Thursday, March 20, 2014

UClear helmet communication review

Below you can read a part of our on-going evaluation of UClear Helmet comms, or you can go straight to the UClear website if you click on the logo on the left

2nd Evaluation of our UClear Helmet comm.

Our first report on UClear can be found here and our intern report after two years on the road here.

Only three fully waterproof buttons and yet they control the intercom, connection to an iPod (whereby they also take over the controls of the iPod) and a mobile phone... The connector is a waterproof version of the mini USB
Being able to communicate is handy when a photo opportunity
arises too... 'Hey I'll stop for a photo here!' 'Ok'
It's strange how easily we take something for granted when it works flawlessly, day in day out. Our UClear helmet comms fall perfectly in that category. They have literally been a case of fit and forget. Operation is easy with 3 buttons, which can be operated with gloves as well, and battery life is long, very long. So why this second evaluation? Because we've had problems with our UClear units over the past weeks. Problems which had both us and UClear stumped, but also made us realise how good the units had been.

With the benefit of hindsight it probably all started a couple of months back, when one of the units suddenly switched itself off, like the battery was empty. Yet when we put it on the charger, it only took half an hour to charge. UClear promptly send us a replacement unit, which is when a new phenomenon raised its head: screeching. As we never had an issue before we assumed it was the new unit, perhaps being on a different firmware version, which we couldn't update as they didn't have a Mac version of the updater at the time. When the Mac version came however, it didn't seem to make any difference. What puzzled me is the randomness of the screeching. You'd think if it was firm- or hardware that the issue would be there all the time and repeatable, but it wasn't. We tried different positions of the speaker/microphone combinations and several times thought we had solved it. The units would work fine for days sometimes and then suddenly it came back again. 

Roxy enjoying the spare UClear we have with us, she commented on the crystal clear sound too.
It had UClear puzzled too. In the end, while we had a Christmas/Visa break, we send the units back for them to investigate. The culprit seemed to be one of the speakers, which not only affected the unit they were attached too but also the units in radio contact. They replaced the set and all seemed fine. We fitted them to our helmets again and had no issues for a week (that is 7 days and at least 56 hours of continuous use). Then it suddenly it started again... 

An electronics guy said to me many years ago that the hardest problems to find are the random ones. 'Give me something that's blown, burned out or creates a short circuit' he said, as they are easy to find and solve. UClear has been very supportive in this and in the end wondered if it was perhaps our new helmets which somehow caused interference, so they send us their pro-mics to test. We still have them fitted as we love them, but it didn't solve the random screeching. 

Behind the scenes UClear worked hard on a solution, they made changes to the firmware, send us new units just in case there was a fault in them and in the end found the problem! The little UClear unit is a complex thing. It can sync to other units for simultaneous communication, function as a repeater station to extend the range, link to an iPod and mobile phone and even transmit the sound of it to other units. To do that there are tiny electronic parts and of course a complex firmware at work. Finding a random problem in something so complex is, well... complex! Yet non of this in the end the problem... it was as simple as the battery, which is a bought-in item, which was creating all the issues... There had been a batch of batteries which wasn't functioning as it should and randomly created voltage spikes and drops. When we heard this, it sort of all made sense. After all any electrical system with voltages all over the place cannot function properly and as these battery faults were random, so where the problems we had.

To be honest the screeching we had was so frustrating and at times painful to our ears, that we thought about getting another brand altogether. Yet when we read the test reports on several other systems, we realised how much better the UClear system is compared to the competition. The sound is crystal clear, noise cancellation near enough perfect, the range impressive and they don't drop out of range as soon as one of us is out of sight either. Battery life is better on our UClear units and charging is lots quicker too. When we fitted a spare set we have to the Shoei helmet of a friend of ours so that we could communicate on a weekend trip through Romania, she commented on the crystal clear sound. She rode back home on Sunday and paired her mobile phone to it for some music on the long highway stretch and was amazed with the sound quality compared to her previous system. It once again confirmed our thoughts that the UClear is a very good system. 

Since the units with new batteries have arrived we haven't had a problem and we have been using them now for more than two weeks continuously. They are once again a fit and forget item and work flawlessly. In my book this whole episode has made the UClear an even better helmet comm than it already was. After all a faulty batch of batteries is something which could have happened to any system. What is has proven to us is that not only is the system itself very good, the all important after sales has proven to be very good too. They didn't shy away from the problem with vague excuses like so many other manufacturers do when confronted with a problem by saying we were the only ones having the problem, but honestly said it was a problem they knew about. They were looking for a solution and didn't stop looking until they found and solved the problem. Hats off for that!

Useful links:
Our first report on UClear can be found here and our intern report after two years on the road here.