Review: Camcuber Zhanchi SE

cz-blackI haven’t really posted many hardware reviews on the site, mostly because, as a mediocre solver, I’ve tended to feel like my opinion and knowledge of cubes was not very valuable. But I do think I have a discerning eye (or, as it were, touch) and that, in some ways, an average cuber’s views are more interesting (as we are still wading our way through hardware and techniques). So, sheepishly I proceed….

I’m excited to have purchased a Camcuber Zhanchi SE, which is an OEM Dayan Zhanchi that has received Cameron Brown’s custom “tune up.” Cameron sells them at his shop for $39.99 (plus $5 more for the Special Edition). When I tried to buy it a month ago, the site listed it as sold-out. I emailed to see about pre-orders, and got a near immediate response. Cameron was working on a new batch, and they’d ship soon. So, I pre-ordered, got a shipping update about three weeks later, and the cube arrived two days after that. I was surprised to find it nicely wrapped in holiday paper with a bow and candy cane and all. A really nice touch over the holidays.

Before I get into the review, here’s an excerpt from the description page:

This ZhanChi is a limited production cube that comes professionally lubricated, tensioned, and stickered by CamCuber along with excess plastic being shaved by hand. The lubrication technique that is used on this item is what sets it apart from other DaYan ZhanChi’s. … This item may be hard to rotate out of the box but will loosen up after a few solves – this process may need to be repeated for a few days before full breakin has occurred. … The Special Edition comes with Cameron’s Sticker Set (High quality vinyl stickers that generally last the life of the cube and have beautiful shades) pre applied along with a CamCuber ZhanChi center logo. … All CamCuber ZhanChi 3x3x3 cubes come with the box autographed by the creator, Cameron Brown, and is numbered.

My experience matched the above description to a T. Out of the box, it was gummy, stiff, and surprisingly hard to turn. This first experience was what led big youtube cubers like convinsa and cyoubx to make some pretty rough comments during their first impressions — describing it as “absolutely terrible…it sucks.” But, as the item description explains, the cube dramatically improved over time. After about 15 minutes of T perms, sexy moves, and solves, the cube developed a really great feel. Like me, those same youtubers came around quickly, with cyoubx waxing smitten over it and convinsa saying saying it would become her competition cube.

What I like most about the Camcuber Zhanchi is that it’s very controllable. As Cameron wrote in a youtube comment, “it’s not supposed to be the fastest cube but more of a smooth, good turning cube that will not lock up often and is easy to solve with. Mine is the perfect speed for me, cuts well, and doesn’t lock up (even on those nasty G Perms!).” Yep. Exactly. It feels smooth, refined, and sophisticated without being overly-fast. I have a few cubes that are really fast, and they’re hard for an average cuber to control. This one feels just right. It even has a tiny clickiness to it (like a quieter version of the Guhong v2 clicks), which provides a nice tactile feel without being distracting. Mine might be tensioned a smidge too tight, but I won’t adjust it until it’s fully broken in.

I paid the extra $5 for the Special Edition with Cameron’s custom color scheme. I didn’t know at the time that it’s just a Cubsesmith standard set with the green replaced with flourescent green and blue with bright blue. Those subtle changes make a big difference, though — a unique take on a half-bright set. There’s good contast between the green and blue and the expected contrast between yellow and white. I prefer more contrast between orange and red (like the bright red and light orange of the Modcuber fitted set available from The Cubicle). Still, this works well as a set. It would have cost roughly the same (plus 20 minutes of my time) to buy the stickers from Cubesmith and re-sticker myself. Plus, getting the branded CZ center sticker is a nice touch, distinguishing it as a customized (and more expensive) cube.

Speaking of price, the million-dollar question: Is the Camcuber Zhanchi worth $40? On the one hand, of course not. It’s just a Zhanchi ($12) lubed and tensioned well ($5 max of Lubix plus 20 mins). Even a pre-lubed and 48-point edge modded Lubix Zhanchi — just ordered (review coming soon) — is half the price. But that’s the narrow-minded negative take on Cameron’s work. On the other hand, this is a really spectacular cube that literally gets better and better with each solve. The lube is different than Lubix (at least it seems to be). And, in a way, the cube feels special — with the custom sticker set, branded center sticker, and signed/numbered box (mine is #108). I admire very much what Cameron has created with his shop and with his Camcuber brand and projects. Without trying to sound like an old geezer, seeing a generation of young folks sticking their necks out to start ventures about which they’re passionate is really encouraging, and I am happy to support and be a part of it.

If you’re the kind of person who grudgingly would spend $40 and then complain about the coin dropped, don’t. There are other excellent cubes out there for a fraction of the price, including OEM Zhanchis. But if, like me, you’re willing to spend a little more on a unique extravagance in the form of a custom-branded, collectible, very excellent cube…go for it!


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