While it sometimes takes a bit for products to become available in the promotional products industry, spinners took an accelerated path. A short few months after being highlighted in the Forbes article that follows, we are now taking orders for this year’s hottest new office toy.
If you find your fingers are generally a raw, bloody mess due to your boredom-induced nail-biting, or you’re driving your cubicle neighbors insane from your desk-drumming and pen-clicking, fidget toys might be the cure for your nervous or bored energy. Stress balls and desk toys have been around forever, but a recent trend in fidget toys adds a collectible, high quality — and often expensive — flair to finding a place to dump your excess energy.
Thanks to its surprisingly successful Kickstarter campaign, you might’ve heard of Antsy Lab’s Fidget Cube, which raised $6.4 million after setting a relatively meager $15,000 funding goal. Composed of buttons, dials, and switches — all of which don’t actually do anything other than give you something to prod — the Fidget Cube is a cheap option for the budget fidgeter. If you want something prettier, a different type of fidget motion, or something that scratches your collector’s itch, fidget spinners are the way to go; specifically, MD Engineering’s Torqbar and EME Tools’ Rotablade Stubby.
Much in the way the Fidget Cube’s buttons and dials don’t “do” anything other than get pressed and turned, fidget spinners spin. That’s it. They feel nice in your hand like worry stones do, and they easily spin with a flick of the finger. The spinners tend to come in a variety of metal bodies, like brass, copper, stainless steel, and titanium, and are constructed to spin for a while if you want to zone out and stare — the heavier the metal, the longer the spin. Generally, you’ll be flicking them back and forth more than you’ll be trying to reach their maximum spin time.
The Good – When introducing testers or random passersby to a spinner, the conversation always went the same way. We’d tell them what it was and they’d have some sort of aggressively incredulous response, but then we’d put it in their hand and in a matter of seconds they’d say how much they like it and wouldn’t want to give it back — every single time, without fail.
It may not sound like it, but these fidget toys — the Cube included — could very well improve your day-to-day by giving you an innocuous outlet for your nervous or bored energy, and our testers unanimously found this to be true. Some of us played with the spinners instead of bit our nails and cuticles — I went from short nails and raw skin to being able to squeeze a lemon into a glass of water with no problem. Some found we were more present in our daily lives — fidgeting with the spinner on the subway and paying attention to our surroundings rather than burying our faces in our phones. A few of us noticed we got up from our desks less, dumping energy into fidgeting with the spinner rather than taking mindless trips to the pantry. Our engagement level with the spinners varied from tester to tester, but we all preferred having them around, and found ourselves reaching for it when we were doing things that didn’t require both hands, from editing an article to simply waiting for the elevator.
We also found that the spinners are a good conversation piece. People tend to wonder what in the world you’re playing with, and when someone actually recognizes them, it’s like an instant bonding moment. Funnily enough, after having a frustrating couple days at the Apple Store trying to get my phone battery repaired in a reasonable time, an Apple technician noticed my spinner, struck up a conversation, and smoothly helped me along the process. Some of us also found that the spinners scratched our collector’s and hobbyist itch. I kind of want to catch ’em all and display them on a shelf, whereas others looked into how to build their own.
Ultimately, though, there isn’t enough research regarding whether or not these spinners can actually help people from a mental health standpoint. Basically, you’d have to try it for yourself. If you’re interested, you can find a whole market of cheap 3D-printed plastic, wooden, and metal spinners on Etsy to see if the basic concept is something that works for you without draining your wallet.
The Bad – There’s one big potential negative we experienced with the spinners. Out of the handful of units we received for testing, the bearings on around 30% felt gritty within a few days to a week of frequent use. Even though each spinner has a tightened finger pad protecting the bearings, particulate still manages to find its way in. If this happens, the spinner becomes very grindy — you can feel the grind through the finger pads as it spins, anyone in the immediate vicinity can hear it, and the spinner loses a large portion of its maximum spin time. Unscrewing the pads to access the bearing is easy enough, but blasting it with a generous amount of canned air doesn’t seem to do the trick. Soaking the bearings in or spraying them with rubbing alcohol, carburetor cleaner, or acetone, then drying and blasting them with canned air helped a little, but they were still louder and more grindy compared to when they came straight out of the box.
It’s hard to say what caused some of the spinners to get grindy so quickly — even after cleaning — and identical spinners to remain perfect. We had multiple units made of the same metals, used by the same people in roughly the same manner, frequency, and spin speed. One titanium Torqbar got very gritty, and cleaning according to the MD Engineering’s own instructions only helped a little. The other identical titanium Torqbar never had a problem and remains smooth and quiet. The titanium Rotablade got gritty in just a few hours, and like the Torqbar, cleaning only helped a little, whereas the brass Rotablade didn’t have a problem despite very similar usage, and is easily the smoothest and quietest fidget spinner we tested. It makes sense that the spinners would get a little louder after extended use, but from our testing, the ones that didn’t fall victim to grit sound and feel as great as they did out of the box.
This also needs to be made pretty clear: a nice fidget spinner will be expensive. The four Torqbar bodies — brass, copper, stainless steel, and titanium — range from $139 to $199. The Rotablade bodies, specifically the Stubby model (which comes in the same metal varieties as the Torqbar), range from around $117 to $135, though the Stubby has accessories that can raise the price, like a desktop display stand. Compared to the cheaper spinners on the market, made of 3D-printed plastic or wood, these higher quality spinners are definitely a step — a whole flight of stairs, really — above the rest. Considering the aforementioned precipice of grit-disaster atop which some of the bars seem to precariously balance — even ignoring the fact that “all” they do is spin — the price points are too high. Shelling out $199 for a Titanium spinner alone is a tall order, but to have it get gritty, and thus loud and grindy, after only a week of extended use would be extremely disappointing, especially considering how smooth and quiet the spinners are out of the box.
Counterintuitively, the spinners’ potential to get gritty, their high price tag, and how easy it is to notice when they’re spinning even slightly below par, can create a kind of anxiety in the type of user that needs things to run perfectly. This is exactly the opposite of what the spinners are designed to do. Your nervous or bored energy can turn into something of a paranoid energy, hyper aware of how the spinners sound and feel at all times. Again, the grit only happened to a minority of the spinners we received, and within that minority, an even smaller number of testers became a bit paranoid about the quality of the spinning. One tester actually preferred the gritty feel and sound, as he cares more about tactility.
The Verdict – Everyone that has used either a Torqbar, Rotablade Stubby, or both, loves the spinners. Which brand and construction material people preferred seemed to simply be a case of personal preference. The various metals have different hefts, and the Rotablade and Torqbar have different shapes, finger pads, and accessories. The Rotablade also doubles as — and bills itself as — a cigar stand, if you’re into that. Most of us can’t get past the price tag of these high-end spinners, but we all want one, and we’ve all noticed positive effects from using them, however large or small.