by Lars Hundley
- Touch screen as good as any high quality phone
- Hardware buttons on the sides for easy use while cycling
- Designed for constant upgrades, so it gets better over time
- Gorilla Glass 4 screen with a matte coating
- Built in navigation and routing.
- IP67 water-resistance rating so you can ride it worry free in the rain
- Bluetooth and ANT+ lets you connect it to all your existing devices like heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, etc.
- Connects with a Garmin style mount, and comes with a Barfly to attach it if you don’t already have one.
- Up to 8 or 10 hours of battery life, depending on screen brightness settings and sensors.
- Works with Garmin Varia rear radar units
- Displays Di2 gearing.
- Doesn’t do Strava live segments yet.
- So many features that there’s some initial complexity in figuring out some functions the first time you use them.
- No sound.
- A little heavier than other bike computers at 168 grams
Price: $499 (Currently $399 on the site.)
Source: Company website
How obtained: Sample from company
RBR Sponsor: No
Every now and then you run into a product that you never knew existed and wonder why you’d never heard of it before. That’s what happened with me and the Hammerhead Karoo bike computer. A Facebook ad immediately drew me in because of the amazing looking color screen. I contacted Hammerhead, and they sent me a Karoo GPS computer for review.
I’ve been using the Hammerhead Karoo over the eight weeks or so, and I’d say that it’s the best GPS bike computer I’ve used yet. I’ve gone through several Garmin models over the years, and was most recently riding with the Wahoo ELEMNT, which I was very happy with.
Taking the Karoo out of the box, it was very easy to set up and get going. The operating system that runs the Karoo is based on Android. Although the computer itself does not seem like a phone, the user interface is very similar to using a smart phone and you are instantly at home.
Similarly to setting up a new phone or tablet, it asks you to connect to wifi. Once you choose your network and type in the wifi password, you go through the short steps of setting up a Hammerhead account, and then you’re ready to ride.
You can also set it up to connect to Strava, which is as quick and easy as logging into your Strava account through the device. I had no problems setting it up.
The Karoo immediately recognized both my Polar Bluetooth heart rate monitor and my Bluetooth Wahoo cadence sensor. It also synced up right away with an old ANT+ Motorola heart rate monitor I had sitting around.
What Comes in the Box
If you already have a mount on your bike that works with a Garmin bike computer, then you’re all set with the Karoo. It’s the same style of mount, so it just goes right on. If you don’t have a mount, then you’re still in luck because it comes with a nice Barfly mount and the Allen key to install it.
There’s also a Micro USB cable in the box, which you use to charge it.
Worried about your fancy bike computer falling off your bike and getting hurt or lost? There’s also a lanyard included in the box that you can set up so that if it ever comes off it won’t fall to the ground. I have never bothered with a lanyard because I haven’t lost a computer yet, but Sheri uses one and has saved her Garmin from hitting the ground, so it’s probably a good idea to use it.
Setting Up Data Screens
Like with a Garmin or Wahoo bike GPS computer, you can set up your screen to display exactly the ride information that you want. I like my default screen to show a lot of information, so I have speed, distance, ride time, time of day, average speed, cadence, heart rate and temperature.
But I also added a much simpler screen for when I’m doing a hard group ride that only shows speed, distance, ride time and heart rate. With fewer fields, each field is much larger on the screen, and you can look down and see at a glance the information that is important to you.
You can set up multiple screens and just swipe between them at will when you’re riding. So you could set it up where you’re looking at the GPS map as you are navigating somewhere and then swipe over to a specific workout screen when you start your ride. At any point, you’re only a swipe away from a different view if you change your mind.
There is also the ability to set up multiple profiles, so you could set up one profile for your mountain bike and one for your road bike, with the different typical screens that you use for each one always ready to go. That way you aren’t looking at blank power meter and cadence data on your mountain bike rides, for example.
Visual Data Fields for Averages
Since the Karoo has a full color high resolution screen, Hammerhead was able to add some really cool flourishes. For example, on the average speed field, there’s a little red, yellow or green dot that appears to the side of your speed that gives you an idea of how you’re riding compared to the current average.
The heart rate function has a similar feature, where your heart rate has a color circle around it that is red, yellow or green, depending on your bpm and how you set up your heart rate zones. That means you can glance down during a ride and get a quick idea of whether you’re in the right zone without having to see the exact heart rate.
The same feature works for other functions like average cadence or average wattage if you have connected a cadence sensor or a power meter. Whether it is a big circle or a dot depends on how many data fields you have chosen to feature on your screen. If there’s room, you’ll get the big circle, and as the display field gets smaller it changes to a dot.
One of the cool features I like about the Karoo is that you can use either the hardware buttons on the side of the device or the touch screen itself to do a lot of things like start a ride, swipe between screens, etc. That comes in handy while you’re riding.
On the top left side of the Karoo, there are two buttons with ridges, and one smooth button. The smooth button lets you put the screen to sleep if you click it once, or gives you the option of shutting down or rebooting if you hold the button down. The buttons with ridges take you between screens. One button takes you in one direction through all the screens you set up, and the other button rotates through in the opposite direction.
On the bottom right side of the Karoo, there are two more ridged buttons. The very bottom button is your lap button if you are riding intervals, etc. And the button above gives you the option of starting a ride, pausing and unpausing it, saving it to your activities, or adding a new navigation route.
The buttons are well thought out, and easy to feel when you’re riding so that you never have to look down if you don’t want to.
Yes, It Works in the Bright Sunlight
One of my concerns before receiving it was that it wouldn’t be visible in direct sunlight and I wouldn’t be able to see the computer on sunny afternoon rides. Many other GPS bike computers use simpler LCD screens that are black and white with lots of contrast.
Fortunately, Hammerhead has done a good job with this. You have plenty of brightness control, as well as an auto-brightness setting. And they used a matte screen instead of a shiny screen like many smart phones, which is a big improvement when you’re out in the sun.
Navigating and Importing Routes
You can create routes directly on the Karoo, or you can import route files from other sites like Strava and Ride With GPS. They also support a number of other sites like Trailforks, if you are a mountain biker.
I was able to easily import rides from both Strava and Ride With GPS using their web based dashboard on my home computer. Once you import them and set them up on the web dashboard, they will automatically sync with the Karoo itself the next time you turn it on and connect to wifi.
If you go off course when you’re riding a route, it will automatically reroute you to get you back where you’re supposed to be.
I live in Dallas where elevation isn’t really an issue, but if you live someplace with a lot of hills or mountains, the Karoo has a cool looking elevation graph so that you can see all the elevation changes on your current ride and how many feet you’ve climbed so far.
Roadmap to the Future
Since the Karoo is built on Android, there are a lot of options to keep extending its abilities with new updates. Hammerhead even keeps a page that lists what they are currently working on, along with their recently released features, short term, medium and long term plans.
Already since I have been using the Karoo over a relatively short period of weeks, Hammerhead has made a major upgrade to the navigation function, where you load an entire state or other geographic area (or multiple states / small countries, etc.) directly onto your device. Where previously I’d have to choose an area on the map to preload, the update just let me choose all of Texas in one go.
They also introduced a touchscreen lock recently after getting feedback that raindrops could trick the screen into thinking you were touching it in certain situations.
October 2019 Updates
The Hammerhead Karoo now offers compatibility with the Garmin Varia rear radar unit, and also has the capacity to display your Di2 gearing.
I’m very impressed with the Karoo and like it a lot. At $499, it’s $100 cheaper than the flagship Garmin 1030. The touchscreen is as sensitive (in a good way) and works as well as any smart phone But the hardware buttons are so well thought out that you don’t even need to use the touch screen while you’re riding if you don’t want to.