Here is a review of the new Garmin 800 cycling GPS unit. The 800 is a combination of the recent Edge 500 with the mapping capabilities of the 705. It supports any ANT+ devices so you have the ability to use third party accessories such as heart rate monitors, weigh scales and power meters.
My Reason for Buying the Garmin 800
Before taking the plunge and buying the Garmin i tried out various solutions involving my iPhone 3G and various apps. There were various issues that meant it didn’t work, the biggest (for me) being lack of heart rate/cadence reading. As a result until now I’ve has 3 units mounted on my bike; cheap bike computer, iphone for gps and Polar heart rate monitor. The Garmin 800 will give me all of this functionality in one unit.
I’ve not previously owned any other Garmin GPS devices so am coming at this review with a fresh perspective.
Having thought about purchasing an Edge 705 for the last couple of years i decided to wait for the 800 as soon as
i heard of it’s release.
Inside the box of the standalone kit you’ll find the unit itself, A/C power lead, a (very short) usb lead, a mount kit to attach the unit to your bike and a quick user manual. I like the fact the power lead doubles as the usb lead (similar to Apple Iphones) meaning I have less leads to lose!
Only a quick start manual is included in the box, the full version is loaded onto the device in pdf for or available to download from the Garmin website here.
Initial Impressions of the Edge 800
The Garmin 800 is slightly smaller than i imagined before I got my hands on it. While the screen is nice and big (6.6cm diagonally) the unit itself is compact (weighing only 98 grams and measuring 5.1 x 9.3 x 2.5cm) meaning it won’t take up too much real estate on the bikes handlebars.
The 800 both looks and feel slick. The Edge 705 is looking quite dated now and following on from the 500 the 800 looks like a well designed unit. The screen surround gets a nice carbon fiber finish that adds to the visual aesthetics.
Mounting the Unit
From reading about the 305/705 units a lot of people seemed to complain about the poor mounting system that was prone to failure. The mount that comes with the 800 is the same as the Edge 500, a 90 degree turn system.
Garmin include two mounts in the box – useful if you have a winter and summer bike or are a roadie who occasionally ventures off road.
The mount itself is held on to the stem/bars by strong rubber rings (plenty of which are supplied in the box). To mount/remove the unit you just need to align it with the mount and give it a 90 degree turn. The device seems well and truly secured and gives the impression it won’t fall off, while at the same time being incredibly quick and easy to mount/dismount.
The mounting system is very slick and a million times better than many previous devices (lights, heart rate monitors etc) i have attached to my handlebars over the years.
One of the main differences of this unit over other bike gps units is the touch screen. Previous units such as the edge 305 and 705 have relied on push buttons and a joystick for navigation. On the 800 there are only three
1. The Power button on the side
2. The Lap/Reset button on the bottom left of the face
3. The Start/Stop button on the bottom right of the face.
All other controls/menus/maps are navigated using the touch screen.
My initial impressions of the touch screen are that it is very responsive, easy to navigate and highly accurate. The screen only requires a light touch to navigate and select what you want.
Being an iPhone user I’ve become accustomed to using a very responsive and flexible touch screen interface so i was a little worried the Edge 800 was going to let me down. However I’ve been impressed so far with the speed and accuracy. The only drawback so far is that through habit i keep trying to use pinch commands to zoom on the map like on an iPhone instead of using the +/- buttons to move in and out!
Another worry was the responsiveness in tough cycling conditions when I have sweaty, wet fingers or have them wrapped up in winter cycling gloves. After some initial use i can report the 800 works very well when using gloves
or wet fingers (ironically my iphone doesn’t!).
To back it up here is a video by DCRainmaker demonstrating the unit with different types of gloves:
The user interface seems well designed and integrates well with the touch screen functionality. The only thing I don’t like it that when you are buried in the settings menu the only way to get back to the main menu or mapping screens is to keep hitting the ‘Back’ button on screen. It would be great to see a ‘Home’ button (similar to on iPhones) that gets you back to the top level screen with one press.
Update: I’ve since discovered that at any point holding down the back arrow for a few moments takes you straight back to the main screen.
When you are riding navigating between screens is either a matter of hitting the arrow buttons at the bottom of the screen or simply swiping a finger across any part of the screen from one side to the other. In addition between the arrow buttons on all the screens is a menu button where ou can access the main menu.
There are a huge amount of data readings you can display ranging from the obvious like speed to slightly less obvious such as temperature. There are 3 screens that enable you to select any combination of fields to display. This is great as on your main screen you can have essentials such as speed, heart rate, cadence, time etc and have the readings you refer to less often such as average speed, calories burnt on a secondary or third screen.
Here are the two screens i currently have set up:
You can select how many readings are shown on each screen and as a result, the size of the fields displayed. Select less fields per page and the readings get bigger and visa versa.
There is a huge amount of data fields you can display and select on these three training screen. I was going to list them them all here but quite frankly there are so many I can’t be bothered to copy them all out. Rest assured there is enough options to satisfy even the most geeky stats freaks out there.
Swipe past your training data screens and the next screen you’ll see is the mapping screen. Touch the screen and large plus, minus and navigator buttons appear allowing you to zoom in/out or navigate the map to see what is ahead. Zooming in and out of the map is very quick. I’ve experienced none of the lags or delays i’ve read about on previous edge models.
One nice feature is being able to add 2 training fields to the mapping screen. If you are navigating using the maps it is nice to be able to keep an eye on two fields (I use speed and heart rate) without having to change display screens.
As you probably know the base maps included with with the Edge 800 are pretty useless. Unless you live on an A road and prefer to cycle along dual carriageways you’ll need to add an additional map to the device. I opted for Garmin’s Europe Navigator 2010 (which is much cheaper on Amazon as opposed to direct from Garmin) which came pre-loaded on a micro SD card.
Simply pop the card into the micro SD card slot and navigate to the Map options screen and switch over from the Base maps (that are stored on the units internal memory) to the Navigator maps on the SD card.
The level of detail is very impressive on the Navigator maps. As you can see on the left shot above the closet you can zoom in is to 20cm (see the scale bar). The shot on the left was in the middle of nowhere (hence not much of interest in the shot). The sample on the right was taken in Central London and as you can see Points of Interest such as restaurants, bars, cash machines etc are all shown.
I live in quite a rural area and not only are all of the small single carriageway roads included, but also many of the tracks and bridleways – very useful if I fancy taking the mountain bike out for a spin.
Entering a location to navigate too is a simple process. You can enter a place, postcode, point of interest, previously navigated location or even pick a point on the map. The unit is very quick to work out the correct route and reroutes quickly should you miss a turn.
There are several navigation options that allow you to turn on/off prompts, adjust how far from junctions you get prompted etc. As well as selecting your preferred travel method (walking, cycling or driving) you can tell the unit to avoid things such as main roads, toll roads to ensure you get the best ride possible.
Navigation is very easy. If alerts are turned on the unit makes an audible (but not too loud) beep when you’re approaching a junction and the map zooms in to show you the junction layout. As you can see from the screen shot the 800 also tells you how far from the junction you are and how long in seconds (based on your current speed) before you get there. Once you’re through the junction the map automatically zooms out again.
Having ridden over a couple of hundred mile now the only fault I can find is that it has occasionally (3 times i think) missed a turn when following a pre planned route. When I say missed I mean it has not prompted/alerted me to a turn, despite the route being shown on the screen. This has only happened when I’ve been following pre planned routes created on mapping websites (see section below on creating routes online) and not when the unit itself has planned the route for me. As a result I suspect the cause is something going wrong when exporting my routes from BikeRouteToaster to the unit. I’ll play around with this and see if i can get to the bottom of it.
The GPS seems very quick to acquire satellites. I timed it a few times and it only took about 15 seconds to find a GPS signal and work out where we were – this was despite being in quite a heavily tree covered area.
So far i’ve not experienced any drop of signal or other issues with the GPS signal.
Training Partner Screen
This is a good little screen. At it’s most basic you can set an average speed you want to maintain (on the fly) for your ride and the screen will display how well you are performing against your target. As well as a nice little graphic (see right) showing you ahead/behind a ‘ghost rider’ the screen also tells you how far ahead/behind the other rider you are in terms of both distance and time.
If you are riding a preset course or following a previously recorded route, the training partner screen will show you performance against the original route. This looks like it will be a great tool to train with, especially useful for creating a time trial ride with which to benchmark your training progress.
This screen displays the historical profile of your ride, updated in real time. As well as current elevation and total ride ascent a nice little graph displays a graph of the profile. What i like is the ability to alter the scale of the graph. I’ve not had much of a chance to play with this screen – i’ll report back in a couple of weeks once i’ve been out on some longer/hillier rides.
There are a number of alerts you can manually configure and set to go off when you reach a certain metric. Here are the different measure you can set alerts against;
- Heart Rate
This is a nice feature. It allows you to build tailored workouts to follow using any number of the measures above.
This is great as it means you can create your own intervals, pre-programing how long each interval is, what your targets are in terms of heart rate, cadence etc.
The flexibility of this functionality means you can build the workouts to be not just based around time or heart rate but anyone of a large number of metrics. For example you can create a certain interval (or ‘step’ as the unit calls them) to last until a particular heart rate, speed cadence etc is reached.
You can see in the screen shots above the saved workout I created very quickly on the device. On the middle screen you can see the details of the workout (in this case my old friend the 2 x 20 min Lactate Intervals). The screen on the right shows the current progress when you are doing the workout. As you can see based on your inputs it tells you exactly how hard/fast you should be riding for the next period of time.
This functionality is great, particularly for structuring and providing motivation to get through tough interval workouts on the turbo trainer.
Creating Routes to Follow Online
As stated above I have a Garmin City Navigator map loaded onto a micro SD card. The unit reads the map incredibly quickly and as mentioned already scrolling around the map (as well as zooming) is very responsive with no perceivable lag.
Creating a course and loading it onto my Garmin was relatively simple. Here are the steps I followed:
1. Ensure you have already registered and successfully connected to Garmin Connect.
When i first logged on to the site with my Garmin 800 connected to the PC via the USB cable i was prompted to install a plugin for Firefox that enables the 800 to load activities directly to myGarminConnect without having to move gpx files around. I’d recommend you do this too. Unfortunately the plugin isn’t compatible with Google Chrome.
2. Go to BikeRouteToaster and on the ‘Map’ tab, create your route by dropping markers along your proposed route.
3. Once you’re happy with your plotted route go to the ‘Summary’ tab. Look in the Download box and select ‘To Garmin GPS: gpx’. In my case this pushed the route straight onto my Garmin 800.
4. Disconnect your 800 from the computer, and go to the Courses menu. You should now see your course at the bottom of list!
Update # I have found occasionally the 800 tries to recalculate my route if it thinks i have veered off course (as all sat nav devices occasionally do, especially on small country roads). IN order to get round this I have simply switched of the re-calculate functionality in the main GPS settings menu.
Recording Your Training
To start the unit recording you simply hit the Start/Stop button on the bottom right of the unit. You can split your ride into laps by pushing the button on the left at any time during the ride. Once you’ve finished simply press the start/stop button again then hold down the Lap/Reset button to save the workout.
I find it a bit strange that when you want to save a workout you’ve just finished you have to hold the Reset button and the unit warns you it is resetting the workout. At first I thought I was deleting the workout, however the device is not just re-setting the displays, but also saving the workout. Surely it would be more intuitive for the device to say something like “Saving”. This isn’t a major issue but did give me slight scare the first couple of times i tried to save a ride.
There are a couple of nice features included, especially useful for a goldfish like me. The unit has a motion sensor that will alert you if you are moving and have not yet hit record, something i am often guilty of! Also there is an auto pause feature that will stop the device and restart it for any short stops, useful when stopping at road junctions. You can also set the auto pause to kick in if your speed drops to a particular level, not just when you stop.
Garmin state that the battery life is 15 hours. Obviously if you have the back light on all the time this will be reduced. I went out at the weekend and did about 5 hours riding (with the light on full time and had over half of the battery life left so 15 hours sounds about right.
Speed Cadence Sensor
In order to get cadence readings you need the Garmin Speed Cadence sensor – this comes bundled with some of the 800 packages. The sensor sits on your rear chain stay and picks up readings from two magnets, one placed on the rear wheel spokes (to measure speed) and one placed on the crank (to measure cadence).
The thing I love about this sensor is that because the speed readings come from the rear wheel, you can have distance readings while using a turbo trainer. My previous bike computer was mounted on my front wheel so until now i’ve not had speed readings on my turbo trainer.
Garmin 800 Screen Protectors
To help keep my Garmin 800 looking nice and new and scratch free I have bought a pack of screen protectors similar to the ones I use on my iPhone. These are simple pieces of thin clear plastic that are cut to exactly cover the screen of the 800 unit.
These protectors are not adhesive so can be easily removed if required without leaving a mark on the 800. In addition they do not hamper the functionality of the touch screen in anyway.If you are spending this much on a high end gps device you really should spend a few more pennies and protect the screen.
Garmin 800 – Summary
I’ve got to admit that having come close to buying an edge 705 for so long my expectations of the Edge 800 were not great based upon my research of the 705. I was expecting a poor user interface and lots of software bugs and constant crashes form the unit.
Having spent a week playing with the device and riding over 200 miles with it so far I have been very impressed. No crashes, no software issues no crazy readings. The user interface is well designed and easy to navigate while riding.
I like the high level of customization available. Now I have configured the data displays how I like, when riding the only time i need touch the device is an occasional swipe of the finger between the map screen and the training data screen (I only use one when riding, though you can have up to 3 if required).
In short i’m very pleased with the 800 so far. I’ll try and update this post over the next few weeks and months as I use the 800 more. In the meantime let me know if you have any questions about the Edge 800 by leaving a comment below.
Garmin 800 Pricing & Availability
Many stockists are struggling to fulfill demand for the 800 as it was only released a few days ago. Both Wiggle and Amazon have stock currently. Below are prices for both the UK and US.
Garmin Edge 800 – Unit Only
Performance Bundle – Includes Cadence Sensor & Heart Rate Strap
Performance & Nav Bundle – Includes Cadence Sensor, Heart Rate Strap AND City Navigator Maps
Amazon US – n/a (maps available separately here.)