Review: UWELL Crown 4 Checkmate Kit

Today we’re reviewing a vape mod and tank – the UWELL Crown 4 Checkmate system. To say I was in dire need of an upgrade to my vape setup was an understatement so while in San Antonio visiting my beloved neuro-sister Laina I went ahead and bought a new setup recommended to me by the attendant on duty at the previously reviewed Valkyrie Vapor Shop.

So what’s included in the starter kit? Everything you need except for juice, batteries and a charger. The kit includes the mod itself, 5 mL Crown 4 tank pre-loaded with a 0.4 ohm kanthal dual vertical coil, spare gaskets, drip tip cover, optional 6 mL “bubble” glass and a 0.2 ohm kanthal dual vertical coil, 3′ Micro USB charging cable and user manual.

Concerning the mod itself, the power range is from 5-200 watts in power mode (limited by max voltage, obviously) and 200-600 degrees F (or 100-315 degrees C) in temperature control mode. The output voltage ranges from 0.7 to 8 volts and reads coils ranging in resistance from 0.1-3 ohms in power mode and 0.1-1 ohm in temperature control mode. While it is possible to use the unit as a passthrough (i.e. vape while charging), the manufacturer does not recommend this practice. I am unsure if this device has smart charging/overcharge protection (it is not listed in the manual) so until I hear otherwise I would not recommend overnight charging, etc. Of course, you can buy extra batteries and an external charger if you wish, but always remember batteries stay together as a set and never mix batteries.

The mod will accept two high-drain 18650 rechargeable batteries with a 3000 mAh capacity for a very high battery capacity. The battery cover is held on by a magnetic enclosure, as seen here:

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Charging with the Micro USB cable from a 5V/2A wall charger unit is fairly fast – approximately 2 hours from about 30% to a full charge. As with all rechargeable batteries it is not recommended to discharge them fully prior to recharging and also don’t overcharge. One other word to the wise – do not, and I repeat, DO NOT use an iPhone wall plug to charge the device. Those are only rated for 1 amp. Not only will charging take longer but you’ll over-stress the iPhone charger, leading it to get very hot and risk a fire.

So that’s all the technical stuff, now let’s discuss aesthetics. The fit and finish are top-notch. This system is available in a variety of colors to suit your own personal decor. The silver version was what the shop had in stock when I bought it, which is visually striking and high contrast:

57533070151__4b50d754-ac06-4a53-9666-3d6d0e62c9f7The filigree is visually interesting, clean and well-executed. The 5 mL glass has a streamlined appearance with the metal base and cap, which I prefer over the 6 mL glass which has the appearance of a “bubble.” I prefer the streamlined look of the 5 mL, though if you vape a lot it might be worth sacrificing some aesthetics for higher capacity (or, if you just like the look of the bubble glass; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all). EDIT 4/8/19: Since I’ve found I need the extra capacity I’ve switched the glass out for the 6 mL bubble, sacrificing aesthetics slightly (to my eye):

The base of the unit is fitted with rubber “feet” as to not damage any delicate surface you might set it down on:

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As far as accessing the built-in functions of the system, it’s very simple. The unit is 5 clicks on/off of the power button within two seconds. The +/- buttons on the bottom can be used to adjust your wattage (power mode) or temperature (TC mode). The system has various protections built in, from overheat protection, short-circuit protection, low battery protection, reverse polarity protection and you can lock certain functions or all functions with the prescribed combination of button inputs as well as switch between power and TC mode. Also, the mod will cut off after 10 seconds of holding the fire button down.

The tank is a top-filling tank so you can get it really full as opposed to a bottom-filling tank. To fill the tank simply turn the cap 90 degrees counterclockwise, remove fill and replace. Replacing the coil is just as easy and is accomplished by removing the base and simply pulling the coil out and pressing a new one in. Of course, always remember to prime the wick prior to installation and even then let is soak for a few minutes prior to vaping. Whereas the tank has a delineated “minimum” line, I wouldn’t recommend taking it down this far. Always keep the juice at or above the top of the wick hole for maximum saturation to avoid dry hits.

Now, onto the part you’ve all been waiting for: actually using the device. The device has a nice heft and weight in the hand without being too heavy – it definitely feels solidly built.  The side-mounted fire button can easily be actuated and accessed no matter how you choose to hold the device. This is going to sound very Texan of me, but for me it feels most natural to hold the device as one would hold a handgun or pistol and fire the unit with my “trigger finger” (I told you that would sound Texan!).

The device easily produces thick, rich, flavorful clouds of vapor. I have only used the dual vertical coils personally (as I prefer kanthal coils for safety reasons), so I cannot comment on the mesh coils or any other temperature control coil. The manufacturer specs 60-70 watts for the 0.4 ohm coil using full airflow, however I found this to be too hot for my personal taste (note that temperature is subjective). I found I liked this coil at 50 watts instead, with fully open airflow:

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The 0.2 ohm vertical coil is speced for 70-80 watts, however again, I found that to be too hot for my taste. I settled on 60 watts for this coil as it yielded a cool, smooth vapor, again with a fully open airflow:

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I did get a bit more intense flavor and cloud from the 0.2 ohm coil, hence I’ll settle on it. Again, I’ve not tried the other coils for reasons mentioned above.

While it doesn’t do much to talk about battery life and coil lifespan as those vary so much from person to person depending on power setting, how much you vape, type of juice, etc. – for me I got a solid 2 days of vaping on a single charge and a coil lasts me about 10 days using an 80/20 VG/PG juice that’s actually pretty dark in color. I’m not a very heavy vaper though (maybe 1 tank/day) so use that to gauge what your own expectancy should be.

Maintenance and cleaning are very simple – just wipe down with a dry cloth every so often and dab up any excess juice in the drip tip with a paper towel. Due to the design of the tank and coil, this tank does not leak, which is a real plus especially for someone coming from bottom-fill tanks where the coil directly touches the heating element on the mod.

So, with all that, can I find any real drawbacks in the system? Maybe a couple of minor ones. First is what I assume to be the lack of overcharge protection (man it’d be nice to be able to charge overnight!). Second you can only adjust power, etc. in whole number increments. Usually this is precise enough, but some might like something in between there. Other than that I don’t know as though I can find fault with the system, unless I were to get really technical as some reviewers can.

And that’s about it! The bottom line this is an excellent mod and tank system either for someone just getting into sub-ohm vaping or an experienced vaper. I’m very well pleased with it and I think you will be too. Thanks to Josh at Valkyrie for recommending this system to me! I’d easily rate it a 4.75/5 – it vapes great and just plain looks cool.

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Cigar Review: Pier 28 Habano

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This offering features an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and  Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 6″ x 46RG Corona Gorda vitola.

First light reveals a perfect draw and putting off ample medium/full body smoke. Flavors of a very dry hay/grass followed up by a bitter pepper and bright cedar on the retrohale (man I hope it gets better; not my preferred flavor profile!).

Settling into the first third we get many of the classic Rosado shade Habano flavors – unsweetened cream, leather and nuts still with a background tinge of the hay. The bitterness has worn off while the cedar and pepper remain.

We see a very welcome transition in the 2nd third as the hay wears off and a bright dried pineapple note joins the other flavors. The hay rears is ugly head again in the back so I ended it prematurely at 55 minutes which is still not a bad time for a small ring gauge. Subtle nicotine strength.

On the plus side, this cigar was well-constructed with a very straight burn. Short ash, but that’s to be expected with a small ring gauge. High quality self-adhesive band that was easy to remove.

If you like the above flavor profile this is definitely one to check out, but for me personally this one missed the mark. I imagine some would enjoy it though. If you like that sort of dry, vegetal flavor profile definitely check this one out though. Rating: 3/5.

Review: Valkyrie Vapor Shop (San Antonio, TX)

Very rarely is a place I visit on vacation so epically awesome that it deserves its own review, but I feel this place is because it might very well be the best vape shop I’ve ever been to.

So Laina was running low on her vape juice and we had nothing better to do so we decided to venture over to the shop she gets her juice and equipment from. I was game; I’ve been vaping on and off over the years too (it’s the next best thing to my premium cigars after all!). She got some juice and we just chilled and chatted for awhile while Josh (the person on duty) mixed up her juice and went from there.

I figured I hadn’t gotten juice in awhile so I figured I’d get some. Josh was very personable and helpful (and just plain fun to BS with!), immediately recommending a flavor upon learning what flavors I like in vape juice (chocolate and mint flavors) – their “Polar Express” flavor which is supposed to be like a York peppermint patty. I tried one pull of the sample tank and I was sold – it was absolutely delicious. I had him mix up two bottles for me to take on the road on the spot, opting for a 1mg nicotine concentration in their standard blend of 80/20 VG/PG:

Yes, you read that right – 1mg. Here’s what sets them apart from everywhere else I’ve been – their nicotine strengths can be had in increments of 1mg/mL. Standard is increments of 3 and that’s just too much in my opinion. Many people might in fact be in between levels ideally but have to either settle for a step higher or lower depending on the user’s wants/needs (or mix two levels together). This is not ideal. It’s best to get the right level right off of the bat. As someone who never smoked cigarettes but does enjoy a little bit of the brain boost from the nicotine (note that cigars don’t really have much nicotine at all), 1mg/mL is perfect for me. I’ve tried 3mg in the past but it’s always been too much for me, so I’ve been stuck with 0mg (boo!).

So that’s all fine and good, but how is the flavor and vapor production (after all that’s what ultimately matters right)? The VG-heavy blend has just enough PG to carry the flavor but not too much to make the hit harsh. Even taking big direct lung inhales from a high-powered sub-ohm mod the vapor goes down smooth and cool without irritation or sting. Of course, as with all mainly VG juices, this stuff produces thick, rich clouds of vapor. The nicotine used is high quality and (at least at the lower concentration) had no effect on the flavor from the taster. Some lower-quality nicotine sources can impart a very peppery flavor to the juice and totally ruin the taste.

Josh was also helpful in aiding me in choosing a new mod as mine prior was older than shit and I was in need of an upgrade. After some exploration, I settled on the UWell Crown IV Checkmate system (again, review to come soon):

Anyway, if you’re in the San Antonio or surrounding area, definitely hit these guys up for your vape needs. Josh was awesome and Laina assures me Mike (the owner) is equally awesome. The juice is very high quality as are the mods, tanks, etc. they stock (they have a very rigorous quality control standard they put their stuff through before they stock it – another commitment to quality). Even though I’m not local to San Antonio (yet!), I will continue to get juice from them with the help of Laina. 😉

Anyway, this place is enthusiastically recommended. You just won’t go wrong when you get your juice and supplies from them.

Cigar Review: Mr. Brownstone

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This offering from Esteban Cabrerras features a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper over Ecuadorian Habano binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 6″ x 52RG Toro vitola.

First light reveals a slightly snug draw but producing ample smoke. Medium bodied flavors of a light earth, maple syrup and oak with a peppery/spicy finish.

Getting into the first third the body seems to waver between medium and medium/full. We see the same great flavor profile as the first light but with an added dimension of a milk chocolate toward the start of the draw and the sweetness coming up a tick. The smoke has a thick, chewy quality on the palate and is very smooth. The flavors are well blended with no one flavor dominating.

Getting into the 2nd third we see a subtle shift as the earthiness takes on more of a very distinct leather note as it takes on a rich creaminess. Everything else remains and the draw opens up to even what I would consider slightly loose by this point. The final third doesn’t see any additional changes and keeps the flavor profile consistent, with the exception of the body now being solidly into the medium/full category. Ending at 1 hour and 15 minutes for a solid burn time for a Toro vitola and entering only a subtle nictone strength.

Excellent construction with a near razor-sharp burn, but the paper band was a real pain to get off – I had to grab it under the foot to tear it off (sacrificing a tiny flake of wrapper leaf). Ash holds on about an inch at a time.

This was a solid offering all around. It would have been a 4.5/5 if not for that stupid paper wrapping (which adds nothing to the cigar and is pure marketing BS), but the issues therein cost the cigar a half point in my final ratings so it came out to 4/5. It is a highly recommended cigar that would go great any time of day and whatever you want to pair it with.

Cigar Review: Sindustry Black Works Studio SE2019 Lancero

This offering from Black Label Trading company features a Mexican San Andreas wrapper over Nicaraguan Habano binder and Nicaraguan long fillers in a 7″ x 38RG Lancero format.

Slightly snug draw but producing ample smoke. Medium/full body. Lots of flavors out of the gate. Toffee, cinnamon, black pepper. A touch of raisin. A heavy oak lingering on the finish. Lots of nasal burn on the retrohale.

Getting into the first third is more of the same. Draw opens up to normal at this point. No one flavor stands out – they are blended perfectly. Very complex but there’s a slight grit to the texture.

We see a significant transition in the 2nd third as the oakiness morphs more toward a smoky, meaty quality. The pepper also takes on more of a cayenne note. It’s very substantial and the finish lingers forever. The raisin notes also morph into a distinct yeasty bread. It’s almost like a totally different cigar now.

The last third was very zesty, spicy and slightly acidic. There’s also a metallic quality. Very interesting to say the least. Ending at 55 minutes for a reasonable burn time for a Lancero and entering a medium nicotine strength.

Absolutely flawless construction with a near razor sharp burn all the way down. Ash drops off quickly but that’s to be expected with a Lancero.

This was quite a complex stick. Very spicy too. Too bad Lanceros burn fast because I’d have loved more. This is a Privada Cigar Club exclusive so if you want in on this be sure to sign up! Rating: 4.75/5.

Side note: this is my 600th post. Kind of hard to believe.

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Cedrus

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I’ve become a big fan of the Southern Draw line recently. Every one I’ve had to date has been a real winner, so when this one came in my March Privada box I was very excited to see another one of their offerings. The Cedrus features an Indonesian Sumatra wrapper over a Nicaraguan Habano 2000 binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 5.5″ x 52RG Belicoso vitola.

The first light revealed a perfect draw producing plentiful medium/full bodied smoke. Notes of cedar, leather and pepper. Tiny bit of sweetness and a tinge of hot cinnamon clears the sinuses on the retrohale.

Getting into the first third we see more of the same. Pepper dials down just a little bit and a salted roasted nut note enters the mix. There’s also maybe a fleeting hint of cocoa on the tip of the tongue. Everything is bold and complex but well blended.

Into the 2nd third we see an interesting transition. The cinnamon drops off and is replaced by a zingy lemon zest. The leather also takes on more of a yeasty bread note along with a hint of banana  -think like a Belgian beer or banana bread type flavor. Still the same subtle sweetness to round it out.

The final third sees another fairly major transition. The nutty notes take on a very distinct toasted pecan note that takes over the palate. Sweetness drops off while the leather returns with a slight vegetal undertone. Ending at 55 minutes for a solid burn time from a robusto sized stick and bringing in a medium nicotine strength.

Flawless construction with a near razor sharp burn. Ash held on right to the first band. High quality self adhesive bands that come off easily and do not damage the wrapper.

Yet another solid offering from Southern Draw. Lots of complexity, richness and very transitional. I paired this with some of my Chila spiked coffee and it was a beautiful pairing. Ra.ting: 4.5/5.

Cigar Review: PCC Room 101

This offering is available exclusively from the Privada Cigar Club. You can read the description here (middle column):

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plentiful medium/full body smoke. Flavors of nuts, earth and leather are the prominent notes. There’s a bit of a pepper on the nose and lingering on the finish.

The flavors are much the same into the first third but we also see a semi-sweet dark chocolate enter the draw. I’m also detecting a faint vanilla extract on the tip of the tongue. Everything is exceptionally smooth and well blended together. Smoke is very thick and chewy on the palate.

Into the 2nd third the same smooth, rich flavors remain but are joined by a fleeting hint of pineapple and the pepper dialing down a bit. The final third sees another slight shift as the pepper morphs into an aromatic rose petal which is very prominent on the retrohale. I now also get more of the citrus notes described also. Ending at 1 hour flat for a solid burn time for a corona size and entering just a subtle mild/medium nicotine strength.

Absolutely flawless construction featuring a near razor sharp burn for most of it. I did have to give it a large touch up about halfway but likely due to the weather conditions. Ash holds on about a third at a time. Poor quality paper band with lots of glue though. It shredded when removing it but did not damage the wrapper.

All in all this was a beautifully crafted cigar. Smooth, rich and complex flavors. Blender Matt Booth and Brian Desind of PCC did a spectacular job with this one. Rating: 4.5/5.