The battery in my current GPS bike computer, a Wahoo ELEMNT, has started failing. It never had an excessively long life, but it’s dropped to under seven hours. Most of the year that’s ample, but right now I’m doing extremely hilly rides that can take seven hours of moving time, plus stopped time.
When the ELEMNT dies, it doesn’t warn you — it just shuts off, and won’t turn back on again, come hell or high water. Then, when you get home and plug it in, it starts the ride up again, recording time and distance miles from where it died. Sometimes the route is corrupted, so you lose most of the ride data, too.
In short, not only does the ELEMNT die unexpectedly, but it does so inelegantly. This has plagued me the last two weeks, and I’m worried that I won’t be able to use it for my big ride next month.
So I’ve started looking at a replacement. I see two potential options:
The way I see it, it’s really a choice between hardware and software.
Garmin is, at heart, a hardware company. They make maps and devices to display maps. Their bike computers grew from mostly displaying maps to offering all sorts of other features, some of them very cool. They excel at maps and routing, and produce a very solid quality piece of hardware. But Garmin has always struggled with buggy software and putting out features that kinda work sometimes, but sometimes not. You have to manage some stuff, like routes and third-party syncing, through their companion website. Additionally, their configuration and screen setup is all on the device itself, a cumbersome method that requires a lot of taps to navigate through menus at times.
Wahoo, on the other hand, is a software company. Their first bike computer was unashamedly a smartphone peripheral, requiring a smartphone for data processing and essentially just being a screencast for the smartphone app.
The ELEMNT really is a stand-alone GPS device that processes ride data itself, but where Wahoo really innovated was on the setup paradigm. Instead of tapping through a zillion menus on the device itself, you manage and configure screens, user profile data, sensors, and integrations on the ELEMNT though an elegant and friendly smartphone app. I switched to the Wahoo after one too many Garmin failures, and the app blew me away. I also liked the fact that I don’t have to log in to some other website (like Garmin Connect) to add peripherals, load routes, or sync routes with third-party sites. Once configured, syncing happens automatically through wifi – super handy.
The actual device, however, was several steps down from Garmin. It has a plain black and white screen, which, although easier to read than a Garmin, looks old-fashioned (I’ve heard the ROAM introduces color, but sparingly). The maps and on-device navigation, frankly, stink or are non-existent. I handle this by loading RideWithGPS routes, which provide all the street and elevation data for the ELEMNT to display.
Now, I bought my Wahoo something like three or four years ago, so some things that were cutting-edge then are standard now. I know Garmin has continued to improve their devices and offer more cool features and integrations. Wahoo… not so much. The ROAM is their next big thing, and everything is the same except they added color and dipped their toes into mapping and on-device route generation. From what I’ve read, these features are decent, but not at the price point Wahoo wants.
Even so, I still prefer the Wahoo paradigm. I don’t want to go back to Garmin’s klunky UI. Frankly, I’m not excited about either the Garmin or the Wahoo. I don’t care to replace my current GPS for the price and features of either new device.
In conclusion: Meh. Maybe I can baby my current Wahoo along long enough for something really compelling to come out.