A couple years ago when I bought my Garmin 500 I had been extremely impressed by this remarkable device and was keen to try out the Garmin 800 as soon as it went to market. Unfortunately it was difficult to get a test unit from Garmin I ended up going through one of their distributors, First Endurance, who happily gave me one to try since June of this year. The reason I was so keen to try this Garmin 800 unit was because I was heading over to Europe in July and if you’re directionally challenged like I am, the mapping functionality was very appealing.
I won’t go through the whole feature set of the Garmin 800. You can read the product specs for that and there’s a very good in-depth review by DC Rainmaker here. In short, the 800 is an excellent successor to the Garmin 705 with additional touch-screen functionality and ANT+. If you already own an Edge 500, you’ll be familiar with the menu options and functionality (minus the maps).
I’ve enjoyed all the features of my compact Garmin Edge 500, but the new form factor of the 800 had caught my eye and having maps on this sleek unit was enticing. I never cared for the looks of the bulky 705 and that was the single reason it never caught my interest.
The full-colour backlit display is 160×240 pixels, which is large enough to make the mapping functionality useful. It’s more than large enough for every other display function. The resistive 37x55mm touchscreen requires pressure to activate the on-screen buttons and can be used with gloves. It’s not like the Apple iPhone where you can use figure gestures however (swiping, zoom pinching, etc).
Ease of Use
The two primary things I used the Garmin 800 for was the Training Display (distance, speed, time, power, etc) and Mapping. The Virtual Training Partner is a cool novelty, but I have no desire to use it.
I find every function I use on the 800 very intuitive and easy to navigate. There is one physical button on the side of the unit and another two buttons on the front for lap/reset and start/stop. Everything else is accessed via the touch screen. The touch screen buttons are fairly user friendly, but while riding I prefer to feel my way around the unit and press hard-buttons to navigate around some of the major menus. The only thing missing here would be a next/previous screen hard-button.
The one thing I really like about the training display screen is that you can press down on any field to select another function to display. This reduced the need for multiple screens to show different fields (like the Garmin 500 does), but you can still have them if you want (up to 5).
The map menus are easy to navigate. The only difficulty is that the navigation route lines presented on the screen are sometimes hard to differentiate at a glance from other map features such as rivers, roads and boundaries. When navigating to a certain destination, the unit does a decent job at notifying you on the screen if a turn is coming up and it will zoom the map to an appropriate scale. I’d be lying if I said that it was anywhere as good as a car navigation unit, but it always got me to where I want to go (sometimes not the most ideal route, but pretty good considering I was mostly on the backroads and goat tracks of Europe). I would never put 100% trust into any GPS and always have a map with me when I’m going on an epic adventure ride. There’s no doubt that this GPS unit gives me much more confidence when heading out into the unknown.
Touch screen zoom and navigation of the maps are not easy to perform while riding and there’s lots left to be desired with how this is done. You probably shouldn’t be doing this while riding anyway. A device that hosts so many features in such a small package will always have compromises and I can’t suggest a way to make things better.
The tour groups I joined along with on the Tour de France (TopBike Tours and BikeStyle Tours) each had Garmin 800’s for all their guests to use. Various guides told me that these were units were lifesavers on trips like this. They would set the daily ride routes on each of the units and set everyone free to ride at their own pace. From what I understand there are some glitches with the pre-mapping software which takes some getting used to, but I’m not familiar with this enough to comment.
I can get about 12hrs of battery life out of the Garmin 800. For my everyday routine this would last me about a week. During a trip like the Tour de France it would only last me a day or two because of heavy use.
Installation is a piece of cake but with a large unit like this I’m not comfortable that it’s secure while on rough terrain – i.e. mountain biking. However, other people I’ve spoken with had no problems with the unit falling off over some unforgiving trails.
One problem I did hear about from multiple people is that their units got waterlogged during wet conditions and stopped working. As you can see from the photo above, the flap sticking out on the right-hand side is the USB slot (and memory card slot behind it). The rubber flaps don’t seal very well and are quite finicky to get into position. This is probably where the moisture gets in.
You can buy the 800 in a couple different bundles. The basic package includes the head unit, mounts, USB cable and AC adaptor (RRP A$449). The “Performance and Navigation” bundle includes extra gadgets such as a HR monitor, speed/cadence sensor, memory cards preloaded with local maps, mounts, charger and AC adaptor (RRP A$649).
If you buy the basic bundle you’ll need to purchase street maps separately and download onto a micro-SD card that simply slides into the unit. Additional country maps can be purchased from Garmin here.
- Big buttons, easy navigation, good user interface for the most part
- Sleek form factor
- need to keep an eye on the battery life. 12hrs is about 3-4 rides.
- navigation route is sometimes hard to navigate at a glance from other map features such as rivers, roads and boundaries
- could use a couple more hard-buttons