We all love a bit of performance data and there’s nothing like looking at your progress on a graph to make you feel good about your cycling! Of course bike computers can do a lot more than just record your speed and distance though and the new Garmin Edge 820 is one of those that is bristling with features and technical wizardry.
It doesn’t take a lot of time researching cycling computers to come the the conclusion that Garmin are absolutely at the top of the pile. They produce a very wide range of cycle computers at all price points and with varying levels of technical complexity and they are well known for their ease of use, reliability and for being at the forefront of new technology. The Garmin Edge 820 is one of the most advanced computers that Garmin make with only the Edge 1000 above it in in the family tree.
This makes the Edge 820 a serious bit of cycling kit, it really does have all the bells and whistles and for the serious cyclist who demands as much data and technological support as possible the Edge 820 is the perfect cycling companion.
Garmin have even shaved a few ounces of the total weight of the previous Edge 810 and reduced the unit’s size. The 810 weighs 98g and the 820 67.7g – it’s probably the amount of weight you could save by not having a large slice of cake in the cafe stop half way round your ride but this computer isn’t really designed for Sunday morning leisurely group rides – it’s more of your muscles and metal pounding training companion for the serious performance rider or the rider who is massively into data and tracking.
Let’s face it though the Garmin Edge 820 pretty much does everything apart from cycle the bike and eat the cake for you!
So, let’s dive into a bit more detail and have a look at what the Edge 820 can actually do. First of all you need to know that it comes in two flavours the “Standard” version and the less expensive “Explore” version which doesn’t have all of the performance data options. There are also some “bundle” kits which add in the various sensors (eg cadence and heart rate) that you might well want to use. The 820 is fully ANT compliant though so any ANT device should work wirelessly with it.
Obviously one of the most important features of a bike computer is that it helps you find where you are going and the Garmin 820 does a great job here. It can create routes from scratch which is really helpful if you are riding in an area that you don’t know and you can also download a GPX or CRS file of a route from Strava or any GPS route site. The directions are clear and accurate but do sometimes become a bit too cluttered with information particularly bearing in mind that the screen isn’t particularly big.
The screen itself is high resolution and touch sensitive and, whilst being great in terms of a bike computer still isn’t as clear or as responsive as you would find on most reasonable smart phones. This does seem a bit poor as you would expect, on a unit of this price, for things to be on a par but it seems not to be so for the moment. However the screen continues to be touch sensitive when wet and the display is clear and bright, even in difficult lighting conditions – dappled sunlight for instance – and it has an auto brightness feature that works really well.
The computer is apparently waterproof down to a depth of one meter for ten minutes. Awesome for some of the winter bike rides I’ve been on recently and also fantastic if you drop it down the toilet and it takes ten minutes to find it!
You will also notice, particularly on initial set up, that there are numerous menus and sub menus to navigate. Again this is common with bike computers but for anyone used to the more intuitive design of many smart phone devices it will feel a bit clunky and retro. Some bike computers have a companion app that you can use on your computer or tablet to make life a bit easier but not with the Edge 820.
In order to know where it is the Edge 820 uses dual satellite technology in terms of GPS and also GLONASS – the idea here being that two are better than one and it will never get lost! (I have to admit to feeling that two map readers on a journey is never a good idea!) Most reports seem to say that this works well and the satellite signal is found and retained easily whilst other reports do say that the signal is lost when the unit goes under trees or clouds. Not good!
Keeping track and safety
One of the coolest features of the Garmin Edge 820 is the GroupTrack feature which allows you to keep track of up to 50 other riders within a 10 mile radius of where you are. This would be fantastic if you are out on a group ride and you want to know where everyone is, track the group’s progress and make sure that no one else gets lost! (or you just like stalking other cyclists and gloating at how much faster you are!) However do bear in mind that everyone in the group would need to have a Garmin Connect account to make this work and not everyone does!
I was particularly taken though by the built in accelerometer that can detect if you have had a crash and will automatically send a message to your emergency contact. This does rely on the 820 being connected to your mobile phone and there being a mobile phone signal though! Live track also allows your friends/stalker/partner to know exactly where you are and worry about you in real time.
Connectivity and performance data
This is where the Garmin Edge 820 really comes into it’s own. You can basically connect it to anything and everything (although bear in mind that you will need extra sensors like a heart rate monitor strap for example to use that feature) including your phone, Garmin’s own Varia products and probably NASA’s control panel as well.
The Varia feature is particularly awesome and gives you access to such features as having your stats relayed into your Varia sunglasses and even showing you how close cars are behind you via the Varia rear lights. These are obviously optional extras but I’m feeling a prickle of geeky excitement just thinking about them – how cool would those glasses be (think Iron Man!)
Other connections allow you to collect data on everything from cadence, heart rate, power output, temperature, atmospheric pressure, speed, distance etc etc. There is also the option to add training programmes as well and the 820 will even have a go at calculating your VO2max and you can input your training zones. It’s worth noting that the 820 is also compatible with the higher range electronic gears like the Shimano Ultegra Di2.
Garmin Edge 820 Conclusions
The 820 is pretty much the total bike computer and it does as much as any bike computer can do at the moment and it does it all extremely well and with a great deal of style as well. It is feature packed, to the extent that, for some riders, it might well be overkill and if you are not motivated and excited by data it could all become a bit overwhelming. However, if you are serious performance cyclist you cannot really get a better computer.
On the less positive side there have been some early bugs with the software although recent units and firmware updates have addressed this. The 820 is small and not all users will appreciate this and , even for a computer at this price level the touch screen isn’t as good as on a good quality smart phone.
However, in terms of bike computer technology at the moment the Garmin edge 820 is pretty much as good as it gets and on that basis it come highly recommended.