This time around I am going to be reviewing the SMOK R-Steam Mini. This review comes to you courtesy of Direct Vapor. At the time of this review, it is currently selling for $39.99, and you can get it here.
In The Box
In the box you are greeted by the SMOK R-Steam Mini, nestled snugly in its cradle of foam to keep it safe during shipping. Underneath the mod is a lift out cardboard divider that separates the device from the USB cable, authenticity card, quality control card, and instruction book.
I don’t want to do a direct comparison to the Joyetech eVic VTC Mini, however, I almost have to. As you read through this review, you will see why it is necessary. To that end, we’ll start with my first observation upon opening the package. When I opened it, I immediately thought someone was playing a joke on me and had replaced the SMOK R-Steam with a Joyetech eVic VTC Mini. It took a second for it to sink in that the R-Steam is “virtually” identical in design, size and shape to the VTC Mini, buttons, connectors, everything is exactly where I would expect it to be on the VTC Mini, with some very subtle changes I’ll talk about below.
The subdued red satin finish of the SMOK is beautifully done, I prefer this to the glossy finishes of some other manufacturers, as it will hide fingerprints a lot better. It also does not seem to be quite as slippery to hold either, so I call it a win-win. The 510 connector is spring loaded stainless steel with a brass center pin. You’ll find it inset into the top of the mod, just like the eVic VTC’s, although it does seem to be a little deeper, allowing both my Kanger Subtank and Toptank to flush mount without needing to over tighten them.
As soon as I picked it up I noticed that the battery door did not seem to fit quite as well as the Joyetech competition, but I will talk about that in further detail down below when I get into the fit and finish. The buttons feel very nice, although they do stick out a touch further than I would like, but that is only an observation, not a problem. The small display is very usable, and visible in all but the brightest sunlight. Even though it is smaller than the competitor, it still manages to squeeze in all the info you need while using and operating the device. The menu is drastically different from other mods, but once you figure it out, seems to be pretty well thought out. I’ll talk about that later as well.
My first thought after playing with it for a minute was that it is a cheap clone and SMOK could have done much better. Continue reading to see if my full and thorough review changes my initial impression.
R-Steam Mini 80W TC Specifications:
- Dimensions: 82*38*22mm
- High Quality Zinc Alloy Construction
- 510 Square Center Pin to Prevent Spinning
- Wattage Range: 1W – 80W
- Voltage Range: 0.8V – 9.0V
- Temperature Control Compatibility: Stainless Steel, Ni200, Titanium
- Resistance Range: 0.06Î© – 2.0Î©
- Standby Current: <500uA
- Charge Voltage: 5V
- Charge Current: 1A
- Requires (1) 18650 Battery (Batteries Sold Separately)
- Magnetic Battery Panel
- 0.91in OLED Screen
- Micro USB Port For Charging & Firmware Updates
Fit And Finish
The “Subdued” red color of the R-Steam mini just looks awesome with flat black buttons. The finish was flawless on the one I received, and after a couple weeks of use, it seems to be very durable and still doesn’t have a single scratch on it. In fairness, there are a couple of “rubs”, so it isn’t flawless anymore, but nothing that has actually gone through the painted finish. The most noticeable rubs are on the top of the mod around the 510 connector. The 510 connector is stainless steel and is inset slightly into the top of the mod. It is spring loaded and encircled by an air channel for the old style bottom airflow tanks.
As I mentioned above, the design of this mod is very reminiscent of the Joyetech eVic VTC Mini. SMOK did make some slight changes to it though, for starters, the display is much smaller, and set deeper into the body of the mod instead of flush mounted against the front face. This actually works in it’s favor by providing a bit of a protective edge around the display to help keep it from getting broken or scratched. Another of the many subtle changes is that the buttons are square instead of round. They are still in the same place, just a different shape. A minor difference in the two mods is noticeable in the buttons, on the Joyetech mod, they are slightly inset but on the SMOK they sit flush against the face. The buttons on the SMOK are loud and clicky, but have a good tactile feedback. Directly below the adjustment buttons is the USB connector, just like on the Joyetech.
Next up is the battery door, the 2nd most problematic part of most mods. The battery door on the R-Steam Mini is of similar design to the eVic VTC Mini, but uses 8 small round magnets instead of 4 larger rectangular magnets to hold the door in place. Even though there are 8 of them, the magnets don’t seem to hold very solidly and the door comes off easily. The door itself is exactly the same shape and size. The difference seems to be in the manufacturing tolerances. On the SMOK R-Steam Mini, the door does not align well, it sits slightly below the top due to the magnet placement. If you swap the door with the VTC, it actually fits better on the Joyetech mod, and vice versa. Magnet placement on the eVic VTC mini door is higher and it fits cleaner on the SMOK mod. While it does fit better this way, with either door on the SMOK it’s obvious that something is slightly off, as the door moves and slides side to side when you pickup or handle the mod. In the photo below you can see both mods with the battery doors reversed (pay no attention to the scratches in the VTC Mini, it’s well used). Personally, I like the 2 toned effect on the SMOK, and wish the buttons on the Joyetech were red, for a mirror image.
As mentioned previously, the display is smaller than the eVic VTC Mini’s, but then again, most other displays are. Despite being smaller, SMOK managed to squeeze four usable lines of display into it for the power setting, coil ohms, working voltage, and working wattage. There is also a battery charge indicator on one end and the temperature display or wattage (depending on the mode) in large numbers on the other. It is very bright and usable in almost any light. When in temperature control mode, if you hit the desired temperature, a nice thermometer style logo appears next to the words “Temperature Protection” to let you know that temperature control has kicked in.
The mod is very comfortable for me to hold due to the familiar feel of the form factor, but it is somewhat annoying as a result of the sliding and shifting battery door. Other than that, all the buttons are exactly where my fingers expect them to be. The R-Steam Mini is firmware upgradeable, and there is currently (at the time of this writing), one firmware available. The upgrade process is smooth and easy, simply follow the directions and everything seems to go without a hitch.
After installing a standard 18650 battery, five clicks of the fire button will power up the R-Steam Mini. Once powered on, three clicks will take you into the menu mode of the mod. The menu system uses icons to indicate what settings are handled by each sub menu. Some are easy to figure out, like the one that says TCR is a safe bet to say this is where you adjust the manual TCR setting for your coil. Here is the description and break down of each of the icons.
The first icon looks like a medical EKG symbol. This is where you will select between temperature control mode and wattage mode. If you select temperature control mode, then you will be given options for Strength (min, soft, norm, hard, max), then the coil type NI, TI, SS and that is followed by an option for single or dual coils. If you select wattage mode, it simply goes back to the main display.
The second icon is a pipe. Here is where you can see your current puff count. Personally I find this unnecessary, but I’m sure someone uses it. There are also options here to set a maximum number of puffs, and reset your puff counter to start counting again.
The third icon resembles a coil. This option is where you can adjust the initial resistance of the coil. If you aren’t happy with the resistance that is auto set by the mod, you can adjust it to the resistance you want. This really comes in handy for fine tuning your vape experience and is almost as useful as the next icon.
The fourth icon is a graph with the letters TCR in it. While I would call this self explanatory, for those that are unfamiliar with it, Temperature Coefficient of Resistance is a setting you can manually adjust for use with different coil wire types (SS-316L, SS-430,TI, NI, etc.). The values for all the different wires can be found on the internet with a simple search.
The fifth icon is a gear. Under the gear sub menu are the options for enabling stealth mode, adjusting the screen timeout, adjusting the contrast, and left or right hand orientation. The only problem here is that if you change the screen orientation, it also CHANGES THE ADJUSTMENT BUTTON orientation as well, up becomes down and vice versa. This does take some getting used to if you tend to make your adjustments by feel rather than looking at the display. Also note that every time you remove the battery, it resets the screen orientation and the “Strength” selection. I’m not sure why these settings are not kept and it is annoying to have to change them at least once a day when you switch out the battery.
The sixth option is a standby logo. There is no sub menu here, it will simply turn off the mod.
The seventh option is a circled X icon. This one will just cancel the option to adjust any of the settings and return you to the main menu, ready to vape.
The Smok R-Steam Mini implementation of temperature controls does not seem to be quite as refined as some of the competitors. While it does perform fairly well and very consistent when the “Strength” is set to “Min”, changing that setting results in the annoying pulse(cool/hot/cool/hot) style temperature control of other lower end mods. While it isn’t the best, it is functional, and most importantly it is not the worst implementation I’ve seen.
The device has pre-set wire settings for NI/TI/SS, as well as a custom TCR function to completely customize your vaping experience. Coupled with the “Strength” setting, it is possible to dial in your best settings for flavor and vapor for virtually any coil wire. In fact, the SS-316L setting for the mod appears to be a little off, at least in my usage. I had to set a custom TCR to get it to perform the way I wanted it to.
The performance of this mod is pretty fair. Battery life is not as good as any of my Wismec/Joyetech chip set devices (including the all too referenced eVic VTC Mini). the R-Steam 80 does seem to go through the same batteries about forty five minutes to an hour quicker than the Joyetech counterpart. At 80watts, there is a slight edge over my eVic VTC Mini, at least on paper. In reality, I think it depends on what your vaping needs are, temperature control mode the advantage goes to the eVic, but in power mode, it’s reversed and the R-Steam seems to be the winner.
In temperature control mode the performance is sub par, but usable if you tweak it enough. With identical settings to the eVic VTC Mini, I usually have to change the desired temperature to about 20-40 degrees higher to get the same vaping experience from the same tank. You can see in the screenshot below, an example of what I mean.
In contrast to temperature control mode, power mode seems to be much stronger and more consistent across the board. In fact, it seems that the power mode runs significantly hotter than any of the Wismec powered mods I own. I found that I had to set the output to about 10 watts or so less than any of my other devices.
The SMOK R-Steam Mini feels almost as comfortable in the hand as the Joyetech eVic VTC Mini, as well it should given that it is virtually identical. I intentionally used the word almost because the shifting battery door is a little unnerving, it feels like the door is ready to come off in your hand at any moment. The inclusion of the ability to adjust the TCR is a great decision by SMOK, as the pre-configured TCR for SS is a little off for my liking.
The one I received seems to have a very high quality finish on it, as hard as I am on my mods, this doesn’t have a scratch on it yet. I also think the square buttons are a little nicer than those of the eVic VTC Mini. Outside of those few positive observations, this appears to be a hastily thrown together clone of an already cost effective and exceptional device. Going forwards, it would be great to see SMOK issue a firmware update to address things like the screen/button orientation and the “Strength” setting. It is a point of frustration that these have to be reset every time you remove the battery from the R-Steam Mini. It would be great if the button orientation stayed fixed no matter which way the screen orientation is set.
It is very disappointing that in 2016, manufacturers like SMOK are still unable to get the correct manufacturing tolerances that would allow for a precision fit of all the components and parts. If they could get this down then it would greatly reduce, if not completely remove, problems in production like the sloppy battery door and poor alignment of the magnets.
In the end, I think that I can sum it up by saying that my initial impression is upheld, this really does seem to be an inferior clone of the eVic VTC Mini. Although it is better in some areas, it’s not as good in many other ways. Ultimately, the bad outweighs the good, and if SMOK had paid a little more attention to detail, I might have had a different opinion of the mod. Many of the issues could likely be solved with a good firmware update, although that won’t fix the physical issues.