Review: GoCube adds an excellent tech twist on classic Rubik's Cube puzzle

If you're of a similar vintage to me, you might recall when Rubik's Cubes first became popular on the school playground.

I don't remember much else from the early 1980s but the coloured puzzle stuck in my mind, primarily because I got so annoyed with not being able to complete it.

Of course, I did what everyone should do in such circumstances - I persevered, learned from my mistakes and ultimately triumphed.

Nope. I tore off all the stickers and pulled it apart because it was just sitting there, taunting me and reminding me that a simple 3x3 cube had bested me.

I never wanted to see another one of those bloody cubes again. That was until I heard about the GoCube, which promised not only to teach me how to solve it, but to become a master.

Even better, it uses a smartphone app to render the cube in real time, using its knowledge of which colours are where to take you through the process step by step.

What could go wrong? And how quickly would I be taking on the world?

I've been using the GoCube for a few weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

The mere fact that I'm still playing with the GoCube after all this time and it hasn't been bounced off a wall in frustration is a great start.

It's an indication that the clever minds behind this gadget have got the balance right between it being fun, challenging and having enough 'stickability' that you are happy to go back to it regularly.

That's made much easier by the gamification of solving the puzzle. 

From the moment you start the tutorial, which takes you step by step through the process, I felt I was erasing all those old mistakes.

I did have to complete the tutorial a couple of times to fully understand some of the moves and the algorithms at play, but once I did, I was happy to jump into some online competitions.

Photo credit: Newshub

The biggest issue I've always had with the Rubik's Cube was not knowing where to start in getting the cube back to having all the colours in the right place.

So it's no surprise my favourite game is scrambling, where you race with someone of a similar level to you on the other side of the world to make it whole again.

If it's not scrambled enough, then you're even asked to make MORE of a mess of it before engaging in battle. That chaos definitely appeals to me.

As you get better, so do your opponents and the process of solving it becomes more embedded.

There are more games too, with one that plays musical notes if you make the right turn in the right order. Beethoven's 'Ode To Joy' never sounded so good.

The other game that really stood out was Cube Hero, a take on the classic Guitar Hero. It works in a similar way, but instead of pressing the buttons on a plastic guitar you turn the appropriate face in the right direction at the right time to score points.

I remember the original Rubik's Cube being very stiff, but the whole feel of the GoCube is very different. It's been designed for speed and that means every move feels effortless.

But that doesn't mean it's flimsy. I've dropped it a few times - not in frustration, I promise - without issue.

It's also got an excellent battery life, with around 60 hours of play before needing to recharge. I never got close because it comes with a handy little stand to sit beside my PC that's simple to plug in with the supplied USB charger.

Photo credit: Newshub

All in all, it's an impressive package that has proven to have way more longevity than the original; so much so that I've set myself a challenge of solving it in under 60 seconds by Christmas.

With its help, I can get there.

The bad

The first thing to mention isn't strictly related to the GoCube, but more of a general warning.

The algorithms to solve the puzzles require you to remember certain notations and movements, both clockwise and anticlockwise.

I don't particularly think in 3D so every time I was asked to move the back or the left hand face I had to turn it to do so.

You do get a warning if you make the wrong move, but it still doesn't feel natural if your brain doesn't compute in the correct way.

Other than that there are only some minor issues with the GoCube, none of which really spoiled my enjoyment. 

I initially found the software lost the orientation of my cube on a regular basis. After a few times the software prompted me it was happening too much and suggested I make sure the cube was on a flat surface.

This made a massive difference and I've only had to recalibrate a couple of times since. 

Photo credit: Newshub

Once you get your head around the step-by-step instructions you can look at the cube and understand what you need to do to start solving it, but there were still points where even looking at the instructions didn't help me.

I knew where I was in the process, but none of the instructions seemed to match with the next move that needed to be made.

Now it's been calculated there are around 43 quintillion - that's 43,000,000,000,000,000,000 - different combinations of a Rubik's Cube, so maybe I just happened to find some that no-one else had.

However, given every cube can be solved in just 20 moves it's much more likely I just needed greater practise and understanding and to revisit the process.

Last but not least, it's not a particularly cheap gadget, comparatively. You can pick up a classic Rubik's Cube for around $25 in Aotearoa, so the GoCube at $159 means you're paying a premium for the 'smart' features.

To me, that doesn't seem extravagant; but it is a lot of money for something that might be considered a bit of a luxury toy.

The verdict

There have long been websites and YouTube tutorials to take anyone interested through the process of solving the Rubik's Cube, but this gives an added dimension that blows them away.

The clever use of software to identify exactly what state your cube is in and take you through the steps to making it whole again is a tremendous use of technology.

But that by itself wouldn't be enough; there's only so much fun in solving the puzzle with help. The GoCube takes those next steps.

Photo credit: Newshub

Not only do you learn the algorithms, but the whole process is gamified. I got more satisfaction out of beating some random person on the other side of the world in a race than I thought possible.

It's those kinds of interactions and pushes to get better and quicker that makes this something that is harder to ignore.

If my old Rubik's Cube sat on the shelf, sneering at my inability to solve it, the GoCube gives reassuring pats on the back that you're heading in the right direction and you can do it.

I'm not quite at the master stage yet, but my understanding of the moves to solve the Rubik's Cube are growing each time I use it.

I'm only a few days away from solving this with no help at all from the software, and that's going to feel as deserving as any achievement 40 years in the making.

If you've got that special someone who loves technology and puzzles, this could be the perfect stocking filler. But, for the price, you're going to want to make doubly sure it's going to be used before buying it.


Newshub was supplied with a GoCube for this review.