The Ninebot by Segway MiniPro is the hoverboard fad all grown up. It's more comfortable, more stable, more functional, and more expensive than the two-wheeled scooters sold by Swagway and Razor. But in turning the hoverboard into a serious mode of transportation, it throws the vehicle into a bit of an uncanny valley of transit, and I'm no longer quite sure who it's for.
The MiniPro is halfway between a hoverboard like the Swagway Swagtron T3and a traditional Segway. It's a platform you stand on, with an adjustable stalk that goes up between your legs and is controlled by your knees. Lights on the front and back signal when you're turning or stopping. I love the design; it's classy and professional. It also begs for the MiniPro to be seen as a personal transporter, not just a fun toy like most hoverboards are, so I looked at it in that light. That said, the MiniPro is not street legal in many cities and states, just as Segways aren't.
The device is 21.5 inches wide and extends up to 34 inches high. It weighs 28 pounds, but you don't have to carry it if you aren't on board; you can extend the stalk to push it along with motorized assistance, which is a really nice touch. Segway says it can handle people from 85 to 220 pounds. In my experience, people 5 to 6 feet tall are the most comfortable on board. If you're shorter, the knee stalk isn't in the right place. If you're taller, you may have trouble with your center of gravity. It also means that children need not apply.
Because the foot pads don't control turns, the MiniPro is much easier to mount and dismount than a hoverboard is. Hoverboards tend to leap away from you when you put the first foot on; the MiniPro stands obediently and waits for you to get your balance. Lean forward, and you're heading out at up to 10mph. I found speeds of 6-8mph to feel much safer on the MiniPro than on a hoverboard, because of the stability gained by gripping the control stalk between my knees. But deceleration is gentle, so you need to leave plenty of room to slow down. Attempting quick stops mean you're likely to be thrown, just like on a hoverboard.
Software is a big part of the MiniPro experience. The scooter pairs with a free Android/iOS app that offers the usual speedometer and battery meter. It also has a parking brake (which makes the scooter beep if you try to move it), remote control (letting you drive the scooter using your phone, if you're quite nearby, to summon it to you), a message board, and gamified social features like points gained by driving.
The powerful motor and 10-inch (diameter) wheels make quick work of inclines and different types of terrain. I tried the MiniPro on an eight-degree incline with no problem. Where a Swagway hoverboard slowed down on even a hill (and became just a touch scary going down), the Segway remained upright and stable, at a consistent speed, on even a sharp incline. Deep gravel also proved no problem for the big, puffy wheels. Cobblestones were a bit traumatic, as you'd expect. I didn't fall off, but the ride gets understandably jerky.
I got about 15 miles range on one charge of the 310wH battery. It takes four hours to fully charge. The scooter is also UL 2272 certified, so it shouldn't explode.
...And the Bad
The established Segway brand promises a reliable, US-based, almost automotive-like service and software experience, but the MiniPro doesn't deliver in this regard. The app is festooned with typos, and more importantly, the Bluetooth connection is very unreliable. This became an issue when I threw the MiniPro into parking brake mode and couldn't unlock it because I couldn't get my phone to re-pair with the device. It worked after 10 tries or so, but I had a nerve-wracking 15 minutes trying to get it to connect. In addition, trying to connect to the social functions in the app on my Samsung Galaxy S7 at Verizon Wireless caused the app to crash frequently.
I also tried Segway's customer support number during my parking brake episode, and was seriously disappointed. While one of Segway's big selling points is a major US office and customer support staff, calling in the middle of the day on Wednesday, August 3, all I got was a voicemail message that the company was closed "for the holiday." I left a message and still haven't been called back. According to Wikipedia, there is no holiday anywhere in North America on August 3.
Comparisons and Conclusions
In the $1,000 price range, the MiniPro competes more with electric scooters and bikes than it does with $400-500 hoverboard scooters. But it's too much of not-one-thing, not-another to be widely useful.
Less expensive, toy-like scooters like the Swagtron T3 are more agile and more fun. The MiniPro doesn't work for kids, in terms of price or size, and its larger turning radius and gentler motion make it much more stable, but less capable of doing the sort of silly scooter dances and tricks you see online.
For commuting, two-wheeled scooters and bikes with handlebars have a major advantage: not all of your weight is on your lower body. Riding the MiniPro for more than a mile or so can get tiring, unless you have solid core strength. Having a handlebar can also help prevent you from being pitched off the vehicle. A new, optional $169 handlebar kit, which wasn't included with our review unit, could really change things, and we recommend it for anyone who wants to use the MiniPro for longer-distance travel. Electric and electric-assist bikes also let you carry cargo, which is almost impossible on a Segway.
Segway self-balancing scooters have been around for more than a decade now. I remember covering them when they first launched, and inventor Dean Kamen promised that they'd change cities. But they were far too expensive and too heavy to change how anyone other than beach cops worked. The Ninebot by Segway MiniPro, especially with its handlebar attachment, comes closer, but it may be too little, too late, as electric scooters and bikes have taken the lead in personal transport.