Ortovox Zoom+ Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Ortovox Zoom+ is an entry-level avalanche beacon best suited for newer users or those who don't need or want many features. While it doesn't have many extras, it still performs well at a beacon's most important job, which is a straightforward design that helps a potentially stress-out rescuer locate a single buried victim.
Having a longer range doesn't tend to have a huge impact on speeding up rescue times; however, it's worth noting that this beacon's range is among the shortest. This model has the shortest overall maximum ranges in our review, even shorter than the BCA Tracker2 or Pieps Micro. The Zoom+ had a maximum range of around 35 meters, which means its search strip width is around 30 meters; shorter than is being taught in most avalanche courses (currently AIARE, AAI, and other avalanche educational entities recommend a 40m Search strip width). While this isn't a total dealbreaker, it means the user needs to be aware of it and make sure they operate with a 30m search-strip width rather than a 40m.
Overall Ease of Use
This is where the Zoom+ stands out, as it is very basic and incredibly easy to use. In our side-by-side testing, it was one of the simplest to use along with the BCA Tracker 2 or Tracker S. The Zoom+ has very few controls and switches and far fewer features, but this only helps to make it less confusing and simple to use. For many, this is a fantastic design strategy, as it does what you need it to do (find a single buried beacon). This is something that many folks will appreciate under the enormous stress that comes with trying to save their friend's life, who was recently buried in an avalanche.
Ease of Use in Fine Search
For our review comparisons, we included not only the fine search (the bracketing portion of the search) but also the last five meters while coming in toward the victim. During the fine search, the Zoom+ was just below average in this category. The Zoom+, like many contenders in its price range, uses five directional arrows to help the searcher stay on the flux line, with the directional arrows going away at two meters to help remind the searcher to start bracketing. The Zoom+ had an average speed processor, and we thought we had to move slower and had to be more careful with it than the Backcountry Access Tracker2, Tracker3, Tracker S, Arva Evo5, Black Diamond Recon, or the Pieps DSP Sport.
Not only did we have to move slower, but the Zoom+ consistently produced a larger bracket than the previously mentioned model, and with less experienced users, it was less often that the buried beacon was in the exact center of the brackets the rescuer had made.
Ease Of Use In Multiple Burial Situations
When multiple victims are buried, the Zoom+ has a light that signals, indicating that it is picking up more than one signal; it will automatically take you to the closest beacon. The Zoom+ has no flagging feature for multiple burial scenarios, so more traditional techniques must be employed to find multiple beacons, such as concentric circles, micro-strip searches, or simply turning off the victim's beacon that was dug up first.
Like its primary competitor, the BCA Tracker2, the Zoom+'s best feature is its simplicity and ease of use. Unlike some modern beacons, the Zoom+ doesn't have a feature where you can plug it into your computer for software upgrades. For us, this wasn't a dealbreaker, but by the volume of bugs that beacon manufacturers have had to work out, it seems like it would have been a good idea.
A few years ago, Ortovox installed a RECCO reflector, which is an interesting feature. Searching for the beacon would be faster, and searching for the RECCO requires a helicopter, or at the minimum, a much larger scale search and takes much more time. The only thing we can think this would be useful for is a body recovery in a situation where your beacon runs out of batteries, or you are lost in such a large area that they can't pick up the signal broadcasted from your beacon.
Smart Antenna Technology and the "+"
Ortovox's smart antenna technology helps to potentially increase the range that the wearer's beacon can be picked up in. Contrary to what some folks think, if you have a Zoom+, it doesn't boost your range. Basically, the Zoom figures out which of the antennas is at the best orientation to broadcast from. For example, for most other models, if the primary transmitting antenna is orientated vertically, the range at which other beacons will be able to pick up the buried beacon are dramatically reduced and could potentially be close to only 50% of the maximum range. However, with the Smart Antenna, it uses gravity to figure out which is the best antenna to transmit on.Revert to Transmit Mode
The Zoom+ has a revert to transmit mode that is set, and the user may not turn it off. We discuss the usefulness of this feature in our full review.
The Zoom+ is best for a novice or more occasional user who will benefit from the ease of use and won't miss the more complex functions that it is lacking. We think this is actually a larger portion of the backcountry population than many people might think.
It's one of the better-priced products on the market, though we preferred the functionality of the similarly priced BCA Tracker2 and the BCA Tracker S, which we think was easily worth the extra money (for the performance boost). However, for folks looking to spend as little as possible because they are rarely going to go out, this beacon is simple and among the least expensive triple antenna beacons on the market.
The Ortovox Zoom+ is a handy beacon for those who don't want to spend a lot of money, are occasional backcountry users, or do not prefer advanced features. It's also a pretty good deal for what is a totally functional and easy to use beacon.
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