Vaping is changing.
For a long time, e-cigarettes just kept getting bigger and bigger. We went from cigalikes to vape pens, from vape pens to tube mods, from tube mods to box mods, and since then the box mods have been packing more and more batteries into their bodies.
There are many reasons for this. With a bigger device, you can vape for longer without needing to charge and put out bigger clouds, both of which are big plus-points for most vapers these days. You can pair this sort of setup with a high-VG, low nicotine e-juice and still be satisfied when it comes to throat hit and getting the nicotine you’re looking for.
But pod systems turn this all on its head. Managing to be portable, simple and satisfying, in some ways they’re the modern equivalent to cigalikes, but they have the potential to be much more than that.
What Are Pod Systems?
As the name suggests, pod systems are e-cigarettes that make use of a “pod” as opposed to a traditional tank or atomizer. They ultimately do the same job: they hold the e-liquid and vaporize it to deliver vapour to you through the mouthpiece. They often have a smaller capacity than most tanks, at between 1 and 2 ml, although some pods are bigger. The pods simply push into place in the top of the device and pull out when you’ve emptied them or want to switch flavours.
The rest of the device is similar to any other e-cigarette. The batteries are fairly small in comparison to mods, usually having capacities of around 300 mAh, but they can be bigger than this in some cases. The “capacity” of a battery basically tells you how long it will last between charges. This means they have less battery than most vape pens (which tend to be around 650 mAh) but more than many cigalikes (which tend to be around 200 mAh).
There is some variation between different pod systems. The JUUL from Pax Vapor is really the archetypal pod system, with a rectangular, USB-stick-like appearance, but other options like the Aspire Gusto Mini look more like little box mods, and others like Suorin Drop look more like pebbles. In most cases, they have “automatic” operation – so you just inhale from the tip to vape in the same way you would to smoke a cigarette – but some have “manual” buttons like vape pens and mods.
Traditionally, pod systems have been super simple devices. But 2019 has started to see more advanced devices which combine some of the power and functionality of mod systems with the ease of use and compactness of a pod system.
Open vs. Closed Pods
The pods themselves that give the devices their name can either be “open” or “closed.” A closed pod works like a cartomizer for a cigalike device: it comes loaded with e-liquid and it isn’t refillable, so you just throw it away when it’s done. Like disposable cartomizers, these have the benefit of being easier to use and the downside that your choice when it comes to flavour is limited.
An “open” pod is refillable, similar to an ordinary tank, so you can put whatever e-liquid in it you like. This adds a lot of flexibility to pod systems, but it’s worth noting that they still can’t really cope with higher-VG e-juices. It’s best to use higher-PG blends (50/50 blends such as Halo work well) that have fairly high nicotine levels. You can still get a good vape with lower-nicotine juices, but there is less vapour produced from pod systems so more nicotine is a better approach.
Should You Use Nicotine Salt E-Liquids in Pod Systems?
The JUUL made a mark because of its unique design, but the high-strength e-liquid it uses raised a few eyebrows too. The e-liquid uses nicotine salt instead of the usual “freebase” nicotine that’s used in most e-liquids. The JUUL uses 59 mg/ml strength e-liquid, which is incredibly high in comparison to ordinary e-juice, which is more like 12 mg/ml.
So how can the nicotine levels get so high? Doesn’t that make the JUUL and other similar devices really harsh to vape?
The answer lies in the nicotine salts used, and what they’re combined with to produce a functional e-liquid. The salt form of nicotine is how it’s found in the tobacco leaf, but your body only absorbs freebase nicotine. However, freebase nicotine also lowers the pH of the e-liquid, which in turn produces the throat hit. This is why high-nicotine e-liquids tend to have a harsher throat hit.
By adding an acidic element to the mix, nicotine salt e-liquids both keep the pH of the juice from getting too high and allow the nicotine to be converted to freebase form when you vape. There is a little bit more to it than this – explained in this post – but the short version is that nicotine salt e-liquid gets you more nicotine without becoming too harsh to vape.
Since pod systems produce less vapour and are generally less hard-hitting than mods, nicotine salts and pod systems are well-suited to each other. You can still get a satisfying vape with higher-nicotine e-liquids that don’t use nicotine salts – and with the EU limits on e-juice strength, there is an extra benefit there – but they undoubtedly make pod systems more satisfying to use.
Benefits of Pod Systems
So why might you want to try a pod system e-cigarette? What are the benefits of pod systems in comparison to traditional types of vaping device? These are a few of the most important points:
- Compact. Pod systems are much more compact than most modern vaping devices, which make them a great choice if you’re going to be vaping out of the house a lot. There is some variation in the size of pod systems, but even the bigger ones are more compact than most mods on the market. The pen-like ones are closer in size to a cigalike.
- Easy to use. The “pod” design makes pod system e-cigarettes really easy to use. The pods simply pop in and out of the battery section, and many of them work just like a cigarette – all you need to do is inhale to vape. The most complicated thing you’ll have to do on some devices is refill the pod, but this is really easy too.
- Affordable. The cost of pod system e-cigarettes does vary, but on the whole they’re pretty affordable. They’re cheaper than most of the mods on the market, although in many cases a similar price to vape pens.
- Satisfying. Despite their size being more in line with cigalikes, pod systems are generally much more satisfying to vape. This is especially true if you’re using higher-strength e-liquids or very high strength nicotine salt options. With a high-strength e-liquid, you’ll find them as satisfying as most mods.
- Discreet. Clouds aren’t for everybody and they aren’t for every situation. Sometimes you want something more discreet to vape, and pod systems are perfect for those times. Even if you use mods at home, getting a pod system for vaping out of the house has definite benefits.
Downsides of Pod Systems
Pod systems aren’t right for everyone, though. Depending on what you’re looking for from your vaping experience, there are a few things about pod systems that might not make them perfectly suited to your needs. Here are a few points to think about:
- Small batteries. The small batteries make pod systems compact, but there is a downside if you want something you can vape with for a long time. Some pod systems do have higher-capacity batteries, but in most cases they are quite small. If you’re using a lower-strength e-juice, you’ll probably run out of battery quite quickly.
- Higher nicotine level e-juices. Pod systems work better with higher-nicotine e-liquid. This wouldn’t be a big downside if it wasn’t for the TPD’s restriction on nicotine levels, which means the only way you can get high-strength nicotine salt e-liquid is by importing it from outside Europe.
- High-VG e-liquid doesn’t work. Many e-liquids on the market today have fairly high quantities of VG, and these don’t perform particularly well with pod system devices. This is fairly easy to avoid, but it’s a limitation of pod systems regardless.
- Not great for clouds. If you’re a cloud-chaser, pod systems probably aren’t for you. The vapour production is still good, overall, but there’s a big difference between a compact pen-like pod system and a huge, hulking 200 W box mod.
- Closed systems offer limited flavour options. If you’re using a closed pod system device, you’re stuck with the flavours on offer from the manufacturer. This isn’t always a big issue, especially when high-quality e-liquids – like those from Element, for instance – are included as standard, but with some devices it can be quite limiting.
Recommended Pod Systems
Most people automatically think of the JUUL when it comes to closed pod systems, but it’s worth remembering that JUUL in the UK is not the same as JUUL in the US. That’s because of nicotine limits – the US JUUL uses a much higher nicotine strength than is allowed in the UK.
As of November 2019, our favourite closed pod system is the Hexa 2 vape. Our first inkling of how good it might be came when we found our product manager, who is usually a die hard cloud vaper, using it constantly. The combination of the e-liquid – which combines freebase and nicotine salts – with FeelM technology produces a really good hit which is close to that of a cigarette.
I’d also recommend the Uwell Caliburn. Light weight, and with another power to give most vapers a full day of usage without charging, it’s gained a reputation in the USA for being the best pod system for flavours.
Smok fan? You’ll find there’s plenty of choice if you wish to stick with the brand. The Smok Infinix offers the classic pod design with a 450mAh battery and can be used with any e-liquid, while the Smok Mico is a truly tiny, square shaped pod system which fits neatly into the palm of your hand.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a device which is a little bit more advanced, gives you more control over your vaping and can produce decent clouds of vapour, check out the Smok RPM40, or check out current and upcoming Smok Pod systems here.
Update: 2020 Pod Systems
Since we first wrote this post pod systems have continued to flood in, and two of our favourites come from premium vape manufacturer Vaporesso.
The PodStick, when used with the included 1.3Ω ceramic pod, offers a superb mouth-to-lung vape which proved a huge hit with ECD staff who still miss smoking. This is a simple and easy to use device suitable for new vapers. Slightly more advanced, and with a more open-draw, the Vaporesso Degree comes with variable wattage and can deliver up to 30 watts of power.
Are Pod Systems Right for You?
The big question is whether pod systems are the right choice for you. This post has gone through the basics of what pod system vapes are and how they work, as well as some pros and cons, so you should have a good idea of whether they might suit you by now. The short version is that if you’re happy with something discreet rather than a huge cloud-chucking option, and a compact device is a benefit to you, it’s well worth considering a pod system. They’re just as satisfying as bigger devices when paired with the right juice and are really well-suited to just-switching smokers or anybody looking for something simple and portable.
They aren’t going to eclipse the popularity of box mods, but pod systems fill a niche that many vapers and smokers have been waiting to be filled for some time.