Over Christmas 2012, Loveskiing got their hands on a pair of Zeal’s GPS Z3 goggles. The concept’s been around for a few years now: you’re tracked down the mountain via GPS and it’s all transmitted into a screen in the bottom right-hand corner of your goggles: live information relayed to your eyes as you ski. Pretty cool, eh? So what were we looking for with Zeal’s latest version?
- Build Quality – always undeniably important; no point having all that technology if the shell that cases it lacks stability and strength
- Lens quality – as above; it’d be illogical buying goggles for their GPS technology and not thinking about whether they’re good to look through
- Accurate on-board GPS and real-time data – we want a technology that actually provides us with accurate data, pretty much instantly and without many problems.
- Software – once we’ve spent our day bombing up and down as many peaks as possible, we want to get back, attach the goggles to our computer and check out our day on some accurate maps, with stats galore and all this supported with an easy-to-use interface.
Cost: £279-300 (look out for deals though to catch it at a bargain price)
EDIT (11/11/2014): CURRENTLY ON SALE FOR JUST $149 at http://www.zealoptics.com/z3.html – A SERIOUS BARGAIN!
First things first, these goggles look good. The frame has a carbon-fibre look, which is rather sleek. As for the photochromatic lens, it looks good and we find it’s actually surprisingly hard to see someone’s eyes through them. So, although they don’t deliver that desired mirrored look a lot of us look for, they do provide a modern, shiny and elusive look. One final point is the size of the goggles: they are pretty big! So if you have a small head, try them on before buying. However, if you’re wearing them over a medium helmet or bigger, we wouldn’t have any worries! The benefit of the larger goggles is the equally large field of vision, so if they do fit your face then you’ll be blessed with a wide field of vision sometimes not associated with smaller pairs of goggles.
For those who worry about how you see the viewfinder as you ski, we found it remarkably easy and not at all a distraction. The best way to describe it is like looking at your car’s dashboard while driving…yep, it’s that easy.
As for the photochromic and polarised lens, it performed very well in all conditions and more importantly, it reacted speedily to changing conditions. For example, when we skied from the sun into shade, although the visibility was less, the lens quickly adjusted to best bring out the lumps and bumps on the shady piste. Not having to change lens every time the conditions change really was a blessing, and one we really want to share with you. It’s worth mentioning we’d still take the goggles off for the last 20 minutes or so of skiing every day (as the sun was just setting), showing that in the lowest light the goggles would not brighten up the slopes, perhaps telling us that only specialist low light goggles will ever be able to do this.
On to the tech…
GPS and Viewfinder Performance
The viewfinder has two drawbacks: firstly you have to fiddle a fair amount in order to get it in the right position. This involves fiddling with it until you think it’s in the right position then putting it on and seeing if your fiddling has been fruitful or not and repeating this process over and over until you feel the screen’s where you want it! Once you’ve finally sorted out the position of the viewfinder, don’t ski directly towards the sun! If you do, you won’t see any of the screen…it disappears in bright light as you look in the sun’s direction. When not looking at the sun however, the viewfinder is bright and easy to read.
As for the temperature function, it doesn’t work. Ours just showed us the wrong temperature all week long, and not just slightly: the temperature was 20 degrees above reality all week!
The Altitude function worked on 5 of 6 days. One day (cloudy day) it decided to be 300 metres lower than it should have been. That proved to be an outlier however, with the rest of the days being accurate to the metre.
Loveskiing think the air function is a pretty awesome idea. Every jump you do is recorded and you’re told the distance travelled, drop and time spent in the air. Sometimes proved to be a tad inaccurate with data such as 1.32 seconds spent in the air, drop of 2 metres and zero metres distance travelled… but still, pretty cool.
The kit is actually very easy to use with the strap-on remote you attach to your arm, using left and right to navigate through the basic temperature, altitude and so on and up and down to access the menu and more in depth analysis of data as well as settings.
We sometimes had issues in the mornings of cloudier days; the GPS wouldn’t connect and thus wouldn’t tell us any real time data. We solved this by turning the system on and off until it did work, almost as if giving it a gentle kick up the backside to get its blood flowing.
This is a fairly short section but essential nonetheless! Battery life was just, JUST about enough. We’d first turn the goggles on at 9am, then turn them off for an hour over lunch and continue skiing till 5pm. By this time, the battery indicator was flashing critical battery and would sometimes conk out. So, if for some reason you plan on needing the battery to last longer than a typical ski day then look elsewhere!
We were disappointed with the software. It’s not ZEAL’s own, in fact it’s Recon’s own software called Engage. It’s an online platform that seeks to show you your stats on a map; however it didn’t amaze us, let alone impress us. It wasn’t very easy to use, the map never changed and we weren’t given any options to change how we look at the map. For example, we were skiing in Méribel, but the software showed us a generic map of some resort in the States and was based on a summer satellite picture, so everywhere was green anyway. This is where we feel ZEAL could really get a big step ahead of its competitors; by creating their own software, which shows your runs perhaps on a high quality piste map of the resort and that highlights where you jumped, where you were on lifts, high speed spots and so on.
Whilst we had a lot of fun with this piece of kit, it is by no means perfect, in fact it’s lacking in certain regards. To conclude we’re going to look at the points we posed in the introduction.
Build quality of the ZEAL Z3s?
We said? Build Quality – always undeniably important; no point having all that technology if the shell that cases it lacks stability and strength.
Result: Solid frames, and pretty light considering the battery they contain.
Lens quality of the ZEAL Z3s?
We said? Lens quality – as above; it’d be illogical buying goggles for their GPS technology and not thinking about whether they’re good to look through.
Result: We were particularly impressed by the photochromic polarised goggles provided by ZEAL. They adjusted well to pretty much all light conditions (except end of day low light) and managed to change quickly between conditions making them a valuable piece of kit.
GPS performance of ZEAL Z3s?
We said? Accurate on-board GPS and real-time data – we want a technology that actually provides us with accurate data, pretty much instantly and without many problems.
Result: Almost all aspects of the GPS system provided by Recon performed well; speeds were accurate, altitude was correct 85% of the time, distance travelled was reliable… The data was expansive too and we were impressed by the instantaneous real time jump data. Occasionally the GPS wouldn’t behave in cloudier weather in the morning, but this was remedied by turning the system on and off until it decided to work: not perfect, but not a huge issue.
Software for ZEAL Z3s?
We said? Software – once we’ve spent our day bombing up and down as many peaks as possible, we want to get back, attach the goggles to our computer and check out our day on some accurate maps, with stats galore and all this supported with an easy-to-use interface.
Result: ‘Engage’, provided by Recon, is not up to standards and certainly doesn’t reflect a £300 piece of kit. We want detailed maps full of facts and figures from our day’s skiing, not some dodgy online software that frankly feels like it should be matched with a pair of £50 goggles. Make your own software ZEAL and really separate yourself from your competitors!
So, this is Loveskiing’s conclusion on the ZEAL Z3’s:
- If you have some money on the side and want a fun piece of kit, then spend it on these. However, don’t go expecting a really serious piece of kit. The software lets them down in this regard.
- Disregarding the GPS for a moment, ZEAL has provided a really decent frame with a cracking lens suited to most conditions. This alone doesn’t warrant the cost, but it’s good to know you’re getting quality, not just technology.