The Firefly 2 portable vaporizer works well as a flower vape and also handles oils. (Ben Livingston, The Cannabist)

Firefly 2 vape redesign is simply stunning (review)

When my eyes first feasted on the original Firefly vaporizer, it seemed like a bright red classic car. I imagined a ’65 Ford Mustang, but maybe you envision a ’57 Chevy or a Karmann Ghia or something else. As long as you picture radiant red paint and shiny chrome bumpers perfectly polished, reminding you that the sun is high and the beach is calling, that’s the sort of feeling I had. And that was before I even packed weed in it and got high.

While it’s easy to get lost in such sumptuous optics, we all want a daily driver with power, speed, consistency and reliability more than one that simply looks dazzling. The original Firefly delivered remarkably well in this regard; the pretty red paint was but a cherry on top. (Thank goodness I didn’t use the grey version.) The device gets glowing reviews from most vape heads and regularly appears on reviewers’ lists of top portable vaporizers.

Of course, nothing is perfect. The original Firefly is noticeably heavier than other handhelds, weighing in at nearly 280 grams. Its innovative, hot air convection heating method isn’t foolproof and requires some technique for optimal vaping — preheating, stirring the bowl on occasion, etc. — and the instructions don’t offer such advice. But by far the biggest complaint is about the batteries, which power only about two dozen tokes before requiring a recharge — decommissioning your vape in the interim. And that battery untimely failed many users, requiring an expensive replacement.

Gorilla glass is used on the underside of the face plate of the Firefly 2. The bottom of the chamber is a metal plate with approximately 55 tiny laser-drilled holes in it. (Ben Livingston, The Cannabist)

The Firefly 2 is a marvelous improvement upon the original. At 140 grams, it’s half the weight. Measuring a compact 5″ x 1.6″ x 0.8″, it’s one-third smaller than the first generation. It’s easy to hold — comfortable. The materials and construction feel solid and it looks quite dapper, with the heating chamber visible through a glass porthole in the magnetic face plate.

Simpler to use, yet still innovative

The user interface is greatly simplified and unlike any other. To fire it up, just hold the Firefly with your thumb and one opposing finger touching — not pushing — contact points on either side of the unit. It took me a few days to stop wanting to push the buttons in; really you just touch them and the Firefly turns on. It’s really cool, the same capacitive sensing concept found in smart phone technology.

Co-creator Sasha Robinson says improvements like the touch-button interface are direct responses to user feedback regarding the original Firefly.

“We wanted to eliminate the power switch we had in Firefly 1. And we want the device to always be ready but always be safe,” Robinson tells The Cannabist in a phone interview.

Once activated, the glass-sided chamber takes about five seconds to heat up and glow orange — that warm color also shines through grooves carved into two corners of the main body. The bottom of the chamber is a metal plate with approximately 55 tiny laser-drilled holes in it, where the first generation contained six medium-size holes for air flow. “When you spread out the heat through more holes, you can run the air hotter,” explains Robinson.

That is important because convection heating — pulling hot air through your cannabis — will always result in a “temperature gradient” where some parts of the bowl get hotter than other parts. This is more pronounced in the Firefly because of the glass bowl — glass has far lower thermal conductivity than metal — and it’s the main reason occasional bowl stirring will always be a good idea to most evenly cook cannabis in either version of the Firefly.

“If we had a metal bowl, it would maintain its heat more,” Robinson says. “But if we do that, we get rid of the glass bowl and we have a metal bowl that hides the light. Personally, I want as little metal as possible and as much glass as possible.”

New materials, new batteries

The Firefly 2 body is die-cast magnesium alloy which is one-third lighter than the aluminum chassis on its predecessor. Like the capacitive buttons, the magnesium casing reinforces the sense that the Firefly 2 design takes cues from cell phone manufacturers. The alloy allows for thinner walls and more detailed die casting, and it has a much lower thermal transfer rate than aluminum, which means the device can get warmer than the Firefly 1 and still not feel warm in the hand.

Robinson and co-creator Mark Williams spent months researching materials for the heating coil. “We have chosen a material for the coil that is not nichrome wire,” says Robinson, referring to the nickel-chrome alloy used in almost all vaporizer heating coils. “Both Mark and I got nickel poisoning after doing a significant amount of nichrome wire testing. Not bad, just a little allergic reaction — red around the mouth, fatigue. We put things on hold for four months while we did a whole lot of materials research.”

The new, undisclosed material used in the heating coil does not suffer the same problems as nichrome, according to Robinson. “Nichrome wire flakes off after time with prolonged use. This material creates an oxidation layer that adds weight to the coil.”

The underside of the faceplate is lined with a thin sheet of Gorilla Glass — once again, just like your cell phone — as is the top of the chassis. This creates a glass airpath when the faceplate is magnetically attached. It’s also super easy to clean — a big improvement over the grooved underside on the first-generation faceplate. The glass allows the Firefly 2 to pass the light from an LED in the main body through the air path and out the top of the faceplate. A small innovation, to be sure, but it’s a thoughtful one, and my life is mostly about little things.

The batteries — complaint number one — have been upgraded. They last approximately twice as long as the first generation, and they shouldn’t fail as much. (Robinson says the battery fix was to change manufacturing facilities.) And there are two batteries included; should one fail, you can still get high. Firefly 2 includes a USB-powered docking station, so rather than trying to plug a little cable into a little hole, just set the vape atop the charger.

Easy, enjoyable and super flavorful

To use the Firefly 2, remove the face plate, fill the heating chamber to the rim with coarse-ground herbs and tamp down lightly. Re-attach the magnetic faceplate and pick up the unit, making sure to make finger contact with the two capacitive buttons. Wait 3-6 seconds for the LED to turn solid green, then toke.

Pop in a stainless steel concentrate pad to use oils in the Firefly 2. (Ben Livingston, The Cannabist)

To vape hash oil, press one of the included stainless steel concentrate pads into the chamber and dab a little oil on it. Give it 5-10 quick puffs to get it going, then draw like normal. It actually works — the vapor is definitely lighter than with flowers, but it stoned me for sure.

If you want higher temperatures, a smart phone app (Android or iPhone) can change the heat settings. You can also change the capacitive button controls so the unit turns on with just a single button, rather than two. I can’t speak to the software usability, as I’m often unhappy with my phone and avoid mixing it up with my otherwise-likable vapes. Plus, nobody wants the NSA tapping their weed, right?

The Firefly 2 is an amazing portable vaporizer. The thoughtful deliberation informing its redesign is evident in every component and curve. It creates wonderfully flavorful, cool vapor, handles flowers and oil, feels good in the hand, looks great and functions well. That quality comes at a premium, but if it is in your price range, the Firefly 2 is a great investment.

Starting March 1, the Firefly 2 can be pre-ordered for $329.95 with delivery scheduled for May 2016. It comes in red, gold, black, blue or white. I suggest red.