The new Cardo Scala Rider Smartpack is nearly identical to the revolutionary Cardo Packtalk intercom system (review).
The main difference is that the Smartpack system can connect up to 4 riders in the "Dynamic Mesh Network" rather than 15.
Also, the Smartpack range in DMC mode is rated at 5 km (3 miles) vs. 8 km (5 miles) for the Packtalk system.
Bluetooth intercom range is identical on both systems.
Other than a couple of other minor features -- like all black intercom modules vs. metallic trim -- there's one other biggie: You'll save a good chunk o' change with the Smartpack system.
A Smartpack single kit lists for $289.95 and the dual kit comes in at $499.95.
The Packtalk single has a list price of $329.95 and the dual kit lists for $579.95.
So if you don't anticipate connecting more than 4 riders in a DMC network, the Smartpack may be the way to go.
Otherwise, the Smartpack has all of the same features, technology and learning curve as the webBikeWorld 2015 Motorcycle Product of the Year, the Cardo Packtalk.
The Cardo Packtalk system was introduced last year with the first "Dynamic Meshwork Communication" (DMC) system for motorcycle communications.
The DMC system forms a network that connects up to 15 riders (upgraded from 10 for 2016) in the Packtalk system and up to 4 with the Smartpack system.
Use standard Bluetooth intercom mode if you wish or when you're pairing with other brands of intercoms, but otherwise, simply keep the systems in DMC mode.
For a pair of intercoms, Bluetooth mode is fine.
But if you ride in a group of other Smartpack (or Packtalk) owners, DMC is slicker than a sea cucumber's olfactory byproduct.
The single best feature of DMC -- and the feature that makes this system a standout -- is it's "self-healing" network properties. When another intercom in the DMC network moves out of range, they will be seamlessly re-connected when they're back in range. Like magic!
The only fly still in the ointment is the Cardo Smartpack User's Guide (.pdf) or owner's manual organization.
Cardo gets a huge pat on the back for including an actual printed owner's manual (the full version). All the info you need is there, but it's just not organized in a way that a tyro intercom owner will be able to understand.
Cardo is working on that and in the meantime, be sure to check out their Smartpack online mini-guide to get you started.
Once you get it all figured out, you'll have one of the most advanced motorcycle communications system currently available.
See Also: All webBikeWorld Cardo Intercom Reviews
The Cardo Smartpack system is nearly identical to the Packtalk system, thus much of the information here is a repeat from the Packtalk review.
Now that we have experience with the Cardo Packtalk system, using the Smartpack is identical.
We had one snag though, repeated from our Packtalk review.
Both intercoms in the Smartpack dual kit (Smartpack Duo in Cardo parlance) are supposed to be paired in Bluetooth mode from the factory. But we have two Smartpack Duo kits and none of the intercoms were paired in either Bluetooth or DMC mode.
However, we took the user's guide at its word that the dual kit intercoms were indeed paired, as noted by the rather obscure grayed-out note on page 3. But they were not.
We couldn't figure out why the intercoms weren't working and it took way too long to fix this minor problem, all because of an obtuse owner's manual.
If you buy a dual kit and the intercoms aren't paired, save yourself some time.
Go to page 20 in the user's guide and follow the instructions under section 5.2b "Intercom with Channels 'A' and 'B'".
Why this bit of crucial information is buried on page 20 in a confusingly-named section is a good example of the type of issue we have with the organization of the user's guide.
Something as important as pairing should be clearly described in its own section right in the beginning.
But, our pain is your gain now you know where to look...
Once we got the systems paired, everything worked fine. Pity the poor beginning intercom owner who has to work through this issue however...
Since the Packtalk and Smartpack systems have the same functionality, we're including the video we did for the Packtalk.
The Smartpack system is identical to the Packtalk in all but a few features:
Here's an updated comparison chart (in our Packtalk review) that describes the differences between the current Cardo scala rider communications systems.
The Smartpack kit comes in a new fold-out three-section box that keeps everything nice and tidy.
The box ultimately isn't as useful for long-term storage as the vinyl zippered case that holds the Cardo Q1/Q3 intercom kit (review), but the Smartpack kit presents everything in an easy-to-find location.
Like the Packtalk kit, we couldn't find an online list of what's included in the Smartpack kit, so here's ours:
Double all of that for the Duo Pack with the two Smartpack modules.
Since the Packtalk and Smartpack systems are identical in terms of layout and functions, this section mostly repeats what we wrote in the Packtalk review.
Many of the features will be familiar to current Cardo Scala Rider intercom owners, starting with the entry-level Cardo Qz (review).
The Cardo Smartpack system features include the following:
The intercom module with the new physical design introduced with the Packtalk, but without the very nice-looking metallic surround. The new Cardo system now features the clickable "Roller Wheel" for changing volume and accessing the features and settings menus.
The module also has 3 buttons that are accessed by pressing either the front, top or bottom of the glossy black insert in the front of the module (photo above).
These select the Audio, Mobile or Intercom features.
Examples: Press the top Intercom button to connect to the paired Smartpack; press the Mobile button to answer a phone call; press Audio to turn the system on and off.
The Roller Wheel and the pressure/membrane type buttons are easy to use when wearing gloves, although the top/bottom or upper/lower simultaneous press can be difficult, even without gloves. Fortunately, you won't have to use that one very often.
The new helmet mounting system included with the Smartpack is identical to the mount issued with the Packtalk and it's a good one.
It uses a thin spring steel friction-based mount with no screws to worry about and the intercom module snaps very securely into the mount. The mount includes two short wires with the mic and speaker connectors.
Since many new motorcycle helmets have stylized bottom gaskets and/or built-in intercom buttons, sun visor sliders and more on the left-hand side, the new stick-on helmet mount will come in handy.
The one-piece mount pops out of the helmet mount and into the stick-on mount by using a flat-bladed screwdriver to push on the release on the back side of the mount. The one-piece mount also has three rubber bumpers to improve the friction holding system.
Of course, the premiere feature of both the Packtalk and Smartpack systems is the DMC "Dynamic Meshwork Communication" system.
This allows up to 4 Smartpack users to connect and up to 15 (with the new firmware update; was 10) Packtalk-wearing riders to connect in a virtual private mesh network to talk in full duplex.
This is the revolution we referred to with the new Cardo DMC system. It's like having a teleconference using the good ol' analog phones back in the old days, not the walkie-talkie type "one person talks only" type of communication in today's digital cell phone system.
We tested the Smartpack system and found the Bluetooth communication range nearly identical to the Packtalk system at just over 1 km on a flat, rural road.
Pairing the maximum of 4 Smartpacks together using DMC mode, we were able to string together a network of just over 4 km. This is very difficult to do, however, depending on terrain.
Example: 4 Smartpack riders on a flat Kansas road should have no problems, but get into the Pennsylvania hills and line of sight is more like it.
But the other big benefit of the DMC technology is that any of the riders that move in and out of the network are re-connected when they come back into range.
That is a huge difference and, if you think about it, also a safety benefit because once the group or Pack is set up, you don't have to be pressing buttons to re-connect. It's automatic.
The ability to seamlessly connect multiple riders in a group and talk in full duplex has been a "grail" goal and desired feature by many intercom-wearing motorcyclists, who have up to this point only a taste of this capability with some of the manufacturers' mostly Bluetooth-based schemes.
Using the DMC is easy and seamless, once it's configured in each intercom.
Configure a DMC Pack by first configuring one Smartpack (or Packtalk) as the "Pack Creator". The Pack Creator can leave the group (Pack) and the Pack can still communicate, however.
The instructions for creating and joining a Pack for the Smartpack are slightly different than the Packtalk system; apparently the LED colors differ.
By the way, this is where the user's manual becomes extremely frustrating.
Example: despite the references to the "Advanced Features Menu", there are no instructions in the guide on how to actually enter that menu. We had to figure it out via trial and error.
To leave DMC mode, enter the Features Menu again by pressing the roller wheel twice. Wait for the "Switch to Bluetooth Pairing Mode" announcement. Press the Roller Wheel once. You're now back in Bluetooth mode.
The intercom can be switched back and forth between DMC mode and Bluetooth intercom mode by pressing the phone and intercom buttons (top and bottom) simultaneously.
You may also mute and unmute the connection to the Pack by pressing the (top/upper) Bluetooth button twice.
As with the Packtalk system, there's no real disadvantage to using Pack mode for all your conversations, other than an occasional slight delay when speaking/hearing.
It may be more efficient to initiate DMC mode in the beginning and use it instead of Bluetooth mode (Cardo may default to DMC pairing from the factory in the future).
Once the intercoms are paired in Pack mode, they'll remain that way and re-pair back into Pack mode when the intercoms are turned off and back on again. You'll know this because the LED will flash green, rather than blue.
You can then immediately converse with the one or more other Packtalk intercoms paired to the Pack. So once you've set up the Pack, it's easier to simply leave it in Pack mode, turn the intercoms on and start talking. Simple.
See "More on DMC Intercom Mode and Multiple Pack Connections" in the Owner Comments section of the Cardo Packtalk Review.
The Cardo Smartpack system includes the advanced Bluetooth features found on other Cardo intercoms.
If the Smartpack is in Bluetooth mode, the Cardo Bluetooth "1+8" Buddies system (connect and switch between 8 intercoms in the Buddy group) and Bluetooth channels A and B for pairing multiple devices are available.
Why and when you'd want to pair in channel A or B is a bit of a mystery.
The Smartpack intercoms include the four-way Bluetooth conferencing feature with up to two riders and passengers or three other Cardo intercoms in full duplex.
Also included is the Cardo Gateway, which can be enabled to allow other brands of Bluetooth intercom systems to connect to the Smartpack.
DMC does not work with other brands of intercoms and some Bluetooth features may be limited, depending on the brand of intercom connected.
Other features of the high-end Cardo scala rider communications systems are included, with the "Click-to-Link" feature which, when activated, allows you to talk to nearby Cardo owners who also have that feature enabled on their Cardo scala rider intercom.
Also included is the spoken status announcements and voice control system, which allows a certain amount of hands-free operation.
Another interesting feature we don't recall having seen before is the Cardo "Intercom-to-Mobile" function.
This feature, set in the Cardo Community online connection, allows "1+8" Buddy intercom calls to switch automatically to your mobile phone if you move out of range.
The Cardo "SmartSet" App (Android and iPhone) can be used to configure the Smartpack. Also like the Packtalk, there are no instructions in the Smartpack User Guide on how to do this.
You must first pair your Smartpack with your tablet or smartphone, then start the SmartSet app you have previously downloaded. Or, you can connect your Smartpack via a USB cable and change settings through your Cardo Community account.
The Cardo Community is also where you can download and install new firmware updates.
Music sharing between two Smartpack intercoms has a range of about 10 meters. Note that music sharing is only available in Bluetooth Intercom Mode, not DMC Intercom Mode.
Sharing music is easy: when you're listening to music, press the (top/upper) Bluetooth button for 2 seconds. That's it -- you're sharing music with the paired intercom, which can adjust volume independently.
For the paired intercom, to stop sharing music, press the (top/upper) Bluetooth button for 2 seconds.
Standard higher-end motorcycle intercom phone features are included, including the ability to set a "hot dial" number; make or receive calls by voice command and conference calls.
Cardo was the first motorcycle intercom manufacturer to include a built-in FM radio in their systems back in 2006. FM radio implementation in motorcycle intercoms have received mixed reviews from owners, but the radios improve with each new release.
The FM radio in the Smartpack is very good and we've had no problems getting most of the stations -- even the college stations at the low end of the dial.
The stations can be set either in the intercom or using the SmartSet app. The radio is muted during incoming calls.
The basic speakers included with the Smartpack kit appear identical to the speakers included with the Packtalk system. They're pretty good and the volume is relatively loud, although higher volumes affect the clarity of the sound.
The speakers connect via a standard 3.5 mm jack, so optional speakers like the Cardo 40 mm speakers described in the Iasus EAR3 amplifier review or the Tork XPro X2 speakers (review) or the Iasus XSound 3 speakers (review) can be used.
As always, be sure to take your time and carefully mount the speakers so they end up as close to your ears as possible. Use the speaker thickness adjusters included in the kit, or fashion some foam backing to push the speakers out in the helmet ear pocket.
Note that we always wear high ear plugs when riding, even when evaluating motorcycle intercom systems.
A Smartpack intercom module requires about 4 hours to charge from empty (don't let it run down all the way though for optimal battery life).
The kits come with wall outlet chargers (two in the Duo kit), which is a bonus, because some of the manufacturers are no longer including wall outlet chargers with their kits.
Cardo claims up to 13 hours talk-time and a one week standby. We haven't run down the battery yet and this seems accurate. The systems are also claimed waterproof and dustproof.
We're getting used to the Packtalk/Smartpack system and the more we use it, the more we like it.
As we mentioned in the Packtalk review, these systems are feature-rich and it will take some serious studying of the user's guide to figure it all out.
We're a good example of that, because we've probably seen and used more motorcycle intercom systems than anyone over the years.
Yet it took about 2 hours of studying, experimenting and trial-and-error before we felt comfortable understanding all of the features of the Smartpack, how to access them and how to use them.
It doesn't have to be this way; Cardo needs to revise their owner's guide to make it simpler, easier to understand and very clearly describe a step-by-step procedure for starting the system and then building on advanced features.
A good first step would be to study the revised quick start guide that comes with the new Sena 10S intercom (review). Do something like that in a full-sized version and we'd be happy.
In the meantime, our opinion of the Packtalk/Smartpack system hasn't changed:
If you're looking for seamless connectivity for a group of riders -- and those riders are willing to spend the money -- then Packtalk (up to 15 riders) or Smartpack (up to 4) is for you.
Or, if you're a leading-edge type who must have the latest and greatest technology, the Packtalk/Smartpack system is for you.
If you're a seasoned motorcycle intercom user and you want to jump to a higher-end system, join the Pack.
But if you're new to motorcycle intercoms or you just want to talk, maybe listen to some music and an occasional phone call, start with an easier-to-use system, such as the excellent all-around Cardo Q3 (review).
You'll have to be willing to spend a considerable amount of time working through all the features and functions to fully understand and use the Cardo Packtalk and Smartpack. But once you do, it will be one of the most rewarding motorcycle communications systems currently available.
By the way, at the time of publication, the Cardo Smartpack is just starting to enter the retail pipeline and it should be available soon.
Note: Item provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.
More Owner Comments on using the Packtalk system and DMC mode
in the Cardo Packtalk Review comments section.
From "B" (March 2016): "I can't believe this thing isn't more popular than it is!!! Or maybe it is?? I check you guys before buying anything (thank you thank you thank you!) but I almost didn't buy this model because man, this review made it seem WAY more complicated than it is.
I must argue that it is by far the simplest headset I've owned to date (been through 3 other brands).
Yes the manual sucks, but the online tutorials are excellent and the mini guide you mentioned helped while learning it. My group now has a total of 8 of these, and DMC is literally a dream come true. We create a pack, and it just works. Every time. Regardless of who I'm with in our pack.
The mobile app is the best there is as well. Leaps ahead of anything else I've tried. Just wanted to throw it out there, its an extremely powerful headset but it's also extremely easy to setup and learn, just my 2 cents:) "