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Test-driving the Walkcar, the 'car in your bag'

With a name like Walkcar, I had to try out this personal electric vehicle. Especially since it looks like a laptop with wheels.

The word "Walkcar" drew me in like only a combination of two words that don't really belong together can. I mean, what an absurd name. Walkcar... it's just fun to type. The Walkcar is a personal electric vehicle made by a Japanese company, Cocoa Motors, with one of its many tag lines reading "the car in your bag." I love cars, and I love bags, so I had to try one.

Yeah, there are wheels on the other side of that.

Nic Henry/CNET

When you pull it out of your bag (and by the way, it fit into my smallest backpack), the first two things you notice are that it's really small and that it feels surprisingly well-built. It actually looks like a laptop with wheels, but feels much sturdier. You have to really search to find screws. There's also some carbon-fiber action along the bottom, and it has a really nice handle. 

The wheels, however, have a striking resemblance to desk-chair wheels. They're hard, coated in rubber, and lack any sort of tread. After examining them, my mind went back to the machine's resemblance to a laptop, and suddenly I was nervous to step onto the tiny platform. But I had to... for science.

Electric vehicle or did I just turn my slip-ons into roller skates? You be the judge.

Nic Henry/CNET

The Walkcar operates similar to a Onewheel, in that there are four sensors on the top of the platform and, once your feet are touching all four, the board moves forward. Balancing in a forward-facing "skier-style" is tricky at first, especially for someone like me -- I've skateboarded and snowboarded for most of my life. Luckily, the Walkcar rides so low to the ground that if you're ever feeling sketchy, which I felt frequently, stepping off is easy and running it out is manageable.

"Running it out" did act as my main method for stopping most of the time. To stop, you're supposed to lift up your toes, and once one of the sensors is disengaged, the board will slowly come to a stop. I'm not sure if my feet are too big for the board, but this was an awkward maneuver for me and took a lot of practice before I was successful. I did get better at it over time, but my feet didn't love going all bendy-bendy.

The Walkcar has three modes, which you toggle through with a single button on the back of the machine. In the fastest mode, the Walkcar tops out 10 mph. That might not sound fast on paper, but again, when you're standing on a platform the size of a laptop, it actually feels plenty fast.

From this angle, the Walkcar makes me look huge.

Nic Henry/CNET

Turning isn't as intuitive as it is on a Onewheel or other PEVs I've tried. I distinctly remember the first time I tried a "hoverboard," it turned where I wanted it to without me feeling like I was actually controlling it. It really tripped me out. You don't get that as much here. I felt like I really had to shift my weight to go where I wanted. It's also worth noting that the Walkcar does not move backward.

Back to those wheels: They're tougher than they look. They handled sidewalk cracks and well-kept asphalt better than I expected them to. When I did hang up on a bigger crack or debris of some kind, again, the low ride-height makes it so you're never really getting pitched because of an obstacle. Needless to say, I did try riding through some ice and it didn't go super well. It didn't go super terribly either.

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Wayne Gretzky, a famous fan of ice.

Nic Henry/CNET

When it comes down to it, if you have something like a tennis court or a big enough smooth area without traffic and stop signs, the Walkcar is fun to ride. In a way, learning to turn and stop and progress through the different modes is almost like a game in itself. It really does feel like you're gliding along on a some sort of weird hybrid between walking and, um, car-ing.

But I'm sure you're wondering what the Walkcar costs. Take a deep breath, because this thing comes in at $1,980 (that's about £1,450 or AU$2,570). Yeah, that's no small amount of cash. I'm not sure if it's a direct competitor to Onewheel, but the smallest Onewheel, the Pint, costs about half that. 

I think your electric vehicle needs have to be pretty niche to want a Walkcar, but I can think of a few scenarios. Maybe your commute involves a mile-long subway transfer? While all those drones are merely walking, you can make this laptop with wheels appear almost out of nowhere and in an instant you're Walkcar-ing right past them. In other words, if you ever wanted a car in your bag, this Walkcar thing gets you pretty close.

For more on the Walkcar, and to see how goofy I look riding it, watch the video above.

Read moreI turned my skateboard into an electric one and it was like snowboarding on asphalt