Facewest Transceiver Review 2007

The aim of this test was to reveiw the basic search functions and ease of use of the transceivers. We didn't go into extra features and multiple burials because we feel too much emphasis is placed on this, mainly for marketing purposes, at Facewest we feel that simplicity and ease of use are the most important considerations for most users and the other things are secondary.

Units on test
Ortovox F1
Ortovox Patroller
Ortovox S1
Pieps DSP
BCA Tracker DTS 1st generation
Arva Evolution
Arva Advanced

Test 1.
Victim – 1st Generation Tracker on 91% power
Orientation 90 Degrees.
Test area – flat field

Point of Detection of first signal.
D3 – 29m
Arva Evolution – 30.5m
Tracker – 31.5m
Arva Advanced – 35m
Patroller – 36m
S1 – 38.5m
F1 – 50m
DSP – 51m

Test 2.
Victim – 1st Generation Tracker on 91% power
Orientation In Line
Test area – flat field

In this test we found that although the distances were slightly altered the units detected the signal in the same order, so orientation affects detection distance but is relative to all transceivers.

Thats the basic range of the transceivers, here are our general impressions of each unit.

D3 – Display badly affected by bright light. First search confusing as the D3 didn’t seem to lock onto the signal. Directional and pinpoint search both good although need to be aware of the spike

Arva EvolutionGood digital transceiver, over estimated distance to victim. Direction arrows positive and arrows go off under 2m. Need to be aware of spike to avoid confusion.

Tracker  1st generation– Over estimated distance to victim. Display difficult to read in bright sunshine. Good flux line and pinpoint search although the direction arrows stay on. Need to be aware of the spike to avoid confusion.

Arva Advanced – Hybrid model, did not pick up signal at all until 35m and then seemed to go straight into digital mode, so really behaved just like the Arva Evolution but with a slightly better range

Patroller – did give faint beeps when in analogue mode at around 40m but not judged to have a signal until distance numbers appeared. Stayed in analogue mode until 10m. Directional search and pinpoint search were both good. Patroller is Good is you understand how both digital and analogue transceivers work.

S1 -  Difficult to open. Good explanatory graphics on display. Over estimated distance to victim, sometimes by 50%. Didn’t follow flux line very accurately. Gave confusing readings in pin point mode. The S1 was either very good or very confusing and if the user veered off course it seemed unable to steer them back onto it.

F1 – Pure analogue, gave weak but workable signal at 50m. From then on if you know what you are doing it’s easy to use and very positive.

DSP – had good range but over estimated distance to victim at first signal. Has constant battery level indicator which is nice. Gave indication of number of people buried during search which was good. Direction arrows were positive and switched off during pinpoint search which helped.

A bad harness is very annoying and ruins a good transceiver as it makes it less likely you will wear it. A harness that ensures you switch the transceiver on is also a good idea for most skiers. However ski tourers also like a transceiver which can be detached from the harness and then clipped to something else like a pocket loop so it’s easier to change layers when climbing without removing your transceiver. So some combination of the 2 is ideal.
DSP – Fairly basic body straps and holster harness with detachable cord for clipping elsewhere does not ensure unit is switched on.
F1 – Good body straps, no holster, ensures unit is switched on, not detachable.
D3 – Body straps with holster, ensures unit is switched on, not detachable
S1 - Body straps with holster, does not ensure unit is switched on, detachable but no cord for re-attachment, although you could make one.
Arva Advanced and Evolution. – Slightly complicated body strap with holster, detachable cord and clip but does not ensure the unit is switched on
Tracker – Good body straps and holster harness with detachable cord and clip. Does not ensure the unit is switched on.
Patroller - Good body straps, no holster, ensures unit is switched on, not detachable.

In the test we have tried not to get too bogged down with technology and extra features and tried to concentrate on a single victim rescue which is your most likely scenario and the plain user friendly-ness of the transceivers. If you are faced with multiple burial and rescue just one person then you are a legend, and for most people it’s not worth choosing a transceiver with this criteria in mind.
From the distance results the transceivers fall mainly into 3 groups. The pure digital units with the shortest range, the hybrid units with slightly greater range and the specialist & analogue units with the greatest range. The one exception is the Pieps DSP which is pure digital but with an analogue range and managed to provide full directional information at 50m.
Now range is important but it’s not everything as the whole search procedure needs to be taken into account to really rate the units. Now the pure digital units are easiest to use which helps offset the range disadvantage and is a very important consideration for the infrequent user. At first glance the Hybrid units seem to offer the best of both worlds but the disadvantage is that you need to understand how an analogue and a digital  transceiver work and know when it has switched from being one to the other. So these units score poorly on ease of use. Also the analogue range of the transceivers has been compromised and in the case of the Ortovox Patroller the digital performance is compromised as well. So I do not recommend hybrid units at all, they work OK but I think there is a better option in the other groups depending on what sort of user you are.
This leaves the pure analogue F1 and the pure technology S1, both from Ortovox. The F1 results confirm what we have said all along that with training and practice the pure analogue transceiver is hard to beat. The reason not many people buy them is they are honest enough to admit that will not practise enough (or at all) each season to keep their skill level up. However it’s good news for  victims as a good percentage of them will be rescued by Ski Professionals who will probably be carrying an analogue unit that is several years old. Lastly the S1, the new super transceiver from Ortovox which can display multiple signals simultaneously on its screen. We found that it either works fantastically well or was totally confusing. The S1 seemed to be able to guide you in from 50m with great precision but when we artificially veered off course it seemed unable to get us back on line without becoming very confused and was very slow to update the distance information when you were walking 180 degrees the wrong way. A transceiver that is sometimes fantastic and sometimes poor gets an overall rating of poor. The S1 hints at some great performance but I believe that the software still has some improvements needed. I have read another review that was much more favourable read it HERE, and the reviewer was very impressed by the advanced features for the group leader but I am commenting on what I found in my local park doing simple searches.

So in summary of my conclusions I recommend the following transceivers for the following people

Ortovox F1 – Those on a budget who will learn how to use it and practise with their transceiver every season without fail. (not many of you)
Tracker DTS – Those who want the most straight forward transceiver to use. The tracker is proven as reliable and very easy to use. Very suited to most users.
Pieps DSP – Those who want a fully featured digital transceiver with great range. You might think that this is everyone because the  DSP does do everything the Tracker does and more but all those extra symbols and buttons can confuse, and for sheer simplicity the Tracker still suits many people. But if you want those advanced features then the DSP is great.

For 2007/08 Facewest will also probably be selling the following transceivers and why;
Pieps Freeride – Very small, simplified analogue transceiver at a great price (around £99), probably quite difficult to use but great to give to someone as a transmitter only or for  someone very experienced who can use it. Will know more when I have reviewed it.
BCA Tracker 2 – quite similar to the current excellent model but with a faster processor and a third antenna to eliminate the spike. Sounds great, looking forward to reviewing it.
Ortovox S1 – despite my reservations about the S1, there will still be a demand for it as the latest transceiver and as long as I am honest about what I think of it then I am quite happy if people disagree with me.

Of the transceivers reviewed we will not be selling the following and why;

Arva Evolution – Very, very similar to the Tracker, but with a slightly weak on/off switch design. We feel that if you like the Evolution you would find the Tracker just about identical.
Arva Advanced – Hybrid digital/analogue transceiver that seemed very poor in analogue mode and by the time it picked up a signal was in digital mode. Was good in digital mode but offered nothing extra on the pure digital transceivers.
Ortovox Patroller - Hybrid digital/analogue transceiver that offers nothing over digital models but a small range increase at the expense of simplicity.