Let's Go, GoCube!

Let's Go, GoCube!

The GoCube is a Smart Rubik's Cube that connects to your phone/tablet and tracks your cube state in real time via bluetooth. This feature allows you to initially learn how to solve the cube (and subsequently solve it more efficiently) as well as partake in various minigames and online challenges through the GoCube app.

I discovered the GoCube while packing items from the Get Hacking store for shipment. Upon Jee Soo’s discovery that I had not written a product review and had a vague interest in the product, I was tasked to write this (thank you dear reader for validating my effort by continuing to read this).
A caveat I should make is that prior to messing around with the GoCube, my experience with Rubik’s Cubes consisted of failed attempts at trying to solve them during childhood and being amazed when friends at school solved it under thirty seconds or so. (I have since learnt that in the world of competitive cubing the best generally solve it under ten seconds and much closer to five.)
The GoCube’s site lists the qualities of being able to “Learn, Improve and Battle” as selling points of the cube and it is by these metrics that I’ll attempt to weigh whether it is worth it to purchase one. But before that, let’s take a look at what comes with the GoCube.
What’s in the box?
Inside the box, you’ll find the GoCube, a stand, charger, instruction manual (which just requests you to download the GoCube app on the App Store/Play Store), and a pouch to put the GoCube in.

I appreciated being able to charge the GoCube while having it on display (using the stand) and the pouch allows me to toss it in my bag without fear of scratching the GoCube when I’m out and about.
The GoCube App
Upon accessing the app, you’ll be prompted to log in with a GoCube and to sign up for an account. This is primarily what allows the app to both monitor the state of your cube and participate in various local and online features.
After signing up and logging in, the app asks for your level of experience solving Rubik’s Cubes. I selected “Just Getting Started” and was brought to the Academy, where they attempt to teach you how to solve the cube in stages.
This is perhaps where learning through a Smart Cube edges out a normal cube. The GoCube app monitors your moves as you make them, suggesting corrections if a wrong move is made as you approach the goal in each individual stage. In this case, the goal is to form the white face of the cube.
Fun fact for those interested: Each move is represented by a letter. For instance, R requires you to rotate the right face of the cube 90 degrees clockwise. To specify anticlockwise rotations, an apostrophe (’) is appended to the letter, so R’ would mean rotating the right face 90 degrees anticlockwise
Coupled with videos of the moves being performed, these features allowed me to easily pick up the steps and sequences needed to solve the cube. I was grateful for the existence of both of these features early on, as they allowed me to easily correct the mistakes I made. This made the experience much more pleasant than if I had to repeat all the steps after an unnoticed mess-up that I didn’t know how to correct.
This allowed me to, as they promised, solve the Cube for the very first time! (and I got a sweet certificate to prove it :D , though I am far from being a Cube Master) Note that this doesn’t immediately mean, after the first solve, that you can generally solve it without a tutorial - it takes a few tries for the algorithms to sink in (at least in my experience), but after that you’ll perhaps be closer to a Cube Master. The good news is that with each subsequent solve you’ll get much faster at solving it!

But many people buy Rubik’s Cubes in the expectation that they will be able to solve them, and with the many resources available, from the Rubik’s website itself to various youtube tutorials, the question then becomes: “How does the GoCube compare to these alternatives?”. Unfortunately for me, I had the experience to test this when the GoCube went out of sync. The app detected a different pattern of colours as compared to the GoCube and I could not find a way to resync it at the time (I eventually found a video, here’s a link for those stuck). Off I went to YouTube to relearn how to solve the GoCube. I should, however, say that this issue has only happened once so far, and the more frequent errors are desyncs in orientation. This is when the app detects that you have, for example, the blue face up when in actuality you have the green face up. These errors are very easily fixed with the tap of a button (though still a cause of annoyance).
The Youtube Comparative
By following a tutorial from Wired’s Youtube channel and, on another try, J Perm’s Beginner Tutorial, I was able to solve the Cube fairly easily. A caveat to be made is that I had already solved it once through GoCube Academy, and while the methods are slightly different in each tutorial, I was already familiar with Cube Notation, allowing me to follow along fairly easily. However, the fact that many of these tutorials have millions of views and a strong like to dislike ratio suggests that even if you’re truly a beginner, you too can solve it without the GoCube app. I also appreciated that, unlike in the GoCube app, I could rewind the Youtube videos to go over specific parts, whereas in the GoCube app I had to replay the whole tutorial if I missed something (though it’s still bearable considering they break their videos into chunks).
I would have leaned on the side of the GoCube had the app worked perfectly (without the sync hiccup or the countless orientation detection errors I encountered). Sadly, despite the very welcome undo feature, which honestly matters less as you get increasingly more comfortable with the Cube, these hiccups proved to be too much of an annoyance, and whenever I found myself stuck or forgetting a step, I simply searched for a solution on the internet rather than using the Academy feature.
Now that you’ve solved the Cube for the first (or first few) time(s), what do you do? Solve it faster! The GoCube tracks statistics such as the number of times you’ve solved the cube, the number of wins against other players in competitive game modes (elaborated on later) and the average time you took for your last 5, 12 and 100 solves (shortened to ao5, ao12 and ao100). I cannot attest to the utility of the GoCube app to track these stats over any other platform - I’m personally content being able to solve the cube and not interested enough to dedicate additional effort to remember faster algorithms. What I can say is that there are other browser apps such as cstimer.net that you can use to track your statistics, which erodes the unique edge GoCube might potentially have with this feature.
The GoCube also has some minigames that purportedly make you a better cuber while having fun. This includes Cubeysizer, which plays a corresponding note on a virtual piano for each move you make on the GoCube, and Cube Hero, which is a music game where instead of tapping when the marker hits the line, you rotate the GoCube in a specific direction. (If you manage to execute all the moves correctly you solve the GoCube!)
I think that the minigames are a welcome addition to the GoCube as it allows one to familiarize themselves with Cube notation in a novel way. Regrettably, there is much missed potential. Typically, to significantly improve average timings, in addition to learning how to read Cube notation and make turns faster, one would memorize various sequences of moves depending on the state of the cube, and it would be ideal if the minigames covered some of these techniques. Despite the interesting concept of gamifying practice, the lack of depth meant that after spending some time on these games, I wasn’t as engaged anymore. However, your mileage may vary, and you might have fun playing the 9 minigames they have on offer, which is something definitely unique to the GoCube.
The GoCube has a competitive aspect. The fact that your GoCube state is being tracked allows you to have the same scramble as another GoCube user, and this in turn allows for a competitive mode, where you can race other players online to solve the Cube. There are leaderboards, and with top players boasting solves under 10 seconds, the competitive mode might be appealing to those itching for a challenge.
Not to worry if you’re a beginner. You can have matches with other beginners, and as you get better timings make your way up the tiers - all the way to Expert, which you’ll unlock when you can solve the cube in under 30 seconds. There are also events, like the Red Bull Rubik's Cube World Cup 2020, that allow you to connect and participate in live competitions with other players.
I can’t adequately weigh how significant this is without having first hand experience in competitive cubing. At first glance, this seems wonderful - you can connect with friends and battle strangers, surely this is a reason to get a GoCube. However, there should also be local community meet-ups where you live - The Singapore Rubik’s Cube Club meets fortnightly, and there are unofficial and official contests both online and offline, which you can find on sites like this. In the age of Covid, where such meet-ups may be postponed in your area (or you’re just too introverted), the online connectivity may just be the feature that you’re looking for.
In sum, the GoCube does okay (maybe even fairly well, if you’re generous). Though imperfect, it’s one of a limited selection of Smart Cubes that are being sold on the market at the moment, and tries hard to engage the budding cuber. It’s also a one-stop shop for many features which you would otherwise need to go through some lengths to find (other ways to track statistics, online competitions, etc). I find it hard to justify the S$125 price tag though, especially considering the technical hiccups and the aforementioned lack of depth to the minigames, which I believe the GoCube takes to be a significant feature. That said, it’s certainly a good speed cube, in my experience turning really well (people have achieved very fast solve timings on it). If you’re certain you’ll like cubing, it may be worth the price or you know someone who does, it’s definitely a buy to consider, especially if these issues are fixed through an app update.
Extra Notes
I don’t actually know where to put this (extra notes it is). Rather amusingly, while trying to find out more about cubing, for the sake of writing this (hopefully useful) review, I learnt a decent amount about the speedcubing community! Even if you decide you don’t want to buy the GoCube, I’d recommend you find out more, it’s really interesting- there’s the Netflix documentary The Speed Cubers, the various speed cubes and their mechanisms (some of them use magnets!), or a list of different algorithms to solve the Cube depending on its state, in this link, to orient the last layer, to other interesting methods like solving the cube blindfolded, and the experience of learning how to do so.
Written by Mohammad Faisal, currently an intern at Tinkertanker

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