Review: Rubik's Connected is a smart cube for nostalgia lovers
For those who want to prove themselves to be the fastest at solving a Rubik's Cube, or even just for those wanting to learn or be told how to get their cube in order, it's hard to look elsewhere than the Rubik's Connected.
The Rubik's Cube is a massively well-known puzzling tactile toy, one that has been enjoyed since it arrived on the market in 1977. The difficulty and problem-solving prowess needed to unscramble the cube has even led it to become television shorthand for a character being highly intelligent or geeky.
The fascination with it evolved in multiple ways, including apps for solving cubes, speedcubing competitions, and even computer science engineers creating robots that can solve the cube within seconds.
As well as the need for speed, there's also a calling by interested owners to learn how to solve the cube in the first place. Many guides exist explaining algorithms, detailing patterns in how you twist the sides to move blocks in specific ways.
The Rubik's Connected attempts to service both the educational and competitive sides of the toy's ecosystem, by offering Bluetooth and app connectivity.
What is the Rubik's Connected?
For this iteration of the plaything, the Rubik's Connected is effectively a speed cube that uses the Rubik's Cube's traditional styling, namely colorful stickers on black plastic. Unlike third-party versions, the official Rubik's edition is unmistakably an official Rubik's Cube, though with some tweaks.
The most important bit is the Connected element of the name, as it connects using Bluetooth 5.0 to your iPhone or iPad. When paired up, the app is able to determine the position of each of the pieces of the cube, and mirror those details on the iPhone's screen.
As you rotate the cube's sides, the app's version of the cube updates to match. By being connected to the app, this provides a number of benefits and opportunities, including education on how to solve it, precisely timing how long it takes to solve, and even overtly telling users what moves to make to solve the cube from its current state.
The concept is extremely similar to that of the GoCube, an app-connected Rubik's Cube AppleInsider reviewed in 2019, and for good reason. The Rubik's Connected uses the same platform as the GoCube as its base, but in an official Rubik's product.
This does mean there's a lot of crossover between the two products, but there are still some differences to consider.
Similar to the original
The Connected version has the same 2.25-inch width, depth, and height as a standard Rubik's Cube, as well as the physical styling. The stickers on each side are the same shades you would expect for a product in the Rubik's range, though tweaks were made to the design to take into account its potential high-level usage.
Rather than a grid of nine squares, the middle row, column, and the center of each side have rounded internal edges to make it easier to perform a second twist after the first. For speedcubers, this is useful as it reduces the amount of precision needed to line up the sides before the cube will allow a twist in another direction.
It also uses a speed-cubing construction, with its internal mechanisms being extremely smooth to use, even compared to a new off-the-shelf original. This may even make the Connected version of the cube a go-to for offline play without an app.
Another tell-tale difference that this isn't your standard cube is the yellow side, with the yellow center square used as a mounting point for a clip-on charger. Naturally, there's a battery inside to power the electronics, but the unit is still extremely light at just under four ounces.
Connecting it to the companion app is quite simple. So long as you have Bluetooth enabled, you just open the app and it will detect a cube within range, leaving you to select your particular cube from the list. You can rename your cube, which could be handy for pairing in competitions and events where multiple units are being used, but for home users, it's not a necessity.
Once you are in the app, you end up presented with options to use the cube in quite a few ways. Initially, this includes the quick timer, which counts how long it takes for you to completely solve a pre-shuffled cube, as well as the number of twists you needed to make.
The home screen also provides a Solver, which gives you detailed instructions to complete a cube from its currently-shuffled state, provided in a standard notation. Algorithms, patterns of twists to perform changes to a cube's order, use letters to describe which side to turn and in which direction.
This notation is taught via the Learn section, which walks users through the different algorithms you should know to solve a cube via a series of videos. Each step contains new algorithms and considerations, with the app checking you are twisting the cube correctly as you progress through each one.
After going through the lessons, a practice will show users the next goal step they need to reach in their solution. It also provides tips and video recaps of techniques needed for what the player needs to accomplish in the current solve phase.
While you could learn this information using video tutorials or reading a guide, it feels better to be told when you are doing something wrong by the app at the time of the mistake. The app even tells you what to do to quickly fix your issue.
To further assist with learning, there are a number of other elements to reinforce your handling of the cube. These take the form of mini-games that aren't directly to do with solving a cube, but can be beneficial as a distraction.
Cube Hero requires four sides of the cube to be twisted clockwise or counter-clockwise to smash tiles at specific times, while Simon does the same but with remembering orders of twists.
Paint It arguably is the most useful of the group, as it challenges you to rearrange a cube face into a specific pattern as quickly as possible, then moving to a different face and pattern. This does require you to know how to shuffle the cube around to change the order of faces, so knowing some of the algorithms will help here.
Lastly, Cubeysizer is a cube synthesizer, where twisting the different sides plays notes on a scale. Naturally, the app gives you the instructions to play songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which is a little twee and off-putting.
The bulk of the average player's time won't be spent with the games, but rather in the competitive play modes or going against themselves to simply solve the cube.
Under Matches, players can take on others in a variety of different challenges. This ranges from simply timing a scramble of the cube and then unscrambling it on your own, to more competitive head-to-head matches against other cubers.
The Pro Cuber has you setting the cube up in a particular orientation, then puts you against the clock and another player. Scrambling is similar, except the app provides the instructions to complete the cube, so it becomes a race to see who can manipulate it the quickest.
Challenge makes you create a set pattern on one side of the cube, faster than your opponent. Rescramble is the same thing, but for all six sides of the cube simultaneously.
For anyone looking to increase their speed, the competitive element cannot be overlooked, as it certainly forces you to think critically and carefully, and at a fast pace.
Naturally, there are leaderboards for the different modes, so you can see how slow you are against people who can solve a cube within seconds.
You can also see detailed stats about your own gameplay, including your personal record for completing a solve, your track record against opponents, your turns per second, and average move counts. For those who really care about improving your solve times, there are even charts showing your progress over time.
Similar to the GoCube
To anyone who has ever used the GoCube, the Rubik's Connected experience will feel extremely familiar, and for good reason. The Rubik's Connected was designed in partnership with GoCube, so its underlying technology is being repurposed.
This also extends to the software, with most of the elements of the app being practically identical to the GoCube's version, though with branding changes throughout and other smaller tweaks.
This makes sense, as Rubik's Connected can take advantage of an already-built and tested platform, one that has already gone through its initial launch teething phase and has matured. The familiarity with the interface and the platform may also be advantageous in coaxing people used to the GoCube to the Rubik's version as well.
Cracking smart cube
It's hard not to love something that has so much nostalgia attached to it, especially when it is a great example of how a multi-segmented puzzle cube like this could be constructed. The smooth action makes it an exceptional Rubik's Cube in its own right, before you take into account the smart capability.
The app-connected nature elevates the Rubik's Connected, providing assistance and competitive elements the non-smart Rubik's Cube cannot offer without extra equipment. There's a lot here for both inexperienced learners and for seasoned cube-turners alike.
Using the same technology and platform may lead some users keen to acquire either a GoCube or Rubik's Connected to think hard about which way to go. On the one hand, the GoCube was first and doesn't have stickers that can wear away, but at the same time those stickers, nostalgia, and the well-known name may tempt customers Rubik's way.
Pricing may also be a factor. At the time of this review, the Rubik's Connected is priced at $49.95, $20 cheaper than the rival GoCube, which could sway uncertain buyers.
Ultimately, the Rubik's Connected is a fantastic timeless toy updated for a technologically-minded 21st century.
- Smooth action for speed cubing
- App-based tuition and solving
- Competitive online races
- Looks and feels like a Rubik's Cube
- Stickers could wear off over time
- Cube needs to be paired each time its used
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars
Where to buy
Rubik's Connected normally sells for $59.95, but Amazon shoppers can clip a $10 coupon at press time, bringing the price down to $49.95.
Families can also take advantage of a BOGO 20% off deal at GoCube, which runs $89.95 for the 2-pack.