Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ultra Long Term Review: Garmin Edge 800

It is the nature of electronics that they tend to be short-lived. Most people don't hang on to their phones more than 2 years, and in some cases like Android phones, software support lags even before then. It is therefore a testament to the build quality and utility of the Garmin Edge 800 that I'm writing this long term review 3 years from when I bought the unit.

Of course, I'm very much aware that the smartphone is currently the most used bike computer in the world. But if that describes you, you're probably not much of a cyclist, and have no reason to read this blog entry. I buy bike computers to do 1000 mile tours, not to post on social networks and brag about my rides.

The device has survived 2 tours of the Alps, countless numbers of day rides, include some mountain bike rides. Since buying the NT navigator for Europe, I haven't spent any additional money on the device. You don't tend to buy or update maps for cycling because by and large, cycling roads just don't change. I've never felt the need for more up to date maps on the device.

The device did corrupt its own boot sector once, during the Downieville ride. I resolved the problem using Garmin's website, essentially reformatting the device and starting over. There's been quite a few firmware updates since, and I haven't seen the need to do so since.

Since I bought the device, Garmin has introduced several new units: Garmin Edge 810, Garmin Edge 1000, and the Garmin Edge Touring are just 3 of the new units most likely to interest those who've bought the Edge 800, which is still available at a significant discount.

During the Tour of the Alps this year, both Arturo and Hina brought along the later model Edge 810. The big feature of this newer unit is blue-tooth integration. The unit can sync with your Android or iPhone and then upload to Garmin's website without you having to find a wifi hotspot or bring along a Windows tablet. Since I wasn't bringing either of those types of phone, I wouldn't have been able to use this feature anyway. Furthermore, Hina ended up using my tablet to upload, for a number of reasons, and her device lost some data. So buying a newer unit doesn't mean you will never have to plug it into the PC: you still have to do that in order to get the latest and greatest firmware!

Furthermore, despite all the tweaking we managed to do on Tour, Arturo's Garmin unit used battery far more aggressively than my old unit. I would regularly end the day with 55-65% of the battery left, while his unit despite being newer would end the day with at most 30-45% of the battery. At first we thought it was brightness, then the autostop. We ended up suspecting the bluetooth connection to the phone. Regardless, the 810 does not have as good a battery life as the 800.

Of the remaining units, the Edge Touring is missing several features of the Edge, including power meter integration and speed sensor cadence compatibility. Neither of those features are essential to me, though I do have a GSC10, which would have been incompatible with the Edge Touring.

The Edge 1000 is recently introduced, but was apparently rushed to market as reviews indicate that it is a very buggy unit. If you're actually going to tour with a unit, given Garmin's record of lackluster reliability amongst newly introduce units, I wouldn't recommend going with the 1000.

As you can see, I think the Garmin Edge 800 is an unusually robust unit that holds up better than many later introduced units. It's a lot like the 1993 Bridgestone RB-1: it was better than any of the predecessors as well as its successors as well. If you know me, that is the highest praise I can give any device.

Recommended with the highest honors.
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