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Old 10-04-2017, 09:09 PM   #1
Mr Bones
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Default Roco Z21 Black

Well I said once I had the Z21 up and running I would do a review so here goes. I started last year and purchased the Roco Multimaus and it’s been a great bit of kit albeit with a few little quirks and some limitations, but as a starter set it was ideal. I always intended upgrading and with the new shed looming now seemed the best time. Please forgive any errors or naivety as I’m fairly new to this whole hobby.

Choosing & Purchasing
Having looked around at various systems I seemed to always be drawn to the Z21. It seems versatile and adaptable and I liked the fact that the controllers weren’t tethered by cables. The amount of features also appealed, far too many for me to list or understand.

Anyway after hunting for a good deal I ended up purchasing it from Scograil which at the time seemed the cheapest at 279.95 with free postage and I have to say that service was very good. Delivery took only three days and I was constantly kept up to date by text of its progress.

What’s in the box & Setup
The box contains the Z21 base unit a TP-Link 300mbps wireless router, power supply and all required cables. It comes with European plugs, but did include two three pin adapters, one for the Z21 and one for the router. Setting up was a breeze, create a new layout and give it a name, add your locos and within about 10 minutes it was up and running. I’m not going to talk through setting it up but will add some links to information about how to do it at the end.

The wireless router requires no configuration at all. Once the cables are connected you simply turn it on. Using your phone or tablet you locate and connect to its wifi and enter the password on the router. It’s worth making a note of the password as it’s on the base and will same hassle when adding other devices later.

One concern that I and I think others had is whether there is a need for a PC or laptop to run this system (not always easy in a shed, garage or loft). The simple answer is No. It is all self-contained.

Configuration
Rather than use dedicated controllers it can be controlled using smart phones or tablets (Android / iPhone / iPad). All that’s required is the downloading and installing of the App. I started using my current phone a Samsung Galaxy S5 and it worked flawlessly. I later connected it to an old Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 tablet which I no longer use. Adding additional devices is quite easy, but does involve the configuration file being either emailed or transferred via Bluetooth. You could also do it via a PC which isn’t quite as quick, but does mean you have a backup if the phone gets wiped or lost.

Initially the tablet wasn’t quite as responsive as my phone, it was however, easier to use due to its size. I started to think something was wrong so I also added it to an old spare Sony Experia phone. This was also a bit unresponsive. To cut a long story short I couldn’t discover why this was, but did find that after rebooting both devices they did perform better. As with all IT, if in doubt reboot! I’m not totally sure how much of a difference the Android version makes to the performance so will be looking into this.

There are many advantages of using a smart phone or tablet and one is that if the kids want to have a go or friends come round once they have downloaded the app, connected to the wifi and received the configuration file, they can all play. Don’t worry, you can password protect the setup so they can’t make changes, they can only run trains or change points not change CV values etc. Phew

Ease of use & features
As I’ve mentioned there are loads of features far too many for me to list or know what half of them are. I will therefore only mention the ones I’ve tried.

Adding or configuring locos is very straight forward and this can be done on a programming track or ‘program on main’ (POM). It also reads CV values something I couldn’t do before.

All the details for your locos can be added including full names, manufacturer, weight, length, decoder type as well as notes about the loco if you want to. However, after typing all that in make sure you back up the configuration as I believe it is only held on the device and not the Z21, but I might be wrong. You can also add pictures of the locos or actually photograph them via the phone or tablet to add. It does make selecting each loco very easy. Speed can be displayed as KM/H, Reg Steps or MPH which ever you prefer.

Setting up the Cobalt Digital IP point motors was straight forward. It does though have the same quirk as the Multimaus in that some of the point motor addresses are different (four number difference), but with the use of the firmware update software you can turn this off so that the addressing is the same.

It has the ability to set routes so all the required points for that route are set with the push of a button and you can also photograph the points on your layout or add a track plan image as wallpaper under the point controls to give you a very easy to use graphical mimic board.

Double heading is made simple. It involves setting up traction data for each loco you want to run. To do this you have to time them both over a set distance. The distance doesn’t matter as long as it’s the same for all the locos. Do this using about four different speed step settings for each one and then enter the details for each. Create a train in the system by adding both locos, give it a name and the system does the rest. It took me about 15 minutes to setup a class 40 and a class 50 as an experiment.

The system will also display current consumption, output voltage and programming voltage. Have to admit this means nothing to me as yet, but I’m sure at some point it will.

Conclusion
I’m really pleased with the Z21 it’s simple to setup and use and it does everything I wanted it to do and more.

Getting used to controlling the layout with a phone or tablet does take some getting used to, but I have since found out that my Multimaus controller also works with it once connected to the X-BUS so I won’t be selling it now. Sometimes turning a dial or pressing a button is quite satisfying

As with many things the information that comes with the system is enough to get you up and running, but it does lack detail. Especially about updating the firmware and troubleshooting etc. However, a search of the internet did answer most of my queries.

If you are going to use the Z21 I would recommend using a dedicated phone or tablet which I now do. I found swapping to the systems wifi caused me to use more data with other things I had on the phone and I was constantly forgetting to charge my phone. As a result after a day at work half way through a running session and the phone died! Having dedicated devices for the Z21 is far better and the batteries last ages.
  • Would I buy it again? Yes I would.
  • Would I recommend it? Yes I would.
  • Is it right for you? Well only you can answer that one.
Its horses for courses. Not everyone wants to use a smart phone or tablet to control their layout or worry about wifi or firmware and software updates, but for me I love it and can’t wait to find out more about what it can do as I think I’ve only scratched the surface.

Questions I asked that you might find helpful
Q1. Is there a difference between a z21 and a Z21 (small z and large Z)?
A1. Yes the z21 is white and the Z21 is black, but the main difference is that the z21 white is a starter set and doesn’t include all the features of the Z21 black.

Q2. Does it need a PC or laptop to operate?
A2. No it doesn’t as the system is fully self-contained. However, there are firmware updates available. To implement these you will need to download it first then connect the wireless router to a PC (via network cable) or laptop (via the Z21 wifi) and run the update.

Q3. Does it require the Internet to run?
A3. No it doesn’t. You will only need the internet to download firmware updates. Once downloaded see answer 2 above about applying it.

Q4. Does the wireless router need to be configured?
A4. No you simply turn it on. It’s all preconfigured for you.

Q5. Can the TP-Link router be added to the home network?
A5. Yes it can. This does mean changing the routers IP address which is something Roco say can be done, but don’t support if anything goes wrong. I’ve not tried this yet, but might one day when I’m feeling brave.

Q6. Is the App free?
A6. Yes it’s free to download and can be installed beforehand so you can have a play and familiarise yourself with it even if you don’t have a Z21 yet.

Q7. Can you control more than one loco at a time?
Q7. Daft question when I thought about it as that’s the whole idea of DCC. The answer is of course yes and when used with the tablet you have the advantage of seeing the controls for each side by side.
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Last edited by Mr Bones; 11-04-2017 at 02:31 PM.
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Old 10-04-2017, 09:11 PM   #2
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Default Roco Z21 Black Handy Links

Had to add this separately due to the length. Hope it helps:

Useful links
Z21 FAQ page – Will answer most if not all of your Z21 questions.

Z21 Downloads page – Includes manuals and firmware updates.

UK Z21 information page – Setup by Gaugemaster. Full of useful information.

A & H Models – Loads of useful informative videos about the Z21 and what it can do plus add-ons. They also sell them.

Applying firmware updates – Handy YouTube video.

What can be connected – Interesting YouTube video.

Sorry this is all so long winded, but hopefully it will help someone decide whether this system is for them or not.
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Old 12-04-2017, 10:58 PM   #3
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Worth noting you don't need a computer to update the Z21, this can be done via the maintenance App. Just connect the andriod device you are using to your internet router, go to the App store and download the Z21 maintenance App, make sure every now and then you get updates for the App , When you then re connect to the Z21 dedicated Router, run the maintenance App and it will do any Firmware updates etc.

Great piece of Kit, I'm very impressed so far

cheers

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Old 12-04-2017, 11:11 PM   #4
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One thing that does confuse me is what is the difference between the maintenance software and the update app. The app seems to install an older version to the maintenance software.
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Old 12-04-2017, 11:32 PM   #5
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Well that confused me lol, All I know is the updater App checks the firmware version on the Z21 box and updates it to the latest version , This is separate to the Z21 App (which is your controller ? ) Its worth connecting your Android device and checking BOTH Apps for updates on a regular basis.

Can you give a bit more info on how its updating to an older version ? do you mean the Z21 controller App version ? or the Z21 box Firmware version ?

Cheers

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Old 12-04-2017, 11:40 PM   #6
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FYI my Roco Z21 App version is 2.6.8 and my Z21 box Firmware version is 1.27 (Although this is just from the Updater App as I'm not connected to the box atmo so I'm assuming its the latest version on the box)

Cheers

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Old 13-04-2017, 07:42 PM   #7
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Mine is as follows:
App version 2.6.8
Hardware version Z21a
Firmware version 1.29
What I find odd is that if I ran the updater app it would revert the firmware back to 1.27 which is why I'm confussed.
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Old 13-04-2017, 09:26 PM   #8
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Ahh right mine is still on 1.27 atmo as i've not had a chance to run mine for a couple of weeks. I'll try the updater sometime next week and see what happens. All I can think is maybe the Z21 App has had an update and its more up to date than the updater

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Old 21-05-2017, 10:48 PM   #9
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Default Latest Firmware for Z21

Hi Folks,
Do I need to download a new "Maintenance Application" in order to update my firmware from version 1.28 to version 1.29 ??
Or should I use the same maintenance application that I have on my PC which I have used previously ? - but I can't see how to update this maintenance app with the latest software !....or have I got this wrong ??
Also, I use the Z21 Android app on my tablet, I think there is a newer version, but again I can't see how to update it ? - or do I need to delete it and start again with the newer version ?

Many thanks if anyone can help me..
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Old 22-05-2017, 10:55 AM   #10
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The Z21 web site updates the "Maintenance Application" regularly and I think the latest is 1.29 shows as "Z21_Maintenance_V1.11.2". This will update the firmware, but not the phone/tablet app. There is an update app, but having talked with Gaugemaster who have a tips website for the Z21, this is currently behind at version 1.27. I don't think it matters too much if the app itself is not the latest.
I therefore now ignore the update app and just used the "Maintenance Application" and check the web site every so often to see if it's moved on.
Hope that explains it?
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