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Nov 30 2014

Beacon Review: Arva’s Neo v2.0

 

Arva's Neo: Impressive

Arva’s Neo: Impressive

When you consider what the most important criteria are in an avalanche rescue, keeping it simple has to be one of the most important. There are plenty of things going on and you don’t need complications when you’re already facing the most serious one possible.

To that end Arva’s Neo is undeniably one of the best avalanche transceivers for recreational and professional ski mountaineers. Not by a long shot, as there are many (five in a comparison of nine) close contenders in a tight race, but a winner nonetheless. The reason is ease of use in single and multiple burial scenarios with reliable signal acquisition thanks to a superb 60+ meter range and excellent signal separation, a tribute to good software engineering inside.

Range

Let’s start with the easy stuff. Range is a solid 60+ meters. You may get a temporary indication 70 meters away, but Neo won’t lock on to the signal until you’re around 60. Certifiably impressive. It has an elliptical receive pattern, so when pointed crosswise to the flux line range is only 45-50 meters. Still considerable. It will recognize the presence of a second signal when it is around 30 to 20 meters away. Not quite as good as Pieps or Mammut’s Pulse/Element, but no slouch either.

Basic Logistics

Neo comes with a nice, intuitive harness with a sling over your shoulder and one around your waist. The beacon stuffs into a pouch with a snap closure and an elastic tether. To turn it on, insert the red, T-shaped stake at the end of the shoulder strap into the L side and turn it counter-clockwise. It quickly runs through a self check, indicating the software version, then percentage battery power remaining, the option to switch to Group CHeck mode, and then begins transmitting.

Interface

Where Neo rules is the simplicity and reliability of the information it provides. Once turned on it defaults to send mode. To search, slide the grey switch on the R side up. Because of the elliptical receive pattern you are advised to swivel the beacon in 3D while searching for a signal. Once you have it, it locks on pretty quick and stays focused on the strongest signal. When you see an icon in the lower left side you know the signal has been uniquely identified and Neo is solidly locked on.

One vic within 3m, close enough to "mark."

One vic within 3m, close enough to “mark.”

The only negative, a minor one, is distance readings tend to be high with Neo. It doesn’t bounce much in terms of how much it varies, but it is consistently above actual distance, indicating up 10 meters further than you actually are (straight line distance) when far away, five meters further until you’re inside of 10 meters, after which it rapidly begins to converge on the actual distance, though always on the high side.

When closer than two meters the direction arrows disappear and are replaced by four small arrows around the distance. At this point you should be moving Neo in a pinpoint grid pattern, then using a probe to physically confirm the victim’s location. As with most digital beacons, at this point you need to sloooooow down since rapid movements will give erroneous distance readings.

Multiple Signal Separation

If there is more than one signal, the second, or other signals will be recognized when they are in the neighborhood of 20-30 meters, occasionally a little further out. Neo can indicate up to four victims on screen. God help you if that’s a real situation. For practice though, it’s a nice feature.

Two victims, first found and "marked," second 9.5m in front

Two victims, first found and “marked,” second 9.5m in front

Where Neo takes the cake, is how reliably it recognizes and remains immune to confusion from old analog beacons with a continuous carrier. Occasionally it would think an F1 was two signals, but not for long, and less often than Pieps thought it was two.

Once Neo is close enough to mark the signal it will show a circle in the upper R corner of the display. Press the flag button momentarily and Neo will summarily mask that signal and concentrate on the next closest.

If you happen to be going in the wrong direction, Neo may let you for a few steps, but typically after 5 meters going the wrong way it will beep harshly and show a crude upside down arrow to tell you you’re going the wrong way.

Advanced Features

All the indicators you should need, intuitively displayed as needed.

All the indicators you should need, intuitively displayed as needed.

True to form, Arva keeps their user manual short and sweet; like it’s user interface it is simple and easy to understand. There aren’t a lot of options, but the few it has may be important to you. To change the default settings, set the send/search switch to Search, and turn the beacon on with the T-stake while holding the flag button down until the battery power is visible. It will then switch to Menu mode, allowing you to toggle the following settings.

For those who like the idea of a beacon reverting to send mode for the odd chance that you could be hit with a secondary avalanche while performing a rescue you can toggle the revert-to-send mode from OFF to ON. If ON, you can chose between 2/4/8 minutes. In the default mode is OFF, if you can maintain your wits you can revert to send by smacking the switch down manually.

You can also toggle the range that Neo will be able to mask a found signal, either within three or five meters; default is three.

Doing a Group CHeck at the trail head is a default feature, but you can turn it off if you. prefer. To use it, press the flag button down when you see the CH on the display, about eight seconds after you turn it on. This reduces the range to approximately one meter, indicating distance on the screen to the closest beacon, and if it is less than half a meter away, will also beep audibly. When done, press the flag button again, and it reverts to send mode.

New with v3.0 is a new interference mode that reduces the range and, hopefully, reduces potential interference from electronic devices, like video cameras, phones, walkie-talkies, that have become almost as common as the snow itself. By default it is OFF, but through the menu’s can be toggled on.

Harness

The harness is a pretty standard looking padded pouch that the beacon slips in to for protection and then has two webbing straps, one to sling over your shoulder, the other around your waist. The stake that is used to turn the beacon on is tied to the end of the strap wrapped around your waist to force you to be wearing the harness to turn it on. If you prefer stashing your beacon in a cargo pocket you’ll need to rig a safety leash to the T-nut for turning the beacon on, as well as tethering the beacon to a belt loop. Not an insurmountable problem, but obviously Arva recommends you use their harness.

Conclusion

Pros who like more flexibility and options for searching may find Neo comes up short because it doesn’t have analog mode. Though I do like that function myself, the reliability that Neo displayed with multiple signals sort of rendered that feature something I could easily live without. Those who want their beacon to be simple to operate and reliable will appreciate the intuitive interface that takes little exposure to comprehend. Who needs fancy when you can rely on functional simplicity?

Arva
Neo
MSRP: $400
Power: 3x AAA batteries
Weight w/Harness: 12¼ oz. • 350 g

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