Hi! It’s Mikus, owner of TRIDOS.DESIGN, here.
Recently, one of our Youtube videos came under fire by ExFog owner, Aaron Bennett, who claims that contents in our video were (A) clear misinformation, (B) lies based on knowingly using an inferior device for comparison and (C) undisclosed paid partnership / contract with Novrtisch GmbH was present at the time of filming the video. They also claim that we are trying to pass our review video as “unbiased”.
The purpose of this blog post is to counter the bold claims made by Aaron in the video and to show that this video was made with good intentions in mind and based on the latest information available publicly at the time of recording. Our goal was to show the differences between the two active anti fog units, their performance for a consumer to make an educated purchase.
I will not tolerate being called a liar or someone who’s trying to intentionally mislead people for monetary gain.
Bias and disclaimer
While I try to be as objective as possible in every video we make, there is no such thing as an “unbiased” review. This video, I believe, was the most in-depth video any creator could have made on these devices at the time of the launch. We went out of our way to test durability, power, battery life, and how loud it is in the most objective way we could at the time. By no means any of our testing was “lab grade” or perfect but I consider that the effort and thought put in this video was way above what any other airsoft content creator has been able to do.
Under EU law under which we operate, any paid partnership needs to be disclosed and in the beginning of the video I very clearly disclosed that:
- I was directly involved in developing this product as a contractor
- I no longer have any active working relationship with Novritsch GmbH
- I was sent a review unit for testing purposes free of charge
- No money exchanged hands regarding this video
- Novritsch has no say on what makes it into the video
- We have an affiliate link but that 99% of our income comes from making our own products
We even posted all our affiliate earnings to our community and asked whether we should stop the affiliate program with Novritsch since it brings an insignificant amount of money:
“You’ve got a broken unit, bro.”
ExFog claims that in the video we have been using an old, damaged ExFog unit and therefore any testing done was completely inaccurate and invalid. These claims were based on three pieces of information:
- ExFog unit had pieces of electrical tape to hold the case together → damaged
- Me saying that LED’s on ExFog are sometimes blinking → error code
- ExFog I used was “several years old” and they haven’t used that fan for years → too old
We would like to go over each of the points to clear up any false claims that we “intentionally used old and broken unit” to mislead any viewers and to portray that Novritsch Anti Fog Unit is far superior.
1. State of the ExFog unit
The ExFog unit shown in the video was purchased on 26th of May, 2020 from tacticalstore.se as can be seen by this email:
Yes, this was how much ExFog cost in Europe from a retailer that had it in stock.
The device was used on roughly 3-5 game days by myself to evaluate it’s real world performance and main gripes with the device. After that, the device was carefully opened (it’s chemically sealed so there is no non-destructive way to open the lid) and no components were damaged in the process (there’s a huge gap between the components and the top lid).
Tearing down competing products and market research is an essential part of a product development cycle and is an industry standard. There are even companies like Munro & Associates that specialize in tearing down cars, inspecting and costing every single part in the car and then making reports that are sold to competing car brands so they can improve their designs.
After opening the device up the device was functioning the same as before and everything was put back together with the sole exception of us not bonding the lid back on, in case we need to take another look inside. Therefore we used basic electrical tape to hold the lid in place. If removing a lid from a basic device like this can be a reason to call it broken - it’s poor design at best in this day and age, and eventual e-waste at worst.
This exact ExFog unit had been very lightly used, with very few battery cycles and was roughly 2 years old. With many people claiming they have units still running since 2018, I would say our unit was pretty new.
It’s also worth noting that we had done extensive testing during development while the device was brand new and the testing results were consistent with our findings after we made the video 2.5 years later.
2. Blinking lights
In the video, I said:
"Next to the power button you will find two single-color LED’s - one is for charging and one is for battery status. But honestly I always forget what the indicator means because sometimes they are flashing, sometimes turned off, sometimes they are glowing red - it’s honestly quite confusing if you don’t have the manual next to you."
- during normal operation on the field there were no lights on (like it should be)
- during charging, there’s a single glowing red LED (like it should be according to instructions)
- once the device is fully charged, green LED comes on (like it should be)
However, something that is not covered in the instructions is a blinking red LED light which indicated a low battery on the unit, based on my testing. I do not know or understand why this is never mentioned in the user manual - if you have a special sequence programmed in your device's firmware that is designed to inform the user of something, it should be included.
In their video, Aaron claims that such light behaviour is indicating that we had a “critically broken unit with a microprocessor saying that something is not right”. If that is the case:
- why is a blinking red light never mentioned in the user manual regardless of meaning?
- why does the device appear to be working perfectly fine, just like it was when new?
- why does the device usually run out of battery soon after it starts blinking?
- the designer of the device should know exactly what’s wrong with the device based on an error code, if they have that implemented in the firmware
To me, a user, this appeared to be a normal function of the device as a low battery indicator. And if the device was “critically broken” based on this one blinking light, then the unit had already arrived in this state before it was opened up and I, as a user, was unaware that I should be contacting them for more information.
3. “We haven’t used that fan in years”
As we already showed, we had purchased the device in 2020, approximately 2.5 years before the video was recorded. The reasons we did not bother buying a new ExFog unit are the following:
- the unit was very lightly used
- there were no visible updates or new versions released for ExFog
- cost of ExFog in Europe was and still is very expensive contrary to what they say
However, after the video came out, ExFog was quick to point out in the comments section that this fan, which was included in our ExFog unit, was “several years old”:
This is something that we did not know, and could be considered an honest mistake. However, on most reseller websites (even at the time of writing) and on ExFog’s own website and socials, there is nothing publicly available that would indicate that there have been any changes or improvements on the device since the time of our purchase.
This was our response:
If a product gets noticeable improvements / internal upgrades this should be clearly communicated by:
- posting this information as a blog / newsletter / post on socials
- making it clear to understand which version of the device you are purchasing
- having an accurate product description that represents these improvements
In their eyes, it seems like the improvements they made were very noticeable, therefore, they should have at least called it “Gen2” / “2021 version” or anything similar that would indicate to the consumer “hey, it seems like there are multiple hardware versions of these, I better learn what the differences are, and make sure I am buying the latest one”.
So while this might affect the results of our testing slightly, in our opinion, it’s the manufacturers fault that such changes have not been clearly communicated. Even when we intentionally tried looking for this information, we couldn't find any changes, therefore, how can you expect a regular consumer to find this information?
Even today, if you go to any reseller that has ExFog in stock - it's impossible to tell which version of the hardware you will get. It's very possible that some shops have old, unsold stock laying around and you might get an older unit unless purchasing directly from ExFog.
The battery testing is probably the only test where I can objectively see where we overlooked the battery degradation aspect, and that was a mistake. That said, ExFog has since done their own testing on a new unit and it’s been on par with Novrtisch unit.
“Potentiometers are not reliable”
With the main controversy out of the way, I wanted to focus on several other claims they make, starting with the potentiometer. I have a background in robotics but by no means am I an expert in electronics - however, I have pretty good general knowledge on how these things work, especially regarding such basic devices as these anti fog units.
In the video Aaron claims that the potentiometer, like the one used on the Novritsch Anti Fog Unit, are unreliable, “analog”, and cause battery drain issues, unlike their “full digital setup” on ExFog.
When in fact the dial on the AFU is an encoder, not a potentiometer. While a potentiometer returns an analog value based on a resistance, encoders provide “fully digital signals”. You can read more about the differences here.
If you’re an electrical engineer, you’re probably already cringing, but for those who don’t have a clear understanding of how these components work, here’s a very basic rundown:
- on ExFog they are using a momentary tactile switch, which when pressed, connects two pieces of metal, resulting in a contact - either it’s on or off
- On AFU, Novrtisch uses an encoder, identical to the ones found on Baofeng radios. First it has a click / bump to connect two pieces of metal, and then it also returns a range value, which allows to adjust the power from 0 to 100 range (simplified)
While it’s true that improper implementation of a potentiometer / encoder can cause battery drain (and as we pointed out in the video, it’s possible that Novritsch AFU might have had this issue at the time of recording the video) that doesn’t mean it’s unsuited for the purpose. There are purpose built encoders for this exact use case - they have a switch, they are fully sealed, waterproofed, and they are rated for at least 30 000 cycles. That means you would have to turn the encoder at least 8 times a day, every single day, for 10 years, to go past it's intended lifecycle.
For example, the vast majority of radios (walkie talkies) on the market use this style of encoder as the volume knob, and as an on / off switch. Novrtisch AFU uses the same exact encoder that is also used in Baofeng UV-5R radios.
Have you had any issues with them? Have any of them died prematurely or malfunctioned? Would you really prefer a push button that cycles through 10 different volume settings on a radio?
Improper implementation does not mean it’s unsuitable for the use case. Especially, when tons of other similar devices have had this exact implementation with absolutely no issues for decades at this point.
In the response video they claim that the lid of the device is chemically bonded for the device to be able to survive even the harshest conditions. To that, my question is - why bother chemically bonding something to “seal” it, if there is literally a gap on the bottom , several millimeters wide, all around the micro-USB port, not to mention the holes for the fan to draw fresh air through.
All it takes is for someone to splash you from a nearby puddle, or for you to tilt your head down and the whole underside of the device is exposed to rain and water - which will then get straight onto the PCB, and in the worst case, the battery.
If such a thing happens, the device becomes e-waste and there is no way for you to repair it. Since there is no non-destructive way to open the device, there is no possibility to replace the fan, the PCB, or the battery, even if the rest of the components are fine. This creates e-waste.
Creating devices that cannot be self-repaired is usually done to increase future sales once the device dies, or charge extra for repairs. From my understanding, thankfully, this is not the case as ExFog’s customer support and warranty has been pretty solid, from what we have seen, and in most cases they send out a replacement unit, however, the old unit, in most cases, will go straight into the trash.
This is something we wanted to fix on Novritsch AFU, by making it possible to take it apart to the last piece without any glue, or destructive methods. Moreover, the internal layout of the device was made in a way where the fan and PCB are located in completely separate, sealed compartments of the case. Meaning that, even if some water was to splash into the device through the intake, the only component it would come in contact with would be the fan, which can be easily replaced.
Competition drives innovation
I don’t care if you’re a fan of ExFog or Novritsch or neither. I don’t care which device you use. More competition, means more innovation, means better products for end-users.
Since the launch of Novritsch Anti Fog Unit device 7 months ago, ExFog has:
- dropped the price for their base units
- come out with a new, magnetic goggle mounting solution
- been trying to make devices more available in EU at more shops
- increased airflow on their latest units
- been working to switch to USB-C soon
Whereas, in the first 5 years of ExFog operating in a zero competition market they:
- have installed an improved fan (most likely to reduce reliability issues on earlier units, to reduce amount that needs to be replaced under warranty)
- maybe make minor changes in firmware? there is not enough information on this topic available to the public (easily fixed with a simple changelog)
I guess that’s just a coincidence…
Moreover, our main criticism with Novritsch Anti Fog Unit was it’s durability - it broke on the first shot. When we did the testing, I sent this to Christoph himself and he was also surprised to see the results.
In the span of 7 months, Novritsch have:
- included a free rubber patch with Batch 2 devices (hotfix)
- improved the material impact resistance on Batch 3 to handle 3J impact (have not tested it yet, it was just released)
I know this because Novritsch is transparent about their improvements and it was included in their latest newsletter:
If only we had just asked…
ExFog has been patent-pending for a while now. During the time of the product development and recording of the video, I was interested to see the patent application in question. I had spent roughly an hour on three different occasions trying to find this patent application, and have been unsuccessful. There are no mentions of the patent pending number on the website.
In the video Aaron says:
“why didn’t he reach out to us and say, hey, we have a competitive product, we’re going to build. I can’t find your patent. That is public information. If we can’t see that patent application, then we are going to pursue replicating the product.”
Well… I did and we never got a reply:
Not only that, we also tried sourcing the patent in question through crowdsourcing via Reddit:
We also replied to the ExFog Facebook comments, asking to provide the patent number, to which they said they are unable to provide it due to ongoing legal circumstances (I am unable to locate these comments, I believe some of them were deleted by ExFog or Novritsch after a few days).
It was only after we published our video, that on January 30th (3 days after we released our video), they finally publicly posted the number of their patent application which was under our reddit post. This was the first time, to my knowledge, anyone could find and read the patent after numerous failed attempts to find it or ask for it.
I was hired as a designer for a product, not as an IP consultant. All the design work is 100% property of Novrtisch GmbH, and it’s their responsibility to do their due diligence. The purpose of finding this patent was purely out of curiosity to see what the utility is that they are trying to patent, as the device is essentially a small PC fan with tubes and a battery attached. It is common knowledge that you cannot patent trivial concepts.
I did my best to try to locate the patent in question, so we could properly cover it in the video review, however, after numerous attempts, we were not able to find it prior to releasing the video. It is not impossible to imagine a situation where someone would be pretending to have a patent-pending, especially, since we tried numerous times to look for it, and ask for it directly.
Just a cheap knockoff
After watching our teardown video, anyone claiming that Novrtisch did 0 development and just copied ExFog design, must be blind. If Novritsch were to make a cheap copy of the same product, they would have shipped off the ExFog device to a random factory in china, paid them $5000, and they would have had a working product that they could have sold within 3 months time.
Instead, they hired me, and we spent 1 year, where we did extensive R&D to completely redesign every part of the device:
- ordering every single fan on the market that might fit such a device
- got equipment to measure their actual airflow output, RPM’s, sound level and control power output
- tested every single fan at several different voltages
- tested every tube size starting from 4mm up to 10mm
- tested different fan and tube combinations
- explored designs for single and dual fan setups
- explored options for replaceable batteries
- worked on improving the user interface
Does the end product have a fan, a battery, and two tubes? Yes.
Does that make it a cheap knockoff? No.
By this logic, every single car is a direct ripoff of the first vehicle which had 4 wheels, a steering wheel, and a motor.
Negativity in airsoft
It’s no secret that the airsoft community, in general, has always been more toxic than most other communities. The last thing we need is for creators and manufacturers to enable their fan base to go and publicly harass their competitors or anyone else that they think deserves it.
We have been nothing but respectful in every public conversation we’ve had with everyone, including ExFog. We’ve even had our own products copied and we dealt with that in private. When we have an issue with something, we try to deal with it in private messages, make improvements to our product and fight it out in the open market - let the consumer decide.
Instead of coming to us and offering to send a brand new device for testing to re-evaluate, or even better have an independent creator lab test these devices head to head, they took 7 months to make a response video bashing how wrong we were due to lack of information on their product.
It’s easy to sell negativity and drama.
There’s a whole lot more inaccuracies or opinions that I don’t agree with in their video response. That being said, I believe I have taken enough time to clear up any doubts on whether we have been paid to make a hit piece, or whether I was just excited for a new product launch in an underserved area of the airsoft market, which I had the opportunity to work on.
I believe that patents have their place and time but in most cases they stagnate innovation, instead of accelerating it. I believe in making the best product possible, and hope customers notice and value that. I believe you can have a growing business without needing to have a monopoly over a certain product category.
I have been fully paid for my work at Novritsch, and I haven’t worked on any Novritsch products since August 2021. I have nothing to gain by making a false video on a product - it’s my reputation on the line if caught lying.
Aaron on the other hand, from what I have seen, has everything to lose for a single product company that’s had 0 competition for more than 5 years. I don’t blame him. Being under such pressure brings out the emotional side of you, resulting in decisions that you might not normally make.
By going after me publicly, he is going after another small guy just like him, who helped bootstrap his business by working for a larger company to make ends meet and has had the opportunity to work on a bigger product, with a potentially great impact on the sport.
Be critical, think about what you're being told. Ask questions. Don't be an amplifier for somebody else. Form your own opinions, by having several independent information sources. And that applies also to our content and our videos, no matter how transparent we try to be - everyone make mistakes, even us. We can have a different opinion and that's ok.
I moved to Mexico
Oh and according to the lawyers of ExFog, it turns out I've moved to Mexico to avoid legal battle:
Rest assured, I just returned from Borderwar 15 in Czech Republic, back to our office in Latvia and business is as usual (apart from me needing to spend almost a full day writing this blog post). I have no clue where they come up with these claims - it's hard to understand what's currently going on in their heads.
At no point did they:
- try to contact us (apart from the comments section under the video, which is available publicly for everyone to read)
- ask for us to take the video down
- offer to send a new ExFog unit for comparison
For anyone that got through the full article - I appreciate your time and hopefully you have a new insight on some areas of the product development we do, and the philosophy behind it. 🤜🤛
Chief of Everything,