Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Impressions: Garmin Edge 800

My Garmin GPS 76CSx works as well today as it did when I got it years ago. The Achille's heel of the product, however, is the bike mount. Despite mine and Pardo's best efforts, the mounting was arcane, and unreliable. On rough roads, the GPS unit would work itself loose.

So when the Garmin Edge 800 GPS-Enabled Cycling Computer showed up as an item eligible for this weekend's promotional sale for 15% off, I jumped at it. Note that just as with the Edge 500, it's cheaper to buy the unit separately from the other items in it, even if you want everything in the bundle. In my cases, I already had the cadence unit and HRM strap, so it made no sense to buy the bundle. I also ordered the Garmin City Navigator Europe NT for Detailed Maps of Eastern and Western Europe (DVD). The DVD is useful for people planning routes, but if all you plan to do is Dynamic Routing, you can buy the chip for slightly less hassle. If you're not a Windows user, I'm not sure how useful the DVD would be.

The unit weighs in at 98g, 40g more than the Edge 500's 58g. Being a color display, the battery life is also reduced, at 15g. Some friends described the UI as being arcane, but coming from the 76CSx and the Edge I found it intuitive, though I found the touch screen UI a little bit balky. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it prevents accidental shifts in display, etc. The screen isn't as visible in bright sunlight as the Edge 500, but you can turn up the brightness, though with a corresponding decrease in battery life. Since the battery itself is bigger, it takes longer than the Edge 500 to charge up, but 2 hours seemed to do the trick from 40%. The Find City feature seems easy to find, and of course, has the "Spell City" option which I love, which never made it into the GPS 76CSx.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was that Garmin majorly upgraded the connectivity with the PC. My Edge 500 sometimes took 10 minutes to download all the data to the PC. With the Edge 800, the download is nearly instantaneous. This was a pleasant surprise and very welcome, since I'd gotten used to the setting the synchronization window off to another display while I did other stuff or went for a cup of coffee.

Since I haven't bothered with US maps yet, I can't say how well routing works. Needless to say, Garmin's units at their worst outperform Google Map's bicycle routing any day, especially if you reprogram the GPS unit. The key for me is whether the unit would corrupt its own boot sector in the middle of the trip like the Edge 705 is the big question that I hope to find out during this year's tour.

In short, if you're an Independent Cycle Tourist, the Edge 800 is a no brainer compared to the Edge 500. Recommended.
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