Saturday, 2 July 2011

Garmin Edge 800 Review - a Satnav bike computer...

I've been using a Garmin Edge 500 bike computer for some time. Ok, the unit is rather overpriced compared to even the top end conventional bike computers but this is due to it being GPS based rather than relying on counting wheel revolutions and multiplying by a magic number, which varies if you change tyre size, pressure, etc. The 500 has worked pretty well for me after a few teething problems.

The Garmin Edge 800 has been out for a little over 6 months and is now available in a discounted pack including full UK Ordnance Survey mapping. This sounded like the ideal bike computer to use for the next leg of Glyde Around Britain. Previously I used a SatMap Active 10 which worked fine but tended to mean parking up and peering at the screen in the shade of the inside of the Glyde fairing in order to be able to read it in strong light. The Garmin Edge 800 is advertised as having a "sunlight readable colour screen". Having struggled with the SatMap and having seen modern 'daylight visible' screens like the Kindle I was hoping the 800 would be the answer to my problems.

First off, here is a photo of the screen indoors. Bright and clear - no problems (the camera seems to have generated some interference lines in this image which are not visible by eye - probably a polarising issue):

Secondly, here is the unit carefully positioned so the sun is shining squarely onto the screen - an impressively bright and crisp colour display - no problems here:

And thirdly, here is how the unit appears in general use... which seems to be most of the time on the two test rides/75 miles I've ridden to see how well I can live with the unit:

In varying light conditions the screen tends to be washed out almost to a flat dark gray. Major features can just about be made out but only help with navigation if you've memorised the route and know the shape of the roads or where you'll be crossing motorways, etc. All other detail from the OS mapping is invisible. The screen itself is extremely glossy so in these conditions it behaves like a dark mirror giving a better view of the user's face or the sky than it does the mapping it is supposed to be showing.
I did consider adding an anti-reflective 'screen protector' but as this rather expensive unit is so obviously unfit for purpose it doesn't seem to be my job to re-engineer it.

The actual features of the unit do seem to be pretty much what I was wanting - just as per the Edge 800 there are a number of 'screens' of data which can be configured to show between three and 'many' of the riding stats the unit collects. These stats vary from simple speed, distance and associated average and maximums, altitude, height gain/loss, through to data from any ANT+ sensors you may have fitted to your ride - cadence, speed, power, heart rate.

Route planning via the PC/Mac-hosted (free) BaseCamp software uses the OS mapping on the Edge 800. The route planner has its quirks but it better than some online sites I've used to do the same job. It also handles the transfer of the routes to the Edge 800 in one press. All very slick and easy.

I ran into problems trying to use a custom Point-Of-Interest file as, oddly, these do not seem to be supported on the Edge 800 even though the Garmin POILoader application quite happily puts them on to the device. The files are then ignored. A list of POIs can be loaded into the BaseCamp software and uploaded as a list of 'Locations' but the number of such locations appears to be limited to 500 - which meant half of the campsite list I was trying to use was just 'lost'.

So, in summary, a great device but it does not seem to have a screen suitable for outdoor use!