July5 , 2022

Perfecting the Electric Scooter, Almost

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Before we talk about the scooter, it is important to talk about what’s going on with respect to Ola Electric. There is a lot that has been said about the Ola Electric scooters. I have been riding every single two-wheeler that has been launched in India for almost the last decade, be it scooters built at an extreme cost or flagship two-wheelers whose buyers don’t even bother about the price, but just the experience. Also, there have been several companies that came and went during this time but the spectrum of opinions being bombarded on Ola Electric is unlike anything I have seen before. Go back to just very recently when the Ola Electric scooter was about to be launched and by many it was declared an “electric revolution”. Rather ironically, it is the same bunch that has many questions regarding the entire company as a whole. And in my experience, all it will take is a few months of numbers and data and the opinions will revert right back.

Thing is, people are quick to jump to conclusions especially when it comes to a big shift in any industry. What’s essential is that we separate the opinions and look at the product – which the users buy – objectively. And being unconventional changes the entire equation of how you judge a scooter, and I will explain why later in the story. So with that, here’s what I found out during my time with the Ola Electric S1 Pro.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

Learning My Way Around the Ola S1 Pro

The reason why I referred to my experience of testing new products is that the experience of being handed over the keys to a new scooter or a motorcycle, is well, an experience. For the Ola S1 Pro, however, the experience was quite different as there was no key!

The scooter uses a passcode system, just like your smartphone, to lock and unlock. And this is where the learnings began. You can also pair your phone with the scooter to access some of the features and that’s the next step that followed. The pairing process was quite simple and straight forward and it took barely a minute to get up to pace.

Once that was done, a considerable amount of time was spent going through the massive touchscreen display that replaces the conventional instrument cluster. There were modes, brightness levels, and even settings for the scooter. After a lot of fiddling around, the realization that dawned was the experience was something like how it felt when I switched to an iPhone after being used to an Android for years. I could understand everything that the on-screen buttons would do it was just about finding my way around it and learning which feature lies where. This was also the longest I had spent without starting the ride of the new two-wheeler after turning it on!

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

While it was easy for me to find my way around the digital screen and toggle the settings, I am not so sure that the experience will be this smooth for a conventional scooter rider. In my opinion, since Ola Electric does not have a dedicated dealership system, they should send along with someone that can guide the new user on how to install the app, connect the phone, and tell them how to operate the menu and the features.

This is because the scooter is quite unconventional. It has a built-in reverse mode, for example, which rather embarrassingly I tried to make work for a couple of days. I even went through the user manual to understand what could be wrong, I hard rebooted the scooter and yet the scooter won’t go in reverse. One call with Ola support and it turns out the accelerator turns in the opposite direction too, ever so slightly, and that is how you engage reverse on the scooter. In all other scenarios, that input does not result in an action. So you can understand the confusion of a rider who has only twisted the throttle in one direction for years to have any action from the two-wheeler.

Getting a Move On

The riding experience of the Ola Electric S1 Pro is once again, unconventional. Being an electric scooter, there is no noise and the absolute first thing that I noticed – to my pleasant surprise – is that my colony dogs do not bark at the scooter! And trust me, this can be a big deal for a lot of people.

Nevertheless, the scooter impresses with the acceleration on offer. Being driven by an electric motor, the acceleration is linear until the electronically limited top speeds are based on the different riding modes where you feel the power being cut off. Also, since it is so quiet, you do not have the sound of the engine revving to subconsciously give you an idea of just how fast you are going. So keep in mind that the perceived speed while riding the scooter is slower than what it is doing.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

And talking of speed, the fastest I went was about 117 km/h, as indicated. This is seriously impressive for an electric scooter as the majority of EV scooters that are on sale right now, don’t even come close to this kind of performance. What also makes the riding experience exciting is that there is power available no matter what speeds you are doing. So those quick city overtakes are always available. While many speak of the acceleration of the scooter from a standstill, it is the roll-on acceleration that I found to be most impressive.

And talking of acceleration, there are multiple levels to select. It gets quicker going from Eco to Normal, to Sport, and finally, Hyper mode. The speed at which the range depletes also gets quicker as you select a faster mode. Thankfully, the S1 Pro changes the range estimate depending on the mode to give you an idea of just how much range you are exchanging for performance.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

As for what can be better, there are two things to note. First, there is an input lag when it comes to twisting the throttle from fully closed to the scooter delivering the power to the wheel. It is not as direct as you would be accustomed to in a combustion engine-powered scooter. Secondly, if you even slightly press the brakes, any of them, the power is cut. And since there is a small delay, the power comes back later than you would expect. It took me a couple of days to get used to this as it can be a bit unsettling especially if you are taking U-turns. But the thing, you do get used to it.

As for the riding experience, the suspension setup and the ride quality were just fine. You do feel the weight of the electric scooter at sharp bumps but other than that, it is not too exceptional and not too bad. It is exactly how you expect a “regular” scooter to behave.

Bringing a Change Through New Features

Up until this point, you would have noticed that I am comparing the S1 Pro’s experience with other scooters in the market. But the S1 Pro differentiates itself by bringing more to the table in terms of features than what others do. And it all starts with the massive touchscreen.

The biggest help that you get from this is that almost the entirety of the screen turns into navigation. It has decent touch response and feedback and incorporates a full-sized digital keyboard so that you can comfortably put in the destination that you want to go to. The Maps is not Google Maps, however. So it took time to adjust to a different map system but it was still extremely helpful and usable.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

The other big differentiator is that the scooter comes with in-built speakers. And since it has smartphone connectivity via Bluetooth, you can stream music from the scooter as well. While the scooter is parked or at standstill, with music playing, you will be the center of attention – which is good, if you are into that. But don’t expect a great audio experience when the scooter is being ridden because first, you would be wearing a helmet (you should always), and second, with the wind noise, tyre noise, and the traffic noise, what you end up hearing are the sharp treble beats of your favourite song. It is nowhere close to being an audio experience that you would have from headphones, but it is good enough for ambient sound-style light listening. If you are not too bothered about the sound quality, you will have a good time with your favourite playlist accompanying you on your ride without crossing out the essential honks that you need to hear from the traffic around you.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

Not having a physical key is another thing you have to get used to. All I needed was the phone in my pocket and I was good to go. If you are someone who keeps forgetting where they kept the keys, you will love the Ola S1 Pro. Just don’t forget the passcode.

The ‘Almost’ Part

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

It is not all perfect, however. Being a completely digital experience, the seat of the scooter opens through the tap of a button on the digital screen. As a result, the seat-locking mechanism is mechanical, yes, but also includes a sensor to tell the onboard computer whether the seat is locked or not – which then consecutively tells you on the screen if the seat is not locked in. There was a time when I could simply not lock the seat. Multiple tries, shutting it softly and hardly, sitting on it and leaving it be – it simply won’t lock. It would latch on momentarily but then release it again.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

I had to hard reboot the scooter to get the sensor to work properly again which indicates that it was not damaged, it was a conscious decision by the onboard computer to unlatch it every time I closed the seat. And while this got corrected after the hard reboot, the fear of it happening again was deeply instilled, thinking what if it doesn’t start working normally the next time even after a hard reboot. As a result, I ended up avoiding keeping anything precious in the storage area. Oh, speaking of which, it has enough space to keep a half-face helmet and the charger with a bit of room to spare for a water bottle, for example.

And lastly, the panel gap on the side skirts was still uneven – something we had first noticed at the time of the launch of the scooter. But other than this, though, there were no build quality issues at all.

“Did it Catch Fire, Bro?”

No, it did not.

The reason why this question makes it to the review is that this was legit one of the most asked questions I received while testing the scooter. And I believe there is a much deeper reason for this behavior than just mindless trolling.

And this brings me to the start of the story where I referred to the S1 Pro as being unconventional and its consequences. The Ola S1 Pro heralds a new era of two-wheelers where they are powered by electricity and their biggest draw will be the features that they have. You see, none of the modern-day scooters are “bad” per se, not at least by the definition of “bad” that was established by testers and reviewers decades ago. Today, the differentiating factor that impacts the buying decision massively are things like the S1 Pro having a massive touchscreen with a digital keyboard and the in-built navigation support. For many, it will be the fact that they can play music and show off to their friends and family that their scooter has speakers as well. It will impress their near and dear ones by going into reverse mode and by not having a physical key. Scooters are changing and the Ola Electric S1 Pro embraces that change in all its entirety.

Ola S1 Pro
Ola S1 Pro. (Photo: Manav Sinha/News18.com)

Yes, it is not perfect but barely any first-generation product is, be it from a new company or being a product based on new technology that questions the format of the product that has been followed for decades. The Ola Electric S1 Pro is both from a new company and a wholly new product. And above all, objectively, the Ola S1 Pro is as close as any electric scooter has got to be perfect.

I leave you with some food for thought. Today, one of the most successful OTT platforms in the world is Apple TV. But it was not always that way. It started as the Macintosh TV that was pulled from stores within five months due to it being a failure as it was bad at being a TV. Today, Apple TV is becoming an essential part of establishing a TV as a good option to buy.

Speaking of which, maybe we can watch TV on the Ola S2 Pro?

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