You know what a ducted fan hovercraft is — it hovers by shooting air down just strong enough to keep itself to keep itself off the ground. A second fan(s) pointing backwards propels the craft forward. There are toy hovercraft out there, but they tend to be gigantic, at least in toy terms — typically they’re about a foot long, weigh a pound or more and gobble a half-dozen batteries at a time.
Enter the WowWee FlyTech Hoverpod, a hummingbird-light (11 grams!) styrofoam hovercraft that can fit in the palm of your hand. It packs a tiny plastic propeller which both lifts the vehicle off the ground and propels it. The unit charges directly from the controller, eliminating the need for heavy AAs on board — a ten minute charge lasts 5 minutes of flying. The Hoverpod steers with a foam rudder controlled by a minuscule electromagnet: charge it to go one way, reverse the polarity to go the other.
At first glance the toy seems overly simplistic. The controller has only two major sliders, one controlling the rudder and the other the speed of the propeller. An IR channel selector and on-off-charge switch rounds out the selection. However, it turns out that actually steering the craft where you want it is quite a challenge. It’s easy to steer the Hoverpod off course by leaning on the sliders; subtlety is recommended. If you jam the rudder over, the craft will do a crazy spin — a 270 or worse — and if you accelerate too hard you’ll hit an object before you can steer around it. There’s definitely a tantalizing learning curve that makes the Hoverpod fun even for adults.
While the controller is two IR channels, at first glance this seems a little silly because the actual vehicles aren’t switchable — channel A controls the blue Hoverpod and channel B controls the silver one. However, if you imagine the hijinks that could take place with racers hijacking each other’s signals, you get a sense of why the creators added in this capability.
Another fun aspect of the Hoverpod is seeing what surfaces it can scoot over. Not surprisingly, the craft’s ideal surface is a smooth floor like linoleum, However, it works with a surprisingly diverse number of alternatives. For instance, it glides well on a low-pile carpet. In fact, it seemed somewhat happier on the carpet because there was a little more friction, slowing the unit down incrementally so it wasn’t quite as jittery.
I also tried the hoverpod outside, despite the clear warnings on the package that it was for indoor play only. It worked fine on both regular concrete and pebbled concrete, getting stopped only when it hit an uneven edge between two slabs of cement. However, two other factors inhibited it. First, gravity. The Hoverpod’s power isn’t enough to force it to travel up a ramp, even a shallow one, nor will it be able to resist sliding down a ramp.
The other factor is wind — necessarily, the Hoverpod is made of hollow styrofoam and this makes it basically at the mercy of gusts. I think this is the main reason why Wowwee recommends users not play with it outside.
Finally, and most intriguingly, there is the question of water. Everyone knows the power feature of full-sized hovercraft is their ability to go across water. Does the Hoverpod share this quality? If you ask Wowwee — I did! — they answer no. But I didn’t let that stop me from trying. I was too chicken to try floating the Hoverpod in the water, as I was pretty sure the water would fry the craft’s circuitry if it accidentally got submerged. What I did do was skim it toward a puddle. I found out that the Hoverpod didn’t really fly high enough to avoid its own ripples, slowing it down incrementally. Maybe if it had a little more juice to keep it higher up, it could handle water. Oh well!
Wired: The WowWee FlyTech Hoverpod is a quick and fun racer, good for smaller kids as well as grown up kids!
Tired: Inability to fly over water makes it lose out on the killer advantage of hovercraft.