Garmin has a serious cycling pedigree, its team Garmin-Cervelo being one of the best in this year's Tour De France. The company has a range of dedicated bike mountable satnavs designed to get you from A to B when out on two wheels.
The more you pay, the more you get. The top end Edge 800 features a touchscreen and super-fast hotfix satellite location systems. The particular model we were sent for review also came with a cadence and heart rate monitor, as well as a rather fetching blue case.
It might seem slightly bizarre mounting a satnav on your bike. Firstly because most people do any lengthy journeys in a train or car. The Edge 800, however, is aimed at those who are serious about cycling and plan on covering significant distances. Reviewing it meant Pocket-lint had to get a serious sweat on and churn through the cycling miles on the open road.
Designing a satnav for a bicycle poses some serious problems; there's no windscreen to mount the device to, meaning you need to look down to see where you are going (dangerous). Heavy traffic also means you can’t hear conventional satnav spoken directions. Garmin has responded to these brilliantly, creating a simple, safe and highly accurate satnav for your bike that doubles up as a trainer and full-blown cycle computer.
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Unlike an in-car satnav, something which is going to sit on the front of your bike needs to be seriously tough. We have had the Edge 800 sitting on top our handlebars for the past month or so and it has had no problems. We have ridden through rain, sun and dropped it once or twice and nothing has gone wrong. It mounts via a piece of plastic you attach to your bars with a rubber band. It could be sturdier, but the Edge 800 never fell off while we were riding.
The device itself is about the size of one of the old Palm Pre mobile phones. It is 5.1 x 9.3 x 2.5cm in size and weighs 56.7g, extremely light for those who care about adding weight to their cycles.
The 2.6 inch touch screen is bright enough and designed to operate when you are wearing gloves. We did find it to be slightly unresponsive, when swiping, to navigate menus, sometimes the device didn’t do as it was told.
Rubber doors seal the SD card and USB connector found on the bottom of the Edge, these never opened unless we wanted them to, so water didn’t pose a problem.
The included cadence and heart rate monitor were easy to fit and setup. Cable ties attach the two parts of the speedometer setup to your bikes’ frame. The heart rate monitor sits underneath whatever you are wearing and is not uncomfortable, even on lengthy rides.
This is the second most important thing on a bike satnav. If you are taking a big trip or adventuring well out into the wild, what you really don’t want it for the battery to die. Garmin thankfully excels in the battery department. We used the Edge 800 to get to and from central London daily and found it only needed charging once, after navigating for two to three hours per day.
The more we loaded the system with however, the more the battery would drain (understandably). Keeping the backlight on, using the cadence monitor, timing and measuring our heart rate would use a lot more juice. As such, we suggest using the Edge in two separate modes. Firstly as navigation with nothing else and second as a trainer when you are preparing for long journeys.
The most important thing on a bike satnav is, well, the navigation. The Edge 800 definitely does itself proud in the "stop me from getting lost" department. The hotfix satellite location means you can get going on journeys rapidly, without waiting for the system to locate exactly where you are. It is also very accurate and responds quickly to any wrong turns or mistakes made.
Entering a location is a bit of a faff. Irritatingly you can’t just enter a location or point of interest and leave the rest up to the Edge. Instead you need to give it a precise address or search for POIs nearby. This means if you want to go somewhere you need to have its exact coordinates before you plan on setting off.
Once you have this sorted however the Edge gets you there in the best way possible. Garmin’s approach to bicycle navigation is spot on. Rather than an irritating person telling you to turn left or right, whenever you get near to somewhere that requires a change of direction, there is a simple countdown and a zoomed in map of your location. Once the times hits zero, you turn. A bit of practice and every time you hear that beep, you take a quick glance down, see where you need to go and then hear a confirm beep when you have gone the right way.
You can go all Google Maps and zoom around things to look for nearby street locations, but the touch screen is not really responsive enough for it to be an enjoyable experience. Best instead to stick to giving it address and letting it get you there.
The Edge 800 feels a bit like a miniature Android handset to operate. Menus are divided between up and down lists of options and left to right swipes. It tends to be that anything left to right is only for when you are cycling, clever design by Garmin. It means you can swipe while on your bike without looking down, then peek at the device when you get a chance.
The search menu for finding a destination can be slightly confusing, as there is such a long list of ways to choose how to search. Typing an address in is more than fast enough and the device will autosuggest places once you have written something, just don't expect iPhone-style responsiveness.
The core menus when cycling and navigating are extremely clear and well laid-out. Take for example the timing and calorie counter, this will switch from black text on white to white on black at night, making it easier to read. The maps themselves will also do this, making the Edge 800 nice to use at night.
There is a lap menu that shows an animation of a ghost bike, to give you an idea of whether you are faster or slower than your previous lap. Finally there is a measurement of your elevation, should this be of interest to you. The combination of all these left to write swipe menus being that you get a very complete picture of how you are cycling.
You can use Garmin’s Mapsource desktop software to create individual routes and training options. These can then be transferred to the Edge 800 and played back. It is currently Windows only and relatively glitchy, not always recognising the device. One thing worth noting was that it did mean we could create complex training courses then go and cycle them. The only problem being that it's a lot easier to drag a mouse that little bit further than cycle an extra ten miles.
All in all Garmin has taken a properly logical approach to the Edge 800’s OS. It feels like it has been designed from the ground up, with biking in mind. Sure it might have the odd glitch here and there, but there isn’t much else of this quality to choose from.
After using the Edge 800 everyday it has become something we are now nearly totally dependent on. Going into London, we will always stick the exact address into it just before we leave, so we can cycle straight to the door. For this kind of cycling, the Garmin is great.
It has also done a good job getting us long distances like Brighton and further, by using the Mapsource software to plan or allowing the Edge 800 to navigate for us.
The price makes us think those looking at this top of the range satnav, will be wanting to use it for a lot more than just navigation. As a trainer then, the Edge 800 also excels, particularly if you setup cadence and heart rate monitors.
For the serious cyclist it is a complete training and navigation package and one perfectly suited to getting you out and improving your riding. Day-to-day bikers, however, might want to consider a cheaper option if they are continually getting lost.