Garmin Edge 820 GPS review

by Matt de Neef


It’s been a few months now since the launch of the Garmin Edge 820, the latest addition to the GPS brand’s cycling-specific Edge range. So how does the Edge 820 stack up? What’s new in this iteration? And is it worth the upgrade? CyclingTips’ Australian editor Matt de Neef spent some time with the unit and put together the following review.


Initial impressions

The Edge 820 slots into Garmin’s range below the top-of-the-line Edge 1000 but above the Edge 520. It’s the successor to the Edge 810 and, before that, the Edge 800.

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The Edge 820 has the same external dimensions as the Edge 520 (7.3cm x 4.9cm x 2.1cm) and the same sized screen, making it noticeably smaller than the massive Edge 1000. It’s also smaller than its direct predecessor – the Edge 810.

The 820 is controlled by way of a touchscreen and three buttons — an on/off button on the left-hand side, and a start/pause and lap button on the bottom.

The touchscreen seems more responsive than those found on previous instalments in the Edge range (the 800 and 1000 have touchscreens while the 520 does not). Despite these improvements, the touchscreen on the Edge 820 is still a little lacking when compared with any smartphone on the market today.

Flicking left and right between pages is sometimes hit and miss, selecting on-screen buttons often requires several attempts, and using gloves on the touchscreen can be a frustrating experience (see video below).

These criticisms might seem a little unfair — the Edge 820 is little more than half the price of a smartphone — but when the touchscreen you use most is the one on your smartphone, it’s hard not to notice the difference in performance.

The Edge 820’s IPX7 water rating makes it resistant to “Splashes, rain or snow, showering and incidental exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes” but, interestingly, I found that droplets of water (and sweat) are able to activate the touchscreen on occasion.

On one particularly hot ride in Bali recently, beads of sweat from my forehead dropped onto the screen, flicking through several screens and eventually managing to turn off my GPS signal, causing me to lose part of the ride I was recording. I’m not the only one to have run into this issue with Garmin touchscreens.

Battery life on the Edge 820 is a claimed 15 hours — the same as the Edge 520 and Edge 1000. Note that this is reduced significantly if you’re following a course you’ve loaded up (see more below) – on one recent ride the fully charged Edge 820 was drained in less than nine hours of use, only half of which was spent following a course.

Returning features

Many items on the Edge 820 features list have already been seen in existing, proven units in the Edge range. There’s the usual ANT+ connectivity (for connecting power meters, heartrate monitors, cadence sensors and more), Bluetooth connectivity for smartphones (for call and message notifications, and for using the Garmin Connect Mobile app), the combination of GPS and GLONASS (for establishing a satellite connection in a matter of seconds), and a range of performance metrics, such as a V02max calculator, recovery advisor, functional threshold power tracking and cycling dynamics monitoring.

Strava Live Segments also return, having debuted with the Edge 520. LiveTrack rider tracking is also back and playing a bigger role than before.

From LiveTrack to GroupTrack

As a quick refresher, or for those unfamiliar with the system, Garmin’s LiveTrack is a way of allowing others to follow your ride in real-time from the device of their choice. You connect your Garmin Edge unit to your phone via Bluetooth, boot up the Garmin Connect Mobile app, start LiveTrack, then share a link to your ride. Family and friends can then track your progress with regular GPS updates and ride data shared on a map in a web browser. (For more on LiveTrack see our review of the Garmin Edge 510).

With the 820, Garmin has expanded on LiveTrack to deliver what seems to be the device’s biggest selling point: GroupTrack.

The theory behind GroupTrack is that by using this feature, you’ll be able to see, on your Edge 820, exactly where everyone in your riding group is at any given moment. This could be useful if you’re waiting for riders to turn up to your bunch ride, or if you’re on a hilly ride and people are getting dropped.

To get GroupTrack to work you need to ensure each of your riding buddies is a Connection (the Garmin Connect Mobile equivalent of a Facebook friend) and that they have a LiveTrack-compatible Garmin Edge device. Everyone needs to pair their smartphone with their Edge unit, start a LiveTrack and start riding.

With that done, you start a LiveTrack of your own, start your ride and then you’ll be able to see your mates on the Edge 820 map screen as long as they’re within 16km (10 miles). Blue dots on the map indicate that the rider is moving; a red dot indicates they’re standing still.

GroupTrack is undoubtedly a nifty feature but it’s also one that, in my opinion, suffers from the same problems LiveTrack does.

While I like the idea of being able to show my loved ones where I am when I’m riding, the reality is I simply don’t use the feature. Even the minimal effort required to set it up is a deterrent, and even though Bluetooth Smart isn’t as battery-hungry as its predecessors, being caught with a flat phone is enough of a concern that I simply won’t use it, particularly on long rides. Finally, LiveTrack also requires a consistent mobile phone signal; not always a guarantee, particularly if much of your riding is done in remote areas.

To my mind, GroupTrack adds further complexity and more hassle to the pre-ride routine. In addition to setting up your own LiveTrack session, you also need your mates to do the same. And that’s assuming they all have Garmin Edge units that are LiveTrack compatible.

Using GroupTrack the Edge 820 allowed me to see the location of my colleague Jonathan (represented here by a "J"). The blue circle means he's moving.
Using GroupTrack the Edge 820 allowed me to see the location of my colleague Jonathan (represented here by a “J”). The blue circle means he’s moving.

Again, GroupTrack is a neat idea in theory and the promo video above shows some practical use cases. But I suspect that, for the majority of users, this functionality will be used very seldom, if at all.

Incident detection

Another new feature for the Edge 8×0 range is Incident Detection, which Garmin first introduced with the Edge Explorer 1000 last year. The 820 has a built in accelerometer that can detect a collision. If a crash occurs and Incident Detection is set up, the rider’s emergency contact(s) will be notified via email and/or text message with details of the rider’s location.

Incident Detection is easy to configure — the first time you connect your Edge 820 and smartphone via Bluetooth and open Garmin Connect Mobile you’ll be prompted to go through the setup routine and pick emergency contacts from your phone’s contact list. Agree to the terms of use, fill in some basic info and the feature will be on standby whenever the phone and Edge are connected via Bluetooth.

Again, phone battery life is something of a concern, if only a small one, but this is a worthwhile addition to the Edge 820. If it gives you and your loved ones peace of mind, it could well be worth using.

While we didn’t get the chance to test them, it’s worth noting that Garmin’s range of traffic-sensing devices — the Varia Rearview Radar and Varia Smart Bike Lights — are also compatible with the Edge 820.

Maps

As with the Garmin Edge 1000 and Edge 520, the Edge 820 features mapping functionality. But unlike the Edge 520, the Edge 820 comes with usable maps built in. This means no fiddling around to upgrade the unusable basemap that comes pre-loaded — you just turn on the unit and the maps are ready to go.

Mapping and navigation can be accessed from the home screen.
Mapping and navigation can be accessed from the home screen.

The maps that come with the Edge 820 are solid too — there’s plenty of detail and it’s easy to see where you are as you ride along.

Beyond the fact the maps are preloaded, there’s not a whole lot that’s new about the Edge 820’s mapping and navigation capabilities. You can punch in an address and the Edge 820 will find a route for you, you can search for points of interest and do the same, and you can create a course by selecting several points for the Edge 820 to direct you to.

Round-trip routing comes across from the Edge 1000 and remains a nifty feature, particularly if you’re looking to explore some new roads. Simply tell the Edge 820 how far you want to ride and it will calculate several loop rides for you, starting and finishing at a location of your choice (including your current location).

As you’d expect, there’s also the ability to follow a Course by transferring a GPX or TCX file from Strava (or your navigation platform of choice) to the Edge 820. The turn-by-turn navigation here — and whenever you’re following a route the Edge 820 has mapped out for you — is terrific. You’ll get a couple of visual and audio cues when the next turn is coming up, and it’s always easy to tell which way you need to go.

Where the Edge 820 navigation suffers slightly is when you want to zoom in or out, or move the map’s focus around. Unlike with Google Maps on a smartphone, say, where you can pinch and drag your way around the map with ease, the comparatively fiddly touch screen interface on the Edge 820 makes it a little challenging. Any time I wanted to look at a map beyond my immediate vicinity I ended up stopping and pulling out my smartphone — it was simply more convenient.

Again, it might not be fair to compare the touchscreen on a $500 GPS unit to that of an $800 smartphone, but it’s hard not to do so when you’re so used to accessing maps on a smartphone touchscreen.

Pricing

The Garmin Edge 820 retails for a pricey AU$649 (US$399) or AU$799 (US$499) if you want the heartrate strap and speed and cadence sensors that come with the ‘Performance Bundle’. By way of comparison, the Edge 1000 currently retails for AU$749 or AU$849 in the bundle, while the Edge 520 is AU$449 or AU$559.

The prices above are taken from the Garmin online store — prices may differ through third-party online retailers or at your local bike shop.

It’s worth noting, too, that Garmin has a slightly simpler version of the Edge 820 available. The Explorer Edge 820 is tailored more to the touring/exploration market and is US$50 cheaper, while still maintaining most of the features of the Edge 820.

Final thoughts and summary

If there’s one major critique that can be levelled at the Edge 820 is that there’s arguably little here to make this stand out above previous instalments in the Edge range. The biggest new feature, GroupTrack, is probably unlikely to be huge selling-point for the majority of users — it’s more of a nice-to-have rather than a killer app.

Let’s be clear though: the Garmin Edge 820 is a compelling product. It’s a fully featured cycling-specific GPS unit that does almost everything you could want from such a device. As ever, the value proposition of the Edge 820 depends on what you want out of it and whether you feel AU$649 is a fair price for what you’re getting.

If you love the idea of GroupTrack and you want the ability to input addresses and have your cycling GPS guide you around, then the Edge 820 is going to be a solid (if expensive) option. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a device that will record your ride data and help guide you through the occasional course you load up, the Edge 520 is probably going to be a better (and certainly cheaper) option.

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What do each of the ratings criteria above mean? And how did we arrive at the final score? Click here to find out.

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