about rebuildable atomizers other than that I really wanted to learn how to build and use them, I decided to drop $15 on  this one. (Also not aware that that’s about twice what the thing should cost…)

Well, I had a look inside it and discovered that it sold with a pre-built coil. Wonderful. So off I went, a happy camper. I got home, dripped about 5 drops of eliquid onto the coil and put a drip tip on it. I let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then had a vape. Rather, I tried and failed to vape it. The issue was that there was no airflow. I thought that was odd, so I spent about an hour searching online until I found the atomizer mine was supposed to be.

The first image I saw clearly showed that there was a hole for airflow in the top cap. I looked at mine. Then I looked some more. My RBA had no airflow hole in the top cap. I watched a video on the Octopus, and saw that the top cap could be lifted right off the deck. I tried to lift the top cap off mine. No joy. I eventually resorted to a pair of pliers in each hand, and it took all the elbow grease I had to pull the top cap off.

The Smoktech Octopus and Octopus Mini use tool-less thumbscrews on the positive and negative posts. The one in my hands used Philips head screws. And had no airflow. I had been sold a piece of cheap garbage at twice what the genuine article costs. Which brings me to Point #4 on the list:

 4. Research the ever loving **** out of the device you want to buy before your hand even touches your wallet.

And now, because I know people are wondering about this…

 The Ethics Of Clone Hardware

What are the ethics of making — or, for the rest of us, purchasing — clones? What are the consequences of hardware cloning? Should we even be worried about either the ethics or the consequences of hardware cloning?

I’m going to state the best and worst case ethical consequences of hardware cloning, but before I do that, let me assure you of this: I, personally, can see the validity of portions of both ethical positions on this subject. Both those who are for it and those who are against it have valid, logical points to support their positions, and the last thing I want is to spark any kind of hostility between the two camps. I encourage discussion and even debate, as long as it’s civil, respectful, and based on reason and a desire to seek and achieve common ground.

With all that said, here is the worst case scenario of hardware cloning:

Innovation in hardware design suffers and slows down. Let’s say I create a rebuildable atomizer that I can fill by waving it over whatever flavor of eliquid I want; the atomizer then uses forced induction to pull that flavor from the air, condenses the air, infuses the liquid with nicotine from leprechaun farts, and voila — a self-refilling rebuildable atomizer. (Yes, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, just using it to describe “a new miracle hardware”…)

But because I know that it will be cloned and I’ll lose out on sales, I keep it all to myself and never release it to the vaping public. There’s the potential negative consequence of hardware cloning, that it may actually have a stifling effect on hardware design innovation. There may be designers out there who are sitting on simply amazing innovations, fretful that once they are brought to market, they’ll simply be copied and well-deserved sales, not to mention recognition, will be denied to the person who came up with the brilliant new idea.

And now let me contrast that with the best case scenario:

Let’s say I build that same miracle atomizer and bring it to market. I know it’ll be cloned, but here’s what I do — I release it, at first, to only a very limited selection of resellers. I create special editions. I keep the first release extremely limited in number. I build prestige around owning the original. At the same time, I continue to innovate. Oh, yes, the clones are out there, but even as people are enjoying the clone — which makes the entire vaping community better for having the feature widely available, my version, the original, is the one people really long for, because it will achieve the exclusivity and prestige of a status symbol.

Similarly, even people who have, and love, The Russian are still likely to long for a Kayfun. I know that I can say, personally and truthfully, that while I love my Magneto, I would love to buy an NZonic. Are the originals functionally superior to the clones? Probably not by wide margins. But do the originals possess a certain prestige, in part due to the fact that they were so good that they were cloned? Absolutely.

Which scenario is the one that real results are trending toward? I suspect there’s a little of both going on. If any of you know with relative certainty, please let me know in the comments.

Conclusion

I hope that this piece has given you a glimpse of something that, while it’s been right under most of our noses, hasn’t really been obvious to all of us. I hope that you can use the guidelines I’ve given you, going forward, in your hardware selection, and that you’ll be able to steer clear of the knockoffs while finding the best deals out there. Thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to bring your comments or questions.

John Castle

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About The Author

All original content is written and produced for our readers by the Spinfuel Staff. The writing staff includes Julia Hartley-Barnes, Keira Hartley-Barnes, Tom McBride, Jason Little, Melanie Hendrix, and Dave Foster. Spinfuel also publishes guest contributors on occasion. All original content is protected by US copyright laws.

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18 thoughts on “Vaping With Clones And Knockoffs”

  1. Great article!! Thank you for this.
    I enjoy a great vape as much as anyone else and I am constantly trying to better better vapor production, no leaks, no gurgling and good looks. I would think that I am not too different from a lot of vape users. I began using a vaporizer to quit smoking and in my journey someone along the way convinced me that no only would my health improve but I would also be saving money, truth be told my health is much better but I have spent way more than I ever did smoking (I hope my wife doesn’t see this). Having said this brings me full circle to the conversation of why clones.

    This article does a great job spelling out the differences between originals, clones and knock offs however there needs to be some level of understanding in the profiles of a few of the most common buyers. A lot of people began vaping with the understanding that it would be less expensive than smoking and made their first purchase of a “starter kit” spending around $50 – $100 buck s on their first local vape shop visit. The starter kit is obviously a huge money maker for the industry as shown by the number of vape retailers (online and brick and mortar) who have made a business of selling mostly beginner or starter kit type solutions. As a customer when I made my first trip to my local vape shop I was very impressed by the beginner kits and the huge selection of e liquids. While I was there I could not help but noticing all the shiney much bigger devices, parts and pieces I was intimidated to ask too many questions, so I made my purchase and went home. After spending many hours vaping and looking closely at what I had purchased I began to understand what this devices was so I immediately went online to begin researching and found I could have purchased my same beginner kit for much less someplace else, I also noticed that these “other” places also sold all of those shiney bits, pieces and parts.. This where it all begins!!

    As for the purchaser profiles As much I would like to drop big money on super nice mechanical mods from Greece and RBA’s that is just not feasible (remember, this is supposed to be saving me money). Because of this I would be considered a user who has to purchase clones just to stay in the game. I do have a friend who has all of the big name mods proudly displayed in a case in his office along with his collection of high end RBA’s and fancy e liquids, I guess he is one you would consider as having more money than since.

    As far as the ethics, cloning products is not anything that is new and just about every industry has to deal with it. I agree that the original designers and manufactures crate some pretty amazing stuff right now, but so are the people creating the clones. I actually have a 2 thoughts on this 1) If you create a product that you want people to use then you need to make it readily available on the market, not limited quantities and limited re-sellers.If you do then don’t be surprised when people either clone your products to fulfill the demand you have created or people begin buying other products. 2) $200 bucks for a battery tube, come on really??? Of course I am going to buy a clone.

    My 2 cents

    1. Yo just commenting here cause dont know where else to write LoL. Here’s a weird idea….maybe if dinks stopped acting like they invented a cold fusion.generator when all.they did was stick button and a 510 connector on a copper tube they’d be ok. BRUH if you’re a grown man looking for prestige and status from what mod you suck on that’s pretty sad. NO MOD I give 2 shits what its made out of short of using solid gold is worth more than $20 PERIOD FULL STOP. you know WHY THERE’S CLONES? Its because THEY IN ReALITY COST less than a sinks ptrap to make. There’s LOTS of USA made original equipment set at everyman prices lets not lose sight of WHY WE STARTED THIS THING. the FIRST goal of any Vape gear manufacturer SHOULD BE putting reliable well built AFFORDABLE GEAR IN FORMER SMOKERS/dippers hands NOT trying to see how many worthless aesthetic crap you can add to up the price. It shouldn’t be about “hey look at ME I make shiny tubez!

  2. Nice piece John!

    I think the terms clone and knockoff become pretty murky and are frequently interchanged with one another.

    A knockoff does not at all bother me as long as it clearly is not passed off as the original Mech mods are most often the best value in a clone, as there are fewer switches and no electronic boards/micro-processors…indeed, there are many successful clones or knockoffs of mech mods that may cost over $100 – $200, found for as little as $25 – $50, many of which perform quite well.

    With RBA/RDAs it gets a bit more complicated. We all know the ubiquitous “Genesis Style” attys, and while there are direct knockoffs, there are many, many genesis “variants”…based on the original, but with some specifically different features, such as the Smok RSST…which while a genesis “style” is clearly not a knock off.

    As long as a company does not employ finish, markings, etc. to fool a buyer into thinking they have the original, I am fine with that. Buyers however do need to educate themselves when buying a knock off, in terms of differences in construction, quality control, and of course performance.

    Almost every popular vaping device on the market has a clone or knock off on the market, or at least shortly after introduction. My biggest concern is with new/newer vapers who may not really be aware of the difference save price.

  3. While I would never knowingly buy a less-than-functional, inferior quality knock-off, I’d be just as loath to buy most original mods. Maybe more so. $150-200-250 for a glorified steel tube which I could easily make myself in two or three hours? Thanks, but no thanks. And my home-made mod would at least be hand made, while most original mods are not. Instead they are churned out by the same Chinese factories which then turn around and make clones.

    You say that most clone owners hanker after the originals, but personally I would give myself several hard slaps in the face and call myself a fool and a dimwit if I were ever to buy either one of the vast majority of original mods. That’s not to say that there aren’t great mods out there, worthy of their price tags. I know of several, have bought some and will no doubt buy a few more, but that doesn’t change the fact that most mods are complete and utter rip-offs, initially arriving from China at a cost of a handful of dollars.

    1. And look how the prices drop by half or better after they’ve been out for a couple of mos. because version 2 is being rushed out.

  4. If it works use it,
    Simply put, I don’t care if it’s a clone or real, I for one quit smoking not JUST for the obvious reason of health but money I did the hip pocket math and came up with $40,000 in cigarettes in my lifetime more or less.
    So would I buy a $200 mod? Nope simply because I can find a great clone for $50-70 max, I have a great nemesis mod and poped the magnets into it and my buddy SWEARS it’s the real deal. Some argue it’s even unpatriotic to buy from china, well in that case stop buying from Walmart, oh and by the way I’m a War Vet so don’t step there. My goal in vaping has been achieved-save money and get healthy, now I vape for the social aspect with 0% nicotine and I’m having a blast building coils and comparing ideas.

  5. I have bought many clones knock offs and originals and the two original mods I lusted after the panzer and akuma the clones performed better. The akuma switch sticks and misfires while the clone that comes stock with magnets is flawless sold the original love the clone. Panzer couldn’t get my hands on the authentic for months so I got a fast tech clone loved it upgraded the contacts and replaced the spring with magnets then I finally got the authentic loved that too but the locking ring threads were trash and they only got worse stripped out after a week of light use the distributor was great and replaced it right away new locking ring same problem completely in usable after a week so they are now sending a new mod out from another batch but to be honest its a tube for a battery if it looks sick im going tobuy it but when spending upwards of 200$ I expect better quality. A mod made in a sweat shop is still a mod made in a sweat shop wwhether it is in china or the Philippines however tje pinot mods are insanely expensive china thirty or forty bucks and better qc if u build a crap product and charge 200 300 bucks for it and its much worse than a fast tech clone of said device u deserve to have your intellectual property stolen and made better sorry fan boys

    1. Right you are.The Reo is a great product but after all it’s just an aluminum box w/ no electronics so to speak and few moving parts it is beautiful in it’s simplicity but come on $200.00 ?

  6. Well spoken. I loved the article. If the manufacturers are worried about cloning, then they should try patenting the equipment. Then other manufacturers would have to make slight changes to it. Also, they would not be able to use the name such as Nemesis, Chi You, or Kayfun. They would have to make a version of there own… On the other hand it is good their is no patents out there so we can get a good version for cheap… Again thank you…

  7. Wow, excellent piece! Shoutout to Spinfuel for publishing both this, and another article on clones (by a different author) that offers a more critical response to the issue. While the article that I linked is more recent (I had read this one first), I find this one to be more balanced. I agree with a previous commenter that quality control is an issue with clones. I myself have been burned by buying clearomizers with “too good to be true” pricing on eBay that turned out to be duds. So I can definitely see the downside. However I understood the risk, and it was money I was willing to gamble with. You are absolutely right…as consumers, we need to research. We are no longer solely dependent on vendors and salespeople, especially in the vaping community. Yes, it is overwhelming…partly because of all of the clones. But I feel that overall, this is a good thing.

    I definitely don’t want the “name brands” monopolizing the market and overpricing their equipment. Like it or not, clones are what keeps vaping a very affordable alternative to cigarettes.

  8. Great article and hope there is more to come like this.
    Imagine investing hundreds or hours and mass dollars into the design, prototyping and marketing of your vape hardware and having it knocked off at a fraction of the retail cost. Uhh, it’s horrible to try and innovate / lead this industry when big China is watching closer than big brother. In the end, the originators want to recoup their investments and profit, wouldn’t you?

    Not all clones are created equal. A hand full of different Asian manufacturers will make the same object, so when buying them people must take into account what company is making it and understand the quality will differ.

    Unfortunately I have had more bad luck with originals than with carefully chosen clones. It is disheartening to the debate when I pay top dollar and receive defects such as poor electro plating, off center 510 connections and horrible fitting o-rings. The upside to supporting originals is that they have customer service and replacement parts.
    Keep dishing out “food for thought’ on this debate so we can all get a little wiser. Thanks

    1. As far as companies getting compensated for r&d lets not confuse a box or aluminum tube w/a battery with nano science. A Ford escort can’t be compared to a Ferrari.Anyone with average intelligence could make a DNA device economically and capably. Plus the Chinese have no respect for copyright law.

      1. Yeah Kev, Chinese manufacturers don’t care about copyright infringement. It’s tens of thousands of dollars for international patents and thousands for one here in the USA. That’s just the beginning too, it takes money to litigate against violators.

        When setting out to make a consumer product, time and money will be spent researching and developing. This investment is important to recoup regardless of how complicated their product is. This is far different than making a box or mech mod for yourself or some friends which the compensation is that you can enjoy the results of your efforts.

  9. I have to agree with Dave. As my take on the ethical business of clones or authentic goes both ways. I have purchased both and my experience has been good with both. If we look at the Regulated Mods I tend to laugh at the prices of these DNA-30, 40, 50’s and even the 100 watt boxes. Hana Modz started it with using Evolv DNA-30 and look at that price of that mod till this day. You can now purchase a Hana Modz clone under $50 and some of them perform the same or better. I would never pay over $100 for any regulated mod box, no way as for people paying $250 for the new VaporShark rDNA40 that is crazy insane price seriously you can buy the chip from Evolv and build cheaper plus China will have it for $70 within the month. Nothing against Vapor Shark, but I guess that is why the Shark is in there name. I do know they complained about these box clones well they need to wake up and stop fleecing the market because they will lose every time.

    In fairness if these Authentic companies want to compete they have to step back and set aside the greed and the quick get rich attitude and think about the true value the consumer and what they would pay for a product. If Tobeco can clone the Zentih RDA or EHPRO can clone the KayFun V4 at the fraction of the cost of the authentic and performs the same. Well that tells you that these companies like EHPRO know the business better than the original creator even though they did not originally design it, but they found a more economical means of producing it. If I was create an RDA I would not produce it myself I would reach out to Tobeco or EHPRO or SXK and say hey got this great RDA lets make a deal I want you to manufacture it. Easy you make money they make money you will sell more product and you will not have to compete against clones, because the ones that build clones are building your RDA for the consumers.

    1. The problem you mention about the prices is real. Some “original” companies issue product at outrageous prices. It obviously creates status symbol but… and there is a big but here! If you are an original company you spend time and money in doing research (not only innovation but also design etc). Within hours of releasing your product someone will start distributing a clone or a knock off. You will loose money on future sales, … so what do you do? Hike prices through the roof to make up for the fact that you only have at best a month to make up for the time and money you have invested in your research. I refuse to buy clones, I think that a company who develops has to be compensated for the development of innovation (be it technological, design or no matter what). They should have time to distribute their products without having some cheap company somewhere to steal the fruit of their investments. If the original companies have this time, prices won’t be so high … the elitism will be decreased because more people will be allowed to buy decent products at decent prices. If one wants to be part of vaping elite, one can buy Glas products, they are amazingly well done at extremely high prices. I think we have to start looking at ourselves and think, well you want a vape ferrari, but you actually bought a ferrari knock off (or clone) made by some chinese manufacturer…. does it look like a ferrari? yes perhaps… does it drive like a ferrari? maybe… is it a ferrari? NO! its a piece of metal that can be made very cheap by some company that really doesn’t care if the products falls apart in 3 months. The original companies have their faces out there, they innovate, they design and they try to make it better…. without revenues the whole system is likely going to stop, and we will all end up vaping on crap products at prices that are extortionate for what you buy….

  10. A manufacturer of a cloned device has no name to protect, he or she is already a crook, who is logically going to doubt they will cut corners that result in them making more money? Beyond the ethics, THAT is my realistic expectation, The only thing that offsets that risk for me, is when I perceive that that the real mcCoy are gouging the price up so friggin high that I would NEVER pay it no mattter what! That makes all my guilt vanish in the decision to buy a clone at a fraction of a fraction of the “real deal” “Status” I personally care less unless the price is reasonable…and even then it is more of a novelty for me to enjoy the “status” of sporting the high end elite brand name …typically I think of status freaks as suckers and even morons depending on the item.

    But now lets talk about safety. After all these mech mods have high enough potentials of ampacity to cause severe burns or even fires with everything that potentially goes along with fires. I can vouch personally for the risks because my cloned Panzer earned me a hideous little third degree burn to the front pants pocket region of my thigh! Although it looks IDENTICAL to the add photos of the authentic device, mine has almost zilch in the way of a return spring in the button switch. Meaning it will activate with almost no pressure on it! It can NOT be stood on end even with much lighter option assembly with an 18350 battery…well I did take note of the danger immediately and vowed not to carry it ever in my pocket …but you know how that goes sometimes if you have become a creature of habit and your mind is distracted on something else,,,so one day shortly after buying this little cuss, I slipped it into my front pocket as I talked on my my iphone heading out the front door….a few minutes later in the vehicle “sniff sniff…honey what is that smell? frantically checking the gauges on the dash for signs of trouble with the engine…then my leg begins feeling the pain…it is amazing how long it takes sometimes to put all the pieces together…particularly that which was done in “auto pilot ” mode YEEEEEOWWWZA…Cryin out loudly HELP!! Me bloody leg is bloody on fire! Son of a Bi#*$Y@, Moth&^#*^***^^$r and every other pseudo expletive that came to mind! Oh you think that’s funny do ya? You know how long even a 3/4″ diameter 3rd degree burn to heal up all the way?? Neither do I but recon I will find out later than sooner!…. because it has been WEEKS ago already and except for being smaller in diameter, it is nasty a wound as ever! But I saved a bunch of money Oh Boy! lol BTW did I mention that the clone has no reverse thread safety bezzel that you can lock the button out with for “carry mode”? Some clones do have it and also real springs too…but in this one it was a cut corner city,,,$18 with free shipping though! I got my money back and bought a much better clone for even a couple bucks less but meanwhile my leg is still hurts!! Chalk it up to the price of my ongoing education I recon…

  11. One aspect I don’t believe I ever hear or read about, is the shameful waste of Chinese talent. One of the things I absolutely love about the market which I’ve discovered in the time since I “graduated” to rebuildables (IMHO, a natural progression – one learns just how much better is an Ego than a cigalike, a ***** to an Ego, and so on.) is the existence of a “free trade” paradigm that works the way it was touted by the so-called neo-liberals but never has been (nor, again IMHO, was it ever meant to be). I can’t tell you how much pleasure it has given me to support individual innovators, from Czechoslovakia to the Philippines, from Russia to the USA. Meanwhile China, with the World’s largest population and, due to huge improvements in educating that population, graduates a mind bogglingly large pool of engineering talent every year, while, at least so far as vaping tech goes, contributing nothing worthwhile. Unless you consider worthwhile the reverse engineering of someone else’s creation, then seeing just how cheaply they’re able to manufacture an inferior product, vastly so has been my experience, which superficially resembles that original creation.

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