With loyal customers, prefilled and refillable pods and their own e-liquid range, is Elf Bar uniquely positioned to capitalise on the greener pod vape trend? Our volunteer vapers road test the Elf Bar Mate 500.
Despite the recent uptick in recyclable options, disposable vapes still receive valid criticism based on the environmental impact of discarding a battery and plastic shell for every spent device. For the average vaper, this equates to a disposable device thrown away every single day.
Whilst technology evolves and research and development teams work on the next generation of more sustainable vapes, choosing a refillable and rechargeable pod kit may be a better solution for reducing waste. With a similar user experience but a far longer life from the rechargeable battery, they are greener than their disposable cousins. While still not ideal, as e-liquid pods have a limited life based on usage and internal coil performance, they are certainly a stepping stone to a more sustainable vaping industry.
About the brand
Based in China, Elf Bar have been manufacturing vapes since 2018 and have a solid and loyal international following. They quickly became one of the UK's two most recognised disposable vape manufacturers, with their Elf Bar 600 range (alongside the original Geek Bar from Geek Vape) establishing a huge UK market share, giving them a wealth of support and funds to put behind their super-impressive design teams.
This growth led to the development of new ranges, including the Elf T600, Elf Bar Cigalike, Elf Gee 600 and Elf MC600 Shisha. Not all of these products have had the same success as the Elf Bar 600 in the UK, but those that failed to grab consumers' attention found their niche elsewhere in the global vape marketplace.
As a market leader, Elf Bar are a common target for counterfeiters. To counter the problem, a QR code is displayed on the packaging of every product (even their refillable pod packs), allowing consumers to check the authenticity of the products they have purchased.
About the device
The Elf Bar Mate 500 pod vape kit launched in 2022, forming part of Elf Bar's step into the pod market alongside their ELFA prefilled pod kit.
The device is constructed from aircraft-grade aluminium, which makes it lightweight but robust. When handled, it feels solid and well-made. Compared to a disposable Elf Bar 600, the Mate 500 is slimmer, flatter and coloured differently. You can choose between 7 attractive metallic colour gradients alongside a solid black, including Black and Grey, Aurora Purple, Aurora Green and Aurora Yellow.
The Elf Bar Mate 500 arrives partially charged, which is helpful. When fully charged, the battery life gives a respectable 4 hours or so of vaping before needing a recharge from a standard USB-C charger. It has an inbuilt 500mAh battery which takes around 2 hours to recharge fully.
Elf Bar Mate Pods
There are two Pod options currently available for the Elf Bar Mate 500. First are the prefilled disposable P1 e-liquid pods, which give you access to a swathe of Elf's familiar flavour library. Initially launched in 8 flavours, the range has expanded to offer over 30 now, including some unique to this device, like the Orange Soda, Honeydew Grape and Razz Lychee flavours.
Second are the P1 refillable pods (in packs of 3). This simple but effective addition to the range expands the potential customer base for the device. For those that prefer to vape outside of Elf's e-liquid flavours, which are generally sweet and fruity, these pods turn the Mate 500 into an open/refillable pod kit - allowing for the use of any brand of e-liquid (as long as it is 50% PG or higher), rather than being limited by Elf's own range of flavours.
We chose to test the Elf Bar Mate 500 with these compatible P1 refillable (empty) pods, and we supplied our panel with three bottles of Elf Bar's own 10ml ELFLIQ nic-salt e liquids.
The ELFLIQ range launched in May 2022 at the Vaper Expo in Birmingham. It is available in 10mg and 20mg strengths in more than 20 flavours, again predominantly from their disposable flavour library.
When opening the e-liquid bottles, I found them to be very well-wrapped, child-proof and a little tricky to get into, given the cellophane wrapping.
Filling the pods is slightly fiddly - potentially a minor issue for those with big hands, very short or very long nails - but the side opening with rubber bung worked well and fitted snugly back in place. Throughout the test, all three pods remained leak-free.
A detail that could have been more obvious within the instructions is that users of refillable pod kits must always 'prime' the pod - allowing the e-liquid at least 5 minutes to seep and penetrate the coil within the pod. This instruction is crucial; you will experience a nasty 'dry hit' if you skip this step (a taste of burning dry cotton).
My experience with inserting and removing the Mate 500 P1 refillable pods varied. I filled all three pods in the pack with a different flavoured e-liquid, so there was a lot of pod-swapping action with only one device.
I discovered the pods could only be inserted one way, with the (very, very slightly) lower curved side to the front. This was not obvious at first. A strange and slightly annoying design flaw as, more often than not, it needed to be the other way around.
After firmly clicking into place, one pod got stuck (very stuck) in the device. Admittedly it was a hot day, and the ergonomically designed, smooth semi-translucent mouthpiece had nothing for my slightly sweaty hands to grip. Still, it was an unexpected challenge compared to other pods and pod kits.
I also realised, at no fault of the device, there is no way, other than with the sense of smell, to determine which e-liquid flavour is in which pod in a refillable multi-pod setup. With prefilled pod users used to having the flavour name stamped on the pod itself, it proved an exciting surprise with each first puff!
The ELFLIQ e-liquid range contains identical flavour recipes to the e-liquids within disposable Elf Bar 600s of the same name. But vaped through a more powerful rechargeable device, with a slightly different coil heating the liquid, I found all three flavours smoother and far nicer tasting. The draw is tighter, and vapour production is better.
Unlike the battery power waning in a disposable vape (causing a vapour and flavour fade), you can keep the Elf Bar Mate 500 regularly charged and repeatedly enjoy a more consistent and tasty vape. This is much better. Having said that, the coils in the refillable P1 pods have a lifespan. You can only refill each pod ten times before needing to replace them.
Price-wise, the device is currently selling for £7.95 (at the time of review) - one of the cheapest available. Considering the internal technology, performance, and being manufactured by a reputable brand such as Elf, I found this impressive.
The refillable P1 pods currently retail as 3 packs (9 pods) for £15. The 10ml bottles of ELFLIQ are currently priced at 3 for £10 (the cost of 2 and a half disposable Elf Bar 600s), and each bottle can fill a 2ml pod 5 times (up to 600 puffs per fill). Based on this, I calculated the P1 refill cost to be around £0.83 for the equivalent of a single disposable device. The money saved is outstanding compared to the £4 purchase cost of an Elf Bar 600.
Overall, aside from the slight issues I had chopping and changing pods, the Mate 500 with refillable pods gives such good value for money compared to vaping either disposables or using the prefilled disposable pods that it shall remain in my collection for as long as the seemingly sturdy battery lasts.
As long as you do not mind the small task of refilling a pod with e-liquid (which is very clean, quick and easy), then you will get far better value out of this setup than the admittedly more convenient and wasteful alternative disposable vaping options.