Three months ago, I replaced my aging Garmin Edge 800 GPS cycling computer with the new Garmin Edge 820. After 52 rides and 1,400 miles, it’s time for an in-depth review.
I’m a data weenie. I was logging my weekly miles all the way back in 2000, and saving GPS tracks of significant rides using a handheld GPS long before GPS tracking was integrated into bike computers. So I’m sensitive to the features, usability, and reliability of my bike computer.
I was really happy with the Edge 800, which I bought when they first came out in 2011. Over the years, Garmin introduced the newer Edge 810 and the larger Edge 1000, plus the smaller Edge 500 and 510, but the 800 was so good that I never felt the need to upgrade.
However, after six years, my Edge 800’s battery had begun to flag, and I was tempted by all the improved features and functions of the new units. Last July, when Garmin released a new unit in the 800 series, I read the reviews like a hawk, and finally picked up my unit in February, after I returned from my five-month stay up in Maine.
I’ll divide this review up into four sections: basic features and things I’m neutral about; features I don’t know much about because I didn’t test them; features I like and am excited about; and the things that disappoint me about the unit. Then the executive summary is at the end.
My biggest problem with my aging Edge 800 was battery life. I need a device that will record GPS data and provide navigational cues through at least a 9-hour 200k ride. I recently completed a 7-hour century ride, and had over 40 percent charge left, which means the Edge 820 can be expected to live up to its spec of 12-hour battery life.
I was a little concerned that the 820 has a smaller screen than the 800. On the other hand, it has better resolution. So far, reading the screen has not been a problem at all.
At a minimum, I need to be able to import GPX-formatted route data from the computer to the unit. No problem with the 820.
I also download all my raw GPS data (Garmin .FIT files) to my computer for archival. Thankfully, the 820 still supports this type of access.
Rather than coming with an SD card slot, this device has a fixed memory capacity of 8 GB. So far that hasn’t been an issue, and I can only see it becoming so if you were to load multiple continents’ worth of map data. Activity .FIT files don’t take up very much space at all.
Sometimes, if you were following a course and deviated from the path, my 800 would simply give up trying to navigate for you. The 820 hasn’t been bad, in that it tries to get you back onto the course.
Some folks have complained about the altimeter being off, or drifting during rides. I haven’t noticed a problem, given the understanding that barometric altimeters have limited accuracy by definition.
One new feature on the 820 is real-time weather alerts. This would be a cool feature, except it only receives major alerts like flash floods. Useful, but only rarely. Given that the device has a live Internet connection through a Bluetooth link to your cellphone, I’d rather see live local radar and notices of impending rain. There’s an app for that in Garmin’s ConnectIQ Store, but I haven’t tried it out yet.
Another new feature is the display of “recovery time” at the end of each ride. Basically, it’s a gratuitous, dumb feature. Recovery varies from person to person, and even a novice rider can sense how long they’ll take to recover from any given effort. I’ve turned that feature off.
One undocumented feature on the Edge 800 was the ability to set the boot screen text that displays when the unit powers up. I had set that to an inspirational message—“Always lead, never follow”—plus my phone number in case the unit was lost. I was happy to learn that the feature still works on the 820.
One evening, I learned that the Edge 820 automatically switches to an inverted-color display at night for better visibility. I’d love to say that’s an improvement, but it’s a feature that was also available on the 800; I had merely turned it off at some point!
The Edge 820 comes with a power saving mode that comes on when the battery reserves start getting low. I haven’t tested it yet.
It also introduces an “incident detection” feature, where it’ll alert a contact if it thinks you’ve crashed. So many other users reported false positives that I have never turned the feature on.
Presumably you can load your own maps onto the unit. That’s a feature that existed on the Edge 800, but I’ve never felt any desire to mess with the maps that it came with. Though it might be a handy thing if you traveled or moved to a different continent…
Although Garmin did away with the idea of bike profiles, you can still set odometer values based on the sensors that are on each bike. Seems like a lot of work, and I don’t need total odometer readings while riding. I can just get that from the laptop.
The most exciting and useful feature that I haven’t had the opportunity to test is the Edge 820’s FE-C indoor trainer integration, which should allow the computer to set the trainer’s resistance level. In addition to using the Zwift social training app, theoretically you can follow a real-world course that you rode, and the unit will alter resistance to simulate the terrain. I’m looking forward to that, but that’ll require a very expensive trainer purchase, which I’ve been delaying.
Let’s start with the obvious. Coming from a seven year old model, the Edge 820 has updated maps, and lots of software updates, both built-in as well as regular firmware updates going forward. It’s nice to be back on a supported platform!
In addition to GPS satellites, the new unit also has the ability to receive signal from the Russian GLONASS constellation, making GPS locks faster, more accurate, and stable. I suspect this is also the reason why the regular signal stops/dropouts/starts I used to have near heavy infrastructure (e.g. bridges, railways) on the Edge 800 are almost completely gone.
With a Bluetooth connection to my phone, the Edge 820 will display incoming SMS messages, and notifications for incoming calls. It works well, and has been a nice convenience, given how many hours I’m on the bike.
For ultra distance rides, you can plug the Edge 820 into a portable battery pack and it’ll charge itself, while continuing to record ride data. To be honest, I think my Edge 800 could do this, but I never bothered to test it. However, I tested the 820 for this review, and it worked well.
With my Edge 800, after a ride I had to connect the device to my laptop and manually kick off a synchronization job to upload my data to Garmin Connect, then manually upload to Strava, as well. The 820 will use Bluetooth or Wifi to automatically upload ride data to both sites without a wired connection. Very convenient, especially when you’re away from home at a multi-day event.
Garmin has created an open API called ConnectIQ for developers to add their own apps and custom data fields to the unit. A favorite is the Strava Live Suffer Score data field, which displays how hard your ride is. I’ve got a great idea for my own custom data field, but setting up the required Windows dev environment is a huge bother.
The Edge 820 also will store your favorite Strava road segments and display a countdown and timer when you are on them, allowing you to measure your effort against your PR or the KoM holder in real time. It’s a cool feature, except for the discouraging Sad Trombone sound it makes when the record-holding time finishes before you do…
With an extra bit of hardware, the Edge 820 will communicate with your Shimano Di2 electronic shifting groupset. That allows me to display which chainring and cog I’m in (both numerically and graphically), as well as the system’s current battery level. It’ll beep when you’re at your absolute highest and lowest gears, and give you a text alert if the Di2 battery goes below 25 percent charge. On top of all that, all your shifting data gets added to your ride logs, which you can analyze later through sites like di2stats.com.
The touch screen is really poor… nearly unusable. Every interaction with the unit must be very deliberate, and often repeated. My unit is barely tolerable, but many people have simply given up and returned theirs for a refund. It’s terrible.
Scrolling and zooming the map are incredibly slow. Like, almost unusably slow. If there’s one thing a mapping GPS should get right…
Loading and calculating routes is even worse! If I have a stored GPS breadcrumb track, it shouldn’t take upwards of five minutes for the unit to begin offering navigation cues. Why would it take even longer than the Edge 800?
When I first started using the unit, it spontaneously turned itself off several times. Fortunately, after a little while, that stopped happening.
Along with SMS and incoming call notifications, it would be nice if the unit offered incoming email notifications, as well. Missed opportunity.
I had a lot of trouble setting my Max Heart Rate. By default, the unit will override any number you specify with whatever it gets from a heart rate sensor. But since HRM straps are notorious for occasionally giving ludicrously high readings (e.g. above 220 BPM), it kept resetting itself until I shut off the auto setting and entered a fixed HR max.
Presumably, the Edge 820 supports Live Track, where you can send a URL to a friend, and they can visit a site that shows where you are in real time. In my experience, the data connection to the phone is too fragile, and I’ve never gotten Live Track to work… not even once. Both Google Maps’ Location Sharing feature and the Glympse app work far better.
Then there’s Group Track, where you and your riding buddies can presumably “Live Track” each other, with the head unit displaying the locations of your other riding buddies in real time. Even if I had other riding buddies with compatible head units (not very likely), the fact that it depends entirely on the utterly non-functional Live Track feature means I can’t use it anyways.
That cool Shimano Di2 integration I talked about above took *way* more time, effort, and money than it should have. First, to get the Di2 to talk to the Garmin, I knew I had to order and add a tiny wireless transmitter and a cable to my Di2 system, plus the special tool to connect the cable. When that didn’t work, I learned that I also had to order and replace my old battery mount. Tiring of the runaround when that didn’t work, I brought it in to the bike shop, where they individually updated the firmware on every piece of my Di2 setup. That didn’t work, either, so I ordered a new front junction box, plus two more new cables. When those came in, we installed them and did two more whole rounds of firmware updates during several phone calls with Shimano support. Then we finally had to pair the Di2 transmitter with the Garmin, and iron out a few minor bugs in the system (not reading battery level, thinking it had 11 sprockets rather than 10). In the end, it took a couple months, three trips to the LBS, a few calls to Shimano support, seven new parts from four separate orders, and an extra $450 in parts and labor to set up, just for my head unit to display what gear I’m in. Had I known that at the beginning, I never would have bothered.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the unit mostly works, and is generally okay. It’s a good step up from my aging Edge 800. I like the auto-upload, custom data fields, Di2 integration, phone and text message notifications, and Strava Live Segments. And I’m hoping that the FE-C trainer integration works well. But none of those are must-haves, so I wouldn’t say I’m blown away by the new features.
On the other hand, a lot of people really hate the unit, and I can understand why. The touch interface is terrible, basic functions such as loading routes and map data are ridiculously slow, and key features like Live Track, Group Track, and incident detection simply don’t work.
While Garmin enjoyed a market-leadership position in GPS cycling computers for several years, riders who are frustrated with Garmin’s lack of responsiveness are turning to other vendors, now that quality alternatives are available like the Wahoo Element Bolt.
By all measures, the Edge 820 should have continued Garmin’s domination of the GPS cyclocomputer market. I really hope they have learned the drawbacks of releasing such a flawed product and do a better job next time. In the meantime, hopefully they’ll keep issuing firmware updates that fix the Edge 820’s broken features and provide more compelling functionality.
It’s still a good unit, but it’s definitely not the category-redefining product that I had hoped it would be.