A big thing many cyclists deal contend with is their choice in bike computer. Seems like these days the choice boils down to either a Wahoo bike computer or one from Garmin. Let's take a look at the best these companies have to offer.
I've been using a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt since April 2018. It was the first bike computer I've ever owned. Loved it! Great little computer with equally great software. Setup was a breeze and everything just worked.
I use past tense because when the Garmin Edge 530 and 830 was announced, interest in upgrading my bike computer went up. Since I was venturing into gravel riding territory, the ability to navigate off the beaten path now became somewhat of a necessity. However, when I inquired about the availability of the Edge 830 I was told that Wahoo had a new Elemnt to be announced just weeks away. So...I waited.
Then, at the beginning of May, the Wahoo Element Roam was announced. At first glance, this looked to be the perfect upgrade to my Bolt. However, after reading multiple reviews, it quickly became apparent that the Roam, while a worthy upgrade from the Bolt, didn't appear to be as good of a deal as what Garmin released. Many have pointed out that it would seem the Roam doesn't fare all that well when compared to the competition. As DC Rainmaker says in his review of the Elemnt Roam:
But the competition has stepped up. In those two years there’s new entrants from the highly vibrant display and deep navigational features of the Hammerhead Karoo at $399. Garmin released their Edge 520 Plus with full routing at $279, and Sigma topped out the higher end with their ROX 12. And that’s before we even consider last week’s Edge 530 ($299), and Edge 830 ($399) units from Garmin. Today, people expect at the $299 price point to have routing and on-device navigation. And at $379 for the ROAM, it better be fantastic. Like, rainbow farting pony fantastic.
That's what stopped me from waiting on the Roam: the price! For $399, I could buy an Edge 830 which has a better screen, more features, and better on-device navigation. And that's exactly what I did! I sold my Bolt and upgraded to a Garmin Edge 830.
Now a few weeks in, I started wondering if maybe I might have made a mistake. The change from the Wahoo to the Garmin ecosystem isn't without its flaws. The difference in quality with the software is a pretty start contrast. But then again, so is the quality of the hardware. It's like this: Garmin has better hardware, Wahoo has better software.
One thing I noticed right off the bat with my new Garmin Edge 830 is the hardware quality. It just feels like its better quality compared to my Elemnt Bolt. For instance, I was always pissed off about the USB port cover on my Bolt. The damn thing was difficult to get on and just would never stay on. It would just dangle there off the unit while mounted on my bike. By comparison, the Edge 830's USB port cover goes on and off without any issues whatsoever. That's one major difference. The rest are fairly minor. The Bolt is a good quality bike computer. It's just that the Edge 830 quality is just better.
But its the software where Wahoo makes inroads. With the Elemnt, everything is done through the Elemnt Companion app. All of the configuration settings are done through it and syncing with third-party services is a breeze. It's not without its own bugs and idiosyncracies though. I've had problems getting it to sync right with Apple Health for instance. Not a biggie really cause, to be honest, even Garmin is having problems with this too.
By comparison, Garmin syncs everything through Garmin Connect and requires most configuration to be done on the device itself. Not a big deal but...well...Garmin Connect is a weird beast. Sometimes going into certain setting in Garmin Connect don't work and you have to restart the app. The look and feel and overall design just aren't as polished as the Elemnt Companion app. It's an app that feels dated compared to what Wahoo is doing with the Elemnt.
Today (May 24, 2019), I called to see if my local bike shop had any Wahoo Elemnt Roam's in stock. I figured that the best way to know for sure if I made the right choice would be to just buy a Roam and try it out. Whichever one I didn't like I could just return. Funny thing is that I was told that they didn't have any in stock. Seems Wahoo is having production issues with the new Roam and won't be releasing new ones till late June early July. That's not a good sign!
So...looks like I'm sticking with the Edge 830! Here are my reasons why:
The Edge 830 is faster and snappier than the Roam. Based on reviews, one of the complaints about the Roam was that it was a little slow...especially with navigation. Turn-by-turn directions are said to be slower by comparison to the Edge 830 and other newer bike computers.
TrainerRoad has the ability to push outside workouts to Garmin units. This is kind of a cool thing to me. I've done some indoor training using TrainerRoad and really like it but...sigh...I really would rather be outside riding. With this I can carry some workouts with me on the road and do them there. Garmin has already announced their Training API. With Wahoo though, like many things, they say they'll be doing it but no word on when.
The Edge 830 has better navigation. While the Roam certainly looks to have improved navigation over the Bolt, I'm just not sure about the quality of the maps. The chevron style overlays just don't look as clean as what Garmin does with their navigation. Plus, the Edge 830 allows you to quickly choose a new point on a map to navigate to which, for me, is an advantage. I've had way too many instances where a road or trail was closed and needed to quickly change my route. The Edge 830 looks to solve this one problem more effectively than the Roam.
The Edge 830 has a full color screen. The Roam is faux color screen. It's not really full color. Plus, it's a touch-screen which, based on my experience so far, is pretty good. Maps and other information screens just look complete by comparison to what I've seen of the Roam.
Which is the real rub. I can't pickup a Roam right now. But, even then, would I even want to? The differences in features between these two devices is rather stark. And at price points that are within $20 of each other, it seems the Edge 830 is a better deal, right? I certainly hope so. While I like the quality of the hardware, the Garmin ecosystem is certainly a bit finicky in terms of software quality. Wahoo is solid in that department...but their slow to evolve and respond to new things. Garmin seems quick to roll out new features like their Training API and such. So there's pluses and minuses on each front. For now though, I think the Garmin Edge 530 and 830 are good picks. If the Roam were $100 less I might have held out for one. Oh well! :P
Update (July 31, 2019)
After living with an Edge 830 for a little over 3 months, I have finally come to the conclusion that it's just not stable yet. Many of the reports I've read on the Garmin forums reveal that I'm not the only one.
The main problem I've been having is sensor dropouts. I had some rides where my power meter dropped out and didn't come back online till close to the end of my ride. On one really big ride, my heart rate monitor started dropping out in the middle of the ride which on a hot summer day isn't good. Garmin appears to be well aware of this based on a Sensor Dropout Feedback post on their forum. However, it appears that even after a few software updates along with a more recent beta update, the problems still persist for many people.
This didn't leave me with a fuzzy feeling so, after contemplating it really hard, I decided to jump ship and return the Edge 830. Fortunately, my local bike shop is super awesome and allowed me to exchange the Garmin for a new Wahoo Elemnt Roam. Since I came from an Elemnt Bolt, the Roam felt right at home for me. The hardware isn't quite as slick and it doesn't have all the features of the Edge 830, but it's likely to be super solid and more stable which is exactly what I need.
Post a comment!
This is the most helpful review yet on these bike computers. Yours is an important voice, someone who understands the devices from a technical perspective. Thanks!!!
Thanks for the compliment, Pablo! Wonderful to hear that the review was helpful. :)
Thanks so much, Jeff! I've ordered the Roam this morning. I'm excited to geek out on my new toy. Cheers!
Thanks Ken! Much appreciated! :)
As for your question, no, you do not need to plug in the Roam to download rides or use your Mac. Since you have to setup the Roam using the Wahoo ELEMNT Companion app on your phone, all syncing is done through it. Set it up to sync with Strava and, once you're done with your ride, it'll automatically get synced to your phone and then to Strava. Most of the time it works great. Every now and then though you have to force a sync but that's kind of rare.
Hi Jeff, great write up here. Having used a very old Garmin Edge, then a Suunto Ambit3, and then just my iPhone (for the Strava app) I'm ready to buy another bike computer. Though I'm curious about the syncing of a Roam. Do you need to plug in a Roam into your computer to update your rides onto Strava? Or, is there a Wahoo app it'll sync from? I don't like the idea of having to plug into my Mac after each ride. Also, my Mac is mostly locked down with security issues (work computer) and so downloading 3rd party software is most likely a no-go. Thanks again. Cheers!
Hi!! Question what would be your recommendation between Garmin 1030, Garmin 830 or Wahoo Roam today 3/20/20 knowing that the 1030 price has been dropped (due to new model coming up). Is still worth it getting into a 2017 model with the newer versions 830 or Roam available? Or should I go for the Roam. just road cycling here and this will be my 1st computer. Thanks much!
My first computer was a Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt. Switching to a Garmin Edge 830 was a rather interesting experience. Honestly, knowing what I know, I would still go with an ELEMNT Roam. Just not a fan of Garmin anymore. Garmin's just feel quirky and buggy to me. Even with the price drop, I still don't think it's worth it. It's effectively a three year old device. Personally, I prefer the stability and ease of use of the Roam. For $20 less you can get a Roam which, in my view, offers a better overall experience. I think you'll appreciate that starting out. I absolutely loved my Bolt but wanted to upgrade in order to get better mapping capabilities. The Roam does the job for sure. However, you do have to have your phone with you to change routes and whatnot. But I always have my phone with me so it's no biggie.
Thanks for the detailed response Jeff, really appreciated it!
Thanks for your honest review. I started out with an Edge 800 and when it finally became unreliable, I went to a Wahoo Elmnt when it first came out almost 4 years ago. I have been reading the pros and cons of the Roam, 830 and 530. I had been on the fence but the issues you brought up with Garmin reminded me of some of the little issues I would have time to time with the Garmin Edge 800. So you have tipped the scales in favor Wahoo Roam. Thank You.
Thanks for reading! Really appreciate it! :)
Be sure and ready my update to this post. Definitely covers more about why I think the ROAM is better:
Also, I just wrote a comparison of the ROAM to the BOLT. Having owned both I figure folks might want to know the differences:
I was a Wahoo user, then a Garmin and then Wahoo now Edge 830 and I must say I’m considering a Roam move myself. The 830 is good in all areas so far but the thing that people quote as better is what’s letting it down, namely navigation. No doubt if I create a route it will follow no problem and yes, that screen is lovely!! The problem is the navigation to a place is just garbage!! I mean, popularity routing on and minimise distance selected and it sends me round the houses, even across an estuary where there is no bridge or ferry!!! I just can’t trust a route, and if I try all I get when I go what I know to be a better way, recalculation no, do a u-turn yes!!! 10 miles of do a u-turn, that isn’t route recalculation in my mind!!! I did try the Roam and the routing and recalculation worked (I did have an issue with turn cues being a couple of hundred feet out) but I was tempted by the glitz and features of the 830, time for eBay I reckon if I can’t return it!!! Would upload a pic as example of the woeful routing if I could.
Thank you for this review. It's really well written and I like your way of thinking. I'm looking forward to the Elemnt Roam review cause I am, even after reading this post, still doubting which one I should buy.
I am wondering which one you would recommend based on the maps and offroad navigation. I am a mountainbiker, so I prefer to have the best map in the woods and mountains, one which displays even the smallest offroad paths.
Man, that's a tough call. I think for the price, the Edge 530 might meet your needs. The main thing it's missing between it and the 830 is the touch screen. DC Rainmaker has an excellent review of the Edge 530 that goes into great detail about it. There's some features that are more mountainbiker specific that aren't on the Roam for sure. These particular features might benefit you to some degree. Mapping is better on the Garmin for sure. I'm starting to do more gravel riding so having something that can at least navigate some of those paths is useful. I think the Roam can handle that too. However, there's a good chance that the Roam could possibly meet your needs too. Check out DC Rainmaker's review of it too. Personally, I'm not a fan of Garmin anymore. Feel like I got burned a bit. In fact, I just created a new post about this. Might surprise you a bit but I ended up switching to the Roam. :P
I guess, the best way is to try both. I started using the Edge 830 a few days ago and am waiting for the Elemnt Roam to arrive.
That's one way to do it I suppose. I already had plenty of experience with the Elemnt Bolt. As such, I only needed to weight the new features and bigger screen against the Edge 830. Even then, there just didn't seem to be much there to justify the high cost of the Roam. But that's just me. Really depends on what you're after: stability or features?
Thanks for the readable and understandable review. Doubting myself what to buy (Wahoo vs Garmin)