The Wowcube is a Rubik’s Cube-like fidget toy on steroids on a less than 24 OLED screen, running a variety of custom games that require you to physically twist taps to move and tilt the cube sections around. We’ve seen it as an ongoing work at CES for over three years and it never fails to turn heads, but in the end, it’s a real product.
Billed as the WooCube Entertainment System, is this really a fun clever tech toy, or would you be better off with an actual Nintendo? let’s find out.
Note that we are reviewing prototype hardware, which is not yet available for purchase. It will be crowdfunding in early April 2022, and while the hardware is mostly finalized, there are some known issues that we’ve been assured have been fixed in the final product. For the sake of transparency, these are.
Out of the box, the Wowcube is a little less wow. This is a shiny black plastic 4×4 Rubik’s Cube. By the time you don’t twist it, 24 tiny OLED screens come to life (yes, twenty-four of them!).
In truth, it’s one of the most unique and innovative pieces of hardware I’ve ever reviewed—but it’s not only visually stunning. The complex mechanics, electronics, and software that go into making it are remarkable achievements in themselves. You would be forgiven for thinking that there is a core computing unit that sends display signals and reads sensor data from each block of the screen.
but it’s not like that. As far as I know, this is the first consumer example of physical distributed computing. Each module is basically a block of plastic to facilitate movement.
Each of the 8 modules is a separate computing unit with a CPU, screen driver, battery, three OLED screens, etc. They communicate with each using a system of ball bearings similar to slip-discs. On a technical level, this is really remarkable.
Basic package includes charging base, USB-C cable, 5V 3A charger and App Store coupon. Our press kit also included a sturdy carry case and optional silicone bumpers. Despite the inclusion of these bumpers, I’ll add that the hardware feels surprisingly sturdy—by which I mean my son hasn’t broken it yet. The plan to sell replacement modules and other parts for easy self-repair is also commendable.
Software and UI
Wowcube takes a while to get used to, which is understandable considering the completely unique user interface that it uses. But the first thing you need to know is that to turn it on, you just twist it. Turning it off is a bit more complicated: You’ll need to triple shake to return to the main menu, rotate and tilt until the power icon is highlighted, then double-tap to power down.
That set of instructions includes all the ways you can interact with the Wowcube: shaking, tilting, rotating the face, and tapping. When I say “tap”, the screens are not touch sensitive; Rather it uses motion sensors to detect physical movements. In our prototype unique, I found the double-tap gesture a bit unresponsive. It takes a habit, but I believe it can be improved in the final product.
From the main menu, you select an app or game by moving the cube around and tilting between faces, then double-tap to load that app.
You should go ahead and download the Wowcube app, which can then connect over Bluetooth to remotely manage your Wowcube. This lets you download new games and apps, change settings, customize screensavers, and more. I haven’t included screenshots because it’s a bit bare at the moment, and there are no additional apps available yet.
To charge the device, you must use the provided 5V 3A charger. Gently pull it aside and then plug it into the charging base.
Gaming on Wowcube
Our prototype consisted of about fifteen games, although more will be available on the Wowcube App Store at launch. Some of them available now are demos of branded titles, while most are variations of the same core concepts.
While you may be familiar with some of those titles, you should know that these are not simply sideloaded versions of existing games.
Each has to be made to be displayed on 24 screens from the beginning, and use only the limited set of interactions offered by Wowcube. While titles like Cut the Rope are thematically obvious, playing on the Vocube requires vastly different game dynamics.
Wowcube will launch its own app store, though exactly how many developers will jump on board is unknown. You won’t be able to sideload existing Android games. In fact, it doesn’t even run Android OS. It’s such a unique bit of hardware that an entirely new OS had to be designed. You can download the SDK and do programming your own software.
Personally, I haven’t found any of the current lineups to be so appealing. Mostly I found them frustrating and stressful.