Hands-on review: GoCube smart Rubik’s cube
Image credit: GoCube
Connected update helps beginners learn how to solve the ever popular puzzle, and provides experienced cubers with new challenges.
The Rubik’s cube has been an addictive puzzle and a cultural phenomenon ever since its invention in the 1970s. The appeal shows no sign of fading. But this Bluetooth-connected smart cube brings it up to date, syncing to a companion app for lessons and challenges.
Its audience is split between people who can solve the cube already and people who can’t. Experienced cubers will enjoy the competitive aspect while newbies will soon learn. One of the app’s very best features is its bite-sized lessons.
But first: unboxing and setup. We mention this because it’s gorgeous. The box opens diagonally to display the cube in a way that will appeal to geeks (and we mean geeks as a compliment). Its one accessory is a small USB charging dock which cleverly doubles as a phone stand. This is handy because you really need your phone on a stand to use the app while cubing with two hands.
The cube has a cool internal light that glows while charging. You can have it on while cubing too, though the stickerless cube’s tiles don’t light up, so it’s impossible to cube in the dark because it’s hard to differentiate between reds and oranges.
Charged and ready to connect to the app? It’s one of the simplest Bluetooth gadget pairings we’ve experienced. Each time you start the app, it looks for a nearby GoCube and then asks if you want to pair with it. This means that multiple friends or family members can all have the free app and take turns using the cube without it being complicated.
Once paired, the app tracks the state of your cube as you scramble or solve it: you can see your virtual cube moving in real time on screen as you turn the real thing in your hand. This means that, when you’re learning, the app can tell immediately if you’ve made a wrong move and correct you.
The lessons area teaches you some nomenclature and a couple of simple algorithms, then how to solve the cube one stage at a time. For cubers: it’s similar to methods like CFOP but not exactly the same.
Our testers were an 11-year-old who’s been trying to teach himself to cube with YouTube videos and websites for around a year and a 48-year-old who got told off in the 1980s for peeling off and rearranging the stickers on the first night of owning her original cube and has never quite recovered enough to learn.
Both of us learned quickly with GoCube and thoroughly enjoyed the process. The lessons are laid out on a little videogame-style map and are broken down so small that it’s never too much to take in. You get a short video and then you’re taken through each step. The app alerts you if you make a wrong move.
Each stage is bite-sized and easy to remember. It’s only when you get to the final layer that it becomes hard work and takes a few attempts to learn. You can go back and retake lessons any time if you’re a little rusty.
The satisfaction of learning to solve the cube is immense and the GoCube doesn’t feel like cheating, it’s just a better way to learn algorithms. Our 11-year-old had been trying to learn for ages but the app made it fun and gave him instant feedback on wrong moves, which is exactly what he needed in order to learn independently.
Pretty often, the app loses track of which way up you’re holding the cube, but syncing is simple: you just hold it a particular way up and then tap a button.
Occasionally the app gets confused and loses track of the state of your cube, showing the tiles in the wrong place. In that case, you have two options. If you can solve the cube then simply do so and then sync. Alternatively, you can take one minute to tap in the colours of each side in the app. This works well.
Once you’ve learned, GoCube is still a really nicely made cube for speedcubing (solving it really, really fast). It feels lovely in the hand: it moves quickly and tiny magnets in the corner pieces help it click into place. But there’s much more because GoCube also lets you take challenges and compete with others.
For example, the app can instruct you to scramble the cube into a particular arrangement and then time your progress as you solve it. You can compete against others or challenge yourself to improve on previous times. This extends the cube’s interest nearly infinitely. The leader board is topped with people who can solve it in 6 or 7 seconds, so there’s always room for improvement.
There are also built-in silly games which add little challenges. They help you familiarise yourself with moves and colours. But on the down side there’s little explanation of how to play; you have to figure them out for yourself.
We thought GoCube was superb and good value for money. It’s not much dearer than a good cube and a good how-to book. GoCube is a great lockdown buy, particularly if you’ve never mastered the Rubik’s Cube. The cube-app combo teaches cubing well and then has enduring appeal. Brains and hands get a good workout, children can learn independently.
From $59.95 getgocube.com
GANCube GAN 356i
A smart cube that’s lightweight, so it’s faster for speedcubing. Available stickered or stickerless. It works with the Cube Station app for lessons and online challenges.
GiiKER Super Cube
A cheap and cheerful alternative smart cube. The app is less impressive but the cute charger that looks like a pair of headphones is appealing. Good if you’re on a budget.
Rubik’s Speed Cube 3x3
Learn the algorithms online for free; all you need is a cube. This faster version of the original may not be smart but it boasts a sturdy build and lubricated tracks for speedcubing.
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