This review was posted in our forums. To view the original review as well as comment with other forum members, please visit the following link: Recon Instruments MOD Live GPS Ski / Snowboard Goggles Review.
GPS in recent years has become all the rage on the ski slopes. The proliferation of smart phones has gone beyond making phone calls and you can now track your every move on the slopes. There are a number of applications for the iPhone and Android operating systems that do this – including AlpineReplay, Phresheez, and more. But these are all passive devices – they sit in your pocket, and at the end of the day you can pull them out and see how you did.
Recon Instruments, based out of Vancouver, BC; has set out to make the GPS capabilities more interactive by actually putting a tiny LCD screen (with a resolution of WQVGA- 428X240) inside of your ski goggle; so you can see your stats as you work your way down the slope. Recon Instruments does not actually make ski goggles; they have instead partnered with manufacturers to provide “Recon Ready” goggles that are able to fit the MOD or MOD LIVE module inside the ski goggle. Several manufacturers are already on board, including Alpina, Briko, Uvex and Zeal.
What do these units actually do? Well, Recon Instruments sells two versions; MOD and MOD Live. MOD Live is based on the Android operating system.
MOD can display the following information:
- Vertical decent
- Distance jumped
MOD LIVE connects with your mobile phone via bluetooth, providing some additional features:
- View music play-lists
- Buddy Tracking
- Caller ID
- text messaging
- Wireless compatibility with video cameras (at present, works only with Contour cameras).
The model goggle that I tested with was Briko, outfitted with MOD LIVE, which I connected to my Samsung Galaxy Nexus on Verizon Wireless.
Recon Instruments also provides software, Recon HQ, for transferring, analyzing, and sharing your stats after your day on the slopes.
The actual screen is projected to your eye via a tiny magnifying-style glass which makes the screen larger and readable. It sits in the lower right hand side of your goggles, so viewing it means simply glancing down and to the right.
Recon’s promo video demonstrating MOD Live
The goggle, from the outside, looks like any other goggle. One of the first things I read about when I heard about this goggle was how large they are, in order to accommodate the GPS, battery, and Micro LCD. While they certainly are larger than many of today’s more form fitting goggles – they aren’t overly huge. The Briko’s that I tested were a fairly normal size. Here are some comparison images, the first two are the Recon goggles, and the second two are a comparison to Smith I/O’s. You can tell the increased size particularly around the nose and the protrusion towards the front of the helmet.
Briko (Recon) goggles – side view
Briko (Recon) goggles – front view
Comparison to Smith I/O – side view
Comparison to Smith I/O – front view
The goggles came pre-assembled, but all Recon goggles are about the same. The battery and GPS receiver are on the left hand side of the goggle. The Micro LCD sits on the right hand side. The Micro LCD can rotate by a little bit, so you can angle the screen up and down for the best viewing experience. On the right hand outside of the goggle is a power button and a Micro USB for charging and sending data.
Power and Micro USB port on right side of goggle
GPS and battery on the left hand side
I like that the unit is fairly modular – while goggles need to be Recon certified; it means that there are at least several options for styles.
Powering the unit on is easy – just hit the power button on the back. The unit I tested, with MOD Live, also came with a Bluetooth controller that you could wear on the outside of your jacket. The controller offers several buttons – a four-way directional pad with a center OK button, and a back button. This allows for easy navigation on the goggles themselves – even while wearing bulky ski gloves.
Armband for navigating menus on the Recon MOD Live goggles
In a few words, much better than I originally anticipated. It is really out of the way – when you are skiing, if you don’t look at it, you won’t see it. But when you want to see it, it is fairly easy to view – just turn your eyes down and to the right, and it just appears. Recon claims the image appears to be about 14 inches large from 5 feet away – and that sounds about right. Brightness is pretty good as well; although in direct sunlight, I did have occasional issues viewing the screen. I did try rotating the MOD live unit within the goggle, and that helped.
There is certainly a “wow” factor when trying these on for the first time. The screen is much more vibrant and visible than I would have originally anticipated.
I was surprised with how deep this application actually goes. It really is a full-fledged Android device. You don’t really need to do much – if you prefer to ditch the armband control all together, you can just power them on and go. The base stats screen shows your speed, altitude, temperature, and time; however this is all very customizable on either the phone or through the included software.
The basic stats screen shows your speed, altitude, temperature, and the time
The armband controls your navigation in the application while skiing or snowboarding. You can cycle between the following menus:
Yup, Navigation actually provides resort maps similar to what you see on the ReconHQ software later on. It can be a little tricky to view though on the screen.
The included software is pretty well polished for a new app, and demonstrates what you can actually do with the data the MOD Live unit in the goggles collects. There are four main sections:
- My Trips
- HQ Community
- App Marketplace
- My Device
The Trips screen that shows you your trips. Selecting a trip shows the Runs from that trip and other statistics. A display of the mountain along with the trails is in the main portion of the screen, with stats on the right hand side.
At the bottom is a timeline where you can replay your trip, at speeds of up to 32x. The timeline also shows the “milestones” for the trip – where you reached the highest altitude, went the fastest, hit the lowest temperature. You can also toggle on and off map elements, including ski school, parking, food establishments, glades, and so on.
The HQ Community shows a map of activity globally. You can zoom in or out to see activity and recordings from particular mountains.
The App Marketplace allows you to add functionality to your MOD Live unit. Right now, it looks like there are only two different options – Polar HRM, for adding a Polar Heart Rate Monitor; and Contour, which lets you use the MOD Live screen as a viewfinder for certain models of Contour point of view video cameras.
Finally, the My Device screen lets you customize and deploy new “dashboards” to your device (up to 10 unique). You simply click on the layout you want, and then select the elements you want to display, from choices including:
- Air Time
- Max Speed
- Polar HR
The app also allows you to view your firmware version and update the goggles directly from the software, if necessary.
An overview of the features of ReconHQ
I actually didn’t get to test out the Recon HQ Mobile app (available from the Android Google Play Store). The Android app afford the following functionality (via Google Play):
The ReconHQ mobile app by Recon Instruments enables you to connect and sync with your MOD Live device. ReconHQ enables you to:
- View incoming text messages via MOD Live
- See caller ID via MOD Live
- Control your music via MOD Live
- Buddy Tracking for finding your buddies on-hill* via Navigation app in MOD Live
- See all your trips, runs, and stats in real-time
- Share your stats and best runs to the HQ Community, Facebook & Twitter
*Buddy tracking available at select global resorts and will be constantly updated
Essentially, to use the LIVE features of the goggles, you need to install and run the application. I will attempt to update this review later when I get the chance to try that out.
What didn’t I like about the goggles? Well, I had a couple concerns:
The first has to do with the location of the power button. It just so happens that this power button pressed up against my helmet (a Giro Seam). This may not be the case with other helmets, but at least a half dozen times I would be skiing and the goggles would just shut off. There is no indicator that is going to happen (a beep or audio indicator might be nice). I just looked down and realized they are turned off.
Another, more minor issue, was the quality of the USB cover. In the photos, you can see that the Micro USB port is exposed. The goggles came with a very thin rubber cover that goes over the port. However, after only a few times charging the goggles, the rubber cover actually broke off. It’s probably somewhere up on Sugarloaf mountain at this point in time.
Temperature did not seem accurate to me. At Sugarloaf, it showed -4 at one point on a 25 degree morning.
Finally, I’m sure we will hear about the technology interfering with the pure enjoyment of the slopes. To me, this is a non-issue. Use it if you want. If you don’t want to, don’t use it. It’s as simple and straightforward as that. However, I do have to say that with the addition of this device, I know have three devices to charge to get on the slopes – a GoPro camera, a mobile phone, and these goggles. So, that can be a little overwhelming also.
It’s no secret that I love technology, and bringing it to the slopes is pretty exciting. This product is still very new to market, but it really has a lot of potential. I found myself noticing that I wasn’t using it as much while skiing as I thought – primarily because I was focusing on the skiing itself. And the last thing we want, of course, is tons of distracted skiers all watching their speed instead of the slopes as you charge downhill – particularly in more technical terrain like moguls or the woods. But it is easy to take a quick glance, and with practice, I could see it becoming second nature, just like your speedometer on your car. One thing that is very minor but we loved – the clock on the display so you know what time it is. A great addition when the lifts are about to shut down.
Battery life seems to be good – I ran the entire day with the goggles (up to seven hours) and was still going strong. You probably do need to charge these after a full day of skiing, however.
I also have to say that customer service seems excellent. I had the application crash on me before using the goggles. I couldn’t get into them at all. A quick email to Recon and I received instructions for resetting the goggles to factory defaults within an hour. Kudos for the prompt service!
So, will these goggles change skiing forever? I anticipate these will become more and more popular as time goes on. Right now, there are no direct competitors – companies like Phresheez and AlpineReplay are in the business of tracking your ski day; but not with real-time information like this. MOD and MOD Live, as of this writing, are the only ones out there actually putting an LCD into your screen.
Recon has bitten off a huge piece of work, and it’s very impressive what has gone into these goggles. While there are certainly a number of improvements that can be made, this doesn’t feel like a first generation product.
It’s going to be really exciting to see where this goes in the next few years as technology improves, and also if other competitors enter this marketplace.
Price: Standalone, the MOD Unit retails for $299. The MOD Live unit goes for $399. Buying with goggles bumps that by about $100 more, so not cheap!
Completely Subjective Scores:
Overall: 4 / 5
(not an average)
Reliability: 3 / 5- When it worked, it worked great; but powering off by accident and sometimes long load times can make it slow. Also, the Micro USB port cover could be more durable.
Ease of use: 4 / 5 - For the amount of features they packed into this, it’s very easy to navigate. The wireless armband control works great and the default dashboard views make it very easy to just start and go.
Fun factor: 4 / 5 - It is very cool to be carving down a run and glance and know you are traveling at 45 MPH. It’s also kind of fun to know how fast your lift is traveling on the way back up. The software to analyze your runs afterwards is also very well thought out.
Ergonomics: 3 / 5 - Definitely larger and bulkier than newer goggle styles, but it fit my helmet well and didn’t look ridiculously larger. It can get a bit heavy on the bridge of your nose on the longer ski days.