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ARC Air First Impressions

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  • ARC Air First Impressions

    Just picked up the ARC Air Powerbase kit. This includes the power base, two controllers, and power supply. It is an analog power base, using wireless controllers, and a bluetooth BLE connected Android or iOS device such as a cell phone or tablet. I used my cell phone, an LG G3. The LG G3 is not on their list of compatible devices, but it appears to work well enough.

    Right off the bat, I liked the box. It's not flashy, and probably won't catch a lot of eyes, but that's not what I like. They should have made it have more shelf appeal, but what I like is that it's all just cardboard. No foam insert, not even a window on it to show the power base or controller. Just cardboard. Since it's all going in the bin anyway, I like that it's all being recycled rather than a block of foam that will just take up space in a landfill.

    That said, I did have a couple disappointments. First off, the base is just fugly. I mean, the ARC One wasn't a pretty design, and they made no improvements. This one just got bigger and has lights on it. Whoever is doing their industrial design has no taste whatsoever. I'm firmly in a "form follows function" camp, but even I think this thing is just too ugly to be. Heck, even some simple paint or decal accents would have been nice. There's an idea....

    The other disappointment is that the controllers require two AA batteries each. While that's not a lot of batteries, I don't like having to replace batteries in controllers. I really like how the Carrera wireless and SCX WOS controllers have built-in Li-Ion batteries and simple charging solutions. Carrera really nailed it with charging cradles that plug into the track. SCX did a good job using USB Micro connectors to charge the controllers, which are everywhere. But Scalextric went old-school with AA battery powered controllers. Lame. If Carrera and SCX can figure out how to get around problems shipping Li-Ion batteries all over the world, certainly Scalextric could have. Even if I use rechargeable batteries, I'll still have to replace them (with charged ones) when they die. What a hassle. Thumbs down, Scalextric. Hopefully the ARC Pro controllers have batteries and a built-in charger, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

    That said, one really bright spot is that, since slot.it helped Scalextric develop the wireless stuff, they've also released a special firmware for their oXigen controller so that it can be paired with the ARC Air (and Pro, later on) power base. That means I can easily use a club quality controller with the ARC Air base, and I don't need an analog cartridge and CRI to make it wireless. Super cool! Thanks, slot.it! Now, the slot.it controller does need to be provided power, or modified to be battery powered (which I did), BUT they are developing a new SCP controller that has the wireless AND a rechargeable battery built in. It's specifically for oXigen or ARC use, but can be paired with a CRI for club track analog use. I'm looking forward to getting one when they come out.

    Ok, back to the ARC Air controllers. They're actually pretty good. Ergonomically, they're nice. They are comfortable to hold, and the trigger action is smooth with good resistance, not very light like a slot.it controller, but also not very stiff like the OEM Scalextric Digital controllers. There's a simple on/off switch on top with a red LED power/pairing indicator. On the back, there's a single button that is currently used for braking. It's redundant, since releasing the trigger is also full brakes, but I believe this will change with updates to the ARC app. Hopefully, at the very least, there will be the option to coast rather than brake when the trigger is released. Ideally, some control over how hard the brakes are will be added, as well.

    Back to the base. I was a little surprised to find that it takes a power supply with the same DC barrel plug that the digital APB uses. The included PSU is only 1.2a output, so it's nice that it will be easy to replace that with something that offers a few more amps. I don't know what the amp limit of the base is, but I would imagine it's more than 1.2... at least I hope it is. 1.2 amps isn't much for a couple magnet analog cars, especially better ones like from slot.it et al. There's no power button or switch, though. I'm not sure why they have an aversion to power buttons, but you have to either unplug/plug it to turn it off/on, or you have to have the PSU on a switching outlet or power strip. Probably not a big deal for permanent tracks, but I just don't like wear and tear on the most vital thing in the base, it's power source, just to turn it on and off when you want to use it. The base also has two buttons on it, associated with the controllers/lanes, for pairing purposes.

    How does it work? Well enough? I'm not a fan of how the app is designed, but it runs races and counts laps and has fun things like tires and fuel and pit stops. Problem is, it's not as intuitive as they probably think it is, and there are some odd things that the ARC Air requires. For example, it REQUIRED me to "calibrate the car" before I could start a race. After some playing, I realized that this is the "safe speed" that the car will revert to when you have a problem, such as being out of fuel, needing to change tires, or a racing incident of some kind. The car will then creep around at the lowest speed it can while you hold the trigger in full to get it there. You stop in the pit and let the program take care of the problem, then you can race again. I would have preferred this to be called safe speed, or minimum speed, or something like that, and be a global setting rather than a setting that is forgotten every time you start a brand new race or run the app again later on.

    As far as intuition goes, it's not that it's not easy to figure out what something on the screen means, or does. It's that there are some things that are hidden that can effect the racing. For example, during my testing, I didn't realize that one of my cars was set to a 25% fuel load at the start of the race. I couldn't figure out why it would run out of fuel in the first lap or two, and then be fine after I filled up and kept racing. It wasn't until after some exploring that I found that, in the DRIVER settings, you could choose a fuel load to start out the race with, and it was set to 25% rather than the 100% the other car was set to. In these same driver settings, I found where the throttle profile option was, as well as a max power limit, and of course, my choice for how my racer would appear on screen, either by a photo of the car, or a customizable helmet, or emptiness. At no point was there an indication that I should explore the driver set up screens a little more deeply, but I'm glad I did.

    At the very least, it's clear the developers have little to no experience using slot race management programs, if not slot cars in general. If they did, they'd know it would be better to have a set up screen where you can create a list of all your drivers. That's where you customize them. Then, when setting up a race, you choose the drivers from your pre-existing list, and it uses the custom settings. Crazy, I know! I also ran into some annoying bugs. Like, I could not set a custom number of laps for a quick GP race. I could change pretty much everything else, but when I tried to change to a custom number of laps, no matter the number, it would kick me out of the race editor, and ignore my change. Also, half of the things that exit the app, such as tapping the Facebook button to share race results, or even the Scalextric link to register or go to their web site, would result in the app being unresponsive. I would have to go to my app manager and force stop the app, then run it again to keep playing. Now, to be fair, my LG G3 isn't listed in the compatible device list... but neither are dozens of other devices that should work fine. So, it's possible that the bugs are specific to my device, and wouldn't be an issue on the 12 or so devices that are listed on the box.

    Hardware wise, I think it's great. It might be ugly, but it works well, and the controllers feel good. The app still needs work, so I'm really hoping that either Scalextric continue working on it and improving it for years to come, and/or they support third party RMS developers so that the base(s) can be used with PC race management, or a mobile app developer can take a crack at their own app. Right now, it's great fun for kids, so long as silly bugs don't creep in and frustrate them... but I wouldn't try to use it for actual competition, even at the casual club level unless it's the only option. It is, when it comes down to it, a pretty economical solution to race management at a higher level than a simple mechanical lap counter, especially if you already have a compatible mobile device. I'm not sure I'd go out and buy a tablet specifically for this. It also has a Tournament mode that lets you set up club-style round-robin racing with a long list of drivers, each with customizable settings, so that's pretty good for club use.

    My unboxing video, in case you want to view that:
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UdOj9bPsHY"]Scalextric ARC Air Unboxing - YouTube[/ame]

    And here's me breaking down a controller:
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAlyWnpBhxk"]ARC Air Controller Breakdown - YouTube[/ame]

    A video of using the app is on the way.
    Last edited by MrFlippant; 04-25-2016, 08:42 AM.

  • #2
    The app got an update today... Have yet to test it though...

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    • #3
      Yeah, I checked it. Most of the bugs I saw are still present. It just got a face lift.

      For those not subscribed to my YouTube channel, here's my video about the app:

      [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMCV3uhEDHM"]ARC Air - App Race Control App - YouTube[/ame]

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