While we wish the need for a motorized wheelchair on nobody, chairs like Whill's Model F integrate well with Apple technologies and are mobility-preserving for the folks that do need them. Here's what it's like to use one.
I am not the one who needs this chair, so a little bit of a preamble is in order. If you followed me to AppleInsider from a prior publication that has since succumbed to bit-rot, you may have a dim recollection of reading about my spouse having a stroke in the summer of 2015.
She survived the stroke, but didn't come out unscathed. The damage from the stroke resulted in a left-side vision cut, general left-side weakness and lack of control, plus hampered mobility. She isn't profoundly cognitively impaired, and can still walk short distances without assistance more than a cane or hemi walker.
It's now seven years later. Things haven't improved on their own, and we've had to adapt and adopt technologies to help.
We started with a folding push-wheelchair, but those are almost universally terrible. Most affordable powered mobility assistance devices weigh 100 pounds or more and are impractical without a ramp-van which basically doubles new van or minivan pricing in the US.
As time wore on, we purchased an Air Hawx wheelchair, but even that was not great for our needs, especially when we had two wheelchairs to pack. It was lighter than the "hoveround"-style devices, but still not light, and the heavy lead-acid battery wasn't optimal.
About a year ago, I saw Apple's Meg Frost present in a powered wheelchair from Whill, albeit a different model than this one. I reached out to the company earlier this year, and they are loaning us one to try.
And, so far, in the short time we've had the Whill Model F chair, it's already changed everything.
Whill Model F - Specifications
|Specifications||Whiil Model F|
|Width (inches)||21.8 to 23.8 wide|
|Length (inches)||36.8 in use, |
|Seat Size (inches)||18|
|Armrest Spacing (inches)||16, 18|
|Turning Radius (inches)||30.7|
|Driving Range||Up to 20km (12.4mi)|
|Top Speed||6km/h (3.7mph)|
|Battery||25.3V 10Ah Lithium Ion|
|Charging Time||5 hours|
Whill Model F - Construction And transportation
The Whill Model F is a compact and highly mobile powered chair, built specifically with travel in mind. At less than 60 pounds, it is easy to transport and carry between locations.
It's designed around a large cylindrical drum that houses the motors between the back wheels, with arms raising up to a seat and to connect to a lighter front section. As the chair folds up as the front wheels fold closer to the main body, it becomes a much smaller chair that can more easily fit into a trunk.
We have a minivan, as we have children. This is an easy toss into the back.
Measuring up to 23.8 inches at its widest and up to 36.8 inches in length, it is a relatively compact powered chair. The length shrinks down to half the size when folded, at 18.3 inches.
The folding action does increase the height of the chair, but not by that much. It moves from 31.5 inches deployed to 33.6 inches when folded, making it overall a very compact stored chair.
It's also quite light for such a chair at 58.8 pounds. That includes the weight of the lithium-ion battery, which comes in at 5.9 pounds alone.
This is where it changed everything. When you don't have a ramp-equipped van, the caretaker needs to move the chair in and out of the trunk or hatch of the vehicle.
So, when you want or need to go someplace, the logistical discussion centers on that. And, I am not a young man anymore — a 20 pound difference versus competitors, and almost 26 pounds difference with the battery removed, means a lot in this context.
Because of that light weight as compared to other chairs, it's easy to lug along a second battery either in a backpack or an under-chair cargo sling. At about $550 per battery, though, the budget may be the limiting factor.
The controller is able to be positioned on the left or right-hand side, depending on which hand the user wishes to drive the chair with. This is something that's best done once, and left as-is.
For those who need to go cross-country, Whill also made sure it was air travel approved. To meet regulations, you remove the battery before handing over the chair to be placed in the hold, and then take the battery into the cabin.
While curb appeal is not strictly a crucial point for folks that need a wheelchair, it's not a detractor — the Whill Model F is, in fact, attractive. There aren't a slew of visible wires snaking everywhere, nor is it an edifice of steel like some are. The chair itself has clean lines, with side-panels for color customization.
The Model F's side panels are available in a choice of five colors, including black, white, light green, light blue, and red.
Moving around in the Whill Model F
The Whill Model F has a weight limit of 253.5 pounds for the passenger and cargo. It has an 18-inch seat width, with the space between the arms able to go between 16 inches and 18 inches, to keep the user as comfortable as possible.
The arms are adjustable up and down, also for comfort. This is not something that is push-button like folding the chair is, but that's fine. Once you set it up for the user once, it won't have to be adjusted much if at all.
With a top speed of 3.7 mph, it's not a slow chair, but it's also got a good range of up to 12.4 miles under ideal conditions. We've tested the battery to dead a few times, and the 12.4 miles is optimistic, but not by a lot. We routinely exceeded 10 miles on a single charge in the heat of the summer, and we'll be looking at that further as the weather cools down.
It can safely handle gentle inclines of up to 10 degrees, and it can also manage steps up to 1.3 inches in height. Small wheels on the back of the chair act as an anti-tipping assist — but they aren't perfect and won't stop a tip from a steep angle.
The turning radius of 30.7 inches is very narrow versus other powered chairs we've tried — so we've pulled off some tight turns in confined hallways and crowds with little trouble.
Like nearly every motorized wheelchair, it is rear-driven. It will pivot without forward motion because of the independent wheel drive, but it's easier to have some forward motion to make those turns.
Whill's Remote Control app
While the Whiil Model F is primarily controlled by the user, there is also the option to manage the chair remotely from an iPhone.
The manufacturer's companion app, a free download from the App Store, adds more control options for the chair to your iPhone.
There are configuration settings to adjust the speed of the chair. Eco mode restrains the speed and responsiveness to preserve battery life, while Sport mode provides higher acceleration.
The app also provides an overview of the chair's movements, with an odometer, remaining battery level, and remaining range information available at a glance.
You can even use the app to control the chair itself. Using Bluetooth, the app brings up a digital version of the main control stick, which can be pushed in different directions like the real thing.
The app allows the chair user to drive the chair over to where they are, if so desired. It opens up some other possibilities, also.
The Whill Model F is not well-suited to caretaker control without the remote. That said, in situations where the driver is having difficulty picking out a path because of the aforementioned vision cut, I've been able to assume control (with permission, of course), and pilot our way out.
The chair comes with a barcode for connection to the app. Each device comes with a unique login and code, associated with a QR code. As the company suggests, do not stick the barcode sticker with this information to the chair itself.
More to come...
We like the chair. It's one of the best in class. But there's a lot more to say about it.
There are some products that within a few weeks you know if it's a good product, who it's for, and how it's best used. The Whill Model F is not quite that.
We know it's good now. We also know that it's also a lifestyle device, albeit not a lifestyle that anybody would choose to have to deal with.
We're going to keep evaluating the Whill, and how well it integrates. So far, we've limited use of the chair to concrete environments outside, and indoor tile, wood, and carpeted surfaces. It is not an off-road chair, so we will not go mud-bogging in it, but we have still yet to use it on brick surfaces, cobblestone, or hard-packed dirt.
There's also accessories to speak about, including exactly how to lug around drinks, a cane, and the like.
So, there's more to come about the Whill Model F a bit later in the year. We thought that talking about the Whill Model F now might help somebody who's considering it for back-to-school and the like.
The Whill Model F retails for about $3000, but prices vary by dealer and may or may not be covered in part or in full by insurance plans, which we leave as an exercise for the reader to determine. Accessory prices also vary.