UPDATE (September 14, 2016): Since I published this review, I’ve run into a couple of problems with the Edge 820. Battery life has been alarmingly short; I have found the unit completely dead after a two-hour ride. Garmin knows about this issue and recommends a hard reset. There will be a software update available at the end of September.
The other issue I have run into is inconsistent Bluetooth connectivity. When I first received the unit, I had no issues uploading rides to my phone quickly and easily. For the last month or so, however, it has become difficult or impossible to get the Edge 820 to pair to my iPhone 6S. I have reached out to Garmin to see if they have a fix. I will post it here if a fix is available.
It was bound to happen: The Garmin Edge 520 and the Edge 1000 got tossed in a blender and the result is the Edge 820, which combines some of the best features of the 1000 with the smaller size of the 520. Perhaps most exciting is the inclusion of turn-by-turn navigation and the ability to find bike-friendly routes while you’re out on the road or trail. It even throws in a few new features like incident detection and a physiological data screen.
In theory, the Edge 820 should be the head unit to end all head units. But while it’s very good — perhaps Garmin’s best to date — it’s got a few niggles that prevent it from ascending to that title.
Let’s start with the awesome sauce: The Edge 820 has WiFi, which makes for easier and quicker file transfers, uploads, and updates. It also has a new physiological data screen that shows you advanced cycling dynamics in real time, like left-right power distribution. Add this to the Vo2 Max estimate feature, FTP, and recovery advisor, and you’ve got a thorough tool for tracking all the data you’ll want to load into your training program or discuss with your coach.
And it’s got a full-color touch screen. Gone are the two side buttons of the 520; scrolling through your data pages is quick and easy, though accidental swipes are also fairly easy to make. Still, the touch screen functionality is a major improvement, even in the rain: On my second ride, I got caught in a torrential downpour, which seemed as good a time as any to swipe through the screens. The touchscreen worked flawlessly, even coated in rainwater. And if you’re used to navigating the screens on your 520, you’ll be right at home here, but you won’t have to mess around with external buttons. Nice.
Navigation gets a tweak too, with turn-by-turn capabilities via GPS and Glonass. You can punch in an address or search for a nearby attraction, and the Edge 820 will find a bike-friendly route to get you there. It’s a great feature that I used several times when my normal route to work was detoured, and while the map takes some time to load (under a minute), this feature was a lifesaver more than once.
Strava’s Live Segments are included as well, so you’ll still be able to hunt KOMs. And now you also get Group Track, which allows you to track your riding buddies, should you get separated on that long climb in to the mountains. Your friends will also need to be using Group Track for this feature to work, though. Since we don’t have any other friends using the new Edge 820 yet, we can’t speak for this feature’s usability, but in theory it makes a lot of sense in a group with varying ability levels.
I love the idea of the incident detection feature; Garmin is now catching up with other GPS devices that send out text messages to a predetermined contact should you crash. It’s like an integrated IceDot, and it’s something every head unit should have. But the Edge 820’s crash detection feature is extremely sensitive: On my first test ride, I triggered the crash detector four times. These triggers came on completely smooth pavement, once rolling up to a stop light, and once leaning over to adjust the buckle on my shoe. In order to prevent a text from being sent to my wife, indicating that I had crashed, I had to press and hold the screen to deactivate the crash sensor.
On my second ride, I triggered the crash detector three times in the first 20 minutes when I hit some rough pavement. If you’re mountain biking, forget about it. Finally I turned this feature off. It became far more of a hassle than it was worth.
Otherwise, the Edge 820 combines an ideal head unit size with the expanded functionality of its big brother, the Edge 1000. I can see this becoming my go-to GPS unit because it’s easy to use and it has cool features I actually want to use, particularly the maps and the physiological data screens. Iron out that incident detection and the Edge 820 could be Garmin’s best head unit to date.