Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Utilian 421

Entry level vapes offer good performance and price

By Jim Bray
February 25, 2021

Want to try vaping, but don't want to pay through the nose for something you may end up not enjoying?

Well, friends, the folks at TVape  (short for Toronto Vaporizer, which causes my Albertan flesh to crawl, but which is actually a pretty darn robust site for those interested in imbibing cannabis without the smoke and other assorted bad things connected with burning it) have a couple of suggestions for trying vaping without breaking the bank.

They offered me two models for review and, since I'm an idiot when it comes to stuff like this, I once again trotted out (well, virtually exhumed) the panel of friends and acquaintances I've used in a series of other columns looking at vaping and the innumerable ways of doing it.

Alas, one of our chief panellists passed on during the past year. Vern was a victim of not having acquired Covid – dying of just about every other condition and affliction one can imagine, while everyone around him was running around and waving their arms in panic. Still, that leaves a few others who are always up for trying an interesting new vape and they rose to the occasion as usual.

The two vapes are the $97.79 CAD Utillian 421 and the LITL1, which their site lists for $39.99 USD. Both offer good vaping experiences, though one rose to the top of the comparison easily and for a few specific reasons.

Let's look at the larger of the two, first.

Click the image to open a slideshow.

The Utillian 421 is pretty well everything the LITL1 claims to be, but it's bigger, holds more, and has better battery life. It's twice the price of the LITL1, but a hundred dollar vape is pretty cheap these days, especially one that works as well as the 421.

How well does it work? Well, over the years the panel has met, its denizens decided that the best all-round vape machine tested (there are hundreds of others they haven't tried), for vape quality, portability, durability, etc., is the Arizer Solo II. This is on sale currently at TVape for $169.99 USD, so that makes it more than twice the price of the Utillian.

For that price difference the Solo II had better offer a lot of goodness, and it does.

But the 421 gives you most of that goodness, in a smaller package that costs less – and which recharges via USB (unlike the Arizer). One of the big advantages of the Solo II is that it comes with multiple glass tubes, so you can pre-load them for that big night out. The Utillian only comes with one mouthpiece, so you'll want to take a stash with you. And you'll need a little scoop or something to get the ground bud into the chamber, the opposite of the Solo II (you fill the open end of its mouthpiece tube, not the chamber itself).

That said, the 421 can hold more ground goodness at one time than the Solo (and lots more than the LITL1), and the greedy panellists regularly got four sessions out of one "bowl" with the 421. That compares with two sessions on average with the Solo II. These measurements are unscientific, so your "mileage" may differ.

The 421 is beautifully small, small enough to fit easily into a pocket. This makes it more portable than the Solo II (though Arizer does make smaller "Air" and "ARGO" units that are more portable but not quite as good.

The Utillian looks like a little flask and fits into the hand beautifully as well. It's curved to fit comfortably in the palm and, like the LITL1, features one button operation. Just press it five times quickly and you're off to the races.

It also offers reasonable battery life, a digital display small enough to require these old eyes to put on their reading glasses (but which works well otherwise), and it has airflow control on the bottom (so you can allow more or less air through the device) and comes not only with a USB charger but with some little screens and a packing tool.

The six temperature presets are 180°C, 190°C, 200°C, 210°C, 220°C, 230°C; it defaults to 200 out of the box and that worked just fine, so the panellists decided to leave it there (after a couple of experiments, of course).

There's also a little mouthpiece heat shield in the box, though none of our guys thought it really necessary because, while the unit does get warm, it hasn't been bothersome.


Tiny and very nearly very nice…

Then there's the LITL1 or, as seems obvious, the "little one." TVape's site describes it as "a very simple and straight forward budget vaporizer that offers users one temperature setting, 45-second heat up time, 850mah battery, ceramic chamber, a glass mouthpiece, haptic feedback and airflow control. It is perfect for those interested in an inexpensive way to try vaporizers for the first time."

Yeah, it is, except for one very big caveat: it's very fragile. More about that below.

The Little One (which comes with a USB charging cable) is one of the smallest vapes the panellists have seen and/or tried, and it works pretty much as advertised. It's tiny enough to fit in one hand easily, though also tiny enough that it could get lost in a large purse or other kind of bag. Still, that isn't the "Little One's" fault.

You can control the airflow via a little sliding tab on the bottom; the panellists (always looking for instant gratification) preferred it left as open as it can be, which allows the most air to pass through the chamber and, therefore, the most vape to be inhaled at once.

Remember, these are guys – despite some having medical cannabis prescriptions – who cut their cannabis teeth decades ago, back when they were either rebelling teens or wannabe hippies (not to stereotype…), so they want bang for the buzz. And the LITL1 provides it.

Using it is easy, though the single power button is a tad finicky in that you have to press it well and quickly (five times) for it to deign to work. Not a big deal; even the biggest klutz in the group got onto it quickly.

You can tell you've fired it up properly thanks to its haptic feedback. It vibrates when you turn it on, it vibrates again when it reaches its temperature (215 degrees Celsius) – and it vibrates a third time when it shuts off.

Vapour quality is just fine, as is the unit's performance. Where it falls down is in usability, because its small size limits the battery size as well as the amount of stuff you can spoon in at one time.

Not a big deal if you're staying home, but if you're going out to be with friends, you might want to bring a reservoir of stash and the USB cable so you can keep filling it with juice and, well, "fuel" as long as you need.

The big drawback is that the darn thing, which seems to be built quite robustly for the most part, breaks! Not the unit as a whole, but the little glass tube through which you draw. It's quite fragile and you have to be very careful lest you snap it off when you're removing it from over the "lack of combustion chamber."

In fact, within 24 hours of it having arrived that's exactly what happened – the first attempt at using it!

Credit the oafs I hang with, I guess, because these macho folks pulled vape with gusto then pulled the tube with gusto and it came away in one panellist's hand. And that left the LITL1 useless because there was no way a clumsy oaf could pry the rest of it off the top to get at the chamber.

The folks at TVape were really good about it, though, and within a few days (not counting some fencing competition with Canada Post), a replacement arrived.

We tried to be a lot more careful with this one and actually got through about a week or so of use. But then – crack (no "other drug" pun intended), off it came again in exactly the same way.

So, if you tend to be a bull in a china shop, this might not be your vape. Fortunately, the LITL1 comes with a 90 day "TVAPE hassle-free warranty program". According to the website, "if anything should happen to your LITL 1 within the first 90 days of ownership feel free to reach out to our customer service team."

My contact at TVape was quite surprised and upset to hear about the two breakages, and told me their engineering department is doing an investigation to see if there's a real issue or if my panel of partakers is just made up of knuckle-dragging neanderthals (well, we are Albertans, after all…) who don't know their own strength. Okay, I'm paraphrasing here…

I sampled a selection of the LITL1 reviews on their site and no one else brought up this issue in the reviews I read. Hmm.


Cleanup on Aisle three…

Both the Utillian 421 and the LITL1 require regular maintenance, but it isn't difficult. The mouthpieces get clogged with residue, but you can take 'em off, take 'em apart, and toss 'em into a bath of rubbing alcohol. This is the same way the Arizer glass tubes are cleaned and it's easy – you just have to plan for a time when you aren't planning to use the vapourizer.  

You'll need to keep the interior of the chamber clean as well, which you can do with a Q-tip and some rubbing alcohol.

Both the LITL1 and the Utillian 421 work well and offer very good vape. It's a shame the LITL1 broke, because otherwise it's a darn nice little one. Yeah, "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…"

TVape also sent a couple of accessories for the gang to try. One was the Zeus Bolt XL, a nice and robust grinder. It's also pretty dear, listing on the site at $39.99 CAD, but it is built very well and works as it should.  

The Bolt XL is said to be made from Aircraft Grade Anodized Aluminum, and features "diamond cut teeth to provide superior shredding power. It is calibrated to grind up your herbs to the perfect consistency for vaporization."

It's easy to hold and to use and also comes with a little scoop you can use once the grind is completed.

And here I thought I retired to get away from the daily grind!

The other accessory was also from Zeus: the Iceborn. This is a little doohickey that reminded panellists of old-fashioned water pipes, bongs, etc., but it's designed to work with plenty of today's vapourizers, a list of which is on the website.

The Iceborn ($39.95 CAD), now in version two, is kind of like an old-fashioned carburetor as well, according to the gang who tried it. And by that they mean it's meant to cool and smooth the vape coming from the "non-combustion" chamber to make for a more pleasant session.

It's easy to set up. First, you fill its internal reservoir with water and then toss it in the freezer overnight. Then, you attach the included plastic tubes, one going to the output of the vapourizer and the other going to the mouth of the user. Then you fire up the vapourizer and Robert is your Parent's Male Sibling.

In real world use, the panellists thought it worked just fine, cooling and smoothing the vape output from both the Utillian 421 and a Solo II that one of them just happened to have hanging around.

Those pesky panellists weren't particularly impressed, though. Oh, it works fine, but it's finicky to set up and use (connecting the tube to the glass mouthpieces in particular) and is easiest to live with if you aren't going anywhere (it would be a pain to travel with it). The bottom line is that the panellists just wanted to cut to the chase and get medicated, so the Iceborn would not be close to the top of their lists of accessories.

On the other hand, a customer review on TVape's website gives insight as to at least one type of user for whom the Iceborn is an ice-boon (edited for spelling, etc.):

"As an asthmatic who finds vaping can briefly initially irritate and then open my lungs, the IceBorn saves the day. This 2nd version is an improvement to simplify cleaning, with the reduced parts. Cools vape from my Utillian 721 so that I can enjoy more pulls for better gains and with less irritation by far."

So, there's that.

Obviously, my bud-dies were all in for the Utillian 421 and it won this comparison hands down. They loved the LITL1 as well, or wanted to, anyway. Thank goodness for warranties!

And while they appreciated the concept of the Zeus Iceborn, they were in too much of a hurry to get vaping to get bogged down by actually setting up and using one – though they also gave it high (no pun intended) marks as something to be used at events such as a Stuporbowl party.

Something for everyone! Isn't the free market great?

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray


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