I'll admit, I'm picky...like really picky. As a designer, I expect things to just work. So when they don't, I tend to get a little bent out of shape. When it comes to bike computers, I expect them to be reliable. When it comes to the choice of bike computers, reliability by far trumps features. Nothing could be more evident between the choice of a Wahoo or a Garmin bike computer.
In my original comparison review of the Wahoo Elemnt Roam vs the Garmin Edge 830, I came to the conclusion that the Garmin Edge 830 was a better deal and offered more bang for the buck. That was in July 2019. Now, fast forward a few months and, in an update to that original post, my thoughts have changed. While my conclusion still holds true, the fact of the matter is that the bugginess of the Garmin Edge 530/830 series is problematic. And it’s just buggy enough for me to change my mind.
Like I mentioned in the update, I was having problems with sensor dropouts which Garmin themselves is fully aware of. Initially, it started with the power meter dropping out a few times. I figured it was due to a third-party data field so I nixed that and assumed that’s what fixed it. However, some time later, I started noticing heart rate monitor dropouts. On one rather big ride, it kept dropping out intermittently and was completely unreliable the second half of my ride. And this was a very, very hot day too! Knowing my heart rate was my lifeline to insuring that I wasn’t on the verge of a heat stroke. So, yeah, not good...not good at all.
While all this was happening, I continued to read about various reports that others were having with Garmin. One particular post by DC Rainmaker (Garmin’s Biggest Competitor Is Their Own Software Instability) continues to receive a barrage of comments from people with stories of their own. In fact, a recent post included someone claiming to be a former Garmin employee about how Garmin’s own internal process can hinder the stability of their products. I continue to receive updates to this post and every comment seemed to repeat the same thing over and over again: trust in Garmin is waning.
In my counterpoint post to DC Rainmaker, I talk about how everything in the world of bike computers, and sports electronics in general, is about compromise. It’s features vs stability, really. But there is one thing that I didn’t mention:
I’m a web designer by trade and we talk about trust a lot in design circles. And in the world of sports electronics, trust is paramount. The reason is because these are products that are deeply personal. They're close to you. They reflect your performance and what’s going on with your body. If you can’t trust that the equipment will work then your feelings about it will diminish. And once trust is broken it takes a lot to gain it back.
In my case, the trust I had initially with my Garmin Edge 830 diminished rather quickly after that one big ride where the heart rate monitor failed. And the more I read about similar problems, that trust continued to diminish. Even after that one big ride, the problem persisted. Third time was the charm for me. Unless something dramatically changes with Garmin, it’s not likely that I’ll purchase another Garmin unit in the future.
As such, after three months of using an Edge 830, I jumped ship and exchanged it for a Wahoo Elemnt Roam. I had an Elemnt Bolt prior to getting the Edge 830 so the Roam felt right at home.
For the purposes of this update, rather than go into great detail about the Elemnt Roam, I’m going to revisit some of the features I mentioned about the Edge 830 in my previous post and how my mind has changed with the Roam. So...how does the Roam really compare to the Edge 530/830? What reasons make me feel like the Roam is a better choice over the Edge?
The Roam is slower but more stable. Yes, the Roam can be a little sluggish at times. I noticed that when I press the Page button to and from the Map page that it can sometimes take a second to catch up. Is it annoying? A little but I can live with it. I much prefer a more stable environment so dealing with a little sluggishness is a fair trade off.
No TrainerRoad integration…yet. One of the reasons that swayed me towards a Garmin was the ability to sync outdoor workouts from TrainerRoad. Nixing the Garmin and going with a Wahoo unit means I won’t be able to do that. TrainerRoad is working on Wahoo integration but there’s no ETA yet. It’s a bummer but I’m willing to wait. In the meantime, I can just do some TrainerRoad workouts indoors and just make the most of it.
The Roam has solid navigation. It’s not as good as the Edge 830 but it’s good enough for my purposes. Garmin definitely has an edge with navigation across the board. But even then the Roam doesn’t suck. It’s better than I thought it would be. You do have to use your phone for some tasks but, honestly, I carry my phone with me anyways so no biggie.
The Roam has a nice screen. It’s not full color but how they use color is still a nice enhancement over the Elemnt Bolt. Plus, with the Gorilla glass, text and graphics seem to pop rather nicely while on the bike and make it super easy to read. By comparison, the Garmin felt a little hard to read at times even though it was technically a better screen. A lot of that comes down to the design of what’s on the screen itself which, in this case, the simplicity and design of the Roam shines. Which brings me to my final reason.
The Roam is a well designed bike computer. Virtually every product I’ve put my hands on from Wahoo feels like it was well thought out. Even the packaging is well designed and feels nice when you open it. It’s details like this that shine through with the Roam. Just like with the Elemnt Bolt I had before, when you fire up and start using the Roam it just feels easy to use. Even the fonts they use feel cleaner and easier to read. All of this is due to the nature of the software itself which is far better in design than Garmin.
That’s the core of what makes this product better than a Garmin Edge: it just works! It establishes trust right out of the box and keeps on delivering it with each ride. Sure, there are some annoyances here and there but they’re minor compared to the annoyance of something big going wrong.
Design matters folks. And we’re not just talking about the number of features or how something looks. We’re talking about how it makes you feel. Like I mentioned before, electronics like this can get rather personal and trust must be established right out of the box. Because it is so personal, so close to you, any friction or mishaps in the experience will create frustration which in turn creates mistrust. When that happens you can be sure that a user will jump ship for a more stable product.
Thus was the case for me and the Garmin Edge 830. I had a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt before which set a benchmark for my experience with bike computers going forward. Expectations were simply not met with the Edge 830. As such, I switched to a Roam and immediately could tell a difference with the experience.
Good design can make or break a product. When a product feels right it makes you feel good and you have a more pleasurable experience with the activities surrounding it. As cyclists, we just want to get on our bike and ride and not have to worry about whether the equipment we use isn’t working right. We just want things to simply work so that we can get lost in the experience of our ride. When things work, it’s transparent. We just don’t think about it.
In the case of Wahoo vs Garmin, Wahoo concentrates on stability. They want you to have a good experience. They want you to ride and not have to worry about whether anything is working or not. That’s good design. And that’s why I would recommend Wahoo over Garmin.
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Fantastic review(s) Jeff. I've been using a wrist-based Garmin Forerunner 735 for my rides for approx. 2 years, and it's way-past-time to get a real bike computer. My question to you is – is the Wahoo Elemnt Roam a good choice for someone who is going to use it for a 5-7 day bike trip of 500-600 miles? I will need to reply on accurate mapping (and on-the-fly changes) a lot. As you mention - stability will also be a big issue (advantage Wahoo). The other option is the Garmin 830. Thoughts?? Bob
Thanks Bob! Much appreciated! :D
You know, after using a Garmin Edge 830, while the navigation is better than the Roam I would still choose the Roam for the simple reason that it's more stable. For my use, the navigation on the Roam is just fine. Granted, there are things you can't do with it that you can do on the 830. The 830 certain has an edge (no pun intended!) in that you can do more on-device in terms of updating the navigation. Plus, things just look nicer on the 830...but that doesn't mean the Roam totally sucks. If you're ok with whipping out your phone now and then to update the navigation then the Roam will likely suit your needs just fine.
That said, if you want to take a deeper dive into these, be sure and checkout DC Rainmaker's review on these products, especially the Navigation sections for each. That should give you better insight into which one is right for you:
Just wondering if any of you or Jeff have recently tried the Edge 830 in 2020 after all fixes they have made since last year. Still unreliable?
I have 820 and my first 6 months were a bad experience and I bought right after they launched. Now my 820 works way better than 3 years ago after the new patches were released.
I'm sure things have improved, no doubt. But, honest, your statement about having a bad experience for the first 6 months pretty much says it all. My understanding from others is that Garmin has a bit of a habit of rushing stuff out. We the customers end up beta testing it which isn't good. They really need to refine and iron out their testing process so that we the customer doesn't end up being the ones who have to keep reporting the bugs. That's the biggest problem Garmin has. By comparison, it doesn't appear that Wahoo and others are as bad.
I currently have the Bolt and I really like its layout and alot of things about it. I don't care about navigation as much as screen visibility. I need reading glasses, but usually the cycle computer usage is OK because it is a bit further away on the handlebars, except when the ambient light gets dim. The problem, either with or without backlighting, is that the Bolt's screen is sometimes difficult to see depending on shadows, ambient lighting, and view angle. My girlfriend's 830 is much more visible and easy to see for me under all conditions, possibly helped by the light sensor. I am thinking of upgrading my Bolt to either the Roam or 830 for that reason. How do you feel the visibility of the two compare under different lighting conditions? How about the battery life with auto-backlighting turned on?
That's something I talk about in my ROAM vs BOLT post:
In a nutshell though, the ROAM does have an advantage over the BOLT with its screen. It's Gorilla Glass so it offers a few advantages. First, its close to the surface than the one on the BOLT. Second, it's tougher so it'll take a bit of a hit if you eat it. Third, the matte finish on it does help reduce glare, even more so than the BOLT. Fourth, it's a bit bigger screen, enough to make a difference in legibility for sure. Lastly, backlighting appears to be better than the BOLT. Altogether, it makes for an overall better screen which feels more usable than the BOLT.
As for battery life, Wahoo claims 17 hours vs 15 hours for the BOLT. I haven't noticed any decrease in battery life with backlighting though. Virtually every ride I've been on has resulted in quite a bit of surplus in battery life so I don't find it to be a problem. Even 15 hours is quite a long time for most rides.
Antes de mais, obrigado pela análise. Muito boa leitura. Eu estou procurando adquirir um computador mas como é o primeiro não tenho referências. A finalidade é o ciclismo de estrada pelo que, depois de tudo o que já li sobre o Edge 830 e o Roam, ai da tenho uma dúvida existencial. Visto que os meus próximos anos serão passados na Suíça, como é a nível de mapas? Já vêm de base, têm de ser descarregados ou comprados? E sendo para estrada, qual será a melhor aquisição?
Hi Daniel! Thanks for reading my blog! Sorry, I don't speak Portuguese. Google Translate did do a good job of translating though. :)
Garmin does have the option of allowing you to push custom maps. And there are maps that you can purchase as well. They do come with basic maps as well.
I also just looked on my ROAM and, yes, Switzerland is available as an option for maps. They're free and don't require any purchase. On the ROAM, they'll be fully navigable. Here's what I see on the ELEMNT Companion app:
Thanks for translate and read my publication.
Well, so i',m back to the beginning because I still don't know which one I will buy. For me, that don't have any experience on this type of material, they are very similar to me and the prices are not very differents... But thanks anyway for your time. 👌
Here’s what I think might help.
If you need more on-device navigation capabilities then a Garmin is the way to go. They allow for more ad-hoc abilities in navigation to the point where you don’t even need your phone. That’s the main draw with the Garmin. However, there are compromises especially in the abilities of the device. Plug-ins can help but they only get you so far.
If you need more stability then the Wahoo ELEMNT is likely a better choice. Navigation capabilities aren’t quite as good as the Garmin but they’re still rock solid. I carry my phone with me when I ride so it’s no big deal. Plus, most of my routes are done on RideWithGPS anyways so I can just sync my routes easily to my ROAM prior to my ride.
I would suggest just buying a ROAM and try it out. If it works then stick with it. Just be sure and buy from a seller that offers a return policy in case you don’t like it and want to exchange it for a Garmin.
Excellent analysis, really useful for me, thanks!
What are your thoughts on Garmin 1030 v Elemnt Roam?
Well, feature-wise, it’s the same as an Edge 830 minus the touch screen and a larger display. But the problem with the 1030 is that its an older device, effectively 2 years old now. My understanding is that the processor is a bit slower than what they put in the 830 which would slow down things like navigation for sure. But the big question is: would a 1030 be more stable than a 530/830? Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that. With my experiences with both Garmin and Wahoo, I tend to favor Wahoo with that. Garmin just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I think a Roam would be a better choice if stability is what you’re after.
Just saw this posted today. Might give you some additional insights.
Excellent review. I've had the Elemnt for 2 years. After year 3 I may upgrade to the Roam.
Thanks! Compared to the Elemnt Bolt, the two things that stick out for me that I like are the screen size and the navigation. Both of these are greatly improved over the Bolt for sure. As for a comparison over the Elemnt, I’d say the navigation is something you’ll definitely appreciate. :D
thank you for this, I will be upgrading in the spring to a computer for long distance (over 1,000 km) bikepacking races where navigation is super critical. So what I needs is a device which combines the fitness tracking (HR, distance, time, speed) of the 520 with the navigation of a Garmin eTrex30 (which I hate but is the standard for off highway bikepacking). I understand the basemap on the roam does not have street names, is that correct? Ideally the device would have that so when I arrive in some random town I can match the name on the street sign with what is on the screen. cheers,
Yeah, that’s a tough call. The updated navigation of the Edge 530/830 might do it...but you would likely need to purchase some topographic maps to get similar views as the eTrex30. Street names are there for sure which is something I kind of miss on the Roam. You’re correct on that...street names aren’t really shown on the Roam. The navigation capabilities are definitely better on the Edge. But I always have my phone with me anyways and, if you’re using the routing capabilities, the need to see a street name is mostly moot. So, sounds like a Garmin is your best bet. Just keep in mind that there’s a nasty little BLE bug in the latest Edge units. Till they fix it, you’ll likely need to pair everything via ANT+ if you want things to be even remotely stable. :P
Well done One roam for me to. Thanks for your review. You made my choice way easier. Tks