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.