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Vodafone Curve bike light & GPS tracker

4
£79.00

VERDICT:

4
10
Great hardware hampered by unpredictable signal and an app that needs work
Innovative design
Impressive build
Reaction times too long
Unpredictable
App needs improvement
Weight: 
144g

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The Vodafone Curve bike light & GPS tracker has the potential to be an impressive piece of hardware, but is let down by a lack of predictability and an app that needs improvement.

The idea of a GPS tracker for bikes isn't new, but it still hasn't really caught on. There are a number of reasons for this, mainly because there are some significant design challenges, chief among them the need for it to be both easy and difficult to access; you don't want a thief to be able to just take it off, but you do need to be able to get to it easily enough to charge it.

To get around this Vodafone has come up with an interesting solution. The GPS unit sits around the seatpost and is securely bolted in place; then, a light element connects to the unit by clicking into place and turning.

This in itself is an interesting approach as it secures the GPS tracker in a subtle enough way that most bike thieves wouldn't recognise it.

2021 Vodafone Curve Bike light & GPS tracker - base unit with cover.jpg

But the GPS unit also draws power from the light if the tracker is below 40%; this means you can remove the light and charge it away from the bike, then use it to charge the GPS tracker when it is connected.

2021 Vodafone Curve Bike light & GPS tracker - base unit on bike.jpg

The GPS unit can also be charged directly with a USB-C charger, so if you have access to a power outlet, both elements can be charged separately.

2021 Vodafone Curve Bike light & GPS tracker - unit split.jpg

This is the best approach I have seen for powering the GPS unit, and it also allows the light to control some of the GPS functionality without needing to use the app.

For instance, rotating the light turns on GPS tracking, and if the GPS unit is on 'security mode', putting the light back on turns that mode off. As I will discuss later, not needing to rely on the app is important.

Battery life

The claimed battery life of 4.5 days on standby and 7.5 hours of tracking seems about right and should be good enough for most uses. For my commute of about an hour each way, I needed to fully charge the tracker and light twice per week. With my regular lights I would only need to do this roughly once a week, so given the added GPS functionality this isn't too much of a price to pay.

The only downside is that there were a few times where I found I had plugged in the light to the GPS unit in the morning, only for the GPS to have drained the light by the end of the ride, so I needed to charge the light again to use it as a light on the way home.

Light

As a light, it is fairly good, with a simple one-button operation to cycle through the three modes – flashing, bright, and dimmed. Its output of 25 lumens – 40 lumens when braking, more on that in a minute – was more than adequate for my needs.

2021 Vodafone Curve Bike light & GPS tracker - side.jpg

Battery life is quite difficult to gauge, as the majority of the time I was using it it was also charging the GPS unit. The claimed battery life is up to 7.5 hours; it would generally last for a couple of days before I needed to charge it again. You get a broad idea of the battery level from an LED at the top of the light that shows green, orange, or red depending on levels.

Brake light and impact detection

The Curve includes a brake light function, which I found – like every single light I have ever used with this 'feature' – doesn't work very effectively. It's fine if you're slowing and stopping gradually, but a lot of braking on a bike is short and sharp, which isn't really conducive to a brake light based on an accelerometer – the reaction time is generally too short for it to be of any real use.

2021 Vodafone Curve Bike light & GPS tracker 2.jpg

Another feature it offers is impact detection, where an SMS is sent to a chosen contact if you don't get back on your bike and start riding again.

App: improvements needed

Although Vodafone has managed to create an impressive piece of hardware, there are elements of the app and tracking that leave a little to be desired.

Top of that list is that its ability to find a GPS signal is unpredictable; the majority of the time when I clicked 'refresh' on the app it wouldn't be able to find the signal. I asked Vodafone about this and was told it was due to weak signal – but if I can't get it to work properly in central London, is anywhere else in the UK going to be better?

Even when you do have signal there can be a significant delay in controlling the GPS unit. For example, turning on the light, playing a sound, or turning security mode on or off took a minimum of 15 seconds. Written down that sounds like very little time, but if you're trying to react to somebody stealing your bike while you're in the office, it feels like a lifetime.

> Inside the mind of a bike thief – learn how to protect your bike

Testing the alarm by setting it off deliberately, I sometimes wouldn't get an alert for 30 seconds, which is more than enough time for a half decent bike thief to get away.

This delay was also a bit irritating when I wanted to unlock my bike and didn't have the light with me, because I needed to wait for the app to turn off the security mode.

Having both an app-based SIM card and Bluetooth connection would solve this issue easily, but SIM-only means that controlling the GPS unit, even when right next to it, takes longer than I would have liked.

> 6 of the best bike locks – stop your bike getting stolen

Using the app is relatively simple, but there are elements that could benefit from more or clearer documentation. For instance, to find out what security mode does I had to turn it on and try it out, because the documentation doesn't tell you (essentially, it arms the device so that if the bike is moved the alarm goes off and you get a notification).

Ride tracker: limited

A better element of the app, which promises more functionality in the future but at the moment is a bit lacking and, again, unpredictable, is the ride tracking.

The idea is that it tracks and records your rides, which you can then see on a map within the app in Ride Insights; anybody who has used Strava, Garmin Connect or basically any GPS bike computer will be familiar with the concept. One of the benefits of those systems is cross compatibility, so I can ride using my Wahoo bike computer, which automatically uploads the ride to my Wahoo app, which I can then send on to Garmin or Strava or wherever I want that data to go. Vodafone has the first bit sorted, and I can clearly see a map of my ride, but I cannot do anything else with this data at the moment. In the modern cycling world this is a major omission.

This functionality also suffers from the unpredictability of the GPS, with some rides recording fine, others partially, and a few not at all. One ride, despite being through central London, had the first 15 minutes missing entirely.

It's clear what Vodafone is aiming for here, but with the lack of predictability combined with the inability to upload the data anywhere else, it just seems a bit pointless at the moment.

Value

The Curve costs an initial £79, but then requires an additional subscription of either £3 a month for 24 months or £4 a month for 12 months, so an extra £36 or £48 per year.

There isn't really anything on the market that we can directly compare it with, but we have tested a couple of GPS trackers before, such as the Eye On My Bike that I looked at in 2016, which cost £69.99 but lacked the battery capacity and is no longer available. Stu also tested the Tail it last year, which costs £83.89 but doesn't have half the capabilities of the Curve.

Conclusion

I have mixed feelings about the Curve. There is no doubt that the hardware has been done really well and genuinely looks to solve some of the biggest issues GPS trackers have faced in the past. The design is good, the charging method is innovative, and it securely attaches to the seatpost for security. However, the software seems almost like an afterthought; it is awkward, unpredictable, and often frustrating to use.

Vodafone has managed to create something that could solve the issues that have plagued GPS trackers ever since I can remember, but it needs to work on the app and fix the usability issues before this can reach its full potential.

Verdict

Great hardware hampered by unpredictable signal and an app that needs work

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Vodafone Curve bike light & GPS tracker

Size tested: Height 47.99mm Length 121.63mm

Tell us what the light is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

Vodafone says, 'An all-in-one safety cycling device designed to give you confidence as you ride. Easy clipping to your seatpost, it uses smart technology to help you feel safer when out on the roads and connected to your bike when you're not.'

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?

Vodafone lists:

Intelligent rear brake light

Ultrabright LED rear bike light with 3 light modes up to 40 lumens

Impact Detection and Help Alerts to notify loved ones if you have a fall

Security Mode with Siren and Movement Alerts

Bike GPS tracker to check on your bike from a distance

Built-in Vodafone Smart SIM to get alerts to your phone from far away

View Ride Insights as you get more saddle time

Rate the light for quality of construction:
 
9/10

Very well made with a secure attachment to the seatpost.

Rate the light for design and ease of use. How simple was the light to use?
 
5/10

In terms of the light itself on the bike, it was very simple, but the app and the GPS predictability need to be improved.

Rate the light for the design and usability of the clamping system/s
 
9/10

Really impressive – both secure enough that it's not going to be removed easily but accessible enough that it's simple to charge.

Rate the light for waterproofing. How did it stand up to the elements?
 
8/10

It is certified IP67, and the rainy days when I used it this summer (most rides) didn't have any adverse impact.

Rate the light for battery life. How long did it last? How long did it take to recharge?
 
7/10

This is a difficult one to score as the light itself is half light and half power bank.

Rate the light for performance:
 
6/10

The hardware is fantastic but the app could do with some improvement to make it more effective.

Rate the light for durability:
 
8/10

This is likely to survive a long time and is a challenge to get off the seatpost too, so likely to stay on the bike effectively for as long as it needs to.

Rate the light for weight:
 
6/10
Rate the light for value:
 
5/10

This is another difficult one to judge as we haven't really looked at anything similar to compare it with, and it also requires a subscription. If it can hit the potential that this clearly has as a product then it would be a bargain; as it is, the jury is still out.

Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose

The hardware for this solves a lot of the issues that GPS trackers have always faced, chief amongst them the delicate balancing act between charging the tracker and making it hard to remove. However, the app and the unpredictability of the GPS signal mean that it doesn't quite live up to its potential.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the light

The charging element – the fact that you don't have to find a way of getting a charging cable to your bike in order to charge the GPS unit is fantastic.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light

The unpredictability of the GPS signal on the app; whether I was trying to get the location of the bike or tracking my rides, I didn't know whether it would work or not.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

There isn't really anything on the market that we can directly compare it with; we have tested a couple of GPS trackers before, such as the Eye On My Bike that I looked at in 2016, which cost £69.99 but lacked the battery capacity, and is no longer available by the looks of it, and Stu tested the Tail it last year, which came in at around £84, but doesn't have half the capabilities of the Curve.

Did you enjoy using the light? The hardware, yes, the software, less so.

Would you consider buying the light? Once the software has been redone.

Would you recommend the light to a friend? Once the software has been redone.

Use this box to explain your overall score

This is a really strong piece of hardware that solves many of the issues that have stopped GPS trackers from becoming more popular, such as using the removable light as a way to charge the immovable GPS unit. However, the unpredictable signal and an app that is missing key features and documentation mean there is still work to do on the software front before it can hit the heights the hardware promises.

Overall rating: 4/10

About the tester

Age: 33  Height: 6 ft  Weight:

I usually ride: CAAD13  My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed,

George spends his days helping companies deal with their cycling commuting challenges with his company Cycling for Work. He has been writing for Road.cc since 2014. 

When he is not writing about cycling, he is either out on his bike cursing not living in the countryside or boring anybody who will listen about the latest pro peloton/cycling tech/cycling infrastructure projects. 

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