Marcus King takes this super-lightweight solar-powered GPS vario for a fly
My wife has a leBipBip+ audio solar vario as a backup instrument, and it has proved to be a reliable partner. Light and cheap enough to leave in your jacket for spur of the moment trips out, it never seems to need charging thanks to the solar panel.
Stodeus have now introduced a new version, the GPSBip+, which includes a GPS chip. They’ve also added an accelerometer and gyroscope to the sensors, which are used by the vario to make it more responsive and accurate.
Physically there is little difference between the old and new models, apart from the colour. The GPS version is available in black or orange; the earlier standard vario is green.
The GPS version has a micro-USB socket on the side – used to top up the charge and for setup and downloads. It comes with a large Velcro patch on the back, a pouch, data cables and a quick-start guide. About the size of a small matchbox at just 6cm x 4cm x 2cm, it is incredibly light at just 35g.
Having a GPS chip means you can record your track and submit your flights to online leagues. The GPSBip+ will save the logs in both .kml and .igc formats, and with 8Gb of memory there is plenty of space.
You can get the track off by just plugging the GPSBip+ into your computer using that micro-USB port. It acts like an external hard drive, and no special software is required. Before use you can set it to auto-sense – so it automatically starts recording when you take off – or just have it always on, so it will record the hiking part of your day too.
The other new main function is the voice assistant, which works in 13 different languages! You can set this up so that, with a simple double-tap, it gives you specific information. It can also be set up to give you information at specific time, distance or altitude intervals. In English the voice is female, calm and clear. Think M played by Judi Dench in James Bond: “860 metres. Acquiring satellite position.”
The two methods can give different information including altitude, speed, climb-rate, time and flight duration. I found the system works well, and it was easy to get information when you needed it. The double-taps were recognised reliably.
If you run a flying app on your phone you can also plug the GPSBip+ into it to provide accurate sensor data. This uses hardwired cables as there is no Bluetooth available; a microUSB to microUSB cable is included in the package. A USB C Cable is an optional extra. There is a special Kobo-compatible mode available to make it work with that device.
Setup is made easy with Stodeus’s online configurator. Just set your desired settings online then save the configuration file to the instrument via USB and off you go, easy. You can actually create settings for three different profiles that you can then switch between on the instrument itself. This is useful if you want different settings fordifferent things, say hike-and-fly or XC flying.
I used this during a recent hike-and-fly race and have had it on my instrument panel since. In the race I used it mainly as my backup logger, so it was set to record a log all the time, regardless of whether I was flying or walking. Starting with a full charge it kept logging all day with no problems, although I did recharge via USB overnight to be safe.
Later I used it as my main vario for local soaring flights. It performed well, with nice, sensitive audio that agreed with the sensations I felt. The audio assistant worked well: a quick double-tap and it clearly updates you on the important data. I had it set up for half-hourly updates; useful for monitoring the time spent in the air.
If you don’t need Bluetooth connectivity this would make for a good, cheaper alternative to the XCTracer, which is also an accelerometer-based no-lag vario. I would recommend trying them both if you can, to see which audio you prefer, although of course both can be fine-tuned.
The GPSBip+ is light, the battery lasts a long time (100 hours is claimed without solar charging), it can be used to log your flights and it has the bonus of being simple to use.
Published in Cross Country Issue 207 (Feb/Mar 2020)