Garmin Edge 820 GPS bike computer - review - Road Cycling UK

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Garmin Edge 820 GPS bike computer – review

Garmin combine the compact size of the 520 with the mapping of the 1000 in this all-singing GPS unit

Garmin launched the Edge 820 as a welcome upgrade to the Edge 810 earlier this year and the GPS giant packs all of its latest technology into a computer which offers greater on-the-road interactivity than ever before.

To the layman, the 820 is a combination of the 520 and 1000 models, combining the compactness of the 520 with the all-singing features of the 1000, including navigation. As a result, it’s a pocket-sized, feature-driven unit which can legitimately claim to ‘do it all’.

As we’ll expand upon further into this review, the 820 leads with the new IQ app platform Garmin have introduced, which allows further customisation of data acquisition and display. It also incorporates all the latest live interactive technology, including Strava Live Segments, LiveTrack, GroupTrack and Incident Detection, all on an improved touchscreen display which displays maps in great detail.

The Garmin Edge 820 combines the compact size of the 520 with the navigational capability of the 1000

However, all these features running side-by-side naturally also have a knack of sapping battery life, and while improvements are continually made with each generation on the endurance of the battery, as well as accuracy of GPS signal and responsiveness of the touchscreen, the 820 will need to impress here too to lay claim to the title of undisputed ‘best bike computer’.

Smarter than ever

The Edge 820 is Garmin’s most advanced interactive unit yet, making use of the Connect IQ app platform. IQ allows the next step in customisation, allowing you to download apps that will display data beyond what the unit itself is capable of. A great example of this is a live Strava Suffer Score, which uses your metrics to work out just how much you are suffering on the fly, as well as a fun beer app, which displays a field showing how many beers you could drink after your ride without putting on weight.

While the IQ app store is currently relatively spartan, it’s sure to increase in size with many offerings in the future, opening the door to metrics previously untapped. It’s also worth noting the Connect IQ platform isn’t limited only to the Edge 820, and is available as an update to the Edge 1000 and 520.

Back to the 820 and it also features the usual ‘smart’ connectivity options by connecting to your phone via Bluetooth, including phone and weather alerts, and now includes a WiFi sensor for direct uploads of rides to Garmin Connect and beyond, as well as support for ANT+ peripherals including power meters, heart rate monitors, electronic shifting units, Garmin’s own Varia system, and more.

  • Specification

  • Price: £329.99 (£389.99 bundle with out-front mount, HR monitor, speed/cadence sensor)
  • Weight: 67.7g
  • Unit size: 4.9 x 7.3 x 2.1cm
  • Screen size: 3.5 x 4.7cm 
  • Website: Garmin 
  • UK distributor: Madison

A new standout interactivity feature, unique to Garmin, and dependent currently on you and your friends owning an Edge 820, Edge Explore 820 (and now thanks to an update, the Edge 520 and 1000 too, although the 520 is only ‘visible’, rather than a device capable of viewing others, owing to its lack of maps) that’s linked to your phone is the peer-to-peer live track – something Garmin calls GroupTrack.

In it you can view – live – where your other 820 or 1000-toting riders are, subject to connecting the accounts on the same ride. Perhaps unsurprisingly at this early stage in the product cycle, none of my clubmates had the other requisite 820 or 1000 to hand for a proper test, but it does represent one of the most promising uses for the LiveTrack technology. Want to find a friend who’s been dropped, had a flat, or catch up with an escapee further up the road with constant updates of your progress? Now you can. Naturally, we can assume the updates are dependent on the quality of cellular service from both (or more) linked mobile devices, but nevertheless it’s exciting technology.

Garmin Edge 820 GPS bike computer - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Garmin Edge 820 GPS bike computer - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

No stone left unturned

Frankly, it’d be easier to describe what the Edge 820 doesn’t support, but one thing that can be said for the unit is how seamlessly it works with everything that it’s asked to pair with. The only exception came when trying to automatically pair my power meter, but it’s likely that’s because the power meter itself hadn’t yet been updated to support the 820. As a remedy, I simply inputted the device number into the manual search, and it’s worked perfectly since.

That leads me onto the display, which is capable of a bewildering array of data readouts (up to ten on one screen). That includes all the basic data you’d expect from a Garmin, as well as readouts from connected Ant+ sensors, and more advanced data including graphical representations of pedaling efficiency if you choose to use Vector pedals, plus physiological data like VO2 Max estimate feature, Functional Threshold Power and a recovery advisor.

That’s all displayed on the crystal-clear touch screen, which mirrors the 520 in its increased pixel density to provide greater detail. Throw in the auto-adjust on the screen brightness, and even in the sunniest or murkiest days it’s a pleasure to look at.

Just as well, really, because the map is gloriously detailed in turn. I had it on maximum detail setting to tax the unit as much as I could – and it didn’t skip a beat. Colours are clear and well-saturated, so even with the increased detail you can still pick out the features instinctively.

Unlike the Edge 520, the Edge 820 offers turn-by-turn navigation, though the screen size on the two devices is the same at 2.3” diagonally. If you want a bigger screen, the top-end Edge 1000 offers more real estate with a screen size of 3” diagonally.

The Edge 820 takes advantage of Garmin’s latest Connect IQ platform

Following a route is as easy as ever – upload a .GPX file and away you go. If you simply want it to take you somewhere, that’s also very easy to do, using points of interest (thanks for pointing out where the pubs are, Garmin) or a destination or address of your choice. Customising this to select the shortest or quickest route is easy, although it’s here that the unit can slow considerably, taking a long time to search its European database for the location you’re after and calculate the route. Still, once loaded it works well, and will get you home safely – albeit with limited control over the actual route you take, unless you go through the relatively timely process of inputting waypoints as well.

Practically, it’s generally a very easy device to use. The device software remains familiar to all previous Garmin users, including the slightly unavoidable tendency to get lost in the sub-menus as you try to customise the settings. I tried to mirror my 510’s settings as far as possible to create a familiar setup while riding – as most would – and you do occasionally find features have moved around the menus, making them a slight chore to find if you’re not up for consulting Garmin’s online instruction library and forums. The best advice I can offer is to get it as fully set up as you can before taking it anywhere.

Room for improvement?

So, is there anything we don’t like? While the touchscreen has been improved markedly, now operating with gloves and responding much more sharply (in general) than with previous generations, it remains to my mind a little superfluous, when the 520 has demonstrated how practical it is to be without the technology.

While it gives the opportunity to pan through a map by dragging your finger over the screen, you can do much the same by simply zooming out, especially with the extra detail the screen now offers. Certainly, some will appreciate the extra flexibility the touchscreen offers, but on balance I’m not convinced it definitively makes the whole device easier to use.

Furthermore, GPS drift remains an issue, with our test unit dropping signal in tree covered areas on occasion, and showing me to be in the field next to the road I was actually riding on. Predictably, this usually happened while attacking a Strava Live Segment, dropping the readout and any sign of my progress. But, in general use, it’s was noticeable how much more the unit would beep at me to tell me the GPS signal had been lost when compared to any Garmin device I’ve used since the 500 was released. Hopefully, this is a problem to be solved in a coming round of firmware updates – and while a slight nuisance, didn’t really shade my enjoyment of the device too much.

Like all of Garmin’s computers, the Edge 820 is USB rechargeable

You also need to bear in mind too that when all the bells and whistles are functioning, battery life does drop significantly. While it’s hard to quantify how each peripheral function (including navigation) affects ultimate battery stamina, my experience of a few century rides during my time with the 820 indicates you’ll likely get a safe maximum of ten hours from the unit.

Conclusion

The Garmin Edge 820 is a data-driven cyclist’s dream while adding the detailed navigational capability of the top-end Edge 1000 in a 520-sized package, and if you don’t want or need the large screen real estate of the 1000, it’s the best of both worlds. Garmin’s latest computer smooths the rough edges of previous units very well with few flaws and offers the opportunity for an ever-expanding array of customisation and interactive options.

Pros

  • Bridges the gap between the 520 and 1000
  • Clear navigation
  • Great screen
  • An amazing number of features, including the new GroupTrack

Cons

  • GPS drift in our launch/test model
  • Touch screen is arguably unnecessary
  • Battery life under duress could be improved

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