While assembling the latest and the biggest LEGO Technic set ever, I came up with countless versions of the introductory paragraph for this review. However, once I turned this thing on and spend some time operating it, it became clear that none of my paragraphs work better than raw facts about the set which speak for themselves. So, here is LEGO Technic 42100 Liebherr R 9800 Excavator, the biggest LEGO Technic set ever with 4,108 pieces, among which are 7 Powered Up motors and 2 smart-hub. The finished model weighs around 6 kg / 13.2 lbs (including the weight of 12 AA cells). This is a fully motorized copy that can be controlled via a smartphone or a tablet and it is all as good as it sounds. With impressive numbers comes an impressive price tag; the set is available for US $449.99 | CAN $549.99 | UK £399.99. And here comes the most important question: is the set worth the money? Let’s build it, test it and find out.
Packaging and building instructions
Depending on the theme, some LEGO boxes seem to tell you way too much about the set. For an adult fan, this may spoil the joy of building a new model, but R 9800 is not the case. The design of the box holds just enough information to get your interest, but there’s so much more hidden inside. During your next visit to a LEGO store make sure to enjoy the back of the box.
Just like most of the larger LEGO sets, half of the plastic bags are packed in a separate white box. In this case, the box contains everything you need for the first 3 of 6 building stages.
But the most valuable part of the set hides a little bit deeper inside. Of course, it’s Powered Up box, which houses all the electric elements. I can’t help confessing my love to the design of the box; it both has the vibes of all LEGO Technic sets from the ’90s and looks very modern and stylish. A box similar to this one comes with LEGO Technic 4×4 X-treme Off-Roader (42099) set.
This Liebherr is the Technic set with the highest number of electrical parts ever: 2 hubs, 3 L-motors, and 4 M-motors. The Powered Up elements were introduced in 42099 4×4 X-treme Off-Roader set a couple of months ago; we took a closer look at them in our review. Now we are getting more of the same elements.
It will take you exactly 1,000 steps to assemble the excavator. However, instead of one spiral-bound book (which can be found, for instance, in UCS Star Wars sets) here is a hefty couple of regular building guides. Although the quality of the paper and the printing are traditionally great, unfortunately, a couple of building steps have mistakes. We have to mention this because with its price of $450 US the set falls into the category of premium toys, and the mistakes we found can ruin the joy of building for a 12-year-old child.
New pieces and pieces in new colors
Although the R 9800 is the biggest LEGO Technic set to date, it brings a lot less new pieces than one may expect. The most prominent of the pieces is, probably, the new giant shovel. It measures 20 x 11 x 9 studs and was designed exclusively for the set; it’s safe to say we won’t meed the element again unless a new open-pit excavator hits the shelves.
The excavator is an extremely huge and heavy motorized model. When building on such a scale, it’s very easy to damage gears and axels with powerful LEGO motors. To keep risks of harming a very expensive toy as low as possible, the design team came up with a brand new concept of a clutch gear. The new linear clutch connector is here to replace the old 24 tooth clutch gear, which can be found in several 2018 sets. The idea of the clutch gear is very simple: it’s a link inside the gear mechanism which slips if the torque is too much, therefore keeping other pieces undamaged even if the motor is still on. Unlike the former gear, the new mechanism is a linear clutch meaning then it looks and acts like an ordinary connector between two axels. When slipping the new clutch connector makes distinctive cracking sound.
Speaking about gears, you’ll find a couple of relatively new 28 tooth double bevel gears here as well. This is not much, but the gear fits wonderfully inside the drivetrain, where a lot of torque is required.
Other interesting pieces located in the drivetrain are four extra-large sprocket wheels which come in dark bluish gray for the very first time. Before, you could only get a couple of these in yellow in 42095 Remote-Controlled Stunt Racer set. No doubt, wheels in gray will be very popular among fan builders.
One of the LEGO’s biggest innovations of 2019 is the new SPIKE sets. Along with the new smart elements, a whole bunch of new Technic elements were introduced. Now, we’re gradually getting some of the new elements in the regular LEGO Technic sets. 42099 4×4 X-treme Off-Roader introduced cable holders and the “biscuit” connector. Liebherr R 9800 brings more of the SPIKE pieces: for instance, the new large 11×7 Technic frames in white (and those in SPIKE sets are magenta).
The last but not least new pieces are the new extra-long linear actuators. The new excavator is so massive, the length of the regular acuators wouldn’t suffice. Thus, the old version of the piece got an upgrade. The new actuators are significantly longer than the old ones; you can see the difference in the picture below. Other than the length, the new actuators are pretty similar to the old ones.
The joy of assembling of the largest LEGO sets can be easily ruined by repetitive steps. Luckily, the new Liebherr excavator is a very engaging building experience with almost no repetitive elements. Additionally, despite the size of the model, it’s quite easy to follow the building process as you always know what part of the mechanism you’re building at the moment.
As it can be easily predicting, the assembling starts with the drivetrain. A lot of solid bevel gears are used to creates as much torque as possible to drive the excavator around. I found this part quite peculiar; using so many gears in one mechanism create an enormous amount of friction. It’s almost always a bad idea to use something like this in a custom creation, but somehow it works just fine in this model.
The central part of the chassis houses the turntable drive. The mechanism consists of 13 (!) gears and a clutch connector, which together account for a lot of friction. It’s also stunning to see the regular turntable element on the top; throughout the years it proved itself as one of the most robust elements capable of supporting and turning even the heaviest superstructures.
Here is a perfect chance to see the new clutch connector “in action”. It is also easy to notice that the new part requires quite a bit of space for proper installation.
Very soon the drivetrain is finished. For sure, this is a very massive structure, but it isn’t anywhere near as impressive as the drive train of the last year’s 42082 Rough Terrain Crane.
The front and the rear of the chassis is also different; you can see the front covered with a regular Technic panel, while there’s one of the smart-hubs sitting in the back of the structure. I wish all the exposed liftarms and wholes around the hub were covered with smaller panels.
Unlike the top of the drivetrain, its bottom looks quite arguable. It’s not about exposed connectors or liftarms, but rather about the wires. Looking further forward, wire management turned out to be one huge and irritating challenge. The building guide provides no clear instructions on how to fold of thread the wires. Of course, the new system uses colored clips to hold the wires in place, but each wire is secured with only one or two clips, and that’s it. Folding the rest of the wire took me a lot of time, not to mention that I’m pretty sure an incorrectly placed wire can be easily damaged by the gears of the turning mechanism. And I’m still not sure if I’m supposed to fold or twist the wires at all; an unfolded wire hanging too low can be surely damaged by any obstacle on the ground that you drive over. At this point, I don’t see how a 12-year-old child can manage all the wires without any risks of damaging them during the play.
The tower of the excavator comes next revealing a lot of empty room inside the structure.
Each smart-hub has 4 ports. Connecting the right motor to the right port is crucial for the new Powered Up system. As for 42099 4×4 X-treme Off-Roader, the ports of the hub were marked by small colorful stickers. But this time instead of stickers the design team used a much more elegant solution; the ports are marked with pieces of different colors. It looks simply great and lets you keep any stickers off your hubs.
It takes just several plastic bags with white pieces to cover the whole structure with white panels. I really like the combination of various building techniques here; some areas are covered with curved Technic panels, others are covered with structures made of liftarms, and there are enough panels build with System plates and tiles. It all creates a very authentic look and feel.
The next stage is all about the boom. Its structure turned out to be much simplier than I expected, but the assembling is still very engaging and exciting. The base of the boom houses 3 L-motors, while the boom itself is supported by 6 large linear actuators. This is what I call impressive engineering!
The inside of the tower is filled with wires. Once again, folding them took me a lot of time as my goal was to fold them inside the tower without any excessive twisting. The picture in the building guide looks very nice, but it’s far from how the elastic wires behave in real life.
The finished model
Once all the decorative elements are put in their places, the model is done. No doubt, this is one of the most impressive LEGO set to date. It will impress you with its size and scale, it’s exterior design, and the fact that is is fully functional. It wasn’t until the moment I turned the model on I was convinced that it works.
Before we turn to the smart app, let’s take a moment to admire the excavator’s design. I must admit, it is second to none. All the stairs, safety rails, stickers, exhaust pipes, and pseudo-pneumatic tubes create a jaw-dropping copy of a real machine.
LEGO Technic sets are regularly criticized for the abundance of openings between the panels. As for the Liebherr, all the panels sit so tightly together, it feels its like body is made of one solid piece of plastic. The only point worth mentioning would be the top of the boom with exposed gears, but I doubt it can be designed any better considering it’s a moving joint.
The smart app and the play experience
No matter how great and impressive the look of the model is, it’s main selling point is its functionality and playability. It all starts with the smart app. We took a closer look at the app during the review of 42099 4×4 X-treme Off-Roader, but with the release of the R 9800, the app gets its first update. Now, you can choose one of the two models when you start the app.
When starting the app and connecting to the excavator for the very first time you will go under the process of calibration. It takes a minute for the app to calibrate every actuator. Once done, it gives you access to the main control panel. It has all kinds of sticks and buttons, but thanks to a quick tutorial you can master all the controllers in no time.
Controlling the excavator via a smartphone is pure joy. The interface of the app is an intuitive and responsive as it can be. My favorite feature of the app is a small scheme of the boom in the middle of the screen. Highlighted in orange are the sections of the boom that are currently in movement. It makes it very easy to tell which part of your Liebherr is moving right now.
Responsiveness of the interface and the model is the best feature of the play experience. Even the slightest tap on the screen will activate the motor with absolutely no lag. It works like magic no matter what you want the excavator to do. Multitouch input allows you to activate and control every single function simultaneously, and the model simply follows your commands. It’s simply amazing.
To my surprise, the L-motors are powerful enough to drive this monstrosity impressively fast. You can rotate the model by 180 degrees in almost no time, so the play experience is always dynamic and never boring.
But for me, the biggest selling point of the product is the one-touch control. By swiping the control screen to the left you can activate an alternative way to control the boom and the shovel of the R 9800. The interface consists of the scheme of the boom with four articulation points.
By taping and moving any of the points you can set the new position for each segment, and the model will immediately follow your commands. A shadow in the background displays the actual position of the boom in real-time, so you can monitor it with your smartphone.
This kind of play expereince brings so much joy, excitement, and satisfaction, that it gets really hard to stay unbiased when reviewing the set. It’s captivating and it’s mesmerizing.
And yes, there’s one more thing. A dedicated section of the app allows you to program you Liebherr in many, many ways. The app offers a vast library of standard commands, which you can use to build your chain of actions.
And even if this isn’t enough for you, you can easily record your own sequence and use it as a dedicated action block. This is the most basic description of the feature, but its possibilities are nearly endless. The interface and the way you create sequences make it look and feel like LEGO Boost platform.
Impressions and critisizm
No matter how great and impressive the design and the playability of the new Liebherr R 9800 are, there are a bunch of points that keep me from loving the set entirely. Just like most of our readers, I spent my childhood playing with LEGO. Unlike every other toy in my room, LEGO sets were special for one very sinple reason: the play starts the moment I open the box. I can build the set and play with it immediately, or I can ignore the building booklet and build my own thing and start playing way before my creation is complete. As for the LEGO Technic sets, my favorite thing about the mechanisms is that you can see your model come alive as you assemble it; you put the gears in place and you see them turning, moving a boom or a wheel. You build and you try things out as you put the pieces together. This is how I learned how differentials, piston engines, pneumatics, chains, and countless other mechanisms work. And it all thanks to LEGO.
But something changed with the Liebherr. There’s not a single gear you can turn with your hands while assembling the model. There is no function you can test before finishing the model. And this is not how LEGO works. LEGO has always been a toy that requires only your time and imagination to play with. But once the smartphones entered the game, we get sets that can’t be moved or played with if you don’t have a smart device nearby. You can’t even drive the excavator with your hands — the threads are locked with the motors. You can’t rotate the tower — it is locked with a motor. By turning smartphones into a vital part of the play experience, LEGO Technic sets turn into some very different type of toys — way different from what we love about LEGO toys. No doubt, this set is an amazingly impressive toy, but only if your smartphone is charged and ready to play. But imagine a child damaging their smartphone the next day, and the Liebherr R 9800 will rest till the moment the child gets a new phone or a tablet. The perspective of locking LEGO toys to smart apps makes me depressed.
What makes things even worse, the Powered Up motors still can’t be used for custom creations. You can only use them as the building guide tells you to do, and that’s it. Once the smart app offers custom interfaces and controls, this set of 2 hubs and 7 motors will be an amazing resource pack for custom creations.
Final thoughts and impressions
LEGO Technic 42100 Liebherr R 9800 Excavator brings the whole LEGO Technic theme to a brand new level. The possibilities of the Powered Up motors and smart hubs and the functionality of the Control+ smart app are simply mind-blowing. I guess this is the first LEGO set I’m reviewing that I didn’t get bored playing with. Although it’s hard to ignore the price of the set, the model works great as a toy as well as a resource set; it includes nearly all types of the modern LEGO Technic pieces and brings a stunning set of Powered Up motors. We can guarantee you won’t get bored with a toy like this one, but only if your smart device is by your side.
LEGO Technic 42100 Liebherr R 9800 Excavator comes with 4,108 pieces and is available starting today, October 1st for US $449.99 | CAN $549.99 | UK £399.99 as well as some third parties on Amazon, Bricklink and eBay.
The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.