Hands-on: Garmin Edge 810 review

The Garmin Edge 810 is the company's latest GPS bicycle computer, complete with new social sharing and tracking functionality which we first saw at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013. Unlike many other "breadcrumb" models - such as the lower-spec Edge 510 - which follow existing mapped-out markers on a route, the Edge 810 has routable maps which update based upon your location. Ideal should you make a wrong turn, for example. But the big question is what separates that from being more than a dressed up Satnav or a swanky smartphone app - is the Edge 810 a worthwhile product in the age of the smartphone and does it warrant its sizeable £379 price tag?

Bicycle computers are specialist bits of kit. If you're considering buying one then chances are that you're pretty serious about your training game, and it's here where the Edge 810 is aimed. Pocket-lint has been using the device around a variety of routes - including plenty of off-routing exploration - in the Costa Brava to get a feel for whether this latest Garmin adds up.

First impressions are mixed. We like the concept of a specific cycling device, but there are limitations to the tech at this price-point: the 2.6-inch touchscreen has a meagre 160 x 240 pixel resolution and although it's not that we'd want to have a huge screen mounted up while cycling, an increased resolution would make for tighter graphic reproduction and offer up more expansive maps over a given area with increased clarity. The white directional arrows on the route playback are also shown on white roads which isn't the best colour-on-colour to interpret at a quick glance. The screen's brightness, too, has its limitations - something the bright Spanish sun was all too good at highlighting. It never made the screen impossible to read by any means, but reflections are prominent.

But there are obvious high points: included in the Edge 810's box is a quarter-turn quick mount that's incredibly easy to attach the device to. Pop the 810 into the holder and twist it by 90-degrees and that's it - you're ready to go. It holds solid and is well positioned for hands-on use even during riding, should you want to adjust what's on display.

But one thing that springs to our minds is that plenty of competitors do also make smartphone mounts which, despite their separate cost and more fiddly nature, make for decent enough use. Pair a smartphone with an app such as CycleTracker Pro - which is £2.99 in the app store - and a number of the Garmin's features are available at a snip of the price. Given the choice between the two, we do find the simple twist-to-lock design of the Garmin to be the standout winner, but whether that's enough to make you want to fork out the cash for the device is another matter - we doubt the more casual users will be sold when there are apps for small budgets.

But it's the weather-proofing that also gives the Garmin that rugged edge and makes it ideal for all-weather cycling. It's IPX7 certified and this is the first point that - short of the Sony Xperia Z - throws much of the smartphone argument out of the window. That faff-free reassurance that rain, humidity and temperature - with operation up to around 55C, as shown with a real-time, location-based temperature display - won't get the better of you is a bonus.

Of all that the Edge 810 does it's the device's battery life that we find most appealing. We're all too familiar with doing 90-minute cycle runs using a GPS iPhone app and coming back with about 20 per cent battery remaining. The Edge 810 suffers no such issues - its battery life lasts for around 15-17 hours which, although we've not been able to test it to death in this review, does seems to sound about right based on battery depletion during our usage. That's a huge assurance when out and about. If you're hitting a 100km trek, for example, then it's only logical - if not the only option - to have a GPS computer to track your progress. It's aimed at those who are dead serious about their sport and it's in this space that the Edge 810 certainly delivers when it matters.

In use we found that the Edge 810's data was clear and easy to read. We tended to swipe the map route out of the way and instead load up the detailed display screen which is comprised of time, speed, distance, average speed, total ascent, distance to destination, temperature, and time of day. It's comprehensive and as simple as much of that data may sound it's incredibly useful to know how fast you're moving - it quickly becomes your goal to nudge your speed up by 5kmph to break that next barrier. Or maybe you'll target an average speed over a long route. For repeat training - we completed a 30km course and a 15km three times over for this review - it's a great tool to assist with trying to up your previous time.

Multiple bike profiles also mean you can set up more than one bike and view screens by different styles - you might have a commute, turbo and race view for example spread across a mixture of bicycle types - while lap training is also possible. Apps may offer some of these features, but not the fully customisable set which, for a cycle-head, is likely to be an appeal.

Also included in the Edge 810's box is a heart rate monitor that can be strapped around the chest, and this is where things get that bit more specialist. Even though monitors aren't particularly pricey to produce - there are cheaper alternatives out there - it means the device can measure your performance and provide live figures about how elevated your heart rate is. Again, ideal for distance training, weight loss, or whatever your target happens to be, although wearing the around-chest band take some getting used to and won't be for everyone.

Garmin's obviously aware of the smartphone generation that we keep alluding to and has integrated a variety of social and sharing functions into the Edge 810 via the power of Bluetooth and the GarminConnect app which - as the app clue at the end there suggests - requires a connected smart device to pair up with in order to send data. A little bit like sleeping with the enemy then. Possibly, but a necessary embrace of where technology and social sharing already is - to ignore it would have been foolish.

Indeed it's these connected functions that separate the Edge 810 from the previous 800 model - there's not much else that's different between the two, so those thinking of upgrading won't find that other functionality and features have shifted up a gear. The purpose of the wireless functionality is to share stats, wirelessly transmit your data to view detailed information about your training, and other quirks such as LiveTrack which allows you to share your location (updated every 60 seconds) and invite others - via email or social media invites - to follow your progress or, if they're game for it, get out on the road and join in.

Once stats are uploaded it's possible to view them in Garmin Connect, the worldwide fitness community site. It's got over three million users and stacks of data in its banks and - the best bit - you can make it accessible to friends, family and the public. Forthcoming is also the ability to plan sessions and training plans that other users can download and send to their Edge devices. Nice touch - the social GPS revolution is here. It's only at the beginning of its path, but it's a push in the right direction.

We enjoyed using the Edge 810 - we felt like pros for the weekend, which was helped along, in part, by fully kitted-out Cervelo R5 bicycles. But in addition to that - and from the point of view of a 'Linter and road rider who has been using an iPhone GPS app for many months - it's having a fixed visual interface that makes navigation simple and repeat tours more competitive. There's just that heightened desire to perform better by quick glances at the data that's always visible.

But the Edge 810 is a fair whack of cash for what it is. For the right user it's definitely the right fit although, saying that, there are plenty of competitor models out there and for those who repeat the same circuits over and over again the lower-spec Edge 510 - which is also smaller and lighter - will deliver a chunk of the functionality at a cut of the price.



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