Ever since Zeal Optics released its Z3 GPS goggles in Fall 2011, the outdoors media has been getting pretty stoked on GPS-enabled ski and snowboard goggles (even we've fawned over them a tad). After all, they feature cool, Robocop-inspired heads-up displays that allow you to see your performance stats—speed, distance, vertical descent and more—while you shred. The only not-so-minor drawback for an honest-to-god ski bum is that they cost a whopping $550.
Still, this year saw the introduction of two even more feature-loaded, more expensive models, confirming the ascendency of GPS-powered goggles. Both the $600 Oakley Airwave and the $650 Smith I/O Recon use Bluetooth to stream info live from your smartphone, including incoming calls, texts and emails, as well as buddy-tracking resort maps and more. Pretty cool, right?
Not so cool, it turns out, when all that technology doesn't work. CNET senior writer Jay Greene took the three GPS goggles for a six-day test spin at Whistler Blackcomb and Crystal Mountain. A tech geek by trade, he was able to look past the dazzling heads-up display to the fact that, well, the technology hardly worked worth a damn.
Over the course of his testing, Greene couldn't barely get the Oakley's to charge, much less display any data. When he did get the battery juiced, they only showed a cryptic error message that wouldn't go away. Though he noted the Airwaves are beautiful, $600 UV-filtering, fog-free goggles, demo-ing the technology was a bust. The Smith I/O Recons worked for a few days, before tailspinning into a software glitch-induced loop of the goggle tutorial. The only way to make it stop was to shut the unit off, leaving Greene with very nice—albeit ridiculously expensive—tech-free goggles. The Zeal Z3 worked the best, but still showed that Greene had skied 257.5 miles in a single day—about ten times the distance he actually covered. Also, when any of the goggles did function, they were so power-hungry that he was hardly able to make it through a 4.5-hour day on the mountain without the batteries dying.
What's it all mean?
Greene writes: "Those glitches are particularly problematic for goggles that start at a wallet-busting suggested retail price of $450 and climb to $650. The most expensive pair cost as much as a weeklong lift ticket at Whistler, and nearly three times as much as the most expensive gadget-free goggles from Oakley, often the priciest of goggle makers. With that price tag, the heads-up goggles should be reliable. But they're not."
In the end, Greene found a lowly 99-cent iPhone app, Ski Tracks, to be a much more reliable—albeit less flashy and not real time—alternative.