Smok Tech ZMAX APV Review
It seems that the folks at Smok Tech are not resting on their laurels. In May we reviewed the VMAX from Smok Tech, a variable voltage device with some great features and a few quirks. I've been using that VMAX (and a second one) day in and day out for the last 4 months and now can say that quality and reliability are first rate as well.
Now Smok Tech has come out with the ZMAX, which a very similar design with a few notable improvements. It could easily be considered a updated VMAX model, but the improvements are major enough to warrant a new name for marketing purposes. It must also be noted that a couple of the quirks that were inherent in the VMAX also are carried over to the ZMAX, and that left us wondering why.
Design and Controls
If you've already experienced the VMAX, you may want to skip ahead to the discussion of menu 7 below. The ZMAX is more of the same, which is to say a very functional one-button user interface. That one button fires the atomizer connector when pressed, but pressing it three times quickly enters the menu. From there, the user can choose Voltage/Power Up, Voltage/Power Down, On/Off, Battery Charge, Display, LED On/Off and Voltage/Power menu items. Remaining on a menu item for 3 seconds selects that item and allows the user to make changes.
Menus 1 and 2, the Power Up and Power Down functions, are pretty straight forward. Each button press increases or decreases the voltage by .1 volt or the power by .5 watts, depending on which mode is selected. More on that in a moment.
Menu item 3 allows the unit to be turned on or off so that it can be carried relatively safely in a pocket or purse. One item to note here is that the voltage or power can be adjusted even when the unit is in the off position, making for a possibly unpleasant vape the next time it is turned on. It is highly unlikely that the press, press, press……press and hold routine needed to change the voltage could be done accidentally, but yes, I have done it several times.
Menu 4 is simply used to check the charge remaining on the battery. Menu 5 allows the user to choose whether battery charge, atomizer ohms or power setting is displayed when the button is pressed and menu 6 sets the bright blue LED display to on or off. Unlike the VMAX, this function controls the light on the button as well as the LED display, allowing the device to be operated without any lights at all.
Menu 7 is where the big news about the ZMAX comes to light. Here the mode can be switched between voltage and power, making this a variable wattage device as well as a variable power device. Big deal, you say? Yes. Yes it is. Variable wattage means that the user can switch between atomizers and cartomizers of various resistance without worrying about where to set the voltage. And cartomizers sometimes change a little with heat and use, and variable wattage will keep the output steady regardless.
A notable improvement over the VMAX that we tested earlier is that all of these menu options are now saved in memory even when the batteries are removed. The only exception is the voltage setting if the unit is set to variable voltage. It returns to a default 3.0 volts, presumably as a safety feature. The power setting when in variable power mode is saved, however, making the battery change a lot more convenient.
Battery capacity is also another design change incorporated into the ZMAX. The unit comes standard with the ability to accept a single 18650 battery. Interestingly, the length of the tube and standard end cap is the same as the VMAX even though the 18650 battery is shorter than the two 18350s used in the previous model. Apparently the variable power option took up a little more room in the engine bay, as it were. Even more interesting is the availability of a slightly longer end cap which allows the use of two 18350 batteries. This may be the first variable voltage device that has allowed the use of one or two battery configuration. It will be interesting to see how the single battery option lasts in comparison with the exceptional vape time that the two battery VMAX has been noted for.
The top cap has also been improved with a deeper recess that allows eGo style cartomizers and tanks to fit nicely. Both versions of the bottom cap are equipped with a firm spring and vent hole for safety. The model tested also has vents cut into half of the flutes along the sides for additional safety. Madvapes reports that this is exclusive to their version of the ZMAX. Overall, the fit and finish of the device are quite good.
The ZMAX is nearly identical in performance to the VMAX, which is to say that it is provides an excellent variable voltage experience with one minor caveat. Like its predecessor, the ZMAX does not give an accurate display of the output voltage. The voltage is consistent, but feels higher than what the device is actually set at. Setting the voltage at 3.7 volts, for instance, provides a much warmer vape than other devices at the same voltage. The fault apparently lies in the pulse width modulation circuitry that it uses to boost and regulate the voltage. The experience is similar in power mode, as well. When it's set at 8 watts, the vape feels more like 9 watts or so. It's not a deal-breaker, but we do wish that it could have been corrected by this point.
The VMAX has turned out to be a solid performer, with no reliability issues in normal use. The ZMAX is more of the same with the welcome addition of the variable power option and a deeper connector for even more cartomizer and tank options. It's an attractive device that feels good in the hand and at $120 isn't too hard on the wallet when the price of competing devices is considered. The device tested was purchase from Madvapes.