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Old 08-17-17, 09:20 AM   #1
bluehills3149
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Why should I buy a dedicated GPS bike computer over a cheap phone

I use a cheap Android phone I bought for $30 as a bike computer. It is a LG Pheonix 2 with a 5 Inch screen but there are many cheap Android phones starting at just $10 (tip for those in the US - If you get an ATT gophone, you can unlock it free if you do not turn it on but first go to the ATT unlock website). I also use an old cateye computer to display current speed/distance.
I have it strapped to my stem using a knock-off Garmin mount system that attaches to a cheap case which all came to an extra $15 or so. With the screen on permanently the battery lasts about 4 hrs but for longer rides I take a cheap 4hr external battery or for longer rides a bigger 8 hr one, strapped underneath using big rubber bands. I don't use cadence/power/heart rate sensor but I don't see any issue adding bluetooth ones (and some phones even have ANT+ built in).

So for about $50, I have a decent setup and since I bought the phone as a backup and to use when I travel to places where pick-pocketing is common my real cost is close to zero but if you were doing this from scratch and on a budget, using a super basic phone and some zip ties, you could do this for $20 or so.
Some of the extras you get:
-Voice activated commands eg "OK google - bicycle directions to Jim's house"
-music or radio ( I never use but its there)
-Audible directions on maps.
-Choice of ride apps (mapmyride, Strave, Gaia etc)
-I see important text messages/calls as they happen.
-phone and apps are constantly updated with bug fixes.

My question is, what would I gain from moving to a dedicated GPS device like a Garmin 1000? Aside from a big ugly phone on your 'bars and difficulty viewing in strong sunlight, all I see are negatives, not to mention the extra $300+ or so. And since I always ride with a phone anyway, it's even the lighter option.
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Old 08-17-17, 09:34 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by bluehills3149 View Post

My question is, what would I gain from moving to a dedicated GPS device like a Garmin 1000? Aside from a big ugly phone on your 'bars and difficulty viewing in strong sunlight, all I see are negatives, not to mention the extra $300+ or so. And since I always ride with a phone anyway, it's even the lighter option.
1. Smaller form factor
2. Lighter
3. Longer battery life = longer rides

Those are just a few.

You do not need an Edge 1000. You can get an Edge 520 for about $250 if you wait for a sale or shop around. The Wahoo Bolt is $250 and there are plenty of other options out there.

If you are happy with using your phone, then rock on!
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Old 08-17-17, 09:49 AM   #3
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There's nothing better than needing your phone because of a mechanical or something and it being dead.

Don't you know where Jim lives?
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Old 08-17-17, 10:05 AM   #4
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Hey OP, I was humming and hawing about the phone vs GPS as well. I got a nice phone mount and used my phone for a bit, but was basically impossible to see during sunlight. I'd have to stop and cup my hands around the phone to see where I was, or see navigation info. That lasted about two rides before the fun wore off. My phone battery on GPS mode (with brightest screen) didn't last long at all. No way it would last for any 100km+rides.

Last weekend I bought myself a Garmin 820. Works flawless, I can see everything, and the battery lasts for ages. I couldn't be happier, and wish I got it sooner. Looks amazing on the bike, and gives you all the info you need if you use ant+ sensors and whatnot.

If you're really interested, phones use transmissive screens, and Garmins use transflective screens. Google it

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Old 08-17-17, 10:53 AM   #5
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not to mention the extra $300+ or so.
There are plenty of GPS bundles for way less than $300.
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Old 08-17-17, 11:35 AM   #6
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I really don't get GPS on a bicycle anyway. On a car, sure I use it, because navigating at car speeds especially on expressways with multiple confusing ramps and 8 lanes and having to get across traffic to the right exit is confusing. At bicycle speeds and roads, meh I just don't get it. Even in areas I don't know, it's not like it's hard to get around.
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Old 08-17-17, 11:59 AM   #7
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I really don't get GPS on a bicycle anyway. On a car, sure I use it, because navigating at car speeds especially on expressways with multiple confusing ramps and 8 lanes and having to get across traffic to the right exit is confusing. At bicycle speeds and roads, meh I just don't get it. Even in areas I don't know, it's not like it's hard to get around.
Most (some? a lot?) people use it for tracking rides; that's primarily what I've used mine for. Some GPS computers like the Garmin 20/25 or some of the Lezynes *only* provide tracking and do not have any nav abilities.

I'm mostly interested in tracking my rides, although I recently bought a computer that has navigation abilities too so I'm interested to try it out on my next big gravel race in unfamiliar country. (I'll still take cue sheets though because those are pretty reliable.)
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Old 08-17-17, 01:38 PM   #8
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I use a Samsung S5. I had a Garmin Edge.

The phone beats the Garmin on every conceivable metric but one - weather resistance. If it rains hard, the phone touchscreen becomes unusable.

Minor issue.

I use a small bike computer in addition to the phone. It is more convenient (pairs faster with sensors; battery lasts several months). I use the phone to navigate unknown routes.
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Old 08-17-17, 01:40 PM   #9
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I really don't get GPS on a bicycle anyway. On a car, sure I use it, because navigating at car speeds especially on expressways with multiple confusing ramps and 8 lanes and having to get across traffic to the right exit is confusing. At bicycle speeds and roads, meh I just don't get it. Even in areas I don't know, it's not like it's hard to get around.
Having the ability to plan out a route (RideWithGPS) in an area I'm unfamiliar with, then porting that route to a device and following turn-by-turn directions, has broadened my cycling to new area's I might otherwise have never ridden. Some area's have just enough convoluted turns that TBT is helpful.

It's then also a standard cycling computer, only more info that's useful. A $40 Cateye might get you 3 metrics - speed, cycling time and avg. spd. A GPS unit can display in addition, current time (I don't wear a watch), temperature, distance to next turn, distance to go. Or if you use stuff like cadence and power meters, that gets displayed as well. Doing hill repeats ? (Not Me !), you can display elevation. Using Strava ?, show segments and lap times.

Down the road I've got one device and it moves bike to bike (I have 5). Since it's using a speed sensor or GPS I don't concern myself with wheel size.

End of ride I save the ride on RWGPS. I can edit that file and show which bike I used and any info about a new chain or cassette, or tires, etc.... so easy to track mileage for maintenance.

You can do all this (or most of it) with the cheap phone bluehills is using. With a dedicated unit, it's smaller (I hate a phone, too big), waterproof, so no expense in a separate case that adds bulk. The GPS unit has much better battery life built in so no need to conjure up a separate battery mount for a phone, etc.... just generally easier in most ways. As to a phone ?, my iPhone was impossible to read in bright sunlight, the Wahoo Bolt, even though its B&W, has much better screen readability, especially while wearing sunglasses.

Plus I like new toys.

Last edited by Steve B.; 08-17-17 at 01:46 PM.
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Old 08-17-17, 01:49 PM   #10
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If the phone is doing everything you want, then why worry about it. If you are in a big city with tall buildings the phone may be more accurate.

Personally I prefer the dedicated devices without maps. Maps are better viewed before the ride. And if I have to consult one during the ride, I wouldn't want to try and view it on a tiny screen. I reach for my phone at those times.

Battery life might be the only big benefit of dedicated devices.
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Old 08-17-17, 05:41 PM   #11
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I really don't get GPS on a bicycle anyway. On a car, sure I use it, because navigating at car speeds especially on expressways with multiple confusing ramps and 8 lanes and having to get across traffic to the right exit is confusing. At bicycle speeds and roads, meh I just don't get it. Even in areas I don't know, it's not like it's hard to get around.
Most people use the GPS to post their rides to sites like Strava or MapMyRide.
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Old 08-17-17, 06:56 PM   #12
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I can see why some folks use Garmins, health recording devices and sensors that don't rely on GPS. The data are probably more accurate. Good if you can afford 'em and are really serious about training methodology.

But my old iPhone 4s does pretty much all I need for the past couple of years. I use a rainproof pouch for my phone when it's mounted on the handlebar, or carry a ziplock baggy in the saddle bag. And a spare USB battery about the size of three AA batteries bundled together with a rubber band, so it doesn't weigh much or take up much room in the saddle bag. So far, so good.

The only time it's a little bit of a hassle is when I want to snap some photos or record video for easier sharing, but mostly I use a separate video camera to record rides and a P&S camera for photos.
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Old 08-17-17, 08:07 PM   #13
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At bicycle speeds and roads, meh I just don't get it. Even in areas I don't know, it's not like it's hard to get around.
Sounds like you don't ride much if you can't imagine how it could be useful.

You can load a planned course to a GPS (including smartphones).

If you go on rides that use cuesheets, using GPS is, from my experience, much easier.

Quote:
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Personally I prefer the dedicated devices without maps. Maps are better viewed before the ride. And if I have to consult one during the ride, I wouldn't want to try and view it on a tiny screen. I reach for my phone at those times.
It takes some practice but it's not that hard to use the map on the tiny screen (a bigger screen would certainly be easier!).

=================

It's fine to have preferences (I don't care) but it seems some preferences are based on not really understanding what isn't preferred.

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Old 08-18-17, 05:45 AM   #14
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.


It takes some practice but it's not that hard to use the map on the tiny screen (a bigger screen would certainly be easier!).
.
Agreed. Since using a Garmin 810 and now a Wahoo Bolt, I've never had to take out my iPhone to view a map. The dedicated unit screen map image is perfectly adequate to find out what road I'm on where I think I need to go.
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Old 08-18-17, 06:12 AM   #15
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It takes some practice but it's not that hard to use the map on the tiny screen (a bigger screen would certainly be easier!).
agreed, using the small screen isn't hard. I disabled all the factory Garmin maps on my 820 and installed open street maps. Seems to load way faster, and zooming in and out is a ton faster as well

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Old 08-18-17, 06:24 PM   #16
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It may not matter to OP, but your phone is puking your personal data back to Google and who knows who else as you go. I just carry a cheap flip-phone. It knows nothing about me, though I guess it can be cell-tower tracked. If it's lost or stolen I'm out nothing, nor do I have to use "the cloud". ANT+ comms on the Garmin might have some benefit, though I guess most sensors also do BT these days.

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Old 08-18-17, 06:50 PM   #17
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When I save a ride on the device, it ports to the smartphone app, that then uses cell data to send to RWGPS. Or if I am in proximity to my home WiFi, the Bolt will use that. A Garmin 810 has no WiFi so uses BT to the phone for data transfer. I can either send the data when there is cell service or WiFi or wait in case I am in an area with no service. Multiple rides can be saved on the unit.

If using a cheap phone are you also paying a cell company for service ?. That service would be needed to be active to get rides into the cloud and service would be needed for a phone tracking app in any case, to get the data into the tracking web software. Not sure I'd want a 2nd phone on a cell plan and the cost involved.
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Old 08-18-17, 07:19 PM   #18
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If using a cheap phone are you also paying a cell company for service ?. That service would be needed to be active to get rides into the cloud and service would be needed for a phone tracking app in any case, to get the data into the tracking web software. Not sure I'd want a 2nd phone on a cell plan and the cost involved.
It is easy to use a smartphone with just WiFi (no sim at all) for this purpose.

Live tracking, where other people can follow your ride, requires cell network access. With any device.

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Old 08-19-17, 11:57 AM   #19
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...My question is, what would I gain from moving to a dedicated GPS device like a Garmin 1000? Aside from a big ugly phone on your 'bars and difficulty viewing in strong sunlight, all I see are negatives, not to mention the extra $300+ or so. And since I always ride with a phone anyway, it's even the lighter option.
Like you I use my smart phone for everything. I don't do rides over 3hrs but if I did I could augment the battery with an external battery bank and carry it in my frame bag which sits in the space between the top, head and down tube of my road bike. The major advantage I see to using something like a Garmin or Wahoo is that the internal batteries run longer, easier to switch screen functions, easier to use with wireless speed and cadence sensors and perhaps more importantly, no need to be connected to the net to use maps.

Yes I know, you can download maps into your smart phone using various apps ( and navigate off-line ) but it depends on if the phone you are using has a slot for a memory card that is big enough to store the extra data. My current phone has no slot so if I wanted to download a map I'd have to go to OSM and only download the region I thought I would need. I have yet to try using my s-phone in a remote region ( where cell towers are few or where mountains block the cell towers ) If I use a Garmin or Wahoo bolt I'm sure I'd feel much better knowing I have a good map already in storage inside the unit. ( if I'm navigating through remote areas ). Last but not least, if you use your everyday smart phone for navigating there is always the problem if you decide to change phones or your phone breaks and you need a new one. That means setting up the new phone all over again which, need I say, can be a real PITA sometimes.

I got a new phone last year when I accidentally broke the phone that I had. New phone has no SD slot. On the upside it has more internal memory, bigger battery but I had to update the navigation app. Turns out I hadn't had to use the route navigation app till just last week. When I was starting the route I noticed that I was not getting the usual "voice" turn by turn prompts. Finally I stopped to see if I could figure out what was wrong. Turned out when I updated the app the entire menu of the app had changed and I couldn't find a way to turn on TBT. I had to finish the ride by just watching the phone ( map ) screen. That wasn't fun. I finally did figure it out when I got home but boy did they bury the controls for tbt in the updated menu . Tuned out when I updated the app that ( somehow ) tbt was turned off.

At least if you have a Garmin or Wahoo system once you get it set up and are used to using it you don't have to re-learn the UI. Not to mention that the mounting options for the dedicated GPS set-ups are quite nice and very clean looking. If I had the coin I'd love to have a Wahoo bolt.
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Old 08-19-17, 03:44 PM   #20
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In addition to running a phone without any data plan, just using GPS, Cyclemeter only stores data on your phone by default. You must choose to upload it elsewhere. I use cloud storage for automatic backups but that can be disabled. I could just back up the data to my own PC or home "cloud".

So far the only significant drawback I've found to a phone for all cycling stuff is there's no realtime speed readout. With GPS there's always some lag. But I don't run my phone with the display on anyway, and don't have a separate bike computer, not even a cheap speedometer.

On my HIIT sessions I just go by felt effort and mentally count down the sprints or high effort intervals. I tried using the interval cues that are optionally available with Cyclemeter and other apps but they never quite meshed with the terrain. We have lots of roller coaster routes that provide natural interval training, so I just do all out effort on certain short, steep hills or stretches of flat pavement.

If I'm recalling correctly, Strava voice cues can alert us to upcoming segments where we might want to go flat out, but I've never used that option. I've set up a few private Strava segments where I already know the end points and just do my intervals there. I don't check the data until I get home.
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Old 08-29-17, 02:38 AM   #21
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I use a cheap Android phone I bought for $30 as a bike computer. It is a LG Pheonix 2 with a 5 Inch screen but there are many cheap Android phones starting at just $10 (tip for those in the US - If you get an ATT gophone, you can unlock it free if you do not turn it on but first go to the ATT unlock website). I also use an old cateye computer to display current speed/distance.
I have it strapped to my stem using a knock-off Garmin mount system that attaches to a cheap case which all came to an extra $15 or so. With the screen on permanently the battery lasts about 4 hrs but for longer rides I take a cheap 4hr external battery or for longer rides a bigger 8 hr one, strapped underneath using big rubber bands. I don't use cadence/power/heart rate sensor but I don't see any issue adding bluetooth ones (and some phones even have ANT+ built in).

So for about $50, I have a decent setup and since I bought the phone as a backup and to use when I travel to places where pick-pocketing is common my real cost is close to zero but if you were doing this from scratch and on a budget, using a super basic phone and some zip ties, you could do this for $20 or so.
Some of the extras you get:
-Voice activated commands eg "OK google - bicycle directions to Jim's house"
-music or radio ( I never use but its there)
-Audible directions on maps.
-Choice of ride apps (mapmyride, Strave, Gaia etc)
-I see important text messages/calls as they happen.
-phone and apps are constantly updated with bug fixes.

My question is, what would I gain from moving to a dedicated GPS device like a Garmin 1000? Aside from a big ugly phone on your 'bars and difficulty viewing in strong sunlight, all I see are negatives, not to mention the extra $300+ or so. And since I always ride with a phone anyway, it's even the lighter option.

Do you have a (free) smartphone app that can import a gpx and follow the route while riding? I use maps.me and it works great offline and i can import kmil files with layers. But it doesn't follow a route while I'm riding, i have to constantly stop and swype to see if I'm correctly following the route.
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Old 08-29-17, 07:35 AM   #22
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It may not matter to OP, but your phone is puking your personal data back to Google and who knows who else as you go. I just carry a cheap flip-phone. It knows nothing about me, though I guess it can be cell-tower tracked. If it's lost or stolen I'm out nothing, nor do I have to use "the cloud". ANT+ comms on the Garmin might have some benefit, though I guess most sensors also do BT these days.

scott s.
.
That issue is 100% negated if you don't keep an active SIM in the bike phone.

Load the apps and maps and music you want at home on Wifi then put the phone into airplane mode (which DRAMATICALLY improves battery life) with no SIM card and that phone is not trackable.

If you want an extra layer of security for biking, load the apps using a secondary Gmail account that you only use for that phone. Then it's not even linked to your primary account. And if you're really paranoid about these things, create that secondary Gmail account from the parking lot of a Starbucks with free wifi (but not inside...the security cameras in there could tie you to that phone model....) so the IP can't be traced back to you.

Of course you have to get the bike phone on Craigslist, not eBay where the phone can be traced back to you. Get it on Craigslist. Use a fake email to contact the seller. Show up to the exchange wearing a ski mask. And of course walk to the meet up, never drive. If you drive the seller might see your license plate. That way the phone can never be traced back to you.

SARCASM ALERT

I'm not this paranoid. I'm making the point that using a second hand Android device as a bike computer is not a security breach. It can be easily set up in a way that gives you privacy if you want. You don't have to get ridiculous about it.

A phone as a bike computer is the only way I go. I love it. The customability and lower cost than a dedicated bike computer far outweighs any drawbacks. So it's a few ounces heavier...who cares? Battery life issues can be negated by 1) getting a phone with a large battery 2) getting a light weight 2000 mAh backup battery. 3) keeping the phone in airplane mode while you ride
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