Pieps Micro Review
Cons: New technology is sometimes scary in a life saving device, not easy to manually change it from Search to Send and doesn't always want to go to Send mode in a baggy pocket, larger-than-average brackets, overall longer learning curve
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Pieps Micro is the smallest and lightest triple antenna beacon and the smallest avalanche beacon currently in production. Based on its appearance and you might think that its small stature is what sets it apart from other models, however, its size is just part of the story. What makes the Micro a unique beacon is a design where it automatically turns to Send mode when its stowed away in its harness or a pocket; it automatically changes to Search mode when it is pulled out. This is a very cool new idea, the goal being to avoid mistakes like rescuers accidentally turning to Send mode during an extensive search, thus causing confusion and wasting time. While we think this is a super cool idea (and potentially the wave of the future) there are still a few kinks to be aware of on what is otherwise an all-around very solid beacon.
The Pieps Micro has a recommended search strip width of 40 meters, but we found it to have a longer maximum range than most other beacons with a similar recommend search strip, like the BCA Tracker2 or Arva Evo4. We found this beacon to have a maximum range of around 45-50m which was only a little bit shorter than the Pieps DSP Sport, Pieps DSP Pro or BCA Tracker 3.
Ease of Finding a Single Victim and Speed
All of its new technology aside, the Micro is extremely good at finding a single beacon and proved to be above average overall for actually assisting in rescuing someone. The Micro uses five primary directional arrows occasionally used in pairs to help better line its user up with the flux line. This is a very intuitive design and both novice, and experienced users found this beacon easy to find a single buried signal with. Overall it proved to have a speedier than average processor, and we could move as quickly with it as any other high-end beacon.
Ease of Use in Fine Search
The Micro is quicker in the fine search than the Pieps DSP Sport, but not quite as fast as the Pieps DSP Pro Ice. It felt very similar to the BCA Tracker2 and Mammut Barryvox S. Its directional arrows disappear at two meters which particularly useful with less experienced users as it helps them end up closer to the buried beacon when beginning the bracketing stage of the fine search. While we noticed a big difference with more novice users, advanced users and pros also preferred directional arrows that disappeared at two meters instead of three.
One unique aspect of the Micro is we consistently found that it created a slightly more substantial set of brackets (i.e., a box in which the buried beacon is inside) during the fine search than most other models with an identical buried beacon. However, we still found this model to be one of the better and easier to use models to use during the final stage of the search.
Ease of Use in Mulitple Burials
The Pieps performed well in multiple burials situations. It isn't our first choice for guide exams or professional level scenarios, but it performed slightly above average. The Micro has much less signal lock than the Mammut Barryvox S or Mammut Barryvox (which both feature very strong signal lock), and still less than the Arva Axio, and Pieps DSP Pro or Ice. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the Micro easily jumps back-and-forth between signals, but it can make bracketing two closely buried beacons difficult. While its disadvantage is in bracketing two close proximity burials, it could micro-strip search like a champion. It differentiates signals respectively well, but occasionally got confused with two closely buried beacons and would miss-mark or not mark marginally more often with three signals.
A small disadvantage of this beacon's automatic Search-Send functions shows up if you miss flag a beacon. You can't quickly turn the beacon to Send and then back to Search again, but instead must turn it off, then turn it back on again to undo a miss-flagged/miss-marked signal.
Controls and User Interface
As we mentioned, the Micro has an ON-OFF switch and a flagging button but no other external controls. These two buttons can help access a variety of features if depressed for different lengths of time during various functions of the beacon. However, because there are only two buttons, as you'd likely guess this beacon isn't quite as intuitive nor overall as easy to operate like most other beacons. Our testing team found this to be somewhat ironic as it seemed to be designed with simplicity in mind.
As we talked about earlier in the article, we do think it is cool that it auto turns to Send and vibrates to reassure its user when it is stowed, but it occasionally didn't want to go into Send mode if we were wearing baggier pants. We never experienced it not wanting to switch to Send if we were opting to store it in its harness.
The battery life on the Micro is displayed in thirds, as with all the other models in the Pieps family. These are the only beacons that don't show a specific percentage remaining of battery life. This can make it difficult to determine the amount of power remaining, as 1/3 is quite a large and non-specific range; everywhere from 100 hours (on Send) which isn't bad, to 20 hrs (on Send) which is slightly lower than most avalanche educators and other manufacturers recommend.Revert To Send
Unlike the Pieps DSP Pro and DSP Ice, which do not come with a revert-to-transmit feature enabled out-of-the-box (but can be set up at a Pieps service center), the Micro does come standard with it on. The Pieps Micro can be set up to revert to transmitting after 60, 90, and 120 seconds of inactivity. If you get to the point where the Micro does return to Send mode and begins transmitting, it will continue to produce an audible beep to let its user know what is happening until you hold the flag button for three seconds - which will unlock the device and the beeping will stop once the beacon is stowed. Unlike the other Pieps beacons, turning this feature off on the Micro is not an option.Group Check Mode
The Pieps Micro has a group check mode. To access this mode after you power-on the beacon, wait until after the Micro has completed its self-check and displays four figures on the upper right-hand side of the screen. At this point hold down the flag button, and "CH" will show on the screen, letting you know you are in group check mode. When in group check mode the Mirco's range is limited to one meter, making it easy to check even large groups.
You need to hold down the Flag button the entire time during the group check mode otherwise the beacon will revert to normal Send mode. Once you let go of the flag button the screen will display a three-second countdown before it switches back to normal Search mode. It is worth noting that the window of time you have to activate the group check function is shorter than most beacons.Comfort-to-Carry
The Micro is the smallest beacon on the market today. This alone makes it very comfortable to carry. Even compared to the very low profile Tracker3 this beacon is still roughly 25% smaller and it is less than half the overall size of the Pieps DSP Sport/Pro/Ice. It comes with a comfortable and lightweight harness, but our testers found it took a fair amount of force to get the beacon out of the harness. We are okay with this because we worry that if it was any easier, it could dislodge during an avalanche and turn to Search mode.
The Micro is low profile and one of the most comfortable models to carry in a pocket, but if your pants are baggier, it won't always want to go to Send mode. We found that for folks who like to typically carry their beacon in their pants pocket, they should use the included stuff sack that makes it easier to get the beacon in Send mode particularly if you are rocking baggier (i.e., Stizzy) pants.
You get updates and make changes to some of the settings (primarily revert to send) and check some of the functionality of this beacon with wireless Blue tooth and your phone (works with both Android and iPhone).
We feel the Micro has a less defined perfect user. Its automatic Search-and-Send functionality would lead you to believe it would be a great beacon for more novice users, but we don't think this is necessarily the case. It's not a bad option for less experienced users, but it's not great, and there are other options like the BCA Tracker2 or even the Pieps Sport which are overall easier to use. The Micro's search functions are quick and easy-to-follow, however, the at-times finicky automatic search-to-send functionality needs occasional troubleshooting, and the beacon is notably less intuitive than other models if things aren't going as perfectly as planned.
At $390, the Pieps is mid-level among beacons offering similar features and a few functionalities of its own. It is the lightest and most compact triple antenna beacon with some cool not-yet-seen designs that perform well in the single searches and slightly above average in multiples compared to beacons of a similar price.
The Pieps Micro is the smallest and lightest beacon with solid all-around performance particularly in single searches (and quite solid in multiple burial situations). It does have some funkiness regarding its proximity sensor and the beacon not always turning to Send mode despite stowing in our pocket, but its included stuff sack helps with that significantly. Our whole review team felt that its automatic search-send mode when stowed is a cool idea and might even be the first of a new generation of beacons with a similar design. However, this design has some kinks which can mostly be easily dealt with but take some practice. We felt if this were an attempt to simplify the Micro and make it easier to use, we would say that it is neither. The automatically changing Search-Send function is cool, but overall all of our testers found this design more complicated than most beacons and needed more practice to operate the beacon as a whole.
How the Pieps Micro Works
In our reviews, we typically don't include a mini-tutorial, but the Micro is so different than any other beacon that we wanted to include a few things that you need to understand about this beacon if you are considering purchasing one. As we mentioned above, the Micro automatically changes from Search to Send, and unlike any other beacon has no switch for manually changing the beacon from one to the other. The Micro's only controls are an ON-OFF switch and a flagging button.
When you power on the Micro, it shouldn't be in its harness nor your pocket, as this is when the beacon decides if its proximity sensor is working. As with most beacons, it goes through a self-check but then immediately goes into Search mode. It knows to do this because of a proximity sensor located just below the screen. Once you stow it away in your pocket or the harness, it automatically switches to Send mode and both beeps and vibrates (Yes vibrates) to confirm to the user that it is in Send mode. This means that (almost) anytime the beacon is stowed away it is sending and anytime it's out it is searching.
The distinct advantage to this is when you pull your beacon out to begin looking for a signal you can't mess up by leaving the beacon in Search mode — a problem that does happen fairly regularly, particularly with less experienced users. The distinct disadvantage is if for some reason the proximity sensor fails (which we have yet to hear of) your beacon has the potential to be stuck in the Search or Send mode when you don't want it to be. There is a way to change it to Search manually, but it isn't apparent.
To answer the likely question, everyone is begging to know, yes you can fool the beacon into thinking it is stowed when it's out and trick the beacon into going into Send mode by simply putting a finger over the proximity sensor. You should NOT use this as a quick and easy way to change the beacon from Search to Send and back again. If you have a loose-ish pocket that you are choosing to store it in, this can also fool the beacon, and it will stay in Search mode despite storing it. The Micro does come with a lightweight stuff sack that looks like something that your sunglasses might come with to help make sure the proximity sensor is engaged. This method didn't always work though.If you do happen to turn your beacon on while it is still in its harness, your pocket, or while covering the sensor of the beacon, it will think that it is damaged during its initial self-check mode. At this point, the screen will display "E7" and the beacon will automatically go into Send Mode. After this error has been displayed and the beacon thinks its proximity sensor is broken you can manually switch the beacon into Search mode by holding down the flag button for four seconds.
— Ian Nicholson