The Zeal Optics Transcend GPS combine Zeal’s experience in optics with Recon Instruments’ direct-to-eye information system to give you a pair of goggles that will feed you real-time information, such as your speed, distance and temperature as you hit the slopes.
From the outside the Zeal Optics Transcend GPS look like regular snow goggles, although they were noticeably bulkier than a pair of regular Oakleys we compared them with. They are of course heavier because of the onboard display, battery and associated components, but once on the head we didn’t find this to be much of a problem.
The Transcend GPS would be no good if they didn’t work first and foremost as goggles and you’ll find all the features here you’d expect. A wide adjustable strap is present with grippy lines so it doesn’t slip off your helmet and it is well ventilated to avoid the build-up of moisture inside.
There are two anti-fog dual lens options: the SPPX lens is photochromatic, so it will change tint as the conditions change, the SPX model has a fixed tint, but both are polarised to reduce glare and tinted to ensure terrain contrast. These are the only lens options available at the moment, so unlike some conventional goggles, you can’t buy a range of options for difference conditions. Unfortunately, despite begging, we we’re allowed to fly off for a week to test them in Verbier.
The real gadget geekery lies within the goggles however. On the right-hand side at the bottom is a 320 x 240 pixel resolution display. This display will feed you information from the sensors onboard. Including GPS, pressure, temperature and inertial sensors, it collates this environmental information and feeds it back via the small screen.
When the goggles are in place a quick glance down is all it takes to check out your speed and other details. We found it took a little wiggling to get the goggles in the right place to be able to see all of the screen, but once in place it wasn’t a problem. Photographing the display is near impossible because of the location and curvature of the surface, but we found it bright and vibrant enough to read on the move.
The use of icons makes easy to identify what is what once you’ve spent a little time with them. The main screen can be customised, so you can drop in the icon of your choice which will then relay that set of information. This main “dashboard” screen gives you a graphic speedometer, your actual speed, the GPS, time and battery status and then the extra info of your choice, such as distance, altitude, temperature or vertical odometer.
You can cycle through the other screens to view information from each of the measurements made: your last run stats; the chrono/stopwatch times; max and average speeds; current and max altitude, total change in elevation and total distance covered; coordinates; current, max and min temperatures, and finally you dive into the settings, including the option to turn the display off.
The display is operated via the controls on the right-hands side of the goggles. There are three large buttons, a central power/ok button and up and down arrows to cycle through settings and displays. The buttons are all large enough to operate when wearing gloves.
The central button also serves as a start/stop for the stopwatch. This will then record your timed run, the idea being that you start it at the top of a slope and record the data all the way down. You get your current running time on the dashboard in yellow. Speed is portrayed in green and hitting a max speed will see it dominate the entire screen, so if you have your eyes on the slope you’ll notice the change in your peripheral vision so you can glance down and see what speed you hit.
We found the GPS performance to be reasonable. It takes a while to get a solid signal and like many sports GPS systems, it takes a moment to respond to changes in speed. The result is that is sometimes takes a while for your speed to settle, especially if you are changing pace a lot. However, looking at the map data from where we tested it on the road, it was accurate in tracing our route. The Transcend GPS use a system called TrueStats, which uses an algorithm to calculate speed from not only the distance travelled, but the change in altitude. As such, it claims to be a more accurate system for stats on the slope.
The data is all well and good in the goggles and it has an immediacy that you’ll lack if you opt for a GPS device on your phone or in your pocket. An alternative would be a wrist mounted device, although again, it isn’t as immediate as having it presented right in your goggles. But all the data is wasted if you can’t do anything with it. Fortunately you can hook your goggles up to your PC and extract the data, using Recon HQ, and fortunately a previous reviewer left their data in the memory from their trip to Zell Am Zee area, displayed here, which beats our tests from around the English countryside.
On the side of the Zeal Optics Transcend GPS is a Micro-USB connection concealed under a weather-proofed flap. The positioning on the edge of the goggles behind the strap makes it extremely unlikely that it will even become exposed to snow and the flap seemed sturdy enough to stay in place. This is not only used for data extraction, but also charging the on-board 1200mAh battery. It takes between 3 and 5 hours to charge the battery; the battery is cited to give you 6+ hours, a battery meter in the display will let you know the status of the battery.
A quick Adobe Air install, Recon HQ will allow you to connect and download the data from the goggles so you can examine it in more detail. You are then presented with a breakdown of your trips, the runs on that trip, etc, and a large central Google map. This is where the real magic happens as you can then play back your runs. If you wanted to show someone a particular route then you get real-time playback so you can essentially watch yourself moving across the map and view the overlaid statistics at the same time.
It’s a great system and it also allows you to export the data as a Google Earth compatible KML file, or share it online with the Recon community, and further to Twitter and Facebook. Compare this to other systems and the presentation is more dynamic than the sort of thing you’d get if you used a wrist mounted solution. Yes, you can get most of the same information from a Garmin Forerunner, but it isn’t presented as well, or as usefully for skiiers and snowboarders as you'll find here. You can also view other users' routes from Recon and there is an example here which shows the sort of display you get.
The downside, of course, is the price. Costing you £449.99 (from Firebox.com). That’s enough to buy a set of our favourite Oakley A frames, and different lenses, and a separate GPS system. In fact, you’ve got to be really sold on having that information beamed into your goggles to part with that sort of money. The software helps, but for us, nice as it is, we’d rather put that cash towards a few extra nights in the resort. To protect your investment you do get a hard case.
We also found that frequent glancing at the screen did get a little tiring on the eyes. We’re sure you’ll get used to this, but we did feel some tightness around the bottom of the eye socket following a long test of the goggles. Admittedly, it does take some effort to work through all the menus, something that you wouldn’t get if it's just a quick glance to eye-up your speed.
If you have plenty of cash, then you might not worry about the cost of the Zeal Optics Transcend GPS. But the fact is that this is an expensive pair of goggles and for those that see it as a novelty purchase, you’d probably be better off getting goggles that give you a wider choice of lenses (although we didn’t get to test the SPPX lenses, so this might not be totally true), with less bulk. Buying a separate GPS might not be as dynamic on the slopes, but may then be more use off them, i.e., for running or cycling.
But there is a wow factor to the Zeal Optics Transcend GPS goggles. They look good, they were comfortable enough as goggles and will be protected in transit and storage thanks to that hard case.
Thanks to Firebox.com for the loan of the Zeal Optics Transcend GPS.