Sunday, October 08, 2017

Wahoo makes me smile, Garmin made me angry -- a review Wahoo Element

So at least for the time being I made the move from Garmin to Wahoo (Element Bolt in this case, but the all run the same software). And I by far do not regret it any tiniest bit. As a long term Garmin user, I think I can say that for sure -- used already a Garmin E-Trex Vista in 2002 to track rides, overlay on maps all by "hand" with ancient Linux GPS/mapping tools -- here a old imported MTB ride from 2002 on Strava, just for fun:

In the following years I used Garmins like the 305, 705, 500, 510, I loved the old and reliable 705 even with Topo map, I still have it and it still works!! -- just so out dated and slow -- it even got a 2nd battery -- I replaced it myself, super easy.

The 500 was just fine and simple, but I needed a bit more and at least a "follow the red string/line" navigation, not a much bigger device so. Never tried the expensive 1000 or so...
Then I got the 510 -- all fancy Bluetooth, phone connection auto upload features, route based navigation (no map back ground) and it had a good 12+h battery life. Fine. It worked kind of, basic tracking most the time performed OK. But it had it's hiccups and many down sides:

Starting with "no control buttons" beyond start/stop/power, in particular the page switch only accessible via fiddling on the so poor working touch screen. Most the time some thing else get's triggered, and it's horrible slow -- not to say impossible on rugged terrain + dangerous distracting for too long. However, I got used to that and used it for a few years.

But hey, how cool is the auto upload via phone, any where, no computer needed. If, if there only won't be that many failures or all those non obvious situations when it simply refuses to upload and fails numerous times until it eventually -- after ten or more tedious attempts and restarts, ...  -- get's that darn route online. In particular with temporary or bad data connection at the time of "stopping" the ride it seams to have major struggles since ever -- even if shortly after hooked up to high speed internet via the phone...
Some times this annoyance nearly made me to toss that thing into the garbage -- when simply plugging it in and uploading would be 100x faster to get the upload done.

And updates, updates, I stopped counting... but they never seamed to fix those old issues but adding new features for gadgets I do not use.

Also the messages, even simple and correct, some times just feel annoying or popping up at times making no sense any more. Weather/storm alerts for next day -- who cares riding today? Or beeping and telling you to press start after starting to ride while already pressed start previously...?!?

Also it seamed some thing went wrong over time with it's file system or memory -- may be have to blame MAC-OSX (what tends to go sleep when briefly walking away while Garmin is plugged in and when awakened it stupidly complains "device unplugged while in use or so" -- even it's still plugged in), but can not say for sure. However, it's latest feat: All stored routes were gone, plus uploading a new route works and  I can use it right away after turning on, but after that, next power cycle, it's all gone. Needless to say -- I tried all kind of master/resets/etc. -- it wiped all settings, factory defaults,  I adjused my pages numerous times again, eventually gave on on fiddling with it again and just used it as is was after that -- nothing fixed it. Even ended up making route/turn notes on paper as I really needed it while on travel. See here:

And a few times -- it just simply shut off while riding. No pressing any button at all. Or freezing numerous times, only a forced "long power off" press helps to re-awaken it. loosing ride data eventually. Or saving a ride after pressing stop "for ever"... frequently happened.

So, that finally let to the need to have a new GPS computer. Some research, reading reviews, talking to cycling buddies, ... it seamed even new or "bigger" Garmins still have similar issues.

Long debating short -- made a pick with the "Wahoo Element". Lucky the Wahoo mount is not so different form the Garmin and a simple swap of my nice K-Edge front out mount insert ($5) was all I needed.

Here are some views starting with the "unboxing" the Bolt.

Now what I found with the new computer:
Setup was a charm, it needs your phone along with the Wahoo companion app. Some may see this as a downside, but honestly -- every one has a phone these days. The app and setup handling on a modern phone is way superior and much more convenient to fiddling with a small device. Auto detection was super quick and easy to automatic. Just worked. Pairing, network/WIFI setup, done. Automatic updated, super easy also, no PC needed. Nice :)

Customization of pages also is very quick and intuitive.

The simple Black/White only display is super clear and high contrast -- no comparison to those dull eventually reflective color and grey scale capable Garmin displays. The main function do not even make us of it, so for what?

Nice buttons are back. Good.

The app really is well designed and very clear... Easy and fast to pick a route, it even imports automatically all you Strava routes if you have made some. Map view, simple, world wide street level build in!! Simple road display good enough to make quick and clear decision where to go if a turn is only slight or has multiple options -- what is at times hard if you have no map background.

Riding with simply works, all essential page/start/stop/... functions are on board.

What I found been used for long to Garmin, it seams to use a different eventually longer averaging/extrapolating algorithm for the readings. For example gradient or speed seam to vary slower and numbers are more steady vs. Garmin's algorithm which feels "faster" but also more fluctuating. In particular the Garmins tend to "overshoot" the climbing rate and grade initially a bit. While the Wahoo is more conservative here. I don't rate this here. It's just a slight different feel.

Tested navigation once, worked clearly and gives clear alarm/signals of off course or re entering. Good :)

Now, the real charm -- uploading simply works. And if no network, the route shows on the phone app and is marked as "upload pending" or such. Once online, simply go to the app and tap it to retry, done. No hiccups. Even the computer will upload directly via WIFI if available (and previously configured) -- no phone needed at all.

Also the notification if you forget to press start and ride are really nice and feel much more polite.

Now I have if since a couple of weeks and so far so good, not a single hiccup or annoyance.

Simply, my new Wahoo make me smile again :)