Powerhouse variable voltage/variable wattage (VV/VW) box mods have been taking the vaping industry by storm recently, offering substantial power, sub-ohm capability and huge capacity batteries in portable, user-friendly packages. Their popularity is pretty easy to understand: you can blow huge clouds without opting for unregulated mechanical devices and while keeping your vaping experience as simple as possible, making them great for relative newcomers and long-term vapers alike. However, with iSticks, iPVs, XPros, Sigeleis, Cloupors, eGrips, MVPs and countless others to choose from, how do you go about deciding which mod to purchase?
While we could list individual options and discuss their specs, features and capabilities (Vaping Cheap has a really good run-down of this sort), the best way to make the right decision for you is to think more generally about the selling-points of the various mods on the market and how they correspond to what you’re looking for in a device. So here's a more general box mod buying guide, offering the information you need to make your decision:
We Need More Power!
The big arms race when it comes to VV/VW box mods is to offer the most power (measured in watts). These days, up to 50 W is pretty much standard for box mods, but some options do pack a lot more power – up to 150 W or even higher is increasingly common. Here you really have to think about what you want rather than just opting for the most power you can afford. Some vapers really want to chuck huge clouds, but that isn’t for everybody (myself included), and your needs should be the main thing you consider.
If this is your first foray into the world of VV/VW mods, you’ll likely be more than satisfied with a 30 W device, and probably won’t crank it up to the maximum very often. For most vapers, a 50 W device will offer more than enough power for most situations, and even as a first-timer, this would offer you plenty of room to explore higher-power vaping if you want to in the future. To need a 100 W or an even more powerful device, you’d have to be really serious about vapor production. There’s nothing wrong with wanting high power (and it’s generally better to have more than you think you’ll need), but the key is not to be seduced by the big numbers alone.
In-Built or Removable Battery?
One of the main differences between the various box mods available is whether it comes with an in-built battery (like the iStick, eGrip or MVP) or you need to use a separate one (like with the various Sigeleis and iPVs). There are advantages to both options, and again it comes down to what’s most important for you. In-built batteries are simpler – you charge via USB and don’t have to worry about using something appropriate for the amount of current you’re drawing, because the devices are specifically designed to suit the capabilities of the battery. On the negative side, if the battery is of low capacity (more on that in a moment, but the capacity tells you how long it will last between charges), then you’re pretty much stuck with having to charge fairly regularly.
Using separate batteries has the advantage that you can bring a spare, fully-charged battery with you when you’re on-the-go – without having to worry about finding somewhere to recharge – and you can also upgrade to a higher-capacity battery if you notice yours draining too quickly. The downside here is mainly ensuring that your battery’s amp limit is sufficient for the current you’ll be pulling from it. There’s more on this in our safety series, but the tl;dr version is that sub-ohming (using very low resistances) draws a lot more current at the same voltage, and so you’ll need a battery with a high amp limit.
So this decision comes down to the flexibility of using separate batteries or the simplicity of using an in-built option. For beginners, in-built batteries are often preferable, but more confident vapers could happily use either, and really it’s never too complicated as long as you heed basic safety advice.
Box Mods and Battery Capacity (mAh)
The capacity of a battery is measured in milliamp-hours (mAh), and the basic rule is that higher numbers will last for longer between charges. A milliamp is a thousandth of an amp, and the capacity basically tells you how long it takes the battery to drain when you draw a specific amount of current from it. So a 2000 mAh battery would run out after roughly one hour of continuous use (i.e. having the fire button pressed down) if you draw 2000 mA (2 A) from it, and roughly two hours if you draw 1000 mA (1 A) from it.
This is an idealization, though, and in reality it won’t last this long. There are calculators you can use to get an idea of the actual battery life, and these generally divide the mAh rating by the number of mA you’re drawing from it and then multiply the answer by 0.7 to get the resulting battery life (to make the result more realistic). For the purposes of choosing a box mod with an in-built battery, a higher mAh rating is always preferable, if all else is equal.
Supported Resistances and Sub-Ohming
VV/VW devices have minimum and maximum resistances they will support, and for many box mods currently on the market, the minimum resistance is 0.2 ohms. Some will have higher minimum resistances, and whether this is suitable depends on what you’re likely to need. If you want to use a sub-ohm coil (with a resistance of under 1 ohm), then lower is definitely better, but for sub-ohm tanks currently on the market, 0.5 ohms is the lowest you’re likely to need to go. As with power, though, there’s no need to be seduced by the better specs if you’re unlikely to need it – the 30 W iStick and MVP 3.0 support 0.4 ohms or higher, and for most vapers this will be absolutely fine.
In an ideal world, price wouldn’t be an issue – we could choose a device based on capabilities alone. But that’s not the world we live in, and a device that costs $50 will be inevitably preferable to one that costs $150. You can still get a good device without spending big bucks, so if you make the choice carefully (not solely based on price), you’ll probably be able to stay within a reasonable budget (about $100 isn't a bad rule of thumb) and get an awesome mod. It is often true that “you get what you pay for,” but it would be a little naïve to assume paying more automatically means you’ll get a better product. The best advice is to set a budget and stick to it, but try to keep the focus on choosing a solid device where possible.
Box mods are inherently more portable than tube mods, but as a general rule: the smaller the device, the less capacity the battery will have. The MVP 3, for example, is bigger than the iStick 30 W, but it offers 3800 mAh in comparison to 2200 mAh for the iStick. The trade-off is between a longer-lasting battery and one that slips more easily into a pocket or bag, and that’s a choice only you can really make – if you’re mainly vaping at home, size doesn’t matter so much, but if you’re out a lot, then portability is going to be more important.
Box Mod Features: From the Essential to the Pointless
Most of the box mods on the market will have the essential features for VV/VW devices: the ability to check your atomizer’s resistance, alter the voltage or wattage (both effectively do the same thing), see your remaining battery level and lock and/or turn the device off. Safety features offering protection for things like short circuits, high temperature, low resistance, high battery voltage and reversed battery polarity are also essential, as are a selection of vent-holes (physical holes, usually in the bottom of the mod) just in case your battery overheats and fails. Aside from that, there are a few nice extras to look out for, like an adjustable 510 connection (which help rectify connectivity issues with some atomizers), pass-through functionality (so you can vape while charging) and a clear, well-laid out display screen showing the atomizer resistance, your remaining battery life and current power/voltage setting at a glance.
There are also some pretty pointless features used more as a hollow selling-point than to provide something you’ll actually need. The puff counter is a perfect example – do you really want to know how many puffs you take each day? For most, the answer is “I don’t really care.” Some box mods also include a “mechanical mode,” which gives you the option of using the battery’s voltage without any adjustments from the device, like an unregulated mechanical mod. The problem with this is that modern devices give you plenty of power, ordinarily allowing you to take the voltage above 4.2 V (which you only get from a fully-charged battery – it reduces as the battery loses charge) and keep it there (even with low-resistance coils), which basically nullifies the whole point of the feature.
Do Your Research
These general tips are enough to help you start to make your choice, but there are also other things to consider before you commit to a purchase. Review sites are pretty much designed for this purpose: they put the devices through their paces and hopefully turn up any relevant issues that wouldn’t be apparent from the specs. You should also check forums and user reviews, though, which should give you a better idea of how many people run into issues with a specific device. This may be a little time-consuming, but it’s definitely worthwhile.
Conclusion – Vape Your Own Way
If there was just one piece of advice to take with you when you’re choosing a box mod – or any device, for that matter – it’s that you should think more about your needs than the spiel manufacturers spout because they want you to buy their products. There are some really awesome devices available, and if you choose carefully you’ll almost certainly be happy with what you get, but the most important thing is to vape the way you want to, not how manufacturers or anybody else wants you to.