Riding with a poorly chosen GPS computer sucks. As an investment, it’s worth making sure you’re well informed so that you buy the right one for you. To make your lives easier, we’ve pitched 9 of the most exciting GPS devices in a head-to-head comparison. So who will come out on top?
What makes a good GPS computer?
There’s huge diversity when it comes to GPS devices, with everything from compact smartwatches to the iPhone-sized Garmin Edge 1030 or even a throwback retro-style bike computer that’s fully up to date with functionality. Recording our rides or getting to our destinations has literally never been so easy or so varied. The good news is that selecting the right model is fairly intuitive–unless, of course, you’d hoped to use your GPS to navigate to the moon.
Most GPS computers are over-engineered for everyday riding. As with your smartphone, this is only really a problem if its function-overkill results in a loss of usability. A GPS unit that is difficult and cumbersome to operate not only costs valuable time but will probably annoy the hell out of you. It needs to be intuitive to use, work rapidly with fast route calculation, have a responsive touchscreen or buttons, as well as faultless visibility in various light conditions and in the dark. If a bike buddy sends you a GPX file route via e-mail moments before you’re about to leave the office for a ride, it should be possible to get it from your smartphone and onto your GPS unit in just a few steps. So beyond the GPS unit, brands are wise to invest in their app development so that it can communicate with the respective operating system of your smartphone without any problems. Are we asking too much?
Navigations must be clear and easy to discern, with a high contrast display. Detail can be crucial when you’re out exploring, but in traffic or tricky situations a minimalist display that can be understood immediately with a brief glance should take precedence. After all, staring at the display for more than a second to see the planned route can be dangerous. When rerouting or at roundabouts, the reaction speed of the computer (plus a good GPS reception) is essential – nothing is more annoying than missing a turn due to a time lag!
Data hounds tend to connect multiple sensors to measure heart rate, power and cadence, all to be uploaded automatically at the end of the ride. This is where an ANT+ interface is important. Since your smartphone is usually present on every ride, some manufacturers also rely on an additional app to display further information, which communicates via Bluetooth.
Maps and display
In the past, pre-installed maps were an important factor to consider before buying, as it could result in subsequent costs if additional maps had to be bought. Fortunately, that problem no longer seems to exist: Wahoo relies on free OpenStreetMap data, while Garmin pre-installs bicycle maps for free. Lezyne doesn’t display a map during navigation at all; instead it displays the route on a white background, combined with instructions at junctions and roundabouts. Smartwatches, like the Apple Watch, use the power of your Smartphone and online services like Google Maps.
How accurate can a GPS unit be?
Its accuracy is dependant on many factors, but mainly it’s about the number of satellites that are actively connected to your unit. Devices that support alternative satellite systems such as GLONASS or Galileo in addition to regular GPS have the advantage of satellite choice. But the performance of the receiver module also influences reception quality, recording accuracy and connection speed.
The test field
The performance features of the current GPS devices could not be more varied, which is perhaps why the price range is equally as drastic, with costs between € 129.99 and € 599.99.
The test criteria
The focus in our group test was on everyday rides, for cyclists who primarily want to record performance data for Strava & co and who occasionally may want to navigate safely in traffic. In everyday life, a GPS unit on a road bike must be as compact as possible, while providing us with the most important data and necessary route information clearly and quickly. Operation and connectivity should be as intuitive and uncomplicated as possible.
Tops & Flops
Which is the best GPS computer?
We were somewhat disillusioned by this group test as some GPS units acted like a throwback from the internet stone age. Given the complexity of the menus on some of the devices, you may legitimately ask yourself whether they were developed for athletes or programming nerds. The neolithic processing speeds and poor usability on others show that manufacturers are trapped in their proprietary operating systems: How is it possible that a device specialising in navigation needs minutes to calculate a route, while a modern smartphone with Google Maps takes care of such processes within seconds? The following also applies to most devices: If you want to understand a device correctly and use all of its functions, you will need some time to familiarise yourself with it.
But of course, it’s not all bad. In optimistic terms, the manufacturers of the reviewed GPS units took various commendable approaches to smartphone connectivity, navigation and usability, with each offering various advantages and disadvantages for their respective intended application.
|Device||Navigation||GPS-Accuracy||GPX-Transfer in clicks1||Route Calculation2|
|Apple Watch Series 3||11*||00:10*|
|Garmin Edge 1030||16||02:34|
|Garmin Edge 820||16||02:58|
|Garmin Fenix 5||16||02:30|
|Lezyne Micro GPS||13||00:32|
|Lezyne Super GPS||13||00:30|
|Wahoo ELEMNT||6||00:23||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||6||00:05|
1 necessary clicks for transfering a GPX file from a smartphone to the GPX computer
2 time needed to calculate a route of 100 km
* via Komoot App
|Device||Battery Runtime||Usability||Design||Value for Money|
|Apple Watch Series 3|
|Garmin Edge 1030|
|Garmin Edge 820|
|Garmin Fenix 5|
|Lezyne Micro GPS|
|Lezyne Super GPS|
|Wahoo ELEMNT||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT|
With the most extensive navigation features in the test field, Garmin validates its three decades worth of experience in the navigation business but has been outpaced by the smartphone era regarding usability and connectivity. At € 599, the new Garmin Edge 1030 is almost as expensive and as big as an iPhone, but processor speed, display resolution and menu navigation are more reminiscent of the Nokia era. While the Edge 1030 performs well, it could not meet expectations in several respects. For € 200 less, the much more compact Garmin Edge 820 offers a comparable package, although you’ll have to compromise on its processing speed, responsiveness of the screen and its readability. The Garmin Fenix 5 is a solidly built and stylish multi-purpose watch with superb versatility, but, alas, it simply can’t substitute a purebred GPS unit.
The Lezyne Super GPS and the Lezyne Micro GPS at € 150 and € 130 were the cheapest models in the group test, and this was noticeable in their usability, display resolution, navigation and finish. With the Micro GPS, Lezyne has taken minimalism to the extreme – an interesting option for road cyclists who primarily want to record data.
Discerning cyclists will like the exoticism of the OMATA, which appeals to the spirit of discovery, refraining completely from navigation in favour of minimalist beauty.
Apple skilfully captures the spirit of the smartphone era with the Apple Watch Series 3, but limits more ambitious attempts at data collection due to the absence of an ANT+ interface.
Wahoo is fully committed to connectivity, and with the ELEMNT BOLT, they show that simple, intuitive operation, lightning-fast smartphone connectivity and simple yet clear route guidance are all you need in everyday riding life.
With the ELEMNT BOLT, Wahoo has succeeded in implementing all this at a fair price, while at the same time revolutionizing the often-discouraging complexity of GPS computers. This great all round package secures not only the Best in Test but also the Best Value.