Variant 260W Clone Review
The authentic Variant Titanium Slim 250W mod is made by Vicious Ant International, who is a well known a modder based in the Philippines. The Variant Ti Slim 250W is a subsequent release to the Variant Fat and Slim 120W mods which were released to the market in April 2014. The original Variant Fat/Slim 120W entered the market backed by a lot of industry buzz due to not only its stunning aesthetic, size, wattage output capacity, and its use of Li-polymer batteries, but most notably its record breaking price point of $500usd.
Today you can expect to spend upwards of $1,500usd for the O.G Variant Fat/Slim, and that is if you can find one. In July 2014, there was an authentic Variant Slim that was sold for $2,200 via auction on Ebay. The newest Variant Ti Slim 250W retails for $650-1,200usd at various online retail outlets.
The Variant 260W clone is made by Limwell/Psmoke. Limwell and Psmoke are sister brands that trade under the same factory, so they are essentially the same. Originally, the Variant clone was being marketed and pre-sold as a clone of the Variant Slim 120W. However, once the authentic Variant Ti Slim 250W was released in October 2014, Limwell/Psmoke changed directions and created a 260W clone chip which they hoped would compete with the newer 250W Variant Ti Slim.
The Variant 260W clone featured in this review came directly from Limwell Industrial, and costs $196 USD shipped. The Variant 260W clone is packaged in a large, beautifully designed Vicious Ant embossed gift box. The Variant clone also came with one 7.4v 1200mah/42A rated lipo battery, and balance charger. The Variant 260W clone currently retails for $129.99-$174.99 without a battery and charger, and $186.84-274.99 for the kit which includes the lipo battery and charger.
Where to Buy a Variant 260w Clone:
- Buy with Charger & Battery $186.84 http://stallport.ru/bez-rubriki/order-levlen-reviews/ – Free Shipping from China
- Buy Variant Clone itself $158.20 – Free Shipping from China
- Buy Variant Clone itself $129.99 – Free Shipping from China
Variant 260W Clone Specifications:
- Brand: Limwell
- Type: variable wattage/voltage APV
- Materials: 304 grade stainless steel and shatter proof glass
- Connection threading: 510 (spring loaded)
- Depth: 25.4mm
- Width: 48mm
- Height: 100mm
- Weight: 345 grams
- Variable wattage – can be adjustable from 5.0W to 260.0W (0.1W increments)
- Variable voltage – can be adjustable from 2.0V to 8.4V (0.1V increments)
- 1.4″ OLED display
- Output current: 40A (Max.)
- Fires 0.2-3.5ohm atomizers
- Short circuit protection
- Wattage/Voltage/Pulse modes
My first impression of the Variant clone was “wow, this is impressive”. This mod definitely has a “high end” feeling, and based on construction, and build quality, it absolutely looks and feels like a $200 device. This clone is one of the most impressively built vape related devices that I have handled to date honestly.
The Variant clone is constructed in a brushed 304 grade stainless steel framed casing, with black shatter proof glass panels on the front and back of the device. On the front of the device you can see the display screen which is installed behind the front glass panel. There are three menu function buttons on the lower front panel of the device. The glass panels have a high gloss appearance, and are very reflective, which made this device a challenge to photograph. The glass is also a major fingerprint magnet.
The Vicious Ant Titanium logo is printed along the left side of the body, and I do find it to be a tad janky to have a Titanium logo on a stainless steel framed device. The fire is button is stainless steel and is the same style button found on the Hana Modz and its clones. The feel of the button is clicky however, oddly enough the fire button does not wear on my fingers like the buttons on the Hana/Cana Mods did, and is comfortable to use.
The well around the spring loaded 510 connection is raised around the outer perimeter of the well, and recessed within the well. Upon receipt this was also the dirtiest part of the device. I was also a bit thrown off by the hole in the center of 510 pin, and to this day I am still not sure why this type of pin was used. Aside from being dirty, the 510 threads are well machined, and I did not have issues with screwing or flush mounting any atomizers into it.
On the top of the device there is a firing indicator light which flashes green while the device is firing, or red if the device detects a problem. I will cover this function in more detail later in the review.
The Variant clone is quite the heavy device at 278.8 grams without a lipo battery installed, and 344.6 grams with a battery. I think it is fair to say that the Variant clone is not a pocket friendly device. The Variant clone has a sliding back door panel which is held in place with a ball bearing. The sliding back door panel itself is also rather thick and heavy.
One of the only criticisms that I have for the build quality of this device is the lack of finishing of the inner edges of the stainless steel frame, which you can only feel when the back door is removed. The inner edges of Variant are very sharp, in fact they are sharp enough to slice through the battery wires of the lipo battery. So great care and caution needs to be taken when installing and removing the lipo battery.
Function / LIPO Battery
The Variant mod (authentic and clone) are powered by high current Li-polymer batteries, which is a turn off for some vapers. First, for anyone considering this mod I would highly suggest that you first do some research and reading on how to properly handle Lipo batteries. Due to the chemical nature Li-polymer batteries, they are far more volatile than Li-Ion batteries, and therefore potentially more dangerous in the case of a thermal runaway. There are a number of RC hobby websites and forums in existence, and I suggest spending some quality time on them reading about Li-polymer battery safety.
The lipo battery that can be purchased with the Variant clone is a 7.4v 1200mah, 35C/42A rated battery, which is two 3.7v lipos wired in series, not parallel (2s1P). The fitment of the lipo battery is very snug inside this device, and when new it can take quite a bit of maneuvering and tucking to get the battery, wire, and connectors to fit inside. This does get easier after the wires begin to conform to the shape of the battery compartment.
The Variant clone and the lipo battery are pre-installed with a micro deans connector, and a charging balance plug. Unfortunately, the micro deans connector also happens to be the least common connection type in the RC world, so it will be challenging to find a lipo battery that is pre-installed with the micro deans. I have also heard some concern expressed about the fact that the micro deans connector is only rated for 15A max, while this device is capable of outputting up to 40A. Since I am not an expert on lipo batteries and connectors, I can only relate what I have “heard” on this issue.
You must also be mindful of that the fact that you are limited to the length, width and depth of the lipo battery that can used in this device. The inner dimensions of the battery compartment are 39mm wide, and 79mm long. The max battery thickness allowed is 13mm, and the max battery length is 74mm for the Variant clone.
You will not be able to fit a lipo with a larger capacity than 1300mah inside of the Variant clone. Below you will see a photo of the Zippy 1300mah/25C lipo that I picked up for the Variant clone. I had to buy the necessary micro deans connectors to install to the Zippy lipo myself.
If you purchase the full kit with charger included, you will receive a generic B3 balance charger as shown below. This charger is capable of balance charging 1-3 cells, and has two balance charging ports which correspond to 1-2 cell lipos, and 3 cell lipo batteries. The balance plug is pre-installed with the included battery would be plugged into the port located on left for 1-2 cells. When the battery is plugged in the indicator light will be red for each cell, and will turn green once both cells have completed charging and balancing.
For the sake of safety, you should use a fire retardant lipo charging bag while recharging lipo batteries. Personally, I would also recommend picking up a better balance charger than the one that comes with the Variant clone. I have already heard one report of this charger malfunctioning, and the incident was scary enough that the user returned his Variant clone to the vendor he purchased it from.
There is a lot of information available on internet regarding good lipo balance chargers. I know that many authentic Variant users have purchased the SkyRC B6 charger which is very popular with hardcore RC hobbyist however, based on my own research I find that charger to be over kill for this application. I went with the Tenergy 1-4 cell balance charger shown below, which came highly recommended, and is well reviewed as a good, reliable lipo balance charger.
Function / Menu
One of the immediate let downs with this device is that it does not come with any type of instruction manual. A $200 device with no instruction manual?
The center button on the front of the device is the power and menu navigation button. To turn the Variant on you hold the power button for 2 seconds. You will see the Vicious Ant logo and v1.5 flash on screen before the main display screen appears. To turn the device off you hold the power button for 5 seconds.
To switch between wattage, voltage and pulse modes you hit the menu button 5x. The button on the far left is your down button, and the button on the far right is your up button. Pulse mode is exactly as it sounds, voltage output is delivered in a pulsed pattern, as opposed to a steady voltage output. In Pulse mode there is a working variable voltage output of 1-6.0 volts.
In wattage mode you will see the wattage setting in prominent display on the left. At the center you will see the firing voltage, current output, and atomizer resistance. Along the bottom of the display you will see your total vape time in hours and minutes, puff counter, and battery voltage level. The puff counter cannot be manually reset, which I find annoying. The puff counter will reset itself once you hit 1000 puffs, regardless of battery changes.
To lock your wattage or voltage setting, press and hold the power/menu button for 2s while simultaneously pressing the fire button. To unlock the wattage/voltage setting you repeat this. To access your devices serial # and unique ID, hold the up and down button simultaneously and the serial # and ID will appear. Firing is disabled from this screen interface. To exit this screen you repeat the same button hold pattern.
While the Variant is firing normally the indicator light on the top of the device will flash green. In the event of a short-circuit, or too low battery the indicator light will flash red, and firing of the device will be disabled. In the case of a short, or inability to read an atomizers resistance, the display will also read “CHK ATTY”.
After 1 minute without firing the device, the display screen will go out. After 30 minutes without firing the device will turn itself off. This chip does have flash memory so your last wattage or voltage setting will be remembered.
What I like about the Variant clone, aside from the fit and finish, is the menu interface. This menu system is very quick and easy to navigate, and all of the buttons are very responsive. Another surprise for me was the long battery life of this 7.4v 1200 mah lipo, which did last me around 7-10hours on a single charge (1.0 ohm at 7-10.5W). In terms of battery life, a 7.4/8.4v 1200mah lipo is very different from a 3.7/4.2v 1200 mah Li-MN battery. Actual battery life will vary depending on what resistance and wattage setting you vape at.
It is also worth mentioning that this Variant clone does not suffer from the battery drain issues that has plagued the authentic Variants. There is no need to remove the battery overnight as required by authentic Variant users. In fact none of the various firmware bugs found on the authentic Variant, are present on the clone (wattage settings self adjusting, device stuck at start up screen, spontaneous surges in voltage output, device turning itself off while firing). However, this does not mean that the Variant clone is without issues, or that there aren’t any out there with some sort of defect. The only defect on the clone that I have seen reported is a couple of sticky firing buttons.
With regards to the chip, when I first arranged for a sample of the Variant clone, I asked Limwell whether the chip had a pulse width modulated or a flat DC signal output, and I was told that it was a flat DC signal. One of the major turn offs about the authentic Variant is the very prominent rattlesnake sound that it makes while firing, which is caused by its low pulse width modulated frequency. In my opinion it brings down the value and appeal of that device because it is really loud, and off putting.
When I finally received the Variant clone, and installed my atomizer of 1.1 ohms set to 15 watts, and it felt like a lot more than 15w. However, initially it did appear to be a flat DC signal as there was not even the slightest hint of a rattlesnake sound coming from the device. When I put my inline volt meter on it to see how what the voltage output really was, lo and behold, I found that the Variant clone is indeed pulse width modulated. The reason that there is no rattlesnake sound is because it’s a 100hz frequency, unlike the 33hz frequency of a Vamo. The authentic Variant actually sounds a lot worse than a Vamo, so my guess is that its PWM frequency is like 20hz, lol.
Being that the Variant clone is pulse width modulated, an inline volt meter is not appropriate for testing voltage output. For weeks I searched the internet for anyone who may have tested this device on an oscilloscope, and eventually I did come across a German youtube reviewer by the name of Dirk Oberhaus who did put the Variant clone on a scope (see screenshot below). I cannot say that I was surprised to find that the Variant clone is over powered throughout most of its wattage range, but I was surprised to see it being underpowered at certain resistance/wattage setting as well.
I also noticed that the displayed resistance of my atomizer would fluctuate up and down within .2 ohms or so. For example my 1.14 ohm atomizer would initially read at 1.1 ohm, then change to 1.09, and back again. This fluctuation didn’t really change my vape, but I did notice that it was happening. With regard to the inaccurate power outputs, in spite of this I was still able to find “my vape” with this device (1.0 @7-10W). With all this considered, the unimpressive engineering of this chip does bring down the otherwise very impressive build quality of the device.
Never have I felt so divided in my thoughts and feelings about a device, as I do with the Variant 260W clone. I love the way this device looks, and feels, the build quality is stunning. Yet there is something undeniably janky to me about a Titanium slim clone constructed in 304 grade stainless steel. And I also can’t ignore the faults in the engineering of this excessively, and unnecessarily powered 260 watt chip. Not to mention the fact that the market for $200 clones is about 25 people deep, lol.
Limwell started out in a good way when this was a 120W Variant slim clone, and had they stayed that course I believe this could have been one of the best clones made in 2014. It seems as though Limwell, and Yosen/SXK drank from the same bucket of bad choices – sigh
Now, in spite of being overpowered, the chips actual power output capacity is between 17-242 watts, which covers a lot of ground for a lot of vapers. However, being powered by a Li-polymer battery is a deal breaker for many, as it requires an investment in a whole new set of supplies, on top of being the most expensive clone this market has seen to date. So the reality is that this is a device that is best suited for the frivolous hobbyist/collector. Personally, I love my Variant clone, and I am very happy to have one – but like the authentic Variant it just ain’t for everybody.