The three main types of ecig - an explanation

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  1. rolygate

    rolygate Forum Manager Admin Verified Member ECF Veteran

    Supporting member
    Sep 24, 2009
    ECF Towers
    There are three main classes of EV - an electric or electronic vaporiser, most commonly called an e-cigarette or ecig. These are the mini or cigalike, the mid-size or eGo-type, and the APV or 'mod'. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, which are outlined here.

    1. Minis
    A mini or regular-size ecigarette (they are also called cigalikes, look-alikes, looky-likies, stick ecigs) is often the newcomer's first choice, because these models look and feel similar to a cigarette. A mini is a good way to try out the system at minimum cost.

    Most minis are auto models, meaning they work automatically without an on/off button - on inhale, the suction operates a switch that turns on the atomiser heater coil. Some models are manual: they have a small button near the top end of the battery. There are pros and cons to each type.

    Although they have hundreds of brand names, minis are based on a few model types with a recognised series number that distinguishes them from others by their thread type and fit. In other words a 'Whizzocig' will turn out to be a KR808 or whatever. If you know the model series then you can mix 'n match parts from other vendors since they will almost certainly fit - there are no proprietary models despite what the makers may claim; all belong to a specific series type. For example, the V2Cig and V4L are KR808 models. Of course, individual manufacturers try to improve their own products' performance over others of the same type, and there are a multitude of ways to do this.

    These are called 1st-generation models as they were the first to be invented. Originally all these models used the 3-piece system, with a battery-atomizer-cartridge. Now about 95% use the 2-piece system of battery-cartomizer. A cartomizer combines the atomizer and liquid reservoir in one unit.

    Polls tell us that about 8% of forum members continue to use these models frequently, although many more keep one as a back-up or loan model. The batteries range from 125mAh size up to about 280mAh.

    A mini is a good choice for discreet use (being unobtrusive, keeping a low profile), and as an initiation to the ecig concept. If a model is chosen that looks exactly like a cigarette - white with a red LED tip - then it can be used where you would smoke a cigarette; but don't try using it indoors because people will assume you are smoking and no amount of explanation will fix it as there is bound to be confusion or resentment from some. Instead, get a black one with a blue or green tip, it will create less problems because it is harder to confuse with a tobacco cigarette.

    Minis do not have great performance and there is nothing that can be done to fix that situation, since in the ecig world, battery size is everything. A 20-a-day (1PAD) former smoker would need a minimum of 6 batteries in the pocket/purse to ensure continuous use (see Backups, below). Mini ecigs have two specific tasks for which they are perfect:
    • Introducing new users to the concept of vaping
    • Use by occasional smokers
    Common models include the 510, 901, M401 and KR808 (often shortened to KR8).

    Main advantage / disadvantage
    The most important thing about mini ecigs is that they look like a regular cigarette, so that new users are happier trying them compared to the larger (though more efficient) models.

    However, they do not deliver enough nicotine to the user, for many people, when used by beginners. Multiple clinical trials have shown that for many (most users in fact, in these trials) the device is simply a placebo (a non-working device). Blood plasma nicotine level tests reveal that little or no nicotine is delivered. This is a function of low performance, poor vaping technique by beginners, and too low a nicotine strength for the combination of low performance and poor technique. There are two solutions:
    - Use a much higher nicotine strength if you experience cravings - 45mg (4.5%) strength is shown to be required in some cases, depending on device efficiency
    - Upgrade to a more efficient device (which by definition will be considerably larger)
    You can also learn better user technique, which may well solve the problem in some cases.

    • Looks and feels like a cigarette
    • Small and discreet
    • Auto and manual models
    • Cheapest way to get started
    • Parts can be re-used if you know the model type
    • Ideal for light smokers or occasional smokers
    • Batteries do not last long in use - from 45 minutes to 2 hours for some users
    • The other two physically larger classes have better performance
    • Will probably not provide sufficient performance for heavy smokers or full-flavor smokers
    • The auto batteries can be destroyed by liquid leaking down into the battery due to over-enthusiastic refilling
    • Cannot use LR heads - the minimum resistance these small devices can run is about 2 ohms (this limits vapor production).

    Smokers new to vaping will not appreciate that backups are needed for every item: ecig (battery, head), refills, charger. Any item can fail at any time, and this may leave you in a difficult position. Every single part of an ecig system is a consumable - there is really no such thing as an ecig for life, and most items will require renewal. There are two items all newcomers under-purchase initially: batteries and refills (e-liquid). It's also useful to remember that an ecig is really just a collection of parts, and spares need to be kept for each of those parts.

    Batteries: the minimum practical number is three; one in use, one on charge, and one spare. Users of a mini ecig will need more than this, as a battery may only last an hour before needing a recharge. The smaller the batteries are, the more of them you'll need.
    Atomizers: whatever type of head is used, spares will be needed. These could be cartos, clearos, tanks or RBAs (rebuildables). Some have a replaceable atomizer-wick cartridge. A basic atomizer such as a 510 with a driptip is very useful for testing new flavours.
    Refill liquid: if you buy your e-liquid on the internet then be aware that you will need plenty in reserve, since delivery times can be extended, leaving you without any supplies.
    Charger: don't forget this - a battery charger can fail, leaving you with no way of charging your vaporizer.

    Experienced vapers have backups for their backups, in order to avoid being caught out. The initial cost may appear high, but in reality it is far less than the cost of smoking, at least anywhere that taxes are substantial.

    2. Mid-size
    The mid-size ecig (also called the eGo-type, eGo-size, fat-batt) is the #1 rated model type because it suits most vapers, either as the main device or the main back-up. The common names are eGo, Riva, Tornado, kGo and others.

    The mid-size e-cigarette with a clearomiser is now the benchmark model. They are about the size of a slim cigar. Virtually all mid-size ecigs are manuals - very few auto batteries are made. Some models have selectable voltages in around 3 or 4 steps from 3.3 volts to 4.5v or so.

    These 2nd-generation models have a much larger battery size of at least 650mAh. This has three important results:
    • The batteries last longer in use
    • They produce more vapor than a mini
    • They can use a much wider range of heads. All kinds of tanks and other exotic heads can be used (the liquid reservoir, atomizer and mouthpiece arrangements).
    • Crucially, they can use the LR low resistance type of atomiser coil in the head, which produces more vapor
    Most of these models have a 510 connector system although some use the KR8 thread.

    This is the benchmark now: the type upon which all ecig measurements and values should be based. It is the average in all respects - probably about three-quarters of forum members either use one as their main device or keep one as a back-up.

    Main advantage / disadvantage
    Pro: this is now the basic ecig, and as such, has a wide range of accessories. Can use LR atomisers.
    Con: the eGo-type experiences more battery fires than all the other types put together - and then some. These fires occur when being charged. They result from overall low quality or the wrong charger being used. The problem is the wide availability of cheap clones and ultra-cheap chargers - the original, genuine model from Janty or Joyetech is unlikely to suffer any mishaps.

    The clones are are sometimes made far too cheaply: cheap batteries and cheap chargers (75 cents ex-factory in some cases, and this is way too cheap to ensure quality) mean that fires while being charged are becoming more common. As a result we advise that:
    - All mid-size units (eGo type ecigs) are recharged in a Li-Po charging sack (a special fireproof bag for unstable batteries)
    - NEVER recharge an ecig in a room where oxygen is in use or available
    - Carefully monitor elderly or confused patients using an ecig, just as you would if they were smoking - DON'T allow recharging in the same room as an oxygen supply

    • Can use LR atties, down to about 1.5 ohms
    • Not too expensive to get started - maybe 50% more than a mini - though as always, you must pay more for good quality: buy a good brand not a clone if in doubt
    • The 510 connector type most used has a huge range of heads
    • The smaller of the battery choices, 650mAh, is reasonably small for those who want it discreet There is also a very small battery for these units @450mAh - it's very discrete, but doesn't have much of a charge time in use
    • Looks and feels like a small cigar, so it's not too big
    • Double the performance of any mini - double the vapor and battery life
    • Batteries last well in use, the bigger batteries around 1,000mAh can last up to 8 hours for some vapers
    • Should provide sufficient performance for most smokers moving to ecigs, especially newcomers
    • The #1 rated type of ecig for good reason - suits more users than any other type
    • Almost exclusively these are manual ecigs - a disadvantage to newcomers although an advantage to experienced users
    • May feel too large for beginners
    • Slightly more expensive to start out with
    • Ultimate performance is not possible as the battery power/voltage is still not sufficient
    • Beware of cheap clones and/or cheap chargers that cause fires while on charge - never recharge one of these units on a carpet

    3. APVs
    Advanced personal vaporizers (aka 'mods') are the logical progression and development of the ecig concept for those who want ultimate performance. They can be defined simply as any model that employs user-replaceable generic batteries and/or has a function not normally available in a mini or mid-size e-cigarette. So an APV can simply be a battery holder tube, or it can be the McClaren of the ecig world, with all the bells and whistles.

    There are two main classes of APV: the tubular shaped tubemods and the box shaped boxmods.
    There are three sub-types: mechanical ('mechmods'), basic electrical (ex: Silver Bullet) or electronic (usually these have an oLED readout).

    So, an APV will normally look like a fat tube reminiscent of a flashlight with a mouthpiece (a tubemod), or a box the size of a pack of cigarettes with a mouthpiece (a boxmod).

    They do not normally suit newcomers because they are too big, or weird-looking, or too fiddly to use; plus all are manual-switch models. These are 2nd-gen and onward devices (at Q1 2014 we are now at 5th generation devices). Almost all have a hugely extended battery life over the minis, and they mostly use generic 3.7 volt lithium ion cells, a type of rechargeable battery that can be bought from many sources. There are several types of such batteries, and the most popular cell is the 18650 IMR (Li-Mn) rechargeable.

    The big advantage is the performance that large batteries deliver, plus the advanced functions and features that are variously available according to the individual model: integral liquid feed, digital readout, variable voltage, full electronic control, solid metal construction, or attractive wooden construction with inlays, and so on.

    We suggest that an APV is not purchased as the first model by a newcomer, but instead a mid-size (or mini) is first used to gain familiarity with all the many aspects of vaping. This also has the advantage that there will be a better appreciation of the many issues if choosing an APV later on. There is a very wide choice, and this can be confusing at first; an 'apprenticeship' with the less costly models is generally a good idea.

    Main advantage / disadvantage
    Pro: huge performance gains in every area.
    Con: in order to be better, it has to be bigger. Battery size is everything in an ecig.

    • Massive performance gains: three times or more than any mini - 3x to 10x or more vapor volume than small ecigs
    • Extended battery life
    • Solid construction
    • Some of the base units may last a lifetime
    • The advanced functions are very useful for experienced users
    • Full advantage is taken of digital micro-electronics, for power control, readouts, and so on
    • Alternatively, simple and rugged mechanical units ('mechmods') are available that have more reliability than any other type
    • Batteries last a very long time in use, the average is 8 hours although some can last for days
    • Will provide sufficient performance for any ex-smoker
    • Expensive to set up with - some base units are over $200, though there are many far cheaper
    • These are all manual models - a disadvantage to newcomers although an advantage to experienced users
    • Some care with battery charging is needed, as large lithium ion cells need treating with respect
    • Some vapers eventually migrate to 'extreme vaping' with APVs, such as sub-ohming and cloud-chasing. It is possible that the risk reduction compared to smoking is not so generous with these types of use.
    • Extreme vaping with mechmods together with poor choice of battery has resulted in a new wave of explosive events. Sub-ohming on the cheap has risks: use of a counterfeit battery elevates risk significantly.

    A fuller description of all these models, with photos, can be found here:
    Best E-Cigarette for a New User
    Quick Answers

    Notable sub-types & historic models
    - see the E-Cigarette Wiki for examples -

    Originally, there were also many micro or 'super-mini' models. These were slightly shorter than a regular mini. Because a regular 510 can also have short batteries, it is not correct to say that the micros were always smaller, although that was the general situation. They suited people who perhaps were reluctant vapers in the early days; these tiny models are no longer popular as the batteries only lasted a few minutes and performance is now light years better.

    Penstyles were very popular for several years as they filled the gap between minis and APVs that the mid-size ecig models such as the eGo now occupy very successfully. They got the name because they were almost exactly the size of a fountain pen and some even looked like one, with a characteristic step in the level of the tube near one end that made it look as if it had a pen cap.

    Slightly more penstyles were auto models than manual. Their best feature was the 801 thread system that was common, such as on the DSE801, as this is the best thread system ever used on an e-cigarette (as it is slightly larger, stronger, more reliable, and generally more robust). The penstyles used larger atomisers and cartridges than the other models such as the 510 and KR808; but this old-style 3-piece system was notorious for leaking, and this is one of the main reasons the market moved to the 2-piece cartomiser system. No one produced cartos for the 801 thread, and the eGo/mid-size eventually replaced the penstyle. They are still available but are a niche product now, not used much in the West at any rate - the most often seen is the Ruyan V8.

    XL mini
    As the penstyles died out, some minis began to come with an XL option. This is most common in the KR808 series. They can be 143mm long, and could be regarded as a way to stay with the KR8 thread system and get a larger battery capacity without going to the mid-size / fat-batt eGo style, which is usually 510-based. The typical XL mini has a long, chrome steel battery. Manual buttons are more often seen on these than any other type of mini.

    6-volt mods
    Before VV, and even before 5 volt regulated APVs, custom devices evolved from plain metal tubes with generic lithium batteries. The first was the Screwdriver from the UK, followed by many more. These used one 3.7 volt rechargeable cell. At this time the only head option was the SR atomiser (2.3 ohms) and it did not produce a perfect vape with all refills; there were no LR heads, no RBAs, no clearos even. So to get a stronger vape, two cells were stacked to create the '6 volt mod'. If you do the math you can see that these early APVs actually get 8.4 volts at full charge (4.2 + 4.2 volts). This burns out regular atomisers, so HR atties were then needed: 3.5 / 4 / 4.5 ohm versions were seen.

    There was a serious elevation of risk for a violent or even explosive battery failure with these devices as it was common to stack (place in series) two unprotected Li-ion cells, and in a sealed or semi-sealed metal tube the consequences of doing this with unstable cells subject to uncontrollable thermal runaway especially when paired are obvious. Violent failures occurring in stacked unprotected RC123a (most commonly) Li-ion cells in metal tube devices produced legendary events which luckily were few in number but attracted plenty of attention.

    Eventually technology came to the rescue and 5 volt regulated, then VV variable voltage devices, then VW and RBAs replaced the 6 volt tubemods. We use VV / VW or RBA devices now, so technology has thankfully moved on. Enthusiasts still use mechmods - indeed, thay have experienced a massive revival due to the popularity of RBAs - but much safer batteries are available now (Li-Mn, hybrid and Li-FePo4 cells) instead of the dangerous unprotected Li-ion cells. A full-power vape can now be obtained using a single cell, either with electronics: VV or VW; or with an RBA atomizer. The growing popularity of 26650 cells in giant mechmods also allows for the most powerful vape and length of time between charges ever possible.

    The newer cell types can be placed in series without significant risk but there is no need to do so now. Due to the risk of battery counterfeiting, it is still inadvisable to stack batteries.

    4. What's hot?

    Feb 2015
    It's all about mechmods, RDAs, and high-power boxmods right now.

    These are simple battery tubes with a mechanical actuator, not an electrical switch. There is no wiring. They are mostly bottom-switched like the Nemesis, and sometimes top/side switched like the Poldiac. Less coomon are the mech boxmods like the Reo (a bottom-feed device or 'squonker').

    They are simple and rugged, and work well with an RBA of some type. The coil resistance is varied in order to get the exact vape power required, as the basic battery voltage cannot be changed: see RDA below. Capable batteries are used that can deliver 30 amps at the nominal 3.7 volts used.

    The hot RBA type used to be the genny (genesis) but is now the rebuildable dripper atty or RDA. This is an open steel deck with insulated posts for the coil connection, and a juice well to hold the refill liquid and the wick ends. People spend endless hours creating new coil designs, wick designs, and new RDA designs. There is an endless search for the perfect coil wire (now it's kanthal but it used to be nichrome) and the perfect wick material - currently rayon and Japanese cotton are the preferred choices. Coil designs range from micro to macro, single to double and even quad coils; braided through to the clapton (a coil design based on winding it around a guitar wire). The resistance aimed for is over 1 ohm for the timid; 0.5 ohm for the adventurous; and 0.2 ohm or less for the daring. At this low resistance, the amperage draw rises dramatically and the graph line of amps vs resistance starts to climb vertically; batteries are delivering 40 amps or more; and monster clouds are created. This is sub-ohming and cloud chasing. Also, the resistance of the coil is so low that it is close to the whole circuit resistance, tens of amps are pulled, the whole mechmod gets hot, and bystanders start to move back. They trip over stuff moving back as a thick cloud has fogged up the whole room. This is not vaping for harm reduction by any meaning of the word - it is a new type of hobby. It is the hot-rodding and drag racing of the vape world.

    High-power boxmods
    Some people prefer electronics to steampunk and put their money into boxmods with ultra high power circuits. These started out at 15 watts, and people thought that would probably be enough. Then it went up to 20 watts and people thought it was Christmas. Then 30 watt boxes appeared and people wondered where it would all end. Then 100 watt boxes came along and the mechmod people had a rival. After that, 150 watt boxmods weren't really a surprise, apart from to those engineers who wondered where the heck they got the transistors from that could switch that power (it was from Deep Purple's PA). Then 200 watt boxmods came on the horizon and vapers had more power at their disposal than an arc welder. The refills had to be reduced from 36mg down to 24mg down to 3mg through all this, to avoid OD from the 30ml a day refills these vapers burn through. Now they're even going down to 1.5mg in order to be able to get to sleep at night.

    In among all this were people wondering if maybe we need fire extinguisher foam in the refills now, just to be on the safe side. That's tech progress early 2015-style for you!

    6th Generation
    In late Q1 2015 we saw gen-6 hardware enter the market: temperature control. High-power boxmods were introduced that allow the atomizer temperature to be limited in order to control refill burnout and generation of unwanted heat degradation compounds. This looks to be the hot market area for 2015.

    What's next?
    Well, the way things are going, it's going to be twin 26650 cell boxmods, with a cryogenic cooling package made by Coolermaster. They will be the size and weight of a brick. Engineers will work nights trying to build mosfet arrays that can switch hundreds of amps, then give up and go to the monster IGBT semiconductors used in inverter welders. The only way up from there is an IMR battery pack with cryogenics pulled off an Airbus 380. Vapers will need electric golfcarts to carry their gear at that stage.

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