There’s no denying that Garmin has built itself an enviable reputation in the fitness computer market. Whether you’re a cyclist, a runner or a hiker, Garmin has a GPS based device to help you get the most out of your chosen pursuit. And even though the competition in this sector has grown stronger in the past year or so, Garmin continues to make class-leading devices.
The Edge 800 sits at the top of Garmin’s cycle computer range and if you take a look at this device’s substantial feature list it’s clear to see why it’s in pole position. While the Edge 500
I reviewed last year was feature packed, the Edge 800 takes cycle computers to a new level when it comes to functionality.
I really should have had this review published months ago, but a rather unpleasant bout of shingles resulting in an extended period of spinal neuralgia, meant that I wasn’t fit for the saddle for quite a while. On the plus side, my recovery coincided with an unseasonably mild UK spring, which meant that I could spend a lot of time out riding.
So, now that I’m fit (well, relatively) and well enough to actually cycle, what’s this Garmin Edge 800 like then? The short answer is pretty damn good, but if you want more details you better carry on reading.
What’s in the box?
There are several Edge 800 bundles on offer, which one is right for you depends on what you want and what Garmin kit you already have. For instance, if you already have ANT+ sensors on your bike, then you probably don’t want to be paying for new hardware.
The bundle that Garmin sent me for review is the Performance and Navigation kit. Basically you get all the hardware you need to get the most out of the Edge 800, as well as full street and OS map data for the UK. Okay, you don’t get a power sensor, but considering what a power sensor costs, and how few people really need one, that’s understandable.
The Edge 800 is a relatively large device (93 x 51 x 25mm HxWxD) compared to the Edge 500, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The larger physical size means a larger screen, and consequently means that you can either squeeze more data onto the screen or display that data more clearly in a larger font.
There are only three buttons on the Edge 800 – on the left side you’ll find the power button, while below the 2.6in screen are Lap/Reset and Start/Stop buttons. Don’t be put off by the lack of controls though, because the Edge 800 also has a full touch-screen interface.
Besides the Edge 800 itself you’ll find Garmin’s ANT+ speed and cadence sensor along with cable ties for mounting, a Premium heart rate sensor with strap and a bike mount with lots rubber O-rings to get it mounted.
It’s good to see the Premium heart rate sensor bundled, since the Edge 500 came with the standard, old school unit, which consists of a large plastic strap that covers your whole chest. The Premium version is similar to Polar’s WearLink system, with an all fabric, elasticated strap that the sensor clips onto. It’s far more comfortable than the standard sensor, but not quite as comfy as the Polar WearLink sensors. That said, comfort is a very individual thing, since Sandra didn’t find the Polar strap particularly comfortable.
You get two bike mounts in the box, so if you’re a keen cyclist with multiple bikes, you’ll be able to easily swap the Edge 800 from one to the other. The fact that the Edge 800 is GPS enabled also means that it’s completely usable on a second bike without the need for a speed sensor.
You also get a mains charger in the box, complete with both UK and European plugs. The charger just has a USB port on it, so you can plug in the supplied USB to mini-USB cable to charge the Edge 800. However, the generic USB nature of the charger also means that you can charge other mobile devices with it.
Finally there’s Garmin’s GB Discovery map pack, which ships on micro-SD card and slots straight into the Edge 800. The Performance and Navigation bundle is around £50 more expensive than the standard Performance bundle, but when you consider that the GB Discovery map pack retails for £199, the full bundle is quite a bargain.
Setup & Configuration
The first piece of the puzzle is getting the bike sensor mounted, which is a relatively easy task thanks to Garmin’s ingenuity. While most bike computers require separate speed and cadence sensors – the former mounted on the front wheel and the latter mounted on the chainstay – Garmin bike computers require just one.
The Garmin ANT+ speed and cadence sensor really is very clever. The sensor itself mounts on the bike’s chainstay, then a magnet for the speed sensor is attached to a rear wheel spoke, while the magnet for the cadence sensor is mounted on the crank.
The pickup for the speed sensor can then be adjusted independently of the whole assembly, making it easy to ensure that the magnet on the spoke passes within a few millimetres of the sensor, returning a good reading. The other advantage of the single unit sensor is that you only need one battery for both speed and cadence, although it also means that if your battery runs out you lose both.
The mount for the Edge 800 itself is also incredibly simple and easy to install. The Edge 800 can be mounted on either the handlebars or the stem – personally I like it on the stem, keeping it dead centre and not interfering with any controls or taking up handlebar real estate.
One of the issues with mounting anything to your bike is that cable ties can scrape and damage your bars or stem, especially if they’re carbon fibre. However, the Garmin mount is secured with rubber O-rings, while the rubber pad behind the mount keeps it in place and protects your bike. This is the same mount that the Edge 500 uses, so if you’re upgrading you won’t need to change anything.
You need to enter the usual personal data before you can get started – age, weight, height, gender and your general level of activity. If you’re using the bike sensor you’ll need to input the wheel size – you can do this manually, but the Edge 800 can work it out for you automatically. Interestingly, you can also input the weight of your bike – something I haven’t seen before.
Finally, you need to tell the Edge 800 what kind of sensors you’re using – speed and cadence, heart rate monitor or power sensor. Since all but the last one come in the box, you’ll want to enable the first two, unless you’re using the device on a different bike without the speed and cadence sensor attached.
One of the best features on the Edge 500 was its fully customisable info screens, so it’s good to see that Garmin has employed the same system here. You can choose to display up to three info pages, with each page displaying between three to eight fields of data. Obviously the more fields you enable, the smaller each data window will be, so it’s something of a balancing act of information and at-a-glance readability.
I chose to have six fields active on my main info page – overall time, current speed, overall distance, current lap distance, cadence and heart rate. The second info page I configured to be my current lap data with four fields – lap speed, lap time, lap distance and lap number.
As for the third info page, I didn’t even activate it, but I’m sure there are many out there who would welcome even more data while riding. And if you generally find it hard to switch between pages while riding, the touch-screen nature of the Edge 800 means that you can just swipe the screen left or right to switch to the next or previous page.
On the bike
The Edge 800 is an arguably better looking device than its little brother, although the Edge 500 is available in different colour schemes now. I’m a sucker for carbon fibre, so I love the carbon effect screen surround, while the overall dark finish with blue accents gives the device a more stylish appearance than its sibling.
Although the Edge 800 is noticeably larger than the 500, that increase in girth makes little impact when the device is mounted on the stem. As mentioned earlier, the larger size just makes it easier to read, as long as you’re in the right light. And there lies one of the weaknesses of Garmin’s new baby over its established child.
The full colour LCD screen on the Edge 800 looks great when you’re setting the device up in your house before your ride. However, once you wander outside into the bright sunshine you realise that it’s nowhere near as easy to see as the Edge 500, which itself is not as easy to read as the Polar CS500. This problem is compounded if you happen to be wearing sunglasses with polarised lenses – although polarised lenses play havoc with any LCD screen.
You can of course adjust the backlight intensity on the Edge 800, but in bright, direct sunlight, it’s difficult to read, no matter how you configure the backlight. I’ll admit that the colour screen is a big help for the navigation side of the equation, but for general bike computer duties, I think I’d rather have a clear, high contrast, monochrome display.
Talking of standard bike computer duties, the Edge 800 is packed to the gills with features, some of which you’ll probably still be discovering weeks after purchase. One of my favourite features, and one I wish other manufacturers would take not of, is lap by position. Press the lap button and the Edge 800 will start a new lap every time you pass that point ad infinitum. It’s so simple yet so useful.
Of course the Edge 800 can also be set to lap by distance, so if you’re looking to see how your pace changes over a ride you can see how you perform over each mile, kilometre or whatever. The Edge 800 will also measure your total ascent and descent, relative to your start position, your average and maximum speed, average and maximum heart rate, overall exercise time etc. Oh, and you can set it to auto-start/stop, so that your time isn’t ruined by pesky traffic lights, roundabouts or junctions.
You can configure a dizzying array of alerts too – the Edge 800 can alert you at a certain time, after a preconfigured distance or even when you’ve burned a prescribed number of calories. Of course you can configure heart rate zones to ensure that you’re training at the right intensity, and you can even set cadence zones to make sure that you’re not pushing gears that are too big or spinning too fast.
A really nice touch is the Virtual Partner, which is designed to keep you motivated during the ride. The Virtual Partner screen shows two cyclists, one is you and the other is a ghost rider travelling at a pace set by yourself. So, if you set the virtual partner to travel at 15mph, you’ll have to average at least that to keep up with him. As well as the graphical representation of both riders, you also get a readout of how much quicker and further ahead you are, or how much slower and further behind you are, depending on your performance.
The Edge 800 is more than just a training partner though – that map pack makes it a fully functioning sat-nav too. You can plan routes, view them on the maps and follow them via the turn-by-turn instructions.
The map display is surprisingly easy to read, even when on the move, and you’ll have no problem picking out the correct route, which is overlaid in pink. Your next turn is displayed at the top of the screen until you reach it, at which point the next, next turn will be displayed. Tapping the instruction at the top of the page will bring up a list of directions for your current route.
The Edge 800 does support postcodes, but only the first five digits, which means that you won’t get exactly where you need to be unless you know the road name and building number. Unfortunately that information isn’t always available, especially if you’re navigating to an office building or retail establishment. In fact Garmin’s own UK address has no building number, so you couldn’t even take the Edge 800 back to its spiritual home with absolute accuracy. Hopefully Garmin will add seven-digit postcode support in a future update.
There’s an impressive points of interest database too, with everything from restaurants, to hospitals, to petrol stations (imperative when you’re cycling). Of course the petrol stations might be useful, since there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the Edge 800 in a car, as long as you have a passenger to read out the turn-by-turn instructions to you that is.
Given that you’ve also got OS mapping, you can also navigate off road. So, if you fancy doing a coast to coast from Goole to Runcorn, across the Pennines as I once did, it will be a lot easier with an Edge 800 strapped to your bike than it was with a map in my rucksack.
Of course all that data capturing isn’t much use if you can’t do anything with it, so once you’ve finished your ride, you’ll want to login to your Garmin Connect account and upload all the juicy details of your latest trek.
Unlike the high-end Polar devices, there’s no wireless connection or contact pad for data synchronisation. Instead Garmin has opted for a bog standard mini-USB port that connects to your computer via a bog standard mini-USB to USB cable. Although this approach may not be as flashy and technologically impressive as Polar’s systems, it has a couple of major plus points – it works, and even if you lose the bundled cable, you’ve probably got a draw full of viable alternatives.
Once you’ve uploaded your data to Garmin Connect you can paw over it to your heart’s content. There’s no shortage of stats and graphs to look at, from your exercise time, to your heart rate, to your average cadence – the list goes on.
The graphical representations of your ride are always fun to look at, and assuming you’ve got all the right sensors active, you’ll get graphs for your speed throughout the ride, the elevation changes, heart rate, cadence and temperature. It’s all useful stuff and allows you to check your performance over specific points in the ride and also track how today’s performance compares with yesterday’s or last week’s.
You’ll also see your exact route overlaid on a map, but whereas Garmin Connect used to employ Google Maps for this duty, it’s now using Microsoft’s Bing mapping application. The switch in service providers makes little difference to the end user though, and the result is the same. It’s great to see exactly where your route has taken you, especially if you were trying something new or simply exploring.
If you have been exploring and you like the route you discovered, you can save that route as a course in the Edge 800, then next time the device can direct you around that exact route. You can also use other Garmin Connect users’ activities as the basis for new routes. So if you spot someone who’s been riding a route in your area and you fancy trying it, you can simple save it to the Edge 800 and give it a go next time you mount up.
You also get a training calendar, showing you all your activities, while also allowing you to schedule future activities. The calendar view is always useful for tracking how often you’re getting out on the bike and checking up on your progress over time.
There’s no denying that the Garmin Edge 800 is the most advanced and feature rich cycling computer out there right now. The amount of features hidden within this device is simply staggering, so much so that many users may not use many of them on a regular basis, if at all. However, too much functionality is always better than too little. After all, you don’t want to be wishing your cycle computer had a certain feature three months into ownership.
As with the Edge 500, the customisable info screens mean that you can configure the displays to show exactly what you need, while you can also choose to have certain fields larger than others if they’re more important. Also the lap by position feature is one that I wish other manufacturers would cotton onto, because it’s great.
The touch-screen interface makes using the Edge 800 simple, but it also means that the display isn’t quite as bright and vivid as it otherwise would be. This becomes a problem in very bright sunlight, where the display can be quite hard to read, especially when you’re travelling at speed.
The navigation part of the equation works very well indeed, and the turn-by-turn guidance means that arriving at an unfamiliar destination is stress free. However, the lack of seven-digit postcode support is a disappointment, and hopefully something that Garmin will address in an update.
At around £400 online the Edge 800 Performance and Navigation bundle isn’t cheap, but you’re getting a huge amount of kit and functionality for your money. The only question you need to ask yourself is whether you need all that functionality.
If you’re primarily after a GPS based cycle computer for improving your performance and logging all your data, Garmin’s excellent Edge 500
will suit your needs and be kinder to your wallet. But if you think you’ll make good use of the navigation part of the Edge 800, then rest assured that it’s a state of the art cycle computer that will do everything you need it to, and then some.
- Speed & Cadence sensor in the box
- Premium heart rate sensor
- Full GPS speed/distance logging
- Satellite navigation functionality
- Large colour screen
- Touch-screen interface
- Power supply in the box
- Good online portal – Garmin Connect
- Downloadable routes
- Lap by position feature
- Customisable info screens
- It’s not cheap
- Screen hard to see in bright sunlight
- No seven-digit postcode support