Looking for a little "extra feedback" in your life? Don't call your therapist or that special friend who's always been there for you. Call Recon Instruments, because they've got just the ticket, especially if you're a snow sports junkie. It's called the Mod Live HUD, and it's going to give you all the stats, maps, apps and chats you can handle.
Not to mention all of the action cameras like the GoPro Hero 3 or even the Apex HD + Camera Goggles by Liquid Image, there are also a number of smartphone skiing / snowboarding apps that can track the speed, distance and vertical drop of your runs, the Mod Live HUD takes the concept a few steps further by integrating a GPS and Bluetooth equipped mini-computer and LCD screen into your goggles.
A HUD, short for Heads Up Display, gives you visual information layered on top of what you're looking at. Fighter pilots use HUDs for targeting systems, navigation and the like. However, the Mod Live isn't a HUD in the strict sense, since it doesn't actually overlay information directly on your view. The important distinction to make is that since it uses a small screen that stays in your peripheral vision, it's really a Helmet or Head Mounted Display. Technical acronyms aside, the Mod Live delivers a pretty compelling experience on the mountain.
The Action Plan
The review unit we received came fixed in a pair of very nice Alpina goggles, but you can't just stuff a Mod Live into your favorite pair of eyewear. Recon HUDs only fit a select number of specially designed goggles from several manufacturers including Smith, Uvex Oakley and Scott, among others. So you'll have to factor another pair of snow shades into your budget as well. Recon offers a few goggles bundled with the Mod Live for $549 to $599, and the Mod Live retails for $399 alone, making it a pretty significant investment.
Also keep in mind that the space needed to fit the battery pack, cable and HUD screen adds bulk as well as weight. If at all possible, you should try on a pair of Recon compatible goggles before you buy them to make sure they fit well. It took some getting used to, but after a couple of days we found a good comfort zone with our rig and enjoyed the features the Mod Live offers.
There's only a power button on the Mod Live itself, all other commands are sent through a low-power Bluetooth remote strapped to your wrist. The remote is actually pretty comfortable since the elastic strap is wide and very adjustable. Thankfully, the buttons are large enough for bulky gloves, and we found it easy to use. It's also simple: four directional buttons, a back button, and a select button are really all you need for navigation.
The Mod Live's screen is very small, just under half an inch wide, but since it's so close to your eyes, it's sized right: big enough to read, but won't block your vision. However, getting the screen angle adjusted for a clear view can be a challenge. The position needs to be almost perfect, and it took us a lot of tweaking to get it just right. Adding a bit more play and range of motion to the articulating joint would make it much easier. The screen brightness is also adjustable, but in very sunny conditions it was difficult to read at times. Some extra brightness and contrast control would also be most welcome.
Using the Mod Live is pretty simple in theory. Snap it into your goggles, charge it up, and turn it on. When you hit the slopes it displays your current speed, altitude, distance and vertical feet traveled while smartly slicing all of this information into individual runs for easy reference and bragging rights. It also tracks your daily and all time records. Trick-happy terrain park lovers and deathwish-having cliff jumpers will also dig the air time recording.
Personally, we appreciated the vertical feet totals, which induced us to cram more runs and get more value out of our time on the mountains. We freely admit that having a live readout of your speed tempted us to push our limits more than we usually would. Just remember that neither the Ski Patrol nor the large tree in front of you care if you're trying to break a personal record. Be safe out there.
Aside from the impressive stat tracking, there's more gold to be mined when you dig a bit deeper. The Mod Live also automatically downloads a map of the entire ski mountain that you're about to shred. The map is zoomable and rotates with your view so it's very easy to navigate with, and it helpfully displays the lodges and lifts. Overall, it's a sweet feature even though the maps and animations are pretty basic. You can also see where your Mod Live-using buddies are on the map if you have that feature enabled. While we didn't actually get to test this, it would be very practical for keeping a group together on a long run, and keeps you from having to call them if you get separated.
Recon's Engage app for Android and iPhone also offers a few extras. You first need to pair your phone with the Mod Live via Bluetooth. Once done, you can use your phone's touchscreen as a virtual remote. Nice in a pinch perhaps, but the wrist remote is really all you need. Better is a Trip Viewer where you can review all your recorded runs and data, and track your buddies, although most of that info is also available on the HUD screen itself. You can also set up your phone to forward text messages and incoming calls to your Mod Live screen, which is another nice touch. However, the best and most practical feature for us was music control. You use the app to add music tracks or playlists, and you can then control playback via the wrist remote. It's great if you hate fiddling with your phone or the tiny buttons on your headphones' cable with puffy gloves on.
The Mod Live also offers connectivity with a couple of Contour action camera models via Bluetooth. Pairing with our Contour +2 was simple, but establishing a live connection with the iPhone app proved troublesome and varied with each firmware update. When it did work, it was great. The Mod Live app functions similarly to Contour's own iPhone and Android apps. It streams a live camera view to the HUD screen and displays the current recording mode. It also lets you change recording settings and control recording with the Recon wrist remote. Overall, it's a sweet feature if you're not already a member of the GoPro army, but it may take patience, resolve, and perhaps a call to tech support to get it working. For us at least, the easy workaround was to use Contour's own iPhone app whenever we needed it. Additionally, you can connect a Polar heart rate monitor to your Mod Live and add yet another data layer to your activities, however, we weren't able to test this.
As for battery power, the Mod Live lasted all day in our tests. You may need to milk some extra time by putting the screen to sleep with the remote, but this is a no brainer to do on the lift ride up the hill. Better still, even when the power-hogging screen is asleep, the GPS will continue to record your stats. Getting to a full charge does take several hours, and it's best to leave it plugged in overnight so you're ready to make tracks first thing in the morning.
The Fix Is In
The Mod Live performed most of its primary duties happily, and it wasn't until we tried to utilize some of the more advanced features like the Contour camera connection that things got slightly derailed. However, there's more, but in light of full disclosure, our review unit had been used previously and we suspect that some of our troubles stemmed from it not being fresh out of the box.
At first, our review unit wouldn't let us upload our recorded data or update the firmware when we first connected to Recon's Engage website. After a call to tech support, they quickly figured out that the serial number was incorrectly set to zero, and fixed it with a custom firmware update emailed to us a couple of days later. On the whole, Recon does offer good live tech support, and the documentation on the website is pretty thorough. After a fantastic powder day on our next ski trip, we successfully uploaded our data to the website without a hitch.
During the several weeks that we used the Mod Live, there were four firmware updates sent out as well as a smartphone app update. This says a couple of things, for one, there were issues that needed fixing, and second, that the Recon team was on the job. Firmware updates can be very tricky in general. Whether you're updating a PC motherboard, action camera, or other gadget, there's always a chance that things will go sideways. The first Mod Live update wiped our recorded data, even though it should've uploaded it to the website first. Annoying and disappointing, but not a complete deal-breaker. The two subsequent updates went smoothly, but the last one again reset our Mod Live serial number to zero, once again blocking the Engage website connection and nixing the connection to our iPhone and Contour +2 camera. While firmware updates are necessary, and even welcome, Recon's rush to offer new fixes made quality control suffer.
We really appreciated the accurate and detailed data recording, the simple, effective interface, the solid remote control, and music playback control abilities.
The glitchy updates and connections were a serious pain at first but once we got everything up and running things were all good. We would have appreciated greater adjustability for optimal viewing. The Mod Live requires specific goggles so you'll probably have to upgrade your specs as well.
On the whole, the Mod Live added a fresh experience to our skiing. Getting live feedback and reviewing recorded data was fun, interesting, and taught us a bit more about ourselves. It's a slick piece of sports tech, and all of the main features worked really well. But the glitchy firmware updates and Bluetooth connection issues that we experienced held it back. The steep price tag and requirement that you pair it with specific goggles also might make you think twice. However, for serious skiers and snowboarders the Recon Mod Live is a fun useful device, and if you're passionate about other sports like cycling, Recon is apparently working on a sunglasses-based model, so there's more hope for the future.