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There's a lot of discussion around smartphones vs. Garmins for long rides. In one corner, Garminados waffle about 15hr battery life, waterproofness and size, while in the geek corner Mobilistas tout cheap smartphones with a few extra batteries as the way to go, not doubling up on tech as the Garmin crowd carry mobiles anyway.

I present proof positive that a smartphone - even one 4 years old - can do the job. This screenshot is 5 1/2hrs into a 'ride', recording with Strava and using Viewranger for navigation, at 25% battery left. Critically the Viewranger Trip screen has been on all the time, with the nav arrow and other information displayed - meaning it can do a ride of over 7 hours with the display on permanently. Brightness was turned down, but it was still quite visible. Also the phone was connected to 3UK the whole time, mobile data and WiFi turned off.

Noting that if you set the screen to auto-off after say 15 seconds, you can wake it to check direction at an intersection, then it will go back to sleep automatically. This will dramatically improve battery life to about 12hrs in this case, as you see below screen power accounts for nearly half battery usage.

So you have Strava logging, always-on navigation, plus can receive calls/SMS. With the option to turn on mobile data to check email if really needed.

The phone in this case is a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, but for £40-ish you could have a Motorola Defy from eBay, rated IP67 waterproof and pretty shockproof to boot. Stem-mount it on £27-worth of Quadlock and you have a quarter-turn easy on-off solution that is weatherproof and can have its always-on runtime doubled to around 12hrs using £10 worth of extra battery. Or out to 24hrs if you have screen sleep enabled.

If/when you do need to stop and swap batteries, a Strava TCX/GPX file can be joined using one of a few methods to give that all-important one long ride.

The 4.4-star rated Viewranger app is free for Android and iOS. You can purchase Viewranger maps for less than half of the Garmin cost and the online route planning tool is genius. £90 gets you all of the UK (£199 from Garmin), or smaller bits are priced applicably less. Or you can download Openstreetmap / Opencyclemap tiles for free *from the app, on the mobile* and use them anywhere in the world. This can be done whilst on the road, no laptop needed - for example, using free Wifi in a café. Did this in Belgium last year- worked flawlessly.

Hopefully this goes some way to clearing the air and giving people hope that quality, robust on-bike long-ride nav, logging and comms is perfectly do-able for less than £100.

88 comments

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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Proof

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Gareth W-R [40 posts] 2 years ago
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I found that when doing long rides (6-7 hours) I put my phone on airplane mode and Strava still works with battery to spare at the end!

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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Gareth W-R wrote:

I found that when doing long rides (6-7 hours) I put my phone on airplane mode and Strava still works with battery to spare at the end!

For sure. I can get 13hrs out of my iphone in airplane mode. Point being, most people like to be contactable out on the bike. With a properly waterproof phone mounted properly, you wouldn't need to carry a second phone for emergencies.

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argotittilius [23 posts] 2 years ago
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I normally just bung strava on, then dump the phone in a pocket till the end of the ride, and completely ignore it. The knowledge that Strava is silently recording and judging me is sometimes enough to get out of the saddle and push that climb a little harder. I try not to look while I'm riding though, unless I get thoroughly lost and need to get home.
However as a loyal velomanatus, I don't really like he asthetics of mounting a smartphone on the handlebars - definitely a rule 74 breach  3

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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argotittilius wrote:

I normally just bung strava on, then dump the phone in a pocket till the end of the ride, and completely ignore it. The knowledge that Strava is silently recording and judging me is sometimes enough to get out of the saddle and push that climb a little harder. I try not to look while I'm riding though, unless I get thoroughly lost and need to get home.
However as a loyal velomanatus, I don't really like he asthetics of mounting a smartphone on the handlebars - definitely a rule 74 breach  3

Sure, I get that as a use case when you know where you are going and frequently do just that myself. However my specific problem is leading regular club rides where we have never been before down twisting country lanes, sometimes over several hundred km. In these cases all-day on-handlebar navigation isn't a nice-to-have, it's essential.

Knowing whether you are turning left/right/straight on well before the intersection means no stopping, no faffing, no need to carry maps, get a phone out, open app, get GPS lock, zoom in, etc etc etc...and the Viewranger/OpenStreetmap combo means you get it for free.

Velominati rules only apply for rides of sub-4hrs, where you know where you are going.

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ScottChegg [9 posts] 2 years ago
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my current set up is iphone 5 with wahoo rflkt, cadence/speed sensor and heart rate monitor all connected via bluetooth 4.0.
I have the phone in a topeak drybag in back pocket running wahoo fitness app and although i have the screen off i dont turn off wifi or mobile data.
This generally uses 12-14% battery per hour therefore i could probably ride 7-8 hours using this method.
I think i could get nearer 10 hours if i turned off wifi and mobile data and all apps running in background that i dont need whilst out cycling.
Not bad for a mobile........

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Shep73 [211 posts] 2 years ago
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I like my Garmin for navigating new routes and always use it but I have never had 15 hours out of it. I actually find the battery life is around 8 hours but Garmin and other dedicated GPS do give a better satellite fix so are more accurate.
The downside to the Garmins is the map image quality when zoomed in, the open maps are better (more of a satnav feel), just a shame they don't do an explorer version. And the Memory Maps version is a better image as well so I can see why people use it on phones, especially with a bigger screen.

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chokofingrz [407 posts] 2 years ago
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Yes, you can do 6-7 hour rides using your smartphone of choice, but it's still a pain managing the settings to keep it alive, and knowing the battery is going to get low. Not really viable for unsupported touring, so I'm going to get one of those Anker portable battery devices which holds enough for several full recharges. £30 on Amazon and more useful than a solar charger. Apparently Saxo-Tinkoff's Chris Sørensen swears by them too.

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Chuck [566 posts] 2 years ago
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Re the Defy- I've got one (well, just replaced actually) and it's worth noting that if it's even a bit sunny it's very hard to actually see anything on it.

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graham_f [196 posts] 2 years ago
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For really long rides, has anyone looked at the possibility of hooking a dynamo hub up to the appropriate cable to charge a smart phone? I think modern dynamos typically have a 6v, 3W output, so should be well capable of keeping a smartphone charged. Then you could ride indefinitely  3

Edit: went and had a look, and answered my own question: http://www.rosebikes.co.uk/article/supernova-the-plug-iii-usb-charger/ai...

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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chokofingrz wrote:

Yes, you can do 6-7 hour rides using your smartphone of choice, but it's still a pain managing the settings to keep it alive, and knowing the battery is going to get low. Not really viable for unsupported touring, so I'm going to get one of those Anker portable battery devices which holds enough for several full recharges. £30 on Amazon and more useful than a solar charger. Apparently Saxo-Tinkoff's Chris Sørensen swears by them too.

Why not 2-3 spare batteries? £10 for OEM ones. Using an external charger like the Anker means no IP rating and you have to work out how to mount it somehow with a cable going to the phone, whereas pop a new bty in whilst huddled in a bus shelter/under a tree and you're off again for another 12hrs of pedaling.

Re: managing settings, going into Airplane mode or even WiFi/Mobile Data off is the work of seconds.

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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graham_f wrote:

For really long rides, has anyone looked at the possibility of hooking a dynamo hub up to the appropriate cable to charge a smart phone? I think modern dynamos typically have a 6v, 3W output, so should be well capable of keeping a smartphone charged. Then you could ride indefinitely  3

Edit: went and had a look, and answered my own question: http://www.rosebikes.co.uk/article/supernova-the-plug-iii-usb-charger/ai...

It is £135 for a variable 6 > 5V USB socket. And includes no storage, so you have to charge on-the-go, negating IP rating & introducing cable faffage.

Plus you need a decent dynamo hub - another £100 built?

I've looked at these before, and not seen anything cable/free/truly elegant, nor anything that came in under £250-£300 all-up and required a dedicated bike build.

Sure, if you are going unsupported around the world that sort of thing or a large Powermonkey solar et al is the go. I'm talking about single- or multi-day 8-12hr efforts in the developed world, where your bed is likely to be within arm's reach of a 240v socket to recharge mobile batteries overnight.

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corkadillo [8 posts] 2 years ago
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I still use my iPhone housed in a waterproof case on the bars. The case has an opening for the charging cable. I then use an external battery to keep it topped up. The battery I use will charge the phone 3 times from dead.

I wrote more about it here http://www.corkadillo.co.uk/2013/01/20/pebble-portable-battery-pack-char...

It works for me.

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paulrbarnard [182 posts] 2 years ago
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I have pretty much the same setup but I do turn off the wifi. I use rflk and blue speed/cad sensor. The phone is in my back pocket wight eh display off and I haver completed 6 hours with loads of battery in reserve.

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Him Up North [235 posts] 2 years ago
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Another Xperia Arc user!  103

Can I pick your brains? Do you find the GPS on the Xperia any good? Mine wigs out on rides, dropping speed readings at points and showing "detours" I didn't take. I don't use Strava (not that invested yet) but use Google's My Tracks.

Secondly, what do you use to mount the handset to your bike? There are millions of gadgets for iphones but a dearth for the XA.

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Charles_Hunter [149 posts] 2 years ago
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Good tip with airplane mode, I hadn't thought of that.

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thelimopit [144 posts] 2 years ago
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If you're feeling adventurous it's worth rooting an old Android phone and turning it into a dedicated ride computer. I put a lightweight ROM (Dgb) on my ancient HTC Desire and it did the job perfectly, the battery seemed to last forever and GPS accuracy was spot on. It also means you can adjust the minutiae of the phone, so you can set it to wake up when you press the front buttons (essential if it's in a case) and turn off battery draining things like screen animations and other useless bits.

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dave atkinson [6258 posts] 2 years ago
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graham_f wrote:

For really long rides, has anyone looked at the possibility of hooking a dynamo hub up to the appropriate cable to charge a smart phone? I think modern dynamos typically have a 6v, 3W output, so should be well capable of keeping a smartphone charged. Then you could ride indefinitely  3

Edit: went and had a look, and answered my own question: http://www.rosebikes.co.uk/article/supernova-the-plug-iii-usb-charger/ai...

yeah, i've used the plug (an early version, newer ones are better) and it was just the ticket for keeping a phone topped up on a long ride (400km brevet cymru)

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

Another Xperia Arc user!  103

Can I pick your brains? Do you find the GPS on the Xperia any good? Mine wigs out on rides, dropping speed readings at points and showing "detours" I didn't take. I don't use Strava (not that invested yet) but use Google's My Tracks.

Secondly, what do you use to mount the handset to your bike? There are millions of gadgets for iphones but a dearth for the XA.

I recently did alot of faffing to get the GPS working better. can't remember which site/method I used, but it now locks in about 10 seconds instead of 10 minutes or not at all. I recall installing a new GPS file or something, telling it to look for a different clock signal.

Re mounting, nothing yet beyond a BikeCityGuide Finn mount rubber thing. Am thinking the Quadlock is the way to go, but might buy a Moto Defy instead as that is water/shock proof to boot.

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dave atkinson [6258 posts] 2 years ago
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anyone got any experience of the Haier W718? IP67, 2000mAh (replaceable) battery, Android 4.2. you can have one for about £60.

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giobox [360 posts] 2 years ago
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Given how cheap you can snatch up a Garmin Edge 500, 200 or a Bryton model I don't really think the compromises of using a phone are worthwhile. Phones also tend to promote battery life over GPS accuracy, often causing some pretty crappy data in my experience. Very much like the experience of the Sony Experia Arc user listed earlier.

Merlin are doing the Bryton rider 20 with a heart rate strap for 65 quid. All you need for Strava, decent quality ride data and no more worrying about phones/waterproofing/mounts etc. This is outrageously good value. It even has ant+ too, unlike the Garmin edge 200.

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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giobox wrote:

Given how cheap you can snatch up a Garmin Edge 500, 200 or a Bryton model I don't really think the compromises of using a phone are worthwhile. Phones also tend to promote battery life over GPS accuracy, often causing some pretty crappy data in my experience. Very much like the experience of the Sony Experia Arc user listed earlier.

The whole reason for using a phone is the mapping/navigation. Specifically, free OpenStreetmap or Opencyclemaps. As with any electronic device YMMV, the issues with the Xperia Arc are known and fixes are available. Most phones don't have any problems these days. I cannot distinguish the rides i record on Android or iphone from friends on the same ride using Garmins. Almost identical distances, speeds and altitudes. Given the natural variability in reading a signal from a garden shed moving at over 3km a second, 20,000km out into space, from your jersey pocket, it's not too shabby  3

With a few tweaked settings, you can have all-day onscreen map-based nav without investing the best part of £500.

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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Ok, strap youselves in folks:

I have been doing some tests on an Android phone (SEM Xperia Arc, Android 4.0, latest ViewRanger and Strava clients). I've found the following:

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

Radio: airplane mode
Strava: recording
VR: trip on, not recording
Screen: on for about 30mins to simulate checking next direction at intersections, otherwise off
Battery life: 30% at 10hr 15' - extrapolated bty life: 14hr 30'

Strava: 60%
VR: 24%
Screen: 9%
System: 8%

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

Radio: 3G only, no data or WiFi
Strava: recording
VR: trip on, not recording
Screen: on constantly, low brightness
Battery life: 26% at 5hr 27' - extrapolated bty life: 7hr 20'

Strava: 37%
VR: 16%
Screen: 44%
Cell standby: 3%
System: 2%

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

Two measurements on this test:

Radio: airplane mode
Strava: recording
VR: trip on, not recording
Screen: on constantly, low brightness
Battery life: 32% at 5hr 38' - extrapolated bty life: 8hr 17'

Strava: 38%
VR: 17%
Screen: 45%
System: %

and then

Radio: airplane mode
Strava: recording
VR: trip on, not recording
Screen: on constantly, low brightness
Battery life: 1% at 8hr 23'

Strava: 38%
VR: 17%
Screen: 45%
System: %

NOTE: %'s are identical for 30% and 1% marks, extrapolated bty life pretty close to actual

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

Radio: 3G only, no data or WiFi
Strava: OFF
VR: trip on, RECORDING
Screen: on constantly, low brightness
Battery life: 1% at 7hr 18'

Strava: N/A
VR: 46%
Screen: 50%
Cell standby: 3%
System: 2%

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

Radio: airplane mode
Strava: OFF
VR: trip on, RECORDING
Screen: on constantly, low brightness
Battery life: 1% at 8hr 25'

Strava: N/A
VR: 42%
Screen: 57%
System: 2%

What this seems to show is:

You can push a smartphone out to 14hrs+, if you put it into airplane mode and only use the screen when needed.
Even though the stats show Cell standby only ever at 3%, it reduces overall life by about an hour, during an 8hr test with screen always-on
Whether you have Strava or VR recording makes no difference

Although I haven't run this test yet, it looks like if you leave 3G on so you're contactable (no data or WiFi on), have Strava recording and use Viewranger for navigation, and only look at the nav arrow / waypoint info when you get to an intersection, then you should get well over 12hrs runtime.

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Scoob_84 [384 posts] 2 years ago
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KiwiMike wrote:
giobox wrote:

Given how cheap you can snatch up a Garmin Edge 500, 200 or a Bryton model I don't really think the compromises of using a phone are worthwhile. Phones also tend to promote battery life over GPS accuracy, often causing some pretty crappy data in my experience. Very much like the experience of the Sony Experia Arc user listed earlier.

The whole reason for using a phone is the mapping/navigation. Specifically, free OpenStreetmap or Opencyclemaps. As with any electronic device YMMV, the issues with the Xperia Arc are known and fixes are available. Most phones don't have any problems these days. I cannot distinguish the rides i record on Android or iphone from friends on the same ride using Garmins. Almost identical distances, speeds and altitudes. Given the natural variability in reading a signal from a garden shed moving at over 3km a second, 20,000km out into space, from your jersey pocket, it's not too shabby  3

With a few tweaked settings, you can have all-day onscreen map-based nav without investing the best part of £500.

You can use Garmins 200 and 500's for navigation. I do this all the time with my 500.

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pepita1 [176 posts] 2 years ago
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It would be nice if there was a way to set an alarm to go off when you cycle past a pre determined control point. Just thinking of a way for me to remember to stop at unmanned control points when riding an audax.

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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Scoob_84 wrote:

You can use Garmins 200 and 500's for navigation. I do this all the time with my 500.

How well does that work in practice, riding in a totally strange place? That's a breadcrumb trail with no mapping - and the UK mapping on the 800/810 is £200 vs. free for Viewranger if you download the free Openstreetmap tiles. Also Garmin give no distance- or time-to-turn - just an alert if you go off-course, and no way to easily get back on without guessing and waiting for another alert to say you're now going the wrong way. The peloton will have beaten me to a pulp with their Lezynes long before I work out which way to go, once lost in Hampshire's myriad lane maze.

My aim is to have low-cost stress-free nav where making a mistake or a detour is forgiveable/recoverable. £150 for a 500 with no maps. Or the 800 is £300 with the UK 1:50k maps, which is a great solution - if you have £300. Add another £150 for the 810.

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Eg3ftp1 [67 posts] 2 years ago
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I the think the hammerhead navigation device is going to end this debate. All the benefits of using the phone (connectivity, free route planning, track recording and navigation apps) with none of the battery or sunlight visibility problems as the phone is in your back pocket with the screen off, and the hammerhead flashes brightly on your handlebar to tell you there's a turn coming up, and even how close to the top of the hill/strava segment you are.

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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benezeir wrote:

I the think the hammerhead navigation device is going to end this debate. All the benefits of using the phone (connectivity, free route planning, track recording and navigation apps) with none of the battery or sunlight visibility problems as the phone is in your back pocket with the screen off, and the hammerhead flashes brightly on your handlebar to tell you there's a turn coming up, and even how close to the top of the hill/strava segment you are.

I'm very keen to read the real-world reviews of this. Assume that you have to carry a phone, have it on, in your pocket using Bluetooth (no idea what flavour, should be 4 / Smart though). What this is doing is showing you distance to turn and direction. That's something that an app like Viewranger can and does do, without really impacting battery life (checking for 15 seconds at each junction by waking the screen with a single home button press is easy). The handlebar real estate needed looks similar to a phone - good luck with using lights or a bar-mounted computer/HRM with this - you'll need to put either the other kit or the Hammerhead out front on a Barfly. The Hammerhead is 'a' solution, and like people who find an Edge works for them, I'm sure there will be people who like the Hammerhead. Others might decide they need the maps side of thing on the bars, accessible instantly. I might be a Hammerhead convert, if the reviews are good and I can find a spare £100 or whatever.

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cqexbesd [82 posts] 2 years ago
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KiwiMike wrote:

My aim is to have low-cost stress-free nav where making a mistake or a detour is forgiveable/recoverable. £150 for a 500 with no maps. Or the 800 is £300 with the UK 1:50k maps, which is a great solution - if you have £300. Add another £150 for the 810.

I'm using a Garmin Dakota 20 with OpenStreetMap and it works quite well. Not perfect but better than any phone setup I have managed. The touch screen is ok but not great - if I had to buy again I might go for the etrex something. I like the compass as it tells me which way to start off in after stopping for lunch!

Long battery life, easily swapable batteries, water proof, screen always visible etc.

I'm still trying to find a good way to utilise my dynamo to charge batteries though.

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KiwiMike [1237 posts] 2 years ago
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pepita1 wrote:

It would be nice if there was a way to set an alarm to go off when you cycle past a pre determined control point. Just thinking of a way for me to remember to stop at unmanned control points when riding an audax.

The Viewranger app allows you to set alarms for approaching and over-running waypoints, as well as going off-course in general. Unfortunately the app decides what is a 'waypoint' so it's next to useless as an alarm as it's always going off. I do have the XTE or 'cross-track' alarm that goes off if I wander more than 50m off course. I'm hoping Viewranger will allow you to set waypoints, or alarms only for specific waypoints. Seems a glaring omission for what is otherwise great software.

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