It’s 2020, and bluetooth is in everything. We have smart fridges, smart toasters, even bluetooth enabled water bottles – so it’s no surprise that you can now buy a smart Rubik’s cube – the Rubik’s Connected.
What’s the appeal?
The draw of a smart cube depends on what you want to get out of it. For beginners, it can teach you how to solve it in less than an hour. For casual cubers, there’s a built-in timer to grind your personal best, with stats to show you where to improve. And for the speedcubers, what better way to test your mettle than to enter online matchmaking and race other people?
As a casual cuber, the part that interested me was the timer. Without a real cube timer, your best bet is to use a speedcubing website, which isn’t the most convenient method. Having it built into an app that can communicate directly with the cube? It doesn’t get more efficient than that!
Rubik’s Connected: Cube quality
The first thing you notice – it feels great. First and foremost, this thing is a speed cube, so the corner cutting, magnetic pieces, and smooth turning immediately sets it apart from the bog-standard Rubik’s cube. In fact, after playing with it for a few days, I got a new personal best of 26.942 seconds, down from around 34.
Something to note though – if you’re coming from a non-magnetic speed cube, you’ll need to take a bit of time to adjust; your muscle memory won’t realise you need to slow down some face turns. After the first few solves though, you’ll begin to get used to it.
In terms of looks, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell this apart from an original Rubik’s cube. The stickered faces and black pieces aren’t reinventing the wheel (or in this case, the cube), and if it weren’t for the charging port on the yellow face, you would never realise it was filled with electronics. Moreover, the stickers aren’t the highest quality – after just under two weeks of use (or according to the stats in the app, exactly 1 hour, 56 minutes, and 30 seconds of turning time), there is visible peeling on multiple pieces. This obviously isn’t a detrimental flaw, but it’s does make you wonder if a £45 Rubik’s cube should have such visible imperfections so soon.
Rubik’s Connected: Battery life
In my experience, the battery in the Rubik’s Connected is fantastic – I’ve charged it once fully since I got it, and at time of writing (2 weeks later) it’s on ~50%. For an amateur cuber, this battery is going to last you weeks at a time. For someone more dedicated though, you’ll likely find it wearing down a lot more quickly. Of course, in this case, “quickly” means around a week, which is nothing to scoff at.
Rubik’s Connected: Software
Let’s be honest; this is the reason you’re buying this cube. There are literally hundreds of others with equal mechanical ability (if not better), but can any of them time your solve to one-thousandth of a second? Unless you have the only other brand of smart cube on the market (the GoCube), the answer is no! So, is it worth it? Well… sort of.
The Rubik’s Connected app is a mixed bag. Sometimes, it works perfectly; the cube pairs quickly, it makes no mistakes about the cube state, and matchmaking is smooth and (relatively) fast. Then sometimes, it doesn’t even want to pair. This doesn’t happen too often, and it’s easily remedied (restarting the app should do it), but I’d rather not be waiting upwards of 15 seconds to get into the app. If you’re Max Park, that’s 3 solves worth of time!
Rubik’s Connected: Solo and pro cube mode
The part of the app you’ll find yourself using most is almost certainly going to be one of two modes: the solo timer, or the “pro cuber”. The solo timer is the mode I’ve spent the most time on, and for most people, it’s probably what drew them into buying this cube. It works (almost) exactly like it would in a speedcubing competition: the app gives you an algorithm to scramble the cube, 14 seconds of time to inspect – and starts the timer. As you solve the cube, you can see it turning on the screen, and, impressively, it keeps almost perfectly in time with the real turns of the cube. As you’d expect, it registers your solve almost instantly after you complete it, and promptly presents you with some stats about how you solved it. You’re not going to get that from a regular speed cube!
The “pro cuber” mode is where it gets more competitive. Here, you’re pitted against other people with the smart cube and must race to solve it before they do. There are several different modes to choose from, going from easy to expert. The app locks “expert” until you manage to solve the cube in less than 30 seconds – and for good reason. Those guys are fast. I played a few games in expert and was thrashed in each one, so you really do need to be good to compete in that bracket.
Generally, the matchmaking process is relatively quick, although it does run into issues when you don’t have a very strong internet connection. Try to find a match, and the app freezes on a blank screen until you close and reopen it. Unfortunately, as a student living in halls this year, that’s pretty much all the time.
Rubik’s Connected: Can it teach you to solve the Rubik’s cube?
Yes, it absolutely can! This is one of the best reasons to buy a smart cube opposed to a normal one, as the tutorial is tailored to the user. Using the sensors in every piece, the app can literally show you what you’re doing in real time, which makes following along with the tutorial infinitely easier. If you get lost, just look at the screen and see where you went wrong. That level of personalisation can’t be replicated through a youtube tutorial, as your puzzle is always going to look different to what’s in the video – in the app, your cube is their cube.
I learnt through a series made by Dan Brown, and I wouldn’t have it any other way (this app can’t replace his enthusiasm!), but I have to admit – the method outlined here is way better. It lays down the groundwork to learn a more complicated (but way faster) method called CFOP, which I’ve struggled to learn. With this method as your baseline, you’ll find it far easier to do so, as you already know some key algorithms, as well as the logic behind it. That’s something this app is missing – a tutorial for cubers who want to learn the more advanced technique.
Is it worth the money?
After having this smart cube for a few weeks, it’s not hard to recommend it. I find myself reaching for this one over my other speed cube every time; the stats help you find where to improve, the matchmaking tests your ability, and having every attempt timed makes you want to keep trying to beat your personal best.
For dedicated speed cubers, there are faster cubes out there for a similar price (MoYu’s Weilong series comes to mind), which you’ll get more out of. However, if you’re a beginner or an amateur, I’d say go for it – it gives you a quality speed cube and an easy way to learn, which are two things that encourage new cubers to keep going.