Monday, December 16, 2013

S'well Bottle Review

The story of this S'well Bottle review is a very long one.  S'well was one of the companies I first reached out to when I decided to start reviewing water bottles.  They had a great reputation online and a very nice looking bottle.  I sent them an email and they passed, understandably, on sending a review sample.  Not a whole lot of folks doing critical reviews of water bottles, especially on sites with a predominantly male readership.  I never take it personally when companies turn me down.  They only have so much for marketing and they have to spend it wisely.  I think its worth it for them to send me stuff.  I take a great deal of care in evaluating their products and I have a good readership (you folks), but its not my decision.  Again, getting turned down happens (ahem, Spyderco) and I definitely do not hold it against the company.

Determined to get a lot of the major players in the bottle market I used site money to buy a mid sized 17oz S'well.  I went to Amazon, put "S'well" bottle into the search bar, and found one for a good price.  I bought it and it arrived about three days later.  When I took it out of the box it was, well, not branded as a "S'well" bottle, but I thought it might just be a co-branding thing.  Then I noticed that the bottle was a little different in proportion.  It seemed a little squat for the 17oz model.  I filled it with ice and water and then went to rustle up my son for dinner.  About 30 minutes later I was sitting down to eat and I noticed there was no ice in the bottle.  It was strange as I had put ice in and now there was none.  I opened up the bottle and looked inside--only water.  Clearly something was amiss.  I tried it again and again the ice was gone in about a half hour.  I also noticed that the bottle was sweating, which is impossible with an insulated bottle.  It wasn't soaked but it was a little damp.  Finally I took a magnet to the bottle, which was supposed to be 18/8 stainless steel, and the magnet wouldn't stick. The bottle was aluminum.

I tried to contact the seller and got stonewalled.  Frustrated I sent an email to Amazon and an email to S'well warning them of the counterfeiters.  The next morning I had an email from S'well asking for help.  They were surprised to learn of the counterfeiters and said if I sent them all of the packing slips and material, plus the fake bottle they'd send me a S'well bottle in return.  With nothing to lose and a desire to support companies against counterfeiters, on my own dime, I mailed them all of the stuff.  Five days later the REAL S'well bottle arrived.  It was noticeably and obviously different.  The mouth wasn't as sharp, the proportions were correct, and it held a chill forever, keeping ice solid overnight plus some.  Oh and it was magnetic.  Real stainless steel.

Whatever the review says about the bottle, this is a company that treats customers the right way.  I am fairly certain they had no idea I was the guy that asked for a review sample months ago.  I think they were just doing the right thing.  So, to that end, I strongly encourage you to support the company.  The bottle is not perfect (no water bottles are right now) but among the sea of competitors, customer service like that deserves some real recognition.  S'well is a super awesome company.  

Here is the product page. The S'well 17oz bottle costs $35.  They also make a 9oz bottle for $25 and a 25oz bottle for $45.  There are ton of colors and unlike most bottle companies there are some hairy arm compatible shades including some with matte textured finish, called the "Stone" collection.  The gray Stone bottle is downright manly looking, a huge change of pace for the water bottle world.   Here is a written review. Here is a video look.  No sponsors or affiliates sell this bottle yet, so go to S'well's site and tell them Everyday Commentary sent you.  For reasons discussed above, skip Amazon.  Finally here is my review sample (purchased with site money, but not given away for reasons discussed in the Water Bottle Scoring System; basically, its nasty and not cost effective to mail them--$8 or $10 on a $20 item):

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Twitter Review Summary: Maybe the best insulated bottle on the market, stuff stays cold for days.

Design: 2

Overall appearance is simply stunning.  Literally everyone that saw the bottle was taken aback by how beautiful it was.  This is a sleek and gorgeous object, something from a movie set in the future.  But the design is not just pretty, its actually focused on making the drinking experience nicer.  There is no cap I have seen that is as pleasant to open and touch as the S'well cap, seen here:

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It comes off easily and with a few twists (though not as few as the Square).  It also a perfect texture, with enough grip from the ribbing to make you confident in your actions, but not enough to make it a pain.  Furthermore, the shape of the metal makes this an object that simply craves human contact.  Its reminds me of the feel of high end furniture like that from Thomas Mosier.  

While large, the 17oz model is not a behemoth. Here it is next to the Zippo.

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I would note that the choice to make it a 17oz bottle is a great one and unlikely to be a happy accident.  At 17 ounces it easily holds an entire bottle of water or soda (don't drink soda, is garbage, but...).  Great bit of forethought and a sign of how much attention to detail went into this bottle.

Fit and Finish: 2

The level of polish on the bottle and cap is really outstanding.  This is a glorious item.  The cap fits snugging and threads easily with no cross threading ever.  I also liked the finish to the mouth, but more on that later.  All of the brand labels were clear and well made, not that that matters to us, but it is just shows this isn't a sloppy piece of junk (unlike the fake one I got, which had crooked lettering).

Carry: 2

The bottle's size is nice.  It will fit in cup holders in a car (all bottle makers please take note, this is an essential feature, don't screw this up).  It also slides nicely into my briefcase.  Thanks to the superlative cap I have no fear of leaks.  I would like an attachment point, but that would mar the sleek aesthetics and is more of a plus thing than a requirement.  I could see a washer style attachment point hanging out around the cap area working well. 

Grip: 2

Though the exterior is very slick and clean, the overall shape and weight of the bottle, even with liquid inside, makes it great in the hand.  I haven't dropped it (on accident) yet, and I don't get a lot of sloshing forward even when filled. 

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Drink Quality/Mouth: 1

On paper, the mouth looked good--wide enough for some kinds of ice but still narrow enough for drinking.  Unfortunately, as implemented it was not so good.  First, the opening is not quite wide enough for ice.  Second, the rim is still a little too sharp.  Better than most, but still a little too crisp.  Third, there is definitely a metallic taste imparted by the rim.  Finally, and perhaps, the nail in the coffin for this particular S'well bottle is this:


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Yep, the 18/8 stainless steel rusted.  It is pretty noticeable and really unacceptably bad.  But I did some research and found out that this is pretty normal.  In fact, there is an easy fix.  Here is the mouth after a scrubbing with a brillo pad:

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Clean as a whistle and good as new.   Taken all together this is clearly worth a point, probably like a point and half, but drinking is actually quite good, so I think a 1 is pretty representative.  

Materials: 1

The coloration of the mouth is a concern as is the stainless steel walls which are usually dent magnets, but so far so good.  Still prior experience tells me it is only a matter of time.   Steel mouths just don't taste good either.  A narrow plastic one (to block out the odors which through a mixing of the senses seem to impart taste) or better yet a glass mouth is much better.  The coloration plus the normal ding prone nature of an all stainless steel bottle is a 1. 

Insulation: 2

There is no doubt that the S'well is the king of insulation.  In normal use, not leaving it in a frigid car over night, the bottle would keep ice solid for more than 16 hours on a regular basis.  Twice I had ice 20 hours later.  The claim that it keeps liquids cold for 24 hours is easily true.  That is a rare feat.  Lots and lots of bottles make this claim.  Only the S'well has actually done it, in my testing (three insulated Kleen Kanteens, the S'well, a few rebrands, a Camelbak, and my Nissan Thermos; the Thermos did it as well, but the bottle is HUGE and the actual liquid reservoir is tiny).  This is the best insulated bottle of its size (and size to liquid reservoir) I have used.    

Durability: 1

Nothing is outright busted yet, but even in regular commuting use there is noticeable wear:

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This actually looks kind of cool, but it concerns me that once the bottle is dinged it will start to fall apart.  Appearance is not the biggest issue, usability is.  Over time, dents and dings start to make the bottle wobble and eventually compromise the seal and the mouth.  Once that happens, and it has happened to me, the bottle is done.  Stainless steel this thin just won't last more than a few years.  I wonder if people so concerned with the environment realize that. 

Leak Proof: 2

As leak proof as a sub.  This is one of the reasons why it holds a chill so long.  I have carried this thing in my briefcase upside down with no problems.  Amazing.

Ease of Cleaning: 1

Nothing will be like the Square.  I get that, but this is worse than even the common wide moth Nalgene or Kleen Kanteen.  Decidedly average. 

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

On its own this is a beautiful bottle.  It works well and I think the coloration problem was a quirk as it was so easily remedied.  There is no question this is one of the most striking bottles on the market.  Literally everyone that saw it commented.  It is also great in hand, as all of the surfaces are elegantly contoured.  But the S'well bottle is more than a pretty picture, it works very well.  It is utterly leak proof and insulates like a refrigerator.  I wish it was a bit more ding resistant, but that is the nature of a stainless steel bottle.  Very good.    

The Competition

Okay, stacked up against the Readily Available Benchmark of the Insulated Kleen Kanteen, the S'well is a revelation.  It is much sleeker, with a better seal to guard against leaks and it looks much cooler.  In terms of insulation it is miles better, but not better than the also widely available Thermos.  This is a bottle with the capacity of a Kleen Kanteen (for the size) and the insulation of a Thermos.  Not too shabby.  This is the best insulated bottle I have used to date, but this bottle with a wide mouth to accomodate the CapCap or an insulated Square would kill everything on the market.  Good, better that a lot of stuff, but still not the iPhone of water bottles.  

18 comments:

  1. I'm surprised, given how much I hear about them from other sources and how much you seem to prefer an insulated bottle, that you haven't included a Hydroflask in your lineup yet. Any plans?

    (I opted for a Liberty over a Hydroflask when I was looking most recently — I don't drink ice water — but the Hydroflask sure seems like a winner over a KK, and it's famed for its insulation.)

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    1. I was going to suggest the same thing. I love my Hydro Flasks. I have the 18oz and the larger 40oz. Seems like it has several advantages over the S'well.

      Larger opening (slightly smaller than the opening on a Nalgene bottle), which is IMO much easier to clean, fill with water, and add ice.

      More sizes: 12oz, 18oz, 21oz, 24oz, 40oz, and 64oz. In addition, the Hydro Flasks have a more compact shape compared to the same size S'well bottle, because they don't have a tall narrow neck. This is perhaps more personal preference though.

      More colors: 8 basic (black, white, red, blue, etc..) plus earth tones (brown, gray, copper), as well as plain stainless (which is what I prefer).

      More lid options: Regular screw top, Flip Top (great for coffee/tea), and flip-up straw top (haven't used this). Note that the Flip Top doesn't keep liquids as warm or cool as the regular top.

      In addition, the S'well looks to me like it's constructed with a horizontal seam about an inch from the bottom. The Hydro Flask uses an internal welded seam that they claim is stronger. As someone that has broken several insulated bottles at this seam (from general wear-and-tear or dropping down concrete stairs) there might be something to this.

      Anyway, I would strongly recomend taking a look at the Hydro Flask bottles. I've been using them for a few years now and have yet to find anything even close, let alone comparable.

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  2. Hi Tony,

    thank you for your review. I always like to read them as they contain a lot to think about and a lot of good insight regarding the products reviewed by you. Thank you for your time and your effort!

    Regarding this review:

    In other places on the web I read that there may occur some problems with these bottles. (Go google for "s'well problem reKalibrate" and read the blog entry and also the comments there if you're interested.)

    I mentioned this not to give this person (which I'm totally unrelated to) a plug but to suggest that you should revisit your s'well bottle review in a year or so and tell us about your long time experience.


    Keep on the good work, it is really appreciated!
    Mike from Germany

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  3. Any water bottle that holds less than a liter is useless to me, no matter how "perfect" it is.

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  4. FYI: Stainless steel is not magnetic

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  5. Incorrect. Austentitic stainless is magnetic, some other stainless steels are not. The Swell is magnetic for the most part. See here for more on SS and magnetism. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-dont-magnets-work-on

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  6. Does look a bit like a ketchup bottle in the pictures though.

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    1. I agree. The Stone series from S'well doesn't and if I were buying one for myself that's the model I'd choose.

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    2. Yeah, and it's not like you didn't make that clear in the review. And after that S'well rep posted a comment I felt bad about saying her bottle looked like ketchup.

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  7. Sarah, S'well Helpful Team LeaderDecember 18, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    Hi Tony,
    As Leader of the S'well Helpful Team, I just wanted to personally thank you for the review. Over 125 years ago Nietzsche famously penned, "There are no facts, just interpretations" and that insight could not be more true today. Blog reviews are an important part of our culture and I appreciate the time and effort you take to provide valuable input. Not to mention, you helped me find some excellent stocking stuffers for my husband and sons! Keep up the good work and wishing you much success in your blogging efforts.
    Be S'well.

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  8. I've been reading your reviews and I've bought quite a few items (atom AL/PM2/Maxmadco pen, among others), so thanks for the quality of them! I, too, have been on the hunt for quality water bottles for a while, and the best I've tried is from Hydroflask (just a happy customer). I'd be interested to see your take on it. I bought the 18 oz version that's a wide mouth and comes with a few different lid options. Kinda reminds me of my 16 oz widemouth nalgene, but insulated, steel, no smell, doesn't sweat and fits in a cup holder. Umm, so nothing like a Nalgene after all. Just throwing it out there as another option- I've been on the hunt for the "perfect" water bottle, and this one is my favorite so far, although not without its flaws. Keep up the awesome reviews!

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  9. My requirements for the "ideal" water bottle:
    * Insulated (keeps ice for 24 hours)
    * Compact (my 20 oz. Kanteen fits in a car cup holder)
    * Wide mouth to allow ice and make cleaning easier
    * Rugged (maybe steel with a protective sleeve?)
    * Carabiner attachment point
    * Cap that is leakproof, allows for easy one-handed opening, and allows for a smooth flow of liquid.

    That last requirement seems to be a tough one to crack. Haven't found any caps that fit all three criteria. One can dream, I guess.

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    Replies
    1. The Human Gear CapCap does all three of the things you need. As does the wide mouth "dual" cap from GV2.

      The real issue with water bottles is that nothing both insulates and resists dents. The insulating bottles made of Tritan keep a chill for about 10 minutes. The stainless bottles that hold a chill forever are all dent prone. I am still considering having an insulated bottle linex-ed. If I knew the safety properties of Line-x I'd do it right now.

      Delete
  10. Until there's an insulated bottle made in the US, I'm sticking with Liberty and a Freaker to keep my desk tidy. Of course, given that the actual cost of a Made in USA insulated flask (made from steel, at least) would be north of a hundred dollars, it looks like I'll be waiting for a while.

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  11. Hydroflasks are also great, but for maximum insulation check out a brand called ThinkSport. The bottles are larger, but have a non-metal drinking spout (fiberglass, not plastic) and will keep ice frozen even in Florida for 18-24 hours. They are incredible.

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  12. Hello, we have purchased two, for my son and daughter, my son got the basic stainless steel finish, and his is great, my daughter got teal stone finish and it is just being real pain. The mouth piece has big crack running along the top and the whole mouth piece keeps getting rusted all the time. (on the outside and along the crack and inside) I contacted Swell, was told to clean it with baking soda, which did clean it, but hasn't change the fact that it comes back the next day and my daughter hates her bottle since it tastes like metal. I contacted their customer service again, but have to wait again till my “form”gets processed and somebody writes back (no direct email or phone number?), but I think we are ready to move on, and unless they send her new bottle, we will purchase different brand. For the price they charge, and the name they are shooting for, I would expect, flawless product, certainly not one that keeps getting rust (might be normal as they say, but we never had this issue with different brands) and for customer service to be willing to replace these bottles if they are not working as they should.
    Again, we have one, that is great, and one that is just poor, so it is hit or miss with S’well.

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  13. I just got my S'well bottle & it looks nothing like what I ordered. Light blue but what came was dark grey. Customer service had the temerity to suggest that was indeed what I ordered!! And that I had to ship the bottle back (from Singapore, at my own cost) before they will exchange. But if they claim it's the same, why would a replacement look different than this ugly thing?

    Horrendous customer service that talks about customer satisfaction but doesn't lift a finger to address the wrong. Don't waste your $35!!!

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