Garmin Connect vs Wahoo ELEMNT Companion

Posted on November 22nd, 2019 by Jeff Whitfield | Comments

Commentary Reviews


Recently, a reader wrote in asking about the Wahoo ELEMNT Companion app. Specifically, he asked about whether the upgrades and recent changes wreck the stability and experience one has with the app. Now, I can’t speak to the Android version, but I can speak to the iOS version.

I’d like to go further with this though. I honestly can’t talk about the Wahoo ELEMNT Companion app without referencing the Garmin Connect app. You can’t really talk about the ELEMNT Companion app without having something to compare it to.

In past posts, I’ve talked about the differences between the Garmin Edge 530/830 and the Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM (Part 1 and Part 2) along with a comparison of the ELEMNT BOLT and ELEMNT ROAM. But what I didn’t talk about in any of these posts was the apps used to manage these devices. How do they impact the overall experience one has with these devices?

Garmin Connect

With virtually every Garmin device, you have to use the Garmin Connect app to do stuff with them. Well...mostly. A lot can be done on the device itself but, eventually, all roads must lead back to Garmin Connect.

My experience using a Garmin Edge 830 is pretty well documented. In a nutshell, it was a travesty! I don’t say that lightly. It sucked! But it wasn’t just the device itself. I also had issues with Garmin Connect itself.

In fact, I lost a lot of confidence even with some of the bits of functionality as they relate to my fitness tracking. Garmin’s fitness tracking seemed so flaky and quite abstract. I just could trust it. Specifically, it was various things that were supposed to aid you in determining your over all fitness that didn’t end up really helping much.

Overall, the design of the app is just...ok. It’s not really all that well designed. For the main navigation, I primarily used the Today and Calendar views; Challenges, News Feed, and even Notifications went largely unused. It would have been nice for Garmin to allow us the ability to customize the navigation a bit.

The Calendar wasn’t particularly useful other than being able to review current rides. I couldn’t schedule rides nor could I add upcoming strength training routines. Just a glorified list of what I did really. Not exactly what I would call a “calendar”.

The other thing I didn’t like was how Garmin handles syncing to third-party sources. Some sources are kind of built-in, like syncing to Apple Health and Strava. But others require a Connect plug-in or are completely non-existent.

Plug-ins are large hit and miss. Some work ok while others cause all sort of problems. I had one installed that provided an alternate data display. It was highly graphical and really cool...but highly unstable. Long rides would cause it to lockup to the point where half my ride would go unrecorded. Suffice to say I was very, very wary of most plug-ins after that.

One particular issue had to do with getting RideWithGPS routes synced to my Edge 830. I expected that this sort of thing would work just fine but it ended up requiring a third-party plug-in, one that wasn’t even sanctioned by RideWithGPS. That’s kind of how it is with Garmin Connect though: if it isn’t built-in, it requires a plug-in.

I thought I could use just Garmin Connect to track my overall fitness, fatigue, and recovery but it just wasn’t all that sticky. Always felt like something was off or it wasn’t connecting with me and what my body was telling me. I ended up using one of Strava’s Summit plans for that, which is probably simpler but strangely more effective by comparison.

Reporting seemed off too. For instance, the amount of recovery time needed after a ride or workout always seemed really off. I had one ride, a 20+ ride, that told me I needed like two days of recovery. Really? How am I supposed to adapt if I have to do some sort of recovery to two straight days? Nuts!

Other monitoring features like hydration, nutrition, and heat acclimation were less that desired as well. Granted, these are more Edge related features than Connect features but they’re still a part of the overall software experience. They seemed a bit half-baked and not really that useful. I couldn’t figure out how they calculated this stuff...especially the heat acclimation part. Hydration and nutrition were more or less just glorified alerts, things I could program on my Apple Watch just as easily. Felt more like a thrown-in feature more than anything else.

But the topper was the stability issues with the app itself. Setting aside any stability issues with the device, I can’t tell you how many times I had to restart the app due to it locking up and/or not syncing properly. It was far, far, far more unstable and unusable than the Wahoo Companion app. Virtually every time I used it I had to force restart it at some point in using it. Seriously...it was that bad.

Half the times my rides wouldn’t sync. I’d stop a ride on my device and wait...and wait...and wait some more...still no sync. I would have to go to Garmin Connect, force restart it, and then manually sync it. Useless to say the least.

Wahoo ELEMNT Companion

The Wahoo ELEMNT Companion app is pretty darn good by comparison. Is it perfect? No. Does it have every feature connect has? No. Does it allow you to install plug-ins? Does it crash or have to be restarted? Yeah, but not all that often. From the start, it always seemed more stable than Garmin Connect for sure. But what it does do is provide the base features you’d expect from any app that manages a bike computer.

In terms of features, upgrades, and frequent updates, honestly, what Wahoo is doing doesn’t wreck my experience at all. Between the BOLT I owned before and now the ROAM, I haven’t seen changes in the Wahoo Companion app that I would see as major show stoppers. Nor have I seen major bouts of stability in them with any particular update. Things just seem to move right along with Wahoo putting out an update with bug fixes and a few feature updates now and then. Yes, bugs are introduced but none that are severe or detrimental to the functionality of the app.

Many users have complained about the newest version of the ELEMNT Companion app. I’m not sure when the new version kicked in though. I honestly didn’t even notice it really. There have been some changes for sure but they seemed relatively minor to me. In fact, it felt like Wahoo was trying to improve the overall design; tweaking things here and there, adding a few useful features, while removing what they see are useless features that to them didn’t work as well as they should. That’s how it goes with the continual design of a product like this.

Some users complained about syncing issues; rides not being synced, WiFi being turned off, and the app locking up to the point where you have to force restart it. Honestly, I have seen this happen even with me. But it’s not an all the time thing. It happens every once in a while. A simple force restart of the app usually fixes it. Most of the time, after a ride, I stop the ride and everything syncs as advertised. I can live with things not working every now and then.

Another issue that comes up now and then is the ability for the app to recognize the ELEMNT. Just like syncing, every now and then the app simply can’t see the ELEMNT. When it happens you sometimes have to turn off Bluetooth, restart the app, and turn on Bluetooth again for the ELEMNT to be seen. I don’t think this is a Wahoo thing though. I think it’s more of an Apple thing. In future updates, I imagine this issue will become less and less of a problem It can be annoying when it happens though but, fortunately for me, it doesn’t happen regularly.

The only running issue I have has to do with Apple Health integration. There’s an issue where ride data doesn’t get synced properly to Apple Health. Heart rate data is incomplete as well as GPS data. I can pull the ride down from Strava and do a sync using RunGap though so I’ve just gotten into the habit of doing that.

When it comes to fitness tracking, Wahoo has more of a hands off approach. You can see basic statistics about each ride; more or less the same stuff you’d expect to see on Strava. But Wahoo really isn’t about that. They’re not in the game of giving you tools to track your fitness.

Instead, they allow you to easily sync your ride data to TrainingPeaks, TrainerRoad, Today’s Plan, and others so that you’re more in control on where your fitness is headed. The list of services available is pretty robust. I haven’t had an instance where I wished to sync to something that wasn’t available on the ELEMNT Companion app. Seems Wahoo is staying on top of it. Heck, they even added Relive syncing recently.

Conclusion

By the time I turned in my Edge 830 to my LBS (Local Bike Shop) Garmin left me wondering whether they are even paying attention to the design of their apps. They seem more about packing on features than about creating a more seamless, stable experience. All those features of both the Edge 830 and Connect are compelling but quite elusive. They’re not worth a hill of beans if they aren’t designed with any attention to detail and care. That lack of care made me feel Garmin Connect was a complete mess.

Wahoo to me is better because it feels like they’re not trying to be anything and everything to all people. They stick to the core stuff they know how to do and only release what they know works. That feels like the case even with the ELEMNT Companion app. It’s not perfect but it’s far from being Garmin Connect. That’s been my experience at least. Wahoo isn’t perfect but I think they’re trying to do better than Garmin.