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Review: Garmin Edge 800

by on May 1, 2012

Whenever I first was looking at my cycling Garmin devices, I found DC Rainmaker’s website and read his extensive reviews.  I don’t mind sending you there for his review of the Garmin Edge 800.  My review will be different.  I transitioned from using the Garmin Edge 500 to the Edge 800 about a month ago.  I’ve ridden with it consistently and this review is based not so much on features but on “real world” use.

While preparing for the Flèche in 2011, I helped Jeff S drive part of his team’s route and used his Garmin 705 to cue my turns while he noted the landmarks.  I was absolutely enthralled with the turn-by-turn directions and the advance alerts this Garmin produced, all while in map mode.  My Garmin Edge 500 had a “breadcrumb” trail that I had occasionally followed, but it just didn’t give me the situational awareness I was experiencing with the 705.  I started looking at whether or not to purchase a new GPS, and investigated both the 705 and the 800.  (I say that I started looking at whether or not to purchase a new GPS, in reality, it was a matter of selecting which unit.)  The most important feature I was looking for was shared by both units.  They accept an external power source while continuing to provide guidance and recording of the ride.  On a 24 hour ride, this is essential since the battery life of each of them is rated at about 15 hours.

I compared features and pricing, and landed with the Garmin Edge 800 for three reasons.

  1. The 800 had the convenient touchscreen.
  2. The 800 will display temperature.
  3. The 800 is a newer model and for just a few extra dollars, I was able to get the more “advanced model”.

After a few emails back and forth to Garmin to verify that the Edge 800 would run on the external battery power (yes) and that all my sensors were compatible (yes), I went to the local bike shop to purchase the device.  They only sold the units with heart rate monitor and cadence/speed sensor.  (A later visit to the bike shop revealed that they now stock the Garmin Edge 800 units without the sensors.)  I already had these, and only needed the device itself, so I went online and purchased it through BikeTiresDirect.com.  The price was right and they “bank” 10% of your purchase price which you can use for future purchases.

I also researched the maps to include on the device.  The included maps are only good for major roads, such as interstates, therefore having no value for cyclists.  There are a variety of options for the maps, including some that are free.  After some research and advice from others, I opted to have the DVD sent to me from Garmin rather than the download.  This installed Base Camp on my computer and as long as the Garmin is attached to the computer, the maps are available through the computer.  The Garmin Edge 800 can accept up to a 32 GB microSD memory card.  I chose a 16 GB.  That’s where I installed the maps.

This is a feature-rich device.  You can review the owner’s manual here and this will give you a pretty good overview.

These are the things I really like about the Garmin Edge 800 (in no particular order):

  1. The splash screen is semi-customizable.  I’ve added my name, phone number, and “Reward for Return” to the splash screen.  I can also set the delay so there is enough time to read it and respond.
  2. Although the manual describes 3 customizable bike settings, there are 5!  I can buy more bikes!
  3. The touch screen is usable with bare fingers and with gloves.  (I think I would have liked a little larger touchscreen icons for some of the start/stop functions.)
  4. The menu system is pretty intuitive and simple to navigate.
  5. If you remember to switch bike settings, it synchronizes with the cadence/speed sensor pretty quickly.
  6. The maps and guidance are a HUGE improvement over the “breadcrumb” trail on the Garmin Edge 500.  I love that there is advance warning (when the feature is turned on) and that customizable cues are available.  The maps are in color!
  7. Using a course, the elevation profile is a nice feature as one looks ahead to anticipate upcoming changes.
  8. I like the virtual partner feature (sometimes).  It can help encourage you to maintain a particular pace.
  9. This device will run from an external battery, extending the run-time considerably.
  10. The screens are highly customizable, including the ability to turn of unnecessary screens.
  11. The 1/4 twist quick connect is the same as the Garmin Edge 500 is so much better than the connector for the 705.

Things that have frustrated me (also in no particular order):

  1. When importing courses from RideWithGPS.com and Connect.Garmin.com there is an extra step necessary in order to have alerts for turns in advance.  The Garmin Edge 800 defaults to turning guidance off.  Each time a course is loaded, guidance needs to be manually turned on.  I think it should be the opposite.  Documentation about this from Garmin seems to be lacking.
  2. The thermometer runs about 5-8° F BELOW ACTUAL TEMPERATURES!  This is well-documented in support forums.
  3. Like other Garmin devices (500 & 705 for sure), there are some quirks.  Evidently, electromagnetic fields can cause some erratic recording.  I’ve heard some lights can cause interference.  I had an experience where the 800 went into pause mode (when I was racing down a hill at over 40 mph) and then resumed.  I had one situation where it recorded an 85 mph top speed, when I was between 40-45 mph.  Garmin support was unable to assist with discovering the reason for this.
  4. Trying to determine which fields to display is challenging if only because there are so many possibilities.
  5. I would have liked the icons on the touchscreen related to start and stop could have been bigger.  There is no reason they could not have been nearly half the screen each.
  6. One does have to occasionally adjust the angle of the device on the bike to reduce glare from the sky or lights.

Things I don’t know yet:

  1. I haven’t tested this device in high temperatures yet.  Will the black case cause temperature readings above actual in heat and sunshine?  Maybe it will be more accurate!

The Conclusion

I made the right choice here.  Despite the minor frustrations (most of which I believe could be easily corrected with a firmware update), this has served me well.  Is it for every cyclist?  Absolutely not.  I think its features are well-suited for Randonneurs who supplement printed cue sheets with courses on the GPS device.  For the weekend cyclist, this is clearly overkill.  But you never know about cyclists who often have expensive bicycles and the latest gear beyond their actual need for it.  I guess it is cheaper than a sports car.

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From → Cycling, Review

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