In January 2019, I received the 2019 CoxBox GPS from Nielsen Kellerman. I have now logged over one million metres with the new system and finally think I have spent enough time with the new CoxBox to write a full review on the latest member of the NK family. Nielsen Kellerman and OarSport supplied us with a beta review CoxBox in January, with a final review model update around March. This article is not paid or sponsored by either NK or OarSport.
Nielsen Kellerman are the original manufacturers of coxing systems, with their first electronic amplification system designed in 1978, with models released in 1980 and 1988. For years they dominated the market. Moving into 2008, NK released the CoxBox 4, with the arrival of a new floating plastic molded body, rubber bumpers, and a new microphone port, it became the staple for all coxes who wanted accurate data to help make their boats go faster. Odds are that if you've used a CoxBox, this is it.
From 2015 onwards, the growth of GPS, wireless impeller (e.g. Speedcoach XL) and gate telemetry systems (e.g. Peach) has accelerated massively, with coaches wanting more information at every data point possible, from boat speed to effective length and the all-important watts per stroke. As these devices became more popular, the number of devices coxes were using increased drastically, more screens and more data to analyse live on the water, whilst the main tool, the CoxBox did not go through any updates.
The latest CoxBox from NK was launched at Head of the Charles Regatta in 2018, with my model arriving in late January into the UK. Our first impressions for the new model went live on our website at this link here.
The hardware changes for the 2019 system were drastic. All the ports were shifted from the standard position on the front of the device to make room for more buttons and controls. After 1,0000km I have to say I really like the new positions, with the majority of my training taking place in Empacher 8s and 4+s, the positioning of the ports never got in the way and meant the cables stayed clear of both the screen and the steering wires. The new screen is the same backlit system found in the SpeedCoach devices and is really easy to read and see in all lighting, whether you’re wearing polarised sunglasses or not. Some other manufacturers should take notes from this display as it is truly a game-changer in bow-loaded coxed fours with water flying all over the place.
The data attachment is the third square-shaped port on the right-hand side of the new design. Lots is still unknown about this new side of the NK family, however, this is what we have been told so far. The two top central buttons of the device are also linked to this pre-release system making them currently unavailable. The new port will link to a new modular wiring harness, connecting the Empower telemetry gates with athlete displays for individual rowers and lights for the bows and sterns of the shells. Peach and their telemetry systems have been testing screens for individual athletes similar to this for some time now, however, manufacturing and selling both SpeedCoach and StrokeCoach displays might give NK enough experience to claw back at their head start. The current information we have is that all of these screens will be powered by the CoxBox’s battery, which after the last years' use should be plenty.
Battery life on the CoxBox has been incredible, not once has the battery gone below 80% with most “double session weekends” still leaving the device on above 90%, however I do not live stream data through Bluetooth on the app or use the data port so your mileage will vary depending how many of these features you use. The battery is different from the Model 4 version and not easily replaceable. Replacing the battery is possible with a slight tech mind (easier than the older “tin-can” versions) however we have yet to find somewhere selling replacement batteries (for longer-term usage).
The hardware changes are not all sunshine and rainbows however, the screen is the same dimensions found on the SpeedCoach2, however, the visible enclosure is a lot bigger. To create the perfect front display I would have liked them to make the main arrow buttons smaller and expanded the screen down to take up more space on the front of the system. I also really like the use of a mute button, found on the latest CoxOrb system, which the new NK model does not feature, however, the volume buttons are really tactile and are pretty rapid with adjusting the volume. Some people asked us when featuring the CoxBox for the first time back in January, if the new system contained a voice recording function, as found with the CoxOrb systems. The latest CoxBox 5 does not include any form of a recording system, requiring coxes to have their own dictaphone for recording sessions.
The software of the new CoxBox is a really positive improvement from the older CoxBox 4 and its competitors. The simplicity of the controls and the familiarity to the SpeedCoach systems mean picking up and using the CoxBox 5 can be done in seconds if you’ve used NK devices before.
The CoxBox was also launched at a similar time to the NK Logbook system, a mobile app, and website that links to your CoxBox or SpeedCoach GPS and allows you to upload sessions online to your own private logbook. The CoxBox transferred these sessions pretty quickly, however on a small screen such as a phone, the level of data analysis you can run is pretty low, however, it’s a pretty cool way to keep track of all of your sessions. There is a plan to release a subscription club service, where coaches can see data from these devices once uploaded, along with private livestream links (as a replacement for the current SpeedCoach XL systems).
Should I buy one?
That’s the question that is on everyone’s minds, I’ll start by covering the CoxBox Core.
The Core model is the non-GPS model and it simply a revamped version of the CoxBox 4, along with the new data port. If you are looking at spending £500 on a non-GPS CoxBox model in 2019/2020 you might be better speaking to resellers such as OarSport here in the UK about refurbished Model 4’s, saving yourself some money. The Core can be upgraded to the GPS model after purchase however this is a more expensive option than buying the GPS model first. If you are purchasing a Core model to make use of the data port and telemetry options, you should probably purchase the GPS model, saving yourself time and money in the future for a GPS upgrade.
The CoxBox Core is in a weird place in the market. It has the accessibility to have telemetry information however it lacks the basic GPS information. I would suggest holding back on buying the Core model and either look into uying an older model or a model from another supplier, or spend a bit more on the GPS Model.
Starting at £798 (reduced to £698 with an older CoxBox trade in) at the UK reseller Oarsport, the GPS model is a lot of money to put into a device which most athletes will use roughly three days a week. However, with 2 devices, both a SpeedCoach and CoxBox in one design, if you take the sport to the top of its game, it’s a device that can give you all the data you may ever need. These devices are also known to last a long time, unlike phones and laptops, we still see the 1988 style CoxBoxes being used around the world at many large clubs, so you can trust that these devices will stick it out throughout your time in the sport.
There is competition for these models. Active Tools and their CoxOrb range start at a much lower price point, with their platinum model unit starting at £565, over £200 cheaper than the NK equivalent, however it currently lacks the mobile app integration and the possibility to link with the NK Empower gates (however Active Tools have released that they are working on releasing a possible competitor in the future). There is no denying that a minority of CoxBoxes in the UK are actually bought by individuals, with a lot of orders placed by clubs/schools/universities, buying multiple devices at a time, commonly as a replacement for their older devices, if you as a club are already part of the NK ecosystem (own empower gates, speedcoach systems, etc), the new CoxBox could allow you to take your data management game to a new level, however as a starting club with little interest in data analysis, I would struggle to recommend this CoxBox at this current price point.
As a summary then, close competition from Active Tools and the CoxBox Mini/Speedcoach pairing at the lower price point means that the CoxBox Core model is not getting my recommendation at the current price point. However, if you are a high - medium performance club or individual, looking for the best tech in the market that will last for a long time, the CoxBox Model 5 is an incredible step on from the current market level and I highly recommend the GPS model.
If you have a new product that you would like us to take a look at, have experience with the new CoxBox or have any questions we would love to hear from you! Simply message us on social media @allmarkone!