The New Neo+
Arva updated their longstanding favorite, the Neo, to the Neo+. This new version can push the search limit to 70 meters (up 10 meters from the previous version). It is equipped with a movement sensor to switch automatically back into transmit mode, and it comes with a new holster which allows the user to carry the transceiver on the harness while in search mode. The new Neo+ is pictured in the first photo alongside the Neo we tested in the second photo.
Since we haven't tested out the Neo+ yet, this review that follows pertains only to the previous Neo. However, we are linking to the newest version for purchase in this review.
Hands-On Review of the Neo
The Arva Neo was updated in 2016 to include an interference management system: if the software has too much interference from phones, radios, etc., it reduces the search range to better lock onto a signal. The harness and graphics have also seen small changes.
The Neo is a solid all-around beacon with a long range, fast processor, and multiple burial capabilities. While it just barely didn't win one of our awards this year, it remains a super solid beacon for novice or experienced users alike.
The Neo has one of the best ranges of any all-digital beacon in our review. During our side-by-side comparisons, we found the maximum range of the Neo to be close to 60 meters and very comparable to other top contenders in our review, like the Mammut Barryvox S (70m maximum range), and the more basic Mammut Barryvox. It featured a slightly longer range than other top scoring products, like the Ortovox S1+, Pieps DSP Pro, and Pieps DSP Ice. The Neo had a much greater range than similarly priced options, like the Backcountry Access Tracker2 ($335) or the Ortovox 3+ ($350). Something else that sets the Neo apart is that because of its Isotech Technology (see below), the Neo maintained its super long range regardless of orientation and had the longest range with the worst possible orientation in our review.
Most modern beacons have three antennas, with two of them being used while searching for the signal. Most of the time, one of the two antennas is being used much less than the other, which affects the beacon's maximum range and as a result the search bandwidth. The Neo is one of the first beacons to give equal power to both antenna's to increase the width of the search bandwidth to 60 meters, the widest of any all-digital beacon.
The Neo performed well during the fine search/bracketing stage. However, we noticed that less experienced and less practiced individuals would generally take a little longer to complete their brackets. We feel that this because the Neo's directional arrows disappear at 3 meters whereas several other manufacturers' arrows disappear at 2 meters, giving those less experienced users more time and opportunities to error correct and thus hopefully finishing their bracketing slightly more quickly.
Ease of Finding a Single Victim
The Neo has one of the more straightforward user interfaces of any product in this review. The Arva Neo uses five directional arrows, in addition to distance units to help the user stay on the flux line. The Arva Neo also has a handy but less common feature of an arrow icon that displays meaning you have gone too far, and you need to turn around. This function can be set to show at three or five meters or turned off altogether.
Ease of Use in Fine Search and Speed
During the fine search, the Neo turns off its directional arrows at 3 meters and displays all four arrows pointing out in four opposite directions to remind the searcher to start bracketing shortly. The Neo's above average processor speed was as fast or faster than several models that retail for $400 and above, and we felt like we could move the Neo as fast as almost any of the products during the bracketing stage of the search.
The only drawback of the Neo for more novice or less practiced users was that its directional arrows disappear at 3 meters compared to the BCA or Pieps models which disappear at 2 meters. While this wasn't a big deal, we noticed that folks with less experience would consistently take slightly longer to bracket because they would often marginally lose track of their orientation and because their directional arrows would disappear further away they would have more margin for error than with beacons that kept them for longer.
The Neo's display once its directional arrows go away under 3 meters. The icon on the upper right-hand side indicates that the searcher could flag/mark a victim if they choose to. The two "people" on the lower left indicate that there are multiple signals.
Ease of Use in Multiple Burials
The Neo has an easy to use flagging feature to assist a searcher in multiple burial situations. The Neo can display up to three buried icons to represent the number of signals it is picking up. Once you flag one of the victims, a flag appears next to them on the screen to help the rescuer keep track. If the user attempts to mark a victim that is too far away, the Neo will display a "No" on the screen indicating that that beacon will not be marked.
The Neo's display showing that it has flagged/marked one of the victims, indicated on the lower left.
Something relatively unique about the Neo is that once you are within 3 or 5 meters (this distance can be set ahead of time) of the buried unit an icon on the screen starts to flash letting you know that you could flag that victim. This is an interesting feature because most of the time you will still need to bracket the victim and probe them before moving on to the next person so others can start digging the first victim up. The only situation where this could be super useful is with a lot of rescuers and a lot of beacon searchers where you realized you and another rescuer were both locked onto the same victim. We thought the Neo was above average for multiple burials but still didn't perform quite as well as models geared more towards professionals like the Arva Axio, Mammut Barryvox S, or the Pieps DSP Pro or DSP Ice, where there were even more options and capabilities to help a rescuer manage a complex scenario. We don't think this is a problem for most recreational users, but if you are a ski guide or avalanche professional, this beacon doesn't do as well for high-level rescue exams.
The Neo features a backlit screen for dark or nighttime rescues. The Neo, like many higher end beacons, offers up-dateable software as well as a group check function. The Neo is loud. We liked this and thought that it helped us even more during a search, but while practicing, for some people, it might be a little much. Might be a good option for you if your hearing is on the way out.
Controls and Interface
The Neo turns on when you insert the "plug" that is attached to the harness, into the side of the beacon and twist. This plug can also be removed from the harness to make the beacon more friendly for folks who like to wear it in an inner zippered pants pocket.
The "toggle" in red on the left is inserted into the hole and twisted to power the Neo on.
When the beacon is on the controls are intuitive and easy to understand. To switch from Send to Search modes, simply slide the bar on the right-hand side of the unit upwards similarly to the Pieps DSP Pro and Sport. The flagging function is activated by pressing the button with the visible red flag in a red circle. As a whole, we thought the Neo was one of the more natural models to use with as many features as it has.
Revert To Send
The Neo has a Revert to Send mode built into it that can be turned on or off. It can also be set to revert back to send after two, four or eight minutes. Before it switches back to send mode, it gives a loud beep, and the rescuer simply presses the flagging button to keep searching.
Comfort to Carry
The Neo allows the user remove the connector "plug" (that when inserted turns it on) from the harness and install it on the leash so you can wear it inside a zippered pants pocket instead of on the harness. For users who prefer to wear theirs in a harness, the Neoprene harness that comes with the Neo is nice and relatively easy to use and understand.
This is a great mid-level beacon that is well-suited to those looking for a few more functions than an entry-level model but don't need all the bells and whistles that a professional user requires.
While not quite a "fully featured beacon," the Neo performs well in all of the most important aspects of a beacon and still has all the functionalities that most users want.
At $350, the Neo is priced in line with several other manufacturers' mid-level products, like the Ortovox 3+ ($350), BCA Tracker 2 ($335), and Mammut Barryvox ($350), and slightly less than the more feature-rich Pieps DSP Pro ($420). The Neo has better range than all the beacons we mentioned except the Barryvox. While you can spend more and get a beacon with more features than the Neo, we think that the majority of users will find that the Neo has all the features they are likely to use the most and without the extras that most users won't use.
The Arva Neo is an easy to use and fully functional product that has all the features that most backcountry users want, like a fast processor, solid flagging features, and awesome range, but without some of the extra features that most backcountry users don't ever use. We think the Neo is simple enough for even very novice users to understand but advanced enough with all the right features to keep all but the most advanced ski guides and backcountry professionals satisfied. We loved the Neo's range, easy to use controls and processor speed, and thought the multiple burial functions were a little complicated at first but with a little practice, we got the hang of them quickly.