These days your first experience of using any sort of cycling computer, particularly with a navigation or mapping aspect, is likely to be a smartphone app.
There are loads of iPhone and Android apps aimed at cyclists, runners and walkers. Some of them are much better than others, but in terms of their suitability for the task, they all have one fundamental flaw – the hardware they run on. Smartphones with zillions of apps are incredible devices, but sometimes you still need something which is designed specifically for the job.
Here’s 10 reasons to ditch the apps, and get a proper bike GPS.
1. Battery life
You’ll be lucky to get more than a few hours out of your phone when the GPS is enabled. If your app uses online maps, that 3G connection will also drain your battery. Ask anyone who uses a phone app on their bike if it’s ever ran out of juice before they completed the ride. I’d bet 99% would admit it.
2. Save your data allowance on your phone
A dedicated GPS unit like a Garmin has the maps installed so you don’t need to have a data connection to download maps all the time. Having said that, there are apps which allow you to store offline maps too, and I posted about two very good ones in this post.
3. Weather proof
My Garmin has been out on rides in all weather, including the kind of heavy rain that would make my Samsung Galaxy S2 phone wince and pee its pants in terror. Phones are not made to withstand exposure to the elements. Sooner or later, it will let you down, and you’ll need a replacement phone.
My Garmin does what it’s supposed to do, perfectly. Every time. Without fail. My phone apps may crash if I get a call whilst tracking a route, or if I try to take a photo of the view along the way. The battery is certain to die much sooner, thus losing all my ride data too. It’s not always bad, but i’ts unpredictable and I want better than that.
5. Physical Robustness
My Galaxy S2 is a lovely thing, but it feels fairly fragile. I’d be horrified if I ever dropped it, and I’m sure that lovely big screen would not survive unscathed. My Garmin on the other hand, which is also a lovely thing, gives me the impression that if I dropped it whilst bombing down a hill at 40mph, it would just dust itself off and carry on – business as usual. Put simply, the Garmin is designed to be used on a bike, and a phone isn’t.
6. Solid GPS tracking
The GPS receiver in phones is pretty shaky compared to a dedicated unit like a Garmin. The first time I saw a gpx track recorded by an iPhone I was shocked at how spiky it was. The signal was regularly lost, recording very haphazard data as the signal was gradually recovered. The result? Messy, inaccurate data. I’ve also experienced this on a HTC handset (android). My Garmin gpx tracks are always smooth and accurate recordings of the journey.
It’s great being able to record the path you’ve taken, but what about when you want to plan a specific route beforehand and be guided along that route by the device? Much simpler to achieve with a dedicated unit like the Garmin Edge 800.
8. Integration with additional performance monitoring
Once you get a taste for the stats, it’s a natural progression to get interested in your heart rate and cadence. Training using heart rate zones is a proven method to increase the effectiveness of your workouts, and cadence monitoring is extremely useful to hone your efficiency. Whilst it is possible to set up this kind of monitoring with phone apps, the dedicated units are often sold bundled with the hardware you need, so it all works perfectly together straight out of the box.
9. Easier to mount
My Garmin has the simplest, most effective mount. It takes 2 seconds to put it on or take it off, yet it feels incredibly solid when it’s in place. I’ve seen various designs for phone holders on bikes and they’re usually cheap and nasty and will either break within a few weeks, or they’ll be so ineffective that your phone will leap out of the holder and crunch down on the tarmac as soon as you ride over any uneven surface. I wouldn’t even want to risk my phone in one of those things.
10. Touchscreen phones don’t like gloves.
It is such an annoyance to have to take a glove off to operate the phone, particularly if it’s really cold. My Garmin touchscreen works brilliantly even with my heavier winter gloves on.
And a bonus one –
Your phone will still be useful as a phone
OK, so it’s linked to battery longevity again but seriously, when you’re out on the road you never know what’s going to happen and you need to retain the ability to phone for help, should the situation arise.
Want to see where the best deals are on a Garmin?
Check out live price data from all the main online cycling retailers, for the full range of Garmin GPS units.