Motorcycles have been synonymous with freedom for over a century. Customizing our bikes is a given. Sewing patches to remember our adventures is second nature. So why are there so few great-looking smart helmets? Smart helmet makers seem to believe head shape, aesthetics, and styles are somehow trumped by features. They want us to stick to their helmet designs, regardless of how safe or good-looking they are, or if they’re even for the right type of riding.

Editor's Pick

NUVIZ seems to have the right idea here. No biker likes to be tied down to a specific brand or product, especially when it comes to something as important as a helmet. This is why they created a heads-up display accessory that can be installed into any helmet.

I just had to see how it stacks up against the competition. We got our hands on a review unit and took it for a ride (or many). Let’s see how it stack up.

Why ride with a smart helmet?

We have slow reaction times, fragile bodies and very distracted minds. Not only do we have to watch for road hazards, drivers, and animals, but we might also start wondering what the clouds look like, why those birds are flying in odd formations, or just why the heck we didn’t wear the jacket that matches those red riding boots.

Our minds are all over the place already. Adding a smartphone to the handlebar will take even more focus from the road. Stopping every single time we need to do something with our phones will slow every trip down. A smart helmet makes it easier to navigate, control music, make and receive calls, take photos, and record video — all without looking away from the road.

Design and build quality

The NUVIZ heads-up display is made of multiple components. Let’s go through them one by one.

Speakers and microphone

All wiring  and audio equipment is hidden inside the helmet padding, just as with any communicator. The wires are thick and solid, and the accessories seem acceptable.They’re are not high-end, but they seem solidly built — nothing felt flimsy.

For a $699 product we do wish the included audio equipment was better, in general. More metal and a more confident build would have helped, as well as improved sound quality.

But hey, at least you can upgrade. NUVIZ uses a single headset jack for the mic and speakers, which means you will need to find headphones with an included mic, running through a single wire. This is unlike communicators, which have different ports for speakers and mic, so it might be a little tricky to find.

If the NUVIZ split the ports, you could upgrade the speakers to something fancy and leave the microphone in there. NUVIZ supports a connection via Bluetooth, so you can also use communicators like Sena’s for your audio needs. That would be an expensive upgrade if you don’t already own one, though.

Dock

There is no need to keep the NUVIZ docked at all times. You might not want to use it for some rides, and it’s easy to charge since you can just remove the main device and leave the helmet near your bike. It also allows for mounting the heads-up display in more than one helmet.

All the cabling attaches to a small dock with connection pins, where the NUVIZ mounts on the helmet. It attaches to the side of the helmet with a 3M adhesive pad. I put it through its paces and can say the adhesive is strong. Not only did I use it riding at fast (and totally legal) speeds, but I also willingly made an effort to pull it and rip it off (unsuccessfully). It will stay where you install it.

The dock also keeps a good grip on the main device. Not once did I feel like the unit would fly off. Thumbs up on this one. It’s a versatile system that lets you ride with or without the NUVIZ, without sacrificing quality.

The NUVIZ heads-up display

Mount the NUVIZ and the magic starts. It packs your helmet with smart features and a plastic bulk in your chin sure to catch everyone’s attention. Really, this thing is not discrete at all. It measures 58 x 148 x 28 mm. People will always be asking you what that thing bulging out of your face is.

It also weighs in at 220 grams — heavier than the largest modern phones (Apple iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 8). The change in weight is noticeable, but definitely something you get used to. All the added features make up for the small inconvenience, too. After all, full-face helmets weigh somewhere around 1400-1800 grams. Adding a bit to that isn’t a deal breaker.

The NUVIZ unit is made of plastic, but certainly doesn’t feel cheap. Nothing is loose or flimsy. It almost feels like a single piece when held. This thing is solid — and it should be, considering it will be used and abused, likely facing the elements on a daily basis. It’s completely sealed off and can be used in the rain and will work wherever you want to take it.

The moving mechanism used to accommodate the front section is also as solid as it gets. This part houses a 800 x 480p display and an integrated 8 MP camera (it can individually be moved around for aiming the camera to the desired direction).

It’s definitely a solid device, but it’s hardly fashionable. Then again, few helmet additions really look good. Those GoPro cameras and Sena communicators also affect uniformity and aerodynamics. I will put it how one of my fellow riders said it — A GoPro looks ugly; NUVIZ looks like an ugly product trying not to look ugly.

Regardless, it’s not there to look nice. It’s there to keep eyes on the road and make rides more fun. The NUVIZ does that very well.

NUVIZ controller

This round controller lives on your handlebar. It is constructed with metal and plastic, making it a very solid accessory.

A small lever in the middle can move up and down to navigate through the UI and control volume. The buttons on the left side have different functions depending on what you are doing. Meanwhile, the right side holds a camera and digital assistant buttons. It’s actually all very nifty.

The NUVIZ controller attaches to your handlebar using an included metal mount and more 3M tape. You can choose between two controllers: one meant for cruisers and one specialized for sports bike handlebars.

The unit is solid. Buttons are clicky and the lever offers good feedback. The layout is intuitive and doesn’t take much time to learn. If you don’t want it living on your bike, its mounting mechanism allows for easy removal.

The idea is that the NUVIZ controller should sit right above your left handle controls. I found that spot to be a bit less convenient for instances when I had to use the clutch, though. Instead, I placed my controller on the back, where the clutch attaches to the handlebar. This meant I could use my index finger for controlling the NUVIZ. I felt it was more natural and allowed me to press the buttons even while pulling the clutch.

Specifications and performance

What’s inside this bad boy?

  • 800 x 480p LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) display
  • 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 16 GB of internal storage
  • MicroSD support (up to 128 GB)
  • 8 MP camera
  • Video: 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps, 720p at 30fps, and 480 at 30fps
  • 3250 mAh battery (3.5-8 hours of battery life)
  • GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, MicroUSB 2.0, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, barometer, magnetometer, and accelerometer

This isn’t the fastest or most powerful device around. It has about a half second of lag, but (hopefully) you won’t be run into it very often. The lag was never enough to affect navigation, listening to music, or shooting video. You should be aware of timing when taking a still photo, though. Reaction time is not even close to instant.

Riding with NUVIZ

I had my doubts about using a smart helmet. Riding for me is all about disconnecting from the world, moving through the wind with no direction and taking in the environment as it is. I worried this would pull me away from my silly biker romance novel perspective.

It didn’t take long to find out something like the NUVIZ definitely has a place in my helmet. I used it very little at the start, which seems like the whole point. It’s not like a phone that pulls you into an addictive, vicious cycle of apps and social networks. The NUVIZ is made to keep you focused. Its system forces you to get things done quickly and easily, then get your full attention back on the road.

I mostly used it for music, but it was also nice having a connection to the world when needed. Ultimately, I wasn’t really distracted from my rides. I just no longer had to stop or pull over to do a bunch of things.

Without a smart helmet I have to pull over and grab my phone every time I want to control my music. The same applies for making and receiving calls or handling navigation. These are all things I can now do while riding my motorcycle, with little effort and minimal distraction.

The NUVIZ UI makes it simple to use the device — it reminds me a lot of a smartwatch interface. Simply use the controller’s lever to navigate through features and hit the action buttons to dig deeper into each section.

Main page/speedometer

The NUVIZ always starts on this page. Its main purpose is to show your current speed.

I actually found this to be quite exact. It was usually right on track with my bike’s speedometer, and when it was off, it was by only one or two mph. To give the NUVIZ the benefit of the doubt, who knows if the bike’s speedometer was actually the wrong one. Regardless, this is a very helpful feature. Knowing your speed without having to look down for a second or two is something I can no longer give up. It’s also much safer.

NUVIZ uses Here Maps, which means it knows most street speed limits. A red line will mark your location’s speed limit, and an annoying ding will sound if you go over it.

This could be either great or insanely annoying, depending on your driving habits. Californians drive fast, so we are often forced to speed along with everyone else. I sometimes had to deal with annoying sounds going off every few seconds. For the life of me I can’t figure out how to turn the feature off.

This page also shows directions on the left side when navigation is activated. It’s nice to have if voice directions are not enough.

Maps

When navigation is off, this page will simply show your location on a map. You can zoom in and out to see more street details or a wider area.

When navigation is on, you will have a view of your location, as well as a colored line that makring your trajectory and other traveling details. You can also zoom in and out.

Rides

This will essentially be your hub for planning routes. The Ride section makes it easy to select how you want to go about your trip. Select a destination and pick your preferences. Paved or unpaved? Toll or not? Highways or only streets? All the options are in there, with information regarding distance, time, and even speed limits.

You won’t see that much from the interface, though. You can go into previous rides or your favorites, and start navigation straight from the heads-up display (HUD). The NUVIZ also lists points of interest for you, including nearby restaurants, gas stations, sights, and accommodations.

The Ride page is actually very handy for those times you are simply cruising around. Going on a long ride and need gas halfway through? Finding the nearest gas station is easy! Hungry in an unknown area? It’s easy to find good new food without stopping, or, if you are like me, pick a favorite location and stick with what you know (in my case, Black Angus).

This made it simpler to just enjoy a good day out on my bike. Stops are nice, but I like to save them for nice views and bathroom breaks, rather figuring out where I will be stopping next.

Calls

This page shows a list of your recent calls. It’s neat if you want to get in touch with someone you have recently talked to, but having no access to your full contact list is definitely a downside. You can always use voice actions to call anyone you want, though.

Receiving calls, on the other hand, is very simple. Regardless of where you are in the NUVIZ UI, a translucent window with the name of the caller will show up. From there you can go back or accept the call. Simple stuff!

Music Player

This section is pretty straight forward. You can control your music using one of two main actions: play and skip. You will need to use your phone if you want to pick a specific song or change playlists.

Camera

The camera is about the only thing you can access at all times, and it doesn’t really have a page. Simply press the camera button in the NUVIZ controller and it will activate. You can then either tap the camera button to take a shot or press and hold to start/stop recording video.

Voice assistant

Pressing and holding the voice assistant button (looks like a Wi-Fi logo) will activate either Siri or Google Now. You can make any request you want, but don’t expect things to always work perfectly.

Asking to navigate somewhere will result in Google Maps directions, which are not the same as the NUVIZ map ecosystem. This means you won’t see the visual assistance you get with Here Maps on the HUD. You will, however, get spoken directions with the Google Maps voice.

In a way, Google Assistant and NUVIZ work separately. If you wan’t the HUD’s full experience, you will need to use either the NUVIZ UI or the app. This can be a bit wonky and unintuitive for less tech-savvy users. Google Now and Siri are extra additions here. They are not exactly part of the full NUVIZ experience, but will do whatever they would have done if you had asked the phone directly.

Things like initiating calls, asking about nearby locations, and requesting details on Barack Obama’s height will work perfectly, though. That’s really what matters!

Sound quality

These speakers are average at best. Sound feels a bit muffled and the quality could be improved. They are good for casual tune listening, can definitely be heard while riding, and I never had trouble understanding directions, but for a $699 bundle they leave much to be desired.

My recommendation would be to upgrade to something like the iASUS XS3 speakers, which cost $99. They are known for being among the best helmet speakers around. Most riders know of them, but are wary to buy them due to the high cost and lack of reviews. (IASUS is sending me a review unit, so stay tuned for that!)

The microphone seems pretty good. I obviously never heard myself talking, but I called my girlfriend multiple times and she always said I sounded loud and clear, with very little wind noise at times.

Really, I feel like NUVIZ almost expects people to upgrade. This is why they put so much emphasis on Bluetooth connectivity with communicators, which do come with their own speakers and microphones.

Camera quality

I didn’t expect much from the 8 MP camera, that’s just what I got. It is not bad for its size, I just wasn’t too impressed. They could have possibly thrown something better in there, especially considering how much more room to work there is on the NUVIZ than on a smartphone.

Furthermore, one of NUVIZ’ competitors is GoPro, which has some amazing camera quality. Here are some sample shots so you can see for yourself.

Video, on the other hand, is not so bad!

Ride or die?

Mounting a motorcycle is an intimate experience. Ride with the same people a few times and suddenly you will feel like they are your lifetime friends. The same applies to your bike, accessories, passenger and riding gear. There’s a  special bond there that’s hard to explain. There needs to be trust, so if you are to ride with NUVIZ, it is because you are convinced it’s the right companion.

Despite a doubtful beginning, I grew to like the NUVIZ heads-up display more than I thought I would. It is a handy device and kept me riding for longer, minimizing la la land trips and stops. I was connected, yet focused. NUVIZ is not a distracting product — you barely even mess with it. It seems to fade in the corner of your vision, only appearing when you need it. Its solid construction can handle whatever conditions you throw at it.

The UI is convenient and super simple, making it easier to carry out necessary tasks while flying down the road. Listening to tunes, making calls, setting directions, and finding my way around town took only a few quick button presses or a singe voice command. I wanted tighter voice assistant integration, better speakers, less lag, and a more discrete device, but those are definitely not deal breakers.

What might be a deal breaker for many is the price tag. The NUVIZ HUD goes for a whopping $699, which is about the price of a higher-end Shoei helmet. It is not cheap, but no smart helmet really is. Helmets with comparable features, like the LiveMap Helmet and the Skully Fenix AR, go for $1,500 at the very least.

The smart helmet is still very new. There are only a few options and they’re almost all very expensive. It serves a niche market, but I believe the NUVIZ HUD is actually the best way to become an early adopter.

This device brings all the cool features of a smart helmet without leaving your current helmet behind. Furthermore, you can also upgrade your helmet to whatever you choose and take your smart features along. NUVIZ will resonate with the connected geek who treasures the freedom and versatility of riding a motorcycle.

Simply put: you don’t have to adapt to the NUVIZ — it adapts to you.

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