Wherein our man takes the new Nuviz all-in-one motorcycle heads-up display for a spin.
RideApart Review - The Nuviz All-in-One Heads-Up Display
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to ride a KTM 1290 Super Duke GT from KTM’s factory in Mattighofen, Austria, to Reschensee in Italy. To say the very least it was a blinding ride, a definite contender for the best damn day’s riding ever I’ve done and I don’t expect to top it any time soon. Everything came together on that ride: the weather was perfect - no rain, not too hot, not too sunny - and empty, winding, swooping, undulating roads. And all 173 angry horses showed up, each one eager to be applied to the perfect road surfaces. KTM’s Super Duke GT was as faultless as it was exhilarating and, well, I’m not sure I have the vocabulary within me to even begin to describe the roads and scenery that the Alps provided for us. I was, and still am, head over heels in love with the place and cannot urge y’all enough to get out there and experience it all on two wheels if you haven’t already.
Little did I know, however, that a surprise awaited us at our destination - and I don’t mean the sunken church in Lake Reschen, although that was rather cool. The surprise wasn’t even that we would also get to ride the Super Duke GTs all the way back to the UK, either, nor that we’d be loaned them for a further fortnight to tool around on. As it turns out, the real surprise was a visit from three head honchos who run a new company called Nuviz. They’d flown all the way from their headquarters in San Diego to speak to us about their just-launched motorcycle head-up-display unit.
Initially, the Nuviz name had my mind drawing a bit of a blank but I knew something, somewhere, was rolling around back there. I managed to recall from a few years ago a Kickstarter project that was aiming to build a HUD unit for motorcyclists. I thought it was interesting at the time but I didn’t invest, and honestly I don’t think I ever saw or heard anything about the project in the time since. As it happened, the same guys who started that project on Kickstarter now stood in front of me, running through a product presentation and telling us about the “game changing” device they had in store for us to test the following day.
I sat through the presentation and, as I used to write technology reviews, this part was right up my street. I should mention here that, aside from a recently and reluctantly added GoPro camera, I never use any kind of auxiliary electronic device while riding, not even a GPS device. I'm a bit of a Luddite, and I genuinely prefer to memorize a route or, if it’s sufficiently complex or long winded, tape a bit of paper to the tank with road numbers and approximate mile markers. I like an adventure! A wrong turn or two never hurt anyone, did it? As I’m sure we all have, I’ve discovered plenty of fantastic roads and alternative routes entirely by mistake. The B4494 from Newbury to Wantage springs to mind. “Sorry I’m late, I took a wrong turn but Geez-Louise the tarmac was excellent and the corners even better! And then I took another left, and…”. You know the drill.
Similar to GPS, I’ve never felt riding a motorbike would be at all enhanced by listening to music at the same time. (Same. -Ed.) Plus, I couldn’t imagine much worse than answering a phone call while riding. Nine in ten calls I get are just insurance scams, or “Eddy from Microsoft” who has found a virus on an imaginary Windows PC that I’ve never had. I should state that I have no issues and in fact welcome bikes with electronic gizmos that enhance the bikes themselves – quick shifters, auto blippers, anti wheelie, traction control, TFT screens, etc. – as they tend to get out of your way, rather than in it.
So, Nuviz. What is it? It’s a helmet-mounted GPS system with a built in photo/video camera that also hooks up to your smart phone to answer phone calls and play music via a headphone and microphone set. In essence, it’s what you’d get if you threw a TomTom, GoPro, and a Sena intercom into a blender. Aside from the fact it’s three devices in one, the obvious unique selling point is the “screen”, which is projected up through an optical view-finder that sits directly in your right eye’s field of vision. It is, as far as I can tell, the very first device of its kind to hit the market proper. There have been a number of other attempts by various companies in the not too distant past, but all of them have either vaporized before becoming an actual on-the-shelf product, or are simply not true HUD units.
The Nuviz team’s motivation for the entire project is safety. With GPS and other devices mounted to your windscreen or handlebars, you’re required to take your eyes off the road in order to look at and then digest the information being displayed. Of course, that’s arguably true of your bike’s instrumentation, too. Basic math suggests that if you take two seconds to look at a GPS unit at 70MPH, you’ll have traveled approximately 200 feet without looking where you’re going. Of course, that’s not quite the case with a HUD - you still need to look away from the road to look at the display, but in theory for far less time as it’s directly in your field of vision, rather than outside of it.
The Nuviz team handed out the units and, with no real idea what I’d find in it except for the Nuviz unit itself, I got stuck right in to the unboxing process. Within I discovered the Nuviz unit itself, a controller device with various mounting kits, a helmet mount and cover, a headphone and microphone set, a battery and removal tool, a USB cable for charging, and a carry pouch. There were also the usual manuals, quick start guide, and other miscellaneous, boilerplate documentation included. All this gear was wrapped up nicely in a good looking, well-designed package. Initial impressions didn’t disappoint; everything felt solid and well built with plenty of attention to detail. For example, the carry pouch has inner pouches, presumably for carrying the battery removal tool and helmet mount cover. The battery removal tool seems slightly surplus to requirements – any coin of small denomination or even a decent thumbnail will remove the battery cover – but it’s a nice touch and adds to a premium feel.
As we fiddled with our setups, the Nuviz team advised us that we’d be out on another 200 mile ride around the glorious Austrian and Swiss scenery to give the Nuviz a thorough road-testing the following day - it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it (wink).
First things first – battery install and power up. The battery for the HUD unit is rechargeable, but the battery in the controller is a commonly found button type which will apparently last for about a year of typical usage before running dry and requiring replacement. Turning the Nuviz on automatically pairs up the HUD unit with the remote controller that provides all the controls necessary to run the system while on the road. The only time you directly interact with the Nuviz unit is when turning it on and off or adjusting the camera. In turn, that means you have no choice but to mount the controller on your bike’s handlebars - it’s a non-optional component and you cannot control it via your phone (as I had, initially, and in retrospect, wrongly hoped).
There’s two methods for mounting the controller – you can either stick the controller next to your bike's existing handlebar controls or, if you’ve got room to accommodate it, or you can mount it on a metal bracket which lifts it up and over your handlebar’s control cluster. Most people will need to use the bracket as modern bikes increasingly have more and more controls on the bars, and this was certainly the case on my Super Duke. You can, in theory, mount the controller on the left or right handlebar but in reality 99.9 percent will mount it on the left handlebar for reasons of practicality.
The next job in the set-up process was to mount the Nuviz to my helmet, a process nearly identical to mounting a GoPro or similar. A base plate with a sticky pad sticks to the right side of helmet itself (it can't be mounted on the left), then the Nuviz device slots into the base plate and secures with a clip. The pad is fairly big and incredibly sticky, which left no doubts in my mind as to whether it’d stick or not. The base plate is also where the headphone and microphone set plugs in. Initially I wondered why that was, but it’s obvious after a few seconds thought – if you’re moving between helmets (perhaps commute vs weekend leisure riding), you only need to move the Nuviz device and controller between bike and helmet. The HUD is angle adjustable by hand and offers a decent amount of movement to account for different bikes and riding postures.
With all of the hardware mounted to the bike and helmet, the next step was to get my smartphone talking to the Nuviz unit via Bluetooth. While the Nuviz is controlled with the controller on the handlebars, it’s configured via a bespoke app. In context, that means building GPS routes, adjusting navigation preferences, configuring rider profiles and stats, camera settings, etc, is done via the app and not the device or controller. That, in turn, means an extra step in setup as you’ll need to download the Nuviz app. I'm an iPhone man, but the app comes in Android flavor as well, so no matter which side of the fence you sit you’re good to go. The iPhone app requires Apple’s iOS 10.2 as a minimum, which means anyone running an iPhone 5 or any later model will be able to run it. I can’t speak for Android, but I assume it’s a similar story there and you’ll be able to run on relatively old hardware as long as it can run a recent OS version. It’s worth checking before purchasing however, because without the app you’ll have bought yourself a very fancy paperweight.
Configuring a route was a simple job of punching place names into the app to form our 200 mile route and and pressing ‘Done’ when finished. Waypoints can easily be re-ordered, and the app allows preferences that you’d find on any typical GPS unit - avoid or allow toll roads, ferries, highways, unpaved roads, and so on. Not intending to make any calls or listen to any non-existent music on my phone, I opted not to fit the headset into my Kenny Roberts Arai RX-7V, so in theory all I really missed out on was the voice directions from the GPS unit. Any bluetooth headset can be paired to the Nuviz in case you already have a setup like a Sena. Worldwide maps are stored in the device itself – which has 16GB of internal storage, expandable with any Class 10 MicroSD card up to 128GB – and are provided entirely free of charge from Nuviz. These maps are downloadable, and deletable, on a country-by-country basis.
All that was left to do was to go and try it out. Out on the bike, almost all of my skepticism for the Nuviz quite quickly disappeared. With these types of devices, especially the first generation models like this one, the first versions are notoriously fiddly and unintuitive. Not the Nuviz, though, and I suspect this is due to the fact a lot of the Nuviz team are ex Nokia, and this isn’t their first time at the rodeo when it comes to user interfaces. The controller is refreshingly simple to use. The buttons correspond to icons on in each corner of the HUD, and moving up and down on the joystick simply changes the screen mode between GPS, Music, Calls, Rides and another screen which combines a speedometer with GPS. In any given screen mode, take for example GPS, the icons top and bottom left will be zoom in and zoom out - so simply hitting the corresponding button (top or bottom left) on the controller will zoom in or zoom out.
The GPS mode is probably the mode of most interest. It’s clear and easy to read, displaying a road network map with your plotted route highlighted in blue over it. The display is small, obviously, so you’ll find nowhere as much detail as a traditional GPS unit, but it works well enough. Big intersections with plenty of on and off roads will no doubt be difficult, with the most friction centering around the old “which lane do I want of these five?”, but it’s easy enough to get that wrong even with a full sized device especially if traffic is heavy. For most of our route, I preferred the combined GPS and Speed mode which relegates GPS to a simple ‘next turn’ with the direction of the turn and distance until the turn needs to be made, with your current speed displayed prominently in the center, rather than using the road map mode.
The HUD screen itself is bright and even in wall to wall sunshine remained completely visible. There were no awkward reflections or anything along those lines, although it did take a good 30 minutes for my brain to stop thinking it was actually my right hand mirror. I kept looking at it expecting to see whatever was happening over my shoulder, but instead found the Nuviz. I couldn’t detect that it was fitted to my helmet at all and it produced no audible wind noise either. The unit, battery, SD card, and base plate weigh a total of 256g or 9oz, which is remarkably light for the size.
It’s worth noting that you do have to deliberately look at the HUD, it isn’t always there in your vision as movies might lead you to expect. Ergo, you still have to look away from the road, but doing so is orders of magnitude faster than looking at a traditional GPS unit. The display itself is transparent and takes up, according to Nuviz, around 14 degrees of your vision. Despite being very close to your eye, it is the equivalent of focusing on something about 3 to 4 meters in front of you. At all times the screen displays useful info, such as the current speed limit for the road you’re travelling on and the time which can be 12 or 24 hours, or even an analog clock.
Nuviz states that the rechargeable battery's 3250 mAh capacity lasts about 8 hours, but I managed to get 10 out of it before it gave up. I suspect this would be because I wasn’t listening to music or taking calls, or perhaps because ambient temperatures were high. The battery can be recharged in an external charger but most commonly will be charged via the Nuviz device itself. Removing a small rubber cover on the back of the unit reveals a Micro USB port for charging, and the slot for the Micro SD is hidden in there too. The device can be charged while in use, with one of the group powering it via solar panels fixed to his rucksack.
That brings us to the camera. When riding, pressing the bottom right button on the controller will arm the camera and give a video preview of what any videos and photos will look like. Once the camera is armed, pressing the button takes a photo, and holding it takes video. You can switch screen mode and hit the shutter button at any time to shoot, but the camera disarms itself after 3 minutes of inactivity to preserve battery life. Photo quality is configured via the app, and runs between 1, 5 and 8 megapixels. The video camera shoots in a range of SD and HD resolutions with the maximum being 1080p at 30 frames per second. Videos are stored on the SD card, while photos are synced automatically to your smart phone and automatically tagged with geolocation data.
As you can tell, I’m fairly positive about the Nuviz thus far. Since my ride out in the Alps, I’ve connected the headset to try out music and phone calls. That all works as intended, but my only real complaint would be that the headset isn’t quite loud enough to listen to music at speed. A related gripe would be that to change track, or pause/play, the Nuviz has to be on the music screen; it cannot be adjusted from any other which is mildly irritating. It feels like an extra button on the controller somewhere might help.
On my ride back to the UK, some rather inclement weather in northern France killed the unit via water ingress. To give Nuviz credit, we were warned that the units were pre-production and that prolonged and/or heavy rain would likely make its way into the unit and kill it. Given the warning, the device did well to stand up to what was, quite literally, a 100 mile per hour, cruise-controlled sprint to Calais. Being a geek who isn’t afraid to use a special set of screwdrivers, I took my unit apart before returning it to Nuviz to see if I could work out where water got in. Unfortunately the answer was everywhere given that I pretty much tipped the water out of it after opening it. Nuviz has since replaced the unit and have assured me that models that are sold to the general public will be 100% water proofed.
As for price, your wallet will take a $699 hit in order for you to mount a Nuviz to your helmet. Is it worth parting with your hard earned cash for one? Well, if you want at least two of the three separate devices (GPS, intercom, GoPro) then I think, actually, it could be a good investment. The camera’s impressively good, GPS works exactly as intended, and the phone and music functionality are solid. Build quality is right up there, and having dealt with the customer support team I can say that service is good.
Despite my gizmo-averse tendencies, I’ve forced myself to use it. I use the camera a lot, as it’s just incredibly convenient to use and I definitely miss it when I’m not riding with it. I use the GPS infrequently, but it’s handy to have it there just in case. The speedo mode is very handy, and sees the vast majority of my usage. Calls and Music aren’t a big thing for me, but are certainly a big deal for very many of you out there.
Overall, the most impressive aspect to the Nuviz is that it actually works. It is decidedly not a gimmick, and it's surprisingly is easy to set up and use. Presumably, it can only get better from here and it's pretty good to start with.