By Rob Kortus
Price: Garmin Edge 800 - $449.00; City Navigator North America NT Map DVD - $79.99
Source: REI, Bike Shops, other retail stores, online
Weight: 3.5 oz. (98.0 g)
Warranty: One year
How obtained: Purchased
RBR Sponsor: No
Tested: 100+ hours; 1,200+ miles
Top-End Cycling Navi System Loaded with Features
I purchased the Edge 800 as a stand-alone unit — with neither the bundle that includes a heart rate monitor/cadence sensor, nor the "navigation bundle." (I already had a Garmin cadence sensor and HR monitor from an existing unit I own.) I did, however, purchase the Garmin City Navigator maps separately at an additional cost. The maps come in a downloadable version, DVD version or SDC card version (the basic map install that comes with the unit does not have city streets and cannot use turn guidance).
The unit is ready to go out of the box, at a weight of 3.5 ounces (99 grams), and includes a quick start guide. Once you turn the unit on for the first time, the quick start guide will take you through the setup process, which is quite simple.
The Edge 800 is extremely easy to mount (on the stem or handlebar). No brackets, wires, tie straps, screws, etc. Just the mounting plate and two rubber O-rings (see photo). To install and remove the unit, just "twist and click" from a 90 degree position into the mounting plate — it's that simple! Over time, I recommend inspecting the rubber O-rings. Although they are industrial strength, they can and will dry rot eventually.
Easy-to-Read, Customizable Screens
I found the screen (a 2.6-inch, 6.6-cm, touchscreen) easy to read during both sunny and cloudy days, even when wearing my polarized prescription sunglasses. The touchscreen worked effectively, not only with half-finger gloves but also with full-finger gloves. The screen itself was clear and sharp. I never had any issues with pressing the touchscreen functions to navigate, but I had to make additional swipe attempts to effectively use the touchscreen functions that required swiping the finger across the screen (like with smart phones and tablets).
The Edge 800 has six screens available, including three customizable data screens (up to 10 data points per screen). The three data screens can be customized to show about 70 different data fields. A small sampling includes: time, speed, distance, time of day, total ascent, total descent, grade, heading, elevation, heart rate, cadence, power meter, lap speed, lap distance, vertical speed or calories. The remaining three screens are: One map screen, one altitude screen, and one virtual rider screen.
Navigation and Mapping are Great Features
The turn guidance is one of the primary reasons for my Edge 800 purchase, along with the touchscreen and moving map functions. A beep warns you that a turn is coming up. A quick glance down at the unit will show either an arrow or the actual words "left" or "right". One issue I found was that making multiple street turns quickly can cause the GPS to lag behind a bit. That said, the Edge 800 responds quickly to wrong turns via a beep and display message. Once back on course, it will advise you "course found."
You can generate your own course or ride a previously saved course. There are several websites to generate a course or upload your Garmin data workouts (connection is via a USB cable, provided). Garmin has its own free site called Garmin Connect. I primarily use Strava, however, because this site allows other riders (friends/colleagues/pros) to see my data and allows riders to virtually compete against each other.
As for manually designing your own routes, you can use Garmin Training Center (Base Camp), but I prefer Bike Route Toaster. This site is a lot more user-friendly and much more efficient to generate a route and then convert the necessary file to upload directly to the Edge 800. Expect more time on the computer generating a route using the Garmin Training Center. Note: When the Edge 800 memory is full, it will not automatically delete or overwrite your history. Rather, it will alert you with a display message to manually delete data.
Numerous Other Features, Long Battery Life
The virtual rider is a pretty cool concept. Whether in a time trial or breakaway, you are riding against another (virtual) rider on your screen. The graphics show two riders -- you and your virtual partner. Your virtual partner rides at the specific pace you set. It reveals the "time behind/ahead" and the "distance behind/ahead." Want your virtual partner to go faster, slower? Simply press the + or - on the touchscreen at the top of the page. I like to imagine myself in a breakaway and the peloton is attempting to catch me before I cross the finish line. It's a lot of fun!
Alerts (the unit displays a message and an audible beep) can be programmed for time, distance and calories. Advanced alerts can be programmed based on heart rate, cadence and power (must have compatible ANT+power meter).
How many times have you began your ride and realized a mile or two down the road that you had forgotten to start the timer? Not a problem with the Edge 800. As soon as movement is detected, a beep and message is displayed asking if you want to start your time. (If you plan to use turn guidance, however, prior to starting your ride, you must manually turn on this function.)
Other nice features: Auto pause, which pauses the timer when you stop (great for routes with numerous stoplights); auto scroll, which automatically scrolls through all of your data pages while the timer is running. I prefer the manual mode, as I tend to stay on the moving map the majority of the time.
Battery life seems to be fairly long, and accurately measured. 15 hours is the advertised time for the lithium-ion battery at full charge. My longest time running the Edge 800 has been 7+ hours, and my battery indication was at approximately 50% available power remaining. You can maximize battery life during rides by adjusting a couple of settings: Reduce your backlight brightness, backlight timeout time, and Auto power down (after 15 minutes of inactivity).
A Couple of Caveats, and the Bottom Line
Like a desktop or laptop computer occasionally will do, the Edge 800's operating system froze 3 times during the 100+ hours of use during the review period: The unit froze when I programmed the GPS to take me to a gas station; while riding on a pre-programmed route; and when I was programming it to "go home" from a previously entered route. Each time, I was able to reboot the operating system back to the original page.
CAUTION! I found myself occasionally distracted from my situational awareness by glancing down/playing with the touchscreen. These instances took place when riding a specific training route and not using the turn guidance audio. Therefore, when using the unit for the first couple of times, I highly recommend that you test the unit where there is no vehicle traffic, pot holes, etc. You can expect that, while you're getting used to using the Edge 800, you may well experience the same distraction. Be prepared, and stay safe!
As with most cycling accessories these days, you will find imperfections here and there (with the Edge 800, my quibbles have been with screen swiping and OS freeze). But, overall, I have greatly enjoyed this comprehensive training and navigational unit. If you're in the market for a top-end cycling satellite navigation system with touchscreen capability and color/moving map, the Garmin Edge 800 might be just what you are looking for.