It’s also important to consider the unit’s connectivity. There are basically three commonly found wireless communications protocols: WiFi, Bluetooth and ANT+.
WiFi, as you no doubt know, is wireless internet. Or, to be exact, a wireless technology that allows electronic devices to network with each other.
Anyway, the point is that a bike computer with WiFi will be able to upload rides directly (whether that’s to proprietary software like Garmin Connect or a third party site like Strava, and even social media) as soon as you come within range of any of the networks it has enabled, which is a nice bonus but very little use in-ride. That’s why any bike computer that’s WiFi enabled will also have on or both of the following.
Designed by Dynastream Innovations, who were later bought by Garmin, ANT+ is a low powered wireless communications protocol. When Garmin bought Dynastream, they kept the ANT+ system open access which was a smart move that allowed other companies to incorporate ANT+ into their products as well – hence why so many different brands have ANT+ equipped devices. And this is the big selling point of ANT+, that not only Garmin devices but a whole host of others including Bryton, Quarq, SRM, Wahoo, PowerTap, CatEye and many more can all communicate with each others’ sensors.
One crucial point to consider is that the wireless connectivity offered by a device will impact on the data it is able to display. E.g. the Garmin Edge 200 doesn’t offer wireless connectivity and so can’t communicate with any accessories, such as a heart rate monitor or power meter, and, needless to say, that data won’t be available to you. Instead, the Edge 200 is designed as a device which displays relatively basic in-ride data like speed, average speed, distance, time etc., while also allowing you to view that data post-ride.
The comparatively new kid on the block is Bluetooth Smart, or Bluetooth Low Energy. Lots of units are starting to use Bluetooth as their main wireless connectivity and Polar, Stages, Lezyne, and the latest Garmin units all have it in-built, many alongside ANT+. The bonus of Bluetooth is that most new smartphones also have Bluetooth Low Energy, and compatible apps can communicate straight from the computer to the phone with no extras needed – as opposed to ANT+ where you generally need to get an extra ANT+ adapter that fits your phone, unless you have one of the comparatively few smartphones that also includes ANT+ connectivity as standard.