Roco Z21 Black Review

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Mr Bones
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Roco Z21 Black Review


Post by Mr Bones »

Roco Z21 Review
I posted this on the old forum, but will add it again here in case anyone is interested. Forgive any mistakes or naivety as I’m fairly new to this whole hobby.

I initially 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 to upgrade it and with the new shed came a new controller. The Z21 Black

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, although this is now becoming more common with other systems. The amount of features also appealed, far too many for me to list.

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.

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 for the router. It’s worth taking a note of the password as it’s on the base and will save hassle when adding other devices.

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 the loft). The simple answer is No. It is a totally self-contained system.

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 then 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 after rebooting both devices they did perform better. As with all IT, if in doubt reboot!

The advantage of using a smart phone or tablet 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. Programming CVs really is easy and straight forward, read it, change it, set it, job done. You can also add icons for things such as lights, different sounds and others which makes using them so much easier.

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 it is only held on the device and not the Z21. 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. The system effectively gives you a very easy to use graphical mimic panel.

You can also add blocks and signals all of which can be viewed and controlled by the tablet or phone. This does require other accessories adding to the layout of course.

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.

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 R-BUS so I won’t be selling it just yet. Sometimes turning a dial 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 my phone and I was constantly forgetting to charge my phone. Therefore 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.

One annoyance I found was that when Roco brought out a newer app for the system it wouldn’t run on older Android devices. Not a massive issue as the old app still worked, but I feel it’s something they need to look into. Backward compatibility!

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 had that might help you
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 has less features than the Z21 Black. There is also a z21 Start that comes as a starter set and doesn’t include all the features of either the Z21 black or the z21 white. Can be a bit confusing so make sure you do your research before purchasing.

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.

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. Or have the layout showing on one device so you can change points etc. Then control the locos via another device.

Useful links
Handy demo of the system - try and ignore the accent, it's a Z21 not a Zeee21 :D

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. Note that this is shows the old app not the new one.

A & H Models – Have some useful informative videos about the Z21 and what it can do plus add-ons.

YouTube – Interesting YouTube video.

Applying firmware updates – Loads of handy YouTube videos.

Sorry this is so long winded, but hopefully it will help someone decide whether this system is for them or not.
And the Lord said unto John “Come forth and receive eternal life”, but John came fifth and won a toaster!
Posts: 229
Joined: Sun Dec 02, 2018 6:49 pm

Re: Roco Z21 Black Review


Post by Tallpaul70 »

Well done and thank you Mr. Bones!

A useful revue of your experiences as a relative newcomer, like me, to the world of DCC as run on the Z21.

I will now spend some time following the most useful links that you provided.

Best regards
Posts: 12
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2019 12:22 pm

Re: Roco Z21 Black Review


Post by Steamer91 »

Hello Paul, I used to have the Z21, I am presuming you know it's the Black. I can't fault it one bit. I used to run 4 locos on my N Gauge layout. I don't run N anymore. having moved on to bigger things, 16mm/SM32 scale. It's such an easy unit to set up as Mr Bones has given in his report.

Don't have any worries also about it having problems. On here there are plenty of other members who have a very good working knowledge of running with the Z21.

All I can say is, have some really brilliant enjoyment running your locos with it.. :)
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