GAN 357 Ultimate 3x3 review
Well, this is quite a bit of a throwback isn't it? The GAN 357 is in fact a cube that predates the original GAN 356, and as its name indicates it's from an era when 57mm was still the norm. This makes the cube 3 years old, which is quite an age in the modern world of speedcubing. Somehow, GAN saw fit to re-release it as an Ultimate, bumping its performance and giving a price that sits squarely in the modern flagships. Let's see if it can still stack up.
As we know, the Ultimate cubes by GAN are cubes that are hand assembled and set up stock. In the case of the 357 Ultimate, this means the split pieces are hand glued with Tamiya Ultra-Thin Cement then polished to take away the unsightly seam left by split cubes. Additionally, as opposed to the plastic octopus core the standard GAN 357 uses, this one uses one with a plastic core but metal axles and threads - just like the octopus core of the GAN 356's. It's set up and lubricated from the factory, and as GAN's website claims, it has "perfect handfeeling". Let's see about that.
Packaging and Contents
This section is usually quite necessary with GAN cubes, since they do see fit to include more accessories than most of their competitors. Unfortunately, for a GAN cube the 357 Ultimate's included accessories are a bit lackluster: an instruction pamphlet (marked 356S) and a metal tensioning tool. That isn't to say you need much more; after all, most cubes only include the cube.
Look and Feel
Wow, they weren't lying about the seams. They're polished so well they're just not visible. The only place I can kind of see the split design is at the corner of the corner pieces where the three split pieces converge, but besides that the cube is seamless.
Good job, GAN.
It feels mostly just like a 357 if you've ever held one, which makes perfect sense, obviously. It weighs a rather hefty 90 grams stickered up, which actually comes out 9 grams heavier than the 357, and makes an interesting sound that mixes a deep swish with a high pitched click. The stickers are GAN's variant of full bright, with fluoro all except a relatively light blue.
I have a feeling that if the cube were any lighter, I'd think it flimsy because of a slight amount of creakiness, but since it's so heavy I still get the feeling of sturdiness. All the same, I'd rather that creakiness not be there.
I will not be setting this cube up because it should come pre-set up.
It's, er, still like a 357. I'd say there's less of a difference between this cube and the stock 357 than there is between the 356 Air Ultimate and the stock 356 Air. It still has a heavy, fast turning feel that feels slow to start up but slick and fast to finish in turns. There's a bit of muted bumpiness in its turn that you feel every time one seam crosses another, which again resembles the 357.
It's notably more stable, though. My 357 was a very, very floppy cube. This one's stability is much better and I'd say around the same as the 356S v2.
Ultimately, not too much different, but enough that I can see why this one is the one that's branded Ultimate.
Oh man, the bar has been set high here. The original 357 full cut with a very satisfying snappy feeling even at the higher angles. Can the 357 Ultimate do the same?
...and, nope. Corner cutting tops out at 52 degrees, which is still rather impressive. The problem is, reverse cutting tops out above 37 degrees but just not quite 38, leaving a deadzone of less than a single degree. But a deadzone is still a deadzone.
I also have to say reverse cutting is much crunchier and less satisfying on the 357 Ultimate, not to mention cutting these extreme angles both ways takes much more force than I'm used to.
That being said, the 357 Ultimate does seem factory set up to have significantly tighter tensions than the original 357, which no doubt helps its stability. I would personally consider that benefit to be well worth the tradeoff of literally less than a fraction of a degree in corner cutting.
Anti-pop and anti-corner twist
Excellent on both accounts, which is honestly a bit unexpected. This is a 3 year old design that they simply gave the Ultimate treatment to, after all. Popping is impossible and corner twisting is actually extraordinarily difficult even to do on purpose.
It's significantly better than an out of the box 357. Again, no doubt due to the tighter factory tensions.
Alright, since it's so difficult to pop I'm gonna have to loosen a center to take this thing apart...
Good god, did they glue the caps on?
Now that I've broken two fingernails and finally gotten a cap off, we can finally see the exact same internals as the GAN 357 in all its glory, topped off with a metal octopus core. That core most likely accounts for the 9 gram difference. Considering how similar the 357's design is to even current GAN flagships, it really goes to show how long GAN has been using the same design.
Not that that's a bad thing. In fact, I'd go ahead and argue that it's a good thing, since they've had three years and four generations of cubes to refine that geometry. This is in stark contrast to the likes of QiYi and MoYu, who seemingly use a different geometry for every new cube.
The edge piece. Again, very similar geometry to even the 356 Air, but this one is split, and, being an older cube, has a split edge base as well instead of the newfangled unified feet. Ridges make an appearance, which have since been discarded on newer GAN cubes.
Similar idea: Split pieces, no unified feet, pretty similar otherwise. Ridges are present again.
I had a memorable lockup some months ago with my 357 where the cube managed to stay together, but one of the corners actually split apart at the seams. Since these pieces are glued together, the chances of that happening are about 0, but you do lose some customization options in case you ever want to take apart the pieces entirely for whatever reason.
In case you didn't know what the insides of a 357 look like, now you do.
This cube retails for $24.95, which is, to most, a pretty steep price.
Is this a reasonable price for a "flagship"? Two years I would have stamped "NO" furiously all over this review and my computer screen, but in this day and age I would actually argue: yes. More and more tech is being put into cubes, and more and more setup is being done at the factory or at the shop rather than by the speedcuber. It's not uncommon to see one maining a $30, $40, or even $50 cube nowadays. Not to mention GAN has a reputation for expensive cubes already and people accept that, so there's no reason they shouldn't for this cube.
Is it comparable to other cubes in its price bracket? Well, that's easier to answer, and unfortunately a bit more negative. It doesn't quite feel like what people think of high end cubes to feel like nowadays: that is, fast, smooth, and crisp. Instead, it feels sluggish in the start and uncontrollable in the finish of every turn. Corner cutting just barely misses the mark but stability is quite a bit below the modern baseline, close to the 356S and 356S v2 which were notorious for being rather floppy cubes for what they were.
Ultimately, it's not such a good value for speedcubers. There are newer, faster, and better feeling cubes for cheaper prices available.
Objective score: 6/10
Not a bad cube, but compared to where the mark has been set lately it's not quite there. I think most people would much rather prefer the feeling of modern flagships such as the GTS2 or the Valk or even GAN's newer cubes, such as one of the many 356 Air variants. That, combined with the 357 Ultimate's steep price, can only give it a somewhat mediocre score.
Subjective score: 5/10
I actually really enjoyed the original 357 when I first got it, and I thought I would enjoy the 357 Ultimate as well. Turns out, my tastes have changed, and neither the original 357 nor the 357 Ultimate are as fun or confident feeling in my hands as my favorite Cosmic Valk is, or as the many new cubes I'm testing are.
In the end, this is a collector's cube, and in that regard it accomplishes its purpose well. It's not a cube you'd come across every day and knowing that some craftsman worked hard to hand assemble and set up this cube at their factory adds a lot of value. However, ultimately I do find it hard to recommend this cube to any speedcuber looking for the fastest or most controllable cube to solve, not when there are so many more lighter, faster, and smoother cubes available.
- Karl Zhao