Top critical review
820 Leaves a Lot to be Desired....Cannot Recommend
May 7, 2017
I bought the 820 when it first came out (August 2016), having been a mostly satisfied user of the 800 (including for a 4000 mile cross-country trip) for a number of years (other than a few inexplicable crashes on long rides that would lose data). Unfortunately, my 800's battery is not what it was, and it pretty much tops out now at 8 hour on-time (which doesn't work for my very slow century rides). So, between that, and my constant tech desire to try the latest and greatest, I bought the 820.
Bottom line: I wish I hadn't. It has great features, but it is so buggy and underpowered in so many respects that it's constantly frustrating to use it.
Some of this is your personal use context: I want excellent and easy (and intuitive) turn-by-turn navigation for my many multi-day bike tours. If you just want ride data and power fields, your view might differ greatly (and you should probably get the 520).
The 820 has gone through multiple software updates (it's now up to 7.00), but key problems remain, and good luck trying to get Garmin (worst customer support ever!) to tell you whether they're even addressable by software or represent hardware issues. Personally, I think it's the latter. In trying to squeeze decent (not great) battery life out of a compact unit with tons of features, I think Garmin massively under-powered the CPU on the 820. This creates three massive problems for someone like me who relies on the routing features:
1. If you load a longish (i.e., 50+ miles) course, and have turn-by-turn guidance enabled, the unit takes multiple minutes when loading the ride to calculate your turns. Literally. I mean in the 5 to 10 minute range. The 800 was downright snappy by comparison. So I began trying to load the route while still indoors, without GPS reception, but that seemed to create unexpected navigation problems and more freezing (see #2 below). This is really painful. On one ride a couple of months back, mapped to be about 60 miles. I had to reboot the device three times because of a frozen screen and wait through this so-called "calculation" process three times. Lost about 20 minutes. Not what you want to be doing on a ride.
2. As mentioned above, the unit inexplicably and unpredictably freezes without warning. It can happen at any point in the ride -- the screen just goes blank. You have to hold the power button and reboot, and then reload your course. Again, I suspect this has to do with the CPU and the many functions the unit is trying to support. I seem to get better results if bluetooth is off (so much for incident detection), I use only GPS (as opposed to with GLONASS), turn off my Varia radar and break the course down into smaller segments. Which, of course, defeats the purpose of having such "features."
3. On the 800, if I went off course, I often would go to the map page, and zoom out and pan to find where my course was going and where I wanted to go. It worked fine. The 820 is so under-powered that it might as well not have a zoom and pan function on the map page. It takes forever to redraw, and often jumps far away from where you are as you try to make it work. Completely unusable.
So that's just the beginning of the list, and reflects the items that I attribute to Garmin's decision to underpower this device (and that I would not expect to be fixed by a software update, even if Garmin was rolling out useful ones).
Other problems include:
1. You cannot turn re-calculate off, even if you actually do so in the settings (you can also have "prompted" which seems to work, and then you can say no). As mentioned above, I don't want the unit to recalculate my course -- I want a map view to get back to it. I should be able to turn off recalculate and have that stick.
2. You cannot turn off virtual partner! If you download and use a tcx course from RidewithGPS, or even a gpx through routeCourse, you're stuck with it on the screen and an idiotic, congratulations you won (or lost) at the end of your course.
3. If you like using the elevation page, good luck. The small screen here, for me, hurts its usefulness and, unlike the 800, you are severely limited in choosing the degree to which you zoom in and out, on both the x and y axes. Why did Garmin eviscerate this functionality? Who knows?
4. The gradient data field is almost useless. It can show 0% grade on a hill that I'm riding in first gear, standing on the pedals, and know is in the 10% category. It lags. Occasionally it almost gets it right, but so does a broken clock. This just worked on my 800, and simply doesn't on the 820. Garmin support, first time: it's within the degree of accuracy expected for a consumer device. Wrong. Garmin support, second time: maybe your 800 was like an 11 inch ruler; now everything seems off. Again, wrong.
5. The touchscreen remains somewhat iffy, although I'll give them that the software changes have improved it so that, for the most part, it's pretty reliable. But I still get plenty of taps/swipes that don't register on the first try, or highlight the field, but don't register. It's a pretty poor implementation, and if you riding in the rain, you will need to lock the screen (which can be hard to do once the rain starts and the screen goes haywire from the drops), although, thanks to latest software updates, once you do manage to lock the screen you can still swipe from one to another.
So, basically, for me the 820 fails as a navigation device.
Now, it's not all bad. The 820 has some nice features that I would miss:
1. Integration with the Varia radar is, actually, pretty cool and useful. It really works, and is particularly helpful on relatively empty country roads, or speeding down a curving hill, where you might wander a bit -- but, voila, it beeps as soon as it detects a car behind you, you get to track its progress as it nears you, and you get a green bar flash when all is clear. I scoffed at it initially, but have come to really like it.
2. Incident detection -- where if you crash, the accelerometer in the unit detects the sudden, harsh movement and stop and automatically texts whichever emergency contact(s) you have set up -- with a 30 second grace period to cancel if it was mistakenly triggered by a pothole (although I have never had that happen). It, too, actually works. I had my first serious crash last year riding in Amish country in Pennsylvania in late October (I think I was distracted by all the Trump/Pence signs), hit an obstruction, went over my handlebars and was knocked unconscious. My wife got a text, complete with my location and recommendation to come pick me up, call me or call emergency services. Unfortunately, she was in Colorado at the time. Fortunately, a good samaritan saw me and called an ambulance. So, again, having initially scoffed at this feature, I kind of like it now as well (as does my wife when I ride solo).
3. You can now sync new routes to the 820 by Bluetooth, if you use the IQ app routeCourse in conjunction with the DynamicWatch web site (which works well on a mobile device, unlike the Garmin Connect web site). Very useful for routing on the fly, or during an overnight ride, if you don't have a computer handy. The good and the bad is that you have to also activate everything through the GarminConnect app on your smart phone. It's very good for aggregating and letting you look at your data; it's so poorly programmed though, that it is literally the only app on my Android phone that will not go to sleep and stop using notification services (needed for the text and phone alerts, but a battery eater) even when it is completely shut down. Thanks Garmin (not).
4. Just because it needs correcting based on some of the reviews I've seen, you absolutely can have different profiles on the 820 for each bike you have. They're called "Activity Profiles" and are initially set by Garmin to distinguish among Road, Mountain (and I forgot what else), but you can rename them, delete them, add to them, as you please. Plus, if you're reasonable technically competent, you can edit the totals.fit file on the unit to carry over cumulative odometer mileage from prior units.
5. Battery life is good to good-plus, but not great, and, of course, depends a lot on the features you have activated. I always ride with wi-fi off, but typically will keep navigation, Bluetooth and the Varia on, so my results may not be representative. In that configuration though, I feel comfortable that I will get 8+ hours of it, which is generally good enough for all but my slowest centuries (but not really a step up from my now ancient 800).
6. It's small and a good-looking unit. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The screen is, of course, smaller than the 800 and I sometimes have trouble if I'm squeezing 10 data fields on it, but you can change the number if you want. The colors are good and the fonts are sharp.
Frustrated by the 820, I recently bought, and am still testing out, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, which is almost exactly the same size. If I can get used to not having Varia radar and incident detection, it may become my unit of choice. I'll separately post a review there when I've run it through some more paces, but, significant positives include: (i) super-long battery life (I’m getting close to 15 hours); (ii) no touch screen – you use buttons to cycle pages, and also buttons to zoom in and out (both on the map and on data screens); (iii) super-good clarity in sunshine; (iv) the turn-by-turn navigation just works – no hiccups so far – and if you go off course – it’s easy to zoom out on the map (no lag) and see where you need to go to get back on route; (v) it syncs with a much better designed Android app, that lets you set up all your data screens using your phone UI, and also lets you sync your ridewithGPS courses easily both to the app and the unit – it also (if you have a data connection) let’s you map a route on the fly and push it to the unit by Bluetooth; and (vi) Wahoo has great customer support – quick, and sensible (i.e., responsive) answers to email inquiries.
So far, possible negatives (depending on your needs/preferences) include (i) it’s a black and white screen, and uses non-routable maps, so you can see your pre-loaded route actually very clearly (chevrons laid out along it), but you won’t have street names and, except for a “return to beginning” option, doesn’t let you plan new routes on the unit itself (although I’ve never found that Garmin did this very well in terms of giving you back anything remotely bike-friendly); (ii) no touch screen – the only thing I miss is going backwards through the screens – you have to cycle forward; (iii) no individual bike profiles (although you can pair with multiple bike sensors – it’s done automatically and effectively) and there is no odometer field for tracking total bike or unit mileage; (iv) the climbing page includes a graphical representation of your climb that is too small and doesn't specify your units on the x and y axes (Garmin's implementation is much better, even as messed up as it is on the 820) and (v) the data fields on a page jump from 4 to 7 with one click of the zoom – more customization would be good.
So nothing, as yet, is quite perfect. I’m toying with returning the Wahoo Bolt (EDIT: I did) and buying the more expensive Edge Explore 1000 (gulp), in the hope that it combines the best of my old 800 (usable touchscreen, good routing, good CPU for fast redraws and a usable map page) with the Bluetooth/integration features of the 820 (Varia radar, incident detection, etc.). But I would really like to leave the Garmin universe. Maybe the just announced Hammerhead Karoo Unit (runs Android) will be the solution? Not due out, at earliest, until August though…..(EDIT: pre-orders now being accepted -- use this link for $50 discount: http://hammerhead dot refr dot cc/rogers (substitute a real period for the dots and remove the spaces))
Edit -- 5.26.17 -- So I bought the Edge Explore 1000 and it is leaps and bounds better than the 820 (which I'm going to put up for sale on eBay; EDIT: Amazon, bless their souls, took it back with a modest restocking fee, after Garmin refused). Let me count the ways: (i) touch screen works...every time...it's so nice not to have missed swipes and taps...or to have rain drive it nuts; (ii) navigation works...I can go off course, it will tell me, it will NOT recalculate if I have that turned off, and, when I find the course again, the turn-by-turn picks up where it left off (TIP: Use "Direct Routing", an option not available on the 820); (iii) the map page is both larger and extremely responsive....it's easy to zoom in and out and you can easily find your route and/or explore alternative routes using it...completely not possible with the 820; (iv) the turn by turn function takes you back to the map page and overlays your turn on it...much better than the 820's implementation where you have no map, but just the turn and street name popping up; (v) when you stop, the screen stays oriented the way you were going (I can't recall whether the 820 does this, I know the 800 didn't); (vi) the gradient function works just like on my 800 -- accurate and not laggy -- almost useless on the 820; (vii) no inexplicable crashes mid-course and (viii) NO virtual partner (this is why I got the Explore over the regular Edge -- I hate virtual partner (but note that with the Explore, as compared to the regular Edge 1000, you also lose workouts, which I don't use, and having different bike profiles, which I miss).
The Explore 1000 has all the connectivity features of the 820 -- Varia radar, bluetooth, wi-fi and incident detection. They all seem to work well. It also comes packaged with an Edge remote, which you can attach near your brake hoods and use to change screens without removing your hands -- it's very nice, but the touch screen is so responsive you really don't need it -- it would be great with the 820 though! Lastly, it comes packaged with a black silicone case -- kind of ugly, but some may like it to cover the white color when you don't buy the package.
Battery-wise, on a recent 75 mile ride, the Explore 1000, with navigation, remote and bluetooth on, but wi-fi and Varia off, I would have gotten about a total of 12 hours if I had completely run it down (one note: it does not have a power-saving feature, like the 820, which would be nice to have, so score one for the 820!). With Varia on added to this mix, my rough estimate is about 9 hours total riding time.
So, if you care about intuitive and reliable navigation, I can actually, for the first time, recommend a Garmin unit. Get the Explore 1000; forget about the 820!