First of all i would like to give a big apology to the guys from Le BipBip who after a quick email session promptly posted a unit out to me for testing, however because i was in Russia at the time the unit was held up at customs longer than i was even in the country, unfortunately it had to wait to get into my grubby little hands almost 4 months.
Now over the last 4 years i have gone through on average around 5 gps/varios a year, i don’t go through them in terms of damage but simply using and comparing them trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, most importantly what each device is good for and more importantly not. I do this not only for myself but to be able to give advice to others in reply to their needs, as there are varios dedicated for comps and then there are those that will be basic enough yet allowing all the necessary information for the up coming XC star without the headaches or costs of a full blown comp unit.
The unboxing: (sorry for the lack of unboxing photos but i couldn’t wait to get it mounted)
The unit arrives in a small well packed package containing a very nice, simple and clear to understand manual page with both written instructions and illustrations aimed for the illiterate among us on how to alter all the features of the Le BipBip, there are not too many commands so changing settings can be done very quickly (even during the flight) and if all else fails you can reboot it to the factory settings by holding the power button for 30 seconds. This in itself is a nice little feature that some other makers either have forgotten about or make too complicated to do without a 2 page reset manual or a pc connection. You receive 2 decent sized good quality stick-on velcro tabs (take care when mounting on your helmet as they are such good quality that they don’t want to come off in case you want to adjust the position when placed incorrectly) they are large enough that i cut one in half and it was ample to stick on my helmet, the others you can use as spares or if your like me and have multiple helmets there is enough to use on 4. The unit comes with a clear cellophane protective cover on the solar panel and a very nice and sturdy safety lanyard (glider line quality that is sure to keep it attached for life).
out of the box usage:
After flying with the Le BipBip for some time now I have not felt the need to change any of the factory settings (i have zero tone off for normal flight unless i get desperate). The tones that are generated through out the thermal strengths suit the given situation perfectly (in my opinion).
Comparing it to the Sonic, Flymaster Nav and Skytraxx 2.0 (the varios that i currently have laying around and can fly with) the Le BipBip reacts faster across the whole range from the beginning of lift, changes in lift strength to the end of lift. All the other devices start beeping later upon entering lift (settings set to be the same on all devices except the sonic as it isn’t customisable), others react slower to changes in lift while in the thermal and continue beeping after leaving the lift zone, showing that the Le BipBip is more precise in detection of changes or if not in the detection than the indication of changes.
zero air tone:
Personally i was never a huge fan of this feature on my flymaster but i found that at times it helps to have it as an option, you can turn it on when needed, like the early morning takeoffs when you need to be covering ground and trying to stay in the floaty air before the thermals really start working. Not to mention the importance towards the end of the flying day when your trying to either squeeze out every cm of height to get further than your friends or manage to wiggle your way closer to home and save yourself a long retrieve.
The Le BipBip is not over sensitive like some while being more sensitive than others, if you look at whats on the market at the moment you will soon realise that once you turn on the device you have bought, you either have a vario that sounds like it has some sort of unmanageable hyperactive disorder and beeps at the smallest of bumps in the air scaring the you know what out of you or one that seems to be so slow to react that you have already done the first half turn before the first beep has sounded. Some units are programable to suit your individual preference, however there is a limit to what you can alter and how effective these alterations actually are in reality. It seems that this unit has a very nice setup that feels quite natural from the first flight.
Difference with the competition:
The main difference between the Le BipBip and its solar panelled competition is that they are not using a battery but a capacitor to store a surplus of power if anything at all. capacitors are nice as they don’t degrade with age and are not affected by temp changes, however the amount of power that they can hold is limited, for example after a full usb charge the compass beeper will run a max (if your lucky and i have experienced much less) of about 40mins before cutting out on the lowest volume setting. Now you may think that this isn’t a big deal but believe me it can be. There are situations in the mountains where you can have days of full cloud cover flying or on slow days when your spending lots of time in the shade of the cloud while getting to base when your device isn’t receiving enough light to keep up with the charge, if you run out of power here you may miss out on those critical moments of lift which can make the difference between you flying or not. The Le BipBip has enough power to remain in working order for literally days between charges from the sun. I have made a zero light test and for 4 days of flying i have placed the Vario inside the helmet out of sunlight and have had uninterrupted vario function on the loudest volume setting. (approx. 14hrs so far and counting)
What about the more advanced mini varios i hear you say? well yep you get a unit that has a battery and a screen with your info so if you are looking for a basic mini gps/vario with all the logging features then something like the ascent gps will be right up your ally, however you are once again limited buy the amount of hours of usage before needing to charge and for that kind of money i would be more inclined to by a separate gps such as a small Garmin that is compact, rugged and has a map for when you land out to help you get home..
Below you can see a comparison of the mini varios made by Voler
out of this list i have now personally flown with all but the Syride Sys’ky, the Ascent and Ascent GPS varios as for me these are varios that are in a different category (mini gps/vario).
image from Le BipBip site archives
now at this point there are those that will say why not buy a Brauniger Sonic? well for starters its double the price, in addition after give or take 200hrs you need to buy a battery for it. i know what your thinking, so what? its a pretty cheap battery. but lets think about it this way, what would you do if you had not kept track of the amount of hrs you had already used your sonic or forgot to switch it of after a flight a few weeks ago? Then on what could be your personal best xc flight all of a sudden you hear that dreaded slowing down of the vario sound ending with deafening silence if not worse and you get to takeoff and the battery is already drained? Oh and don’t forget its slower 😉
now for me, even if i have a dedicated gps/vario in my flight deck I normal have the volume switched off as during bivouac flying if your not flying with solar or extra batteries to charge from you may run out of power at an unfortunate time, so every milliamp is important. Most of the dedicated devices quote anything form 20-40hrs on a charge, they don’t however take into account you staying at altitude during the nights where the constant low temps affect the batteries that are in your devices. All of a sudden a Flymaster live that quotes up to 30hrs is running on fumes after not even 20. you may think 20hrs is enough, well probably for the majority of weekend pilots it is, but for me during bivouac season this means 3 pretty average days of flying before i need to head somewhere to charge up which means either landing in town or finding a village in the slopes with power (um I’m normally in Nepal so take into account power load shedding in the places that even get power supplied and you’ll start to understand my view), not to mention for those people that forget to charge their gear ;).
to quote the Designer Timothée Manaud,
“I started with Le BipBip as I was looking for an easy to use vario. But since I do XC, acro, tandem, vol rando and bivouac, I wanted good performances all packaged in a small box”.
i think that Timothée has come through and delivered just that, a unit that can be used across all aspects of our sport. The quality that you receive is on par with if not better than the well known names of the industry while keeping the price very reasonable (i will need to spend some more time in the sky with several units together to confirm that its better than more expensive units).
This unit seems to be the “goldilocks” of the mini solar vario world, not too fast, not too slow but just right in all aspects. It is my main vario at the moment and the rest are just along for the ride.
One important thing to remember when choosing which mini vario to purchase apart from the excellent performance, APF Industrie, is a company employing disabled persons from the Association of Disabled of France. If you would like to make a difference and get a very nice unit in the process choose a Le BipBip.