Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Are motorcycle riders ready to join fighter pilots with a Head Up Display (HUD) in the sightlines of their helmets? Or is it too much distraction while riding? We set out to find some answers in our review of the Nuviz, a stick-on HUD that attaches to any full-face helmet.
Some backstory: In 2014, a startup named Skully got motorcyclists’ mouths watering with a concept video demonstrating a super-connected helmet. It included an integrated HUD system that displayed GPS maps, navigation prompts, phone controls, music tracks, and even a live feed from a rear-facing camera.
But Skully’s high-flying ideas lived on in other ventures, and now Nuviz, another startup, has managed to do what Skully could not. It delivers nearly every option the Skully helmet offered – except for the rearward view – for just $700, not $1,500. That includes scrolling GPS maps and navigation, phone and music controls, a 1080P front-facing video camera for recording your rides, 8-megapixel still photos, and the ability to map your route as you ride.
Installing the Nuviz: patience and proper setup is key
Unlike the Skully helmet, the 8.5-ounce Nuviz device rides on the outside of a full-face helmet, clicked on to a quick-release mount that sticks to the helmet with some (very) strong adhesive tape. That plate also wires into included low-profile in-helmet speakers and microphone. A round controller mounts on your left handlebar pod.
Nuviz emphasized to us that setup is key to making the system work properly, and provides thorough installation instructions and videos both online and in the app. We used a garden-variety Bilt full-face helmet with no tech in it, and for the most part, the install went by the numbers. At present, the Nuviz only works with full-face type helmets.
Locating the mounting plate properly takes some forethought, but a clever hinge design on the HUD allows you to make minute adjustments after attachment, so you have some leeway. We adjusted the device a little bit pretty much every time we used it, so the ease of use here is much appreciated.
At 5 inches long, the Nuviz does seem a bit bulky when you attach it to your lid, but once installed, the HUD screen is the only visible element to the rider for the most part. Our initial worries that airflow at high speeds would “unbalance” the helmet in some way never materialized.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
The quick-release mount makes it easy to remove — perhaps a bit too easy. While the device never came loose while riding (no matter the speed), it still came loose a bit too easily post-ride, making us wish for a more robust clasp. A small cover to protect the mount on the helmet while the Nuviz is removed is included in the kit.
The small puck-like Nuviz controller came with several mounting solutions, but the simplest one slipped between the grip and turn signal module on our test bike, a Honda Blackbird. It was the easiest to use and has proven to be both stable and unobtrusive, while allowing us to work the device and bike controls all with our thumb. If you own multiple bikes, Nuviz will soon have various mounting bits for sale separately, and the control puck features a quick-release base for instant removal, re-installation and theft avoidance. Smart.
Once everything is powered up, the Nuviz pairs with your smartphone and the controller via Bluetooth. The well-rounded Nuviz app powers much of the device, although there is a huge amount of tech actually in the unit itself.
We installed the in-helmet speakers and mic setup in our test helmet using the included Velcro-like adhesive bits, and while the speakers generally stayed put, the microphone tended to de-stick itself since the helmet interior didn’t like the adhesive. A bit of super-sticky mounting tape took care of that, and we also remounted the speakers as well. They haven’t moved since. Cords simply tucked into the liner for a clean installation.
Once all the hardware is installed, the Nuviz app walks you through an initial setup procedure, which includes downloading GPS maps (specific states are selectable) and some other data sets over Wi-Fi. After about half an hour of setup and tweaking the many options in the app, the Nuviz quickly paired with both our iPhone SE and the handlebar controller either automatically or with minimal fuss (you press any button on the controller to “wake it up” and it then pairs).
We also tested pairing a Bluetooth-equipped Bilt helmet with the Nuviz (that makes three Bluetooth connections all working at once) and everything worked fine (and sounded better), which is impressive. We never had a device disconnect while riding.
On the road with the Nuviz
Though it takes a little while to boot up and find GPS satellites (a progress counter in the display shows … progress), the Nuviz was ready to go by the time we got our helmet, gloves and jacket on.
The default information screen shows your speed in large digits, along with a circular “speedometer” graphic around the numbers, with a colored tick at the present speed limit. There’s also a clock, battery-level indicator, and a current speed limit reminder in smaller digits (ported from GPS data) which turns red if you get a bit throttle happy. We usually left the Nuviz on this display mode, since it was just very convenient to have our speed showing in the lower sightline all the time. The speedo numbers on the Honda are comically small and hard to read, so right there, it already solved a problem.
Additionally, we programmed in-helmet audio cues to sound when we were exceeding the speed limit by more than 10mph, without having to look at the display. Admittedly, we made them ping a bit too often, but it also changed our riding behavior for the better. The Nuviz app is incredibly easy to customize this way, especially for the GPS and speedometer functions. This is not some beta version of an app.
Clicking up and down on the handlebar controller flips between the primary display options including speedo, music, phone, ride logging, and the live GPS map. There are dedicated buttons for voice commands and the camera. A short push on the camera button snaps an 8mp photo (which are smartphone caliber, and quite sharp) and a long push activates the 1080p HD video recorder (also quite good). Tap again to stop recording. You can position the camera independently to ensure you’re shooting the road ahead and not pavement. Again, a small but smart touch.
When a call comes in, the Nuviz automatically jumps to phone mode and shows the name and number of who is calling. At freeway speeds, wind noise resulted in a few “What did you say?” moments, but overall, communication was possible where it hadn’t been before. Nuviz recently pushed out a software update that increases speaker volume, which did seem to help the stock audio bits. The sound out of the speakers isn’t great, but it’s serviceable, and we enjoyed being able to listen to the news while rolling back and forth to work. Music was a bit more of a challenge, especially at higher speeds. The audio jack for the speakers and mic is a standard 3.5mm smartphone type, so you could upgrade it with better headphones.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
When you shoot photos, the HUD shows — in color — what you’re shooting in real time. When you shoot video, it reverts to the speedo or another display (GPS, etc.). You’ll need to supply a MicroSD card (up to 128GB) to record your video footage, but photos can be saved directly to the unit’s internal 16GB memory – it comes with about 10GB free.
Not surprisingly, GPS is the true killer app for the Nuviz. Punch in a destination using the app, and it guides you down the road with arrows, roadmaps and instructions in the display, along with spoken cues. Even on a very distant back road, the routing home was efficient and accurate.
Nuviz says the easily removable 3250mAh battery is good for eight hours of “regular” use, which is about the daily max for most riders anyway. Recording video will reduce that to about five hours or less. Fortunately, it accepts standard 18650 li-ion batteries and charges using a common MicroUSB connector.
The Nuviz is largely weather proof, so with proper care and handling, it should last many years. The HUD lensing system is perhaps the most delicate and vulnerable component in the Nuviz, but the reflector is modular, so if it breaks, replacement should be fairly straight forward and inexpensive. A crash or even dropping your helmet with the Nuviz attached could destroy the device (we suggest you insure it), but seeing how most riders rightfully treat their helmets as delicate kit already, the Nuviz should benefit from that existing mindset.
Is this thing safe
At first, the Nuviz seemed a bit overwhelming. We’ve used Bluetooth helmets and even that low level of helmet tech took some getting used to. Adding a live video display to the mix initially seemed a bit much. We typically left it on the helpful speedometer display for the first couple of rides — that was novel enough. It took some time before we felt comfortable exploring its wider capabilities on the road.
Is a HUD too much of a good thing? Dr. Marcus Weller, the inventor of Nuviz’s ill-fated predecessor Skully, gave us an interesting answer when we asked him that back in 2013. The Skully idea came to him after he rear-ended a car while trying to decipher a road sign during a motorcycle ride in a foreign country, and he insisted that the “old ways” of riding were actually more dangerous than a HUD. After all, he pointed out: Every time you glance down at your speedometer, at your mirrors, or perform the “lifesaver look” over a shoulder, your eyes are off the road ahead of you where danger lurks — approaching at 88 feet per second if you’re doing 60mph. Put your speed, directions, and other critical information in a HUD, and you’re still looking forward at the road ahead while getting essentially the same information.
After riding with the Nuviz, we think Dr. Weller nailed it. We were able to keep our eyes on the road much more than if we were checking the speedo, or a bar-mounted nav system. If the Nuviz had some sort of rear-view option like the Skully helmet promised, that would provide even greater safety, and we hope Nuviz will add it to a future model.
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
If all the features get a little overwhelming, you can also put the Nuviz in a sort of “low-power” mode with a quick press of the power button. It shuts off the HUD display, but allows most other functions to continue uninterrupted. This is a great feature because, like many riders, sometimes we just want to focus on the ride … but some tunes or phone call ability are still nice to have. Just tap the button again to revive the display as needed.
Nuviz is the future
Some day, likely sooner than later, many helmets will come with a HUD and advanced connectivity built right in. Andrew Artischev’s Livemap helmet, which projects GPS and other data directly into the visor of a helmet, is still in development and could arrive soon at more than twice the price of the Nuviz. But for now, Nuviz is the only player, and motorcyclists interested in this kind of technology have lucked out. The company has done a fantastic job of making a device that flat-out works as promised. It’s not perfect, but for a first effort, it’s very nearly a home run: a complete, functional, fun and useful device that is easy to use.
There will always be riders who value the cone of tech silence a helmet has traditionally provided. But for many tech-friendly riders, including this one, who took apart headphones and modified helmets decades ago in a quest to just enjoy some tunes while riding, the Nuviz is a giant first step on our inevitable road to the total high-tech helmet. The fact that it works as well as it does makes it worth the cost of admission. And hey: You can always just turn it off, and even take it off your helmet.
If you were interested in the Skully helmet or are ready to take the next step past a Bluetooth hat, buy one. If you swore you’d never put a teched-out helmet on your head, this probably isn’t your jam, but if you get a chance to use it for even a single ride, the Nuviz will likely change your mind about what a motorcycle helmet can — and maybe even should — do. This is the best tech to come to motorcycles since fuel injection.