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Bike Computer vs Smart Phone

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Bike Computer vs Smart Phone

Old 07-07-21, 08:49 AM
  #1  
Sorg67
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Bike Computer vs Smart Phone

I suspect that with the right app, a smart phone can do most of what a computer can do. I currently use a watch to track and record my ride and a phone for navigation. I am considering ditching that practice and getting a bicycle computer that does it all. But I suspect I could also just get an app for my phone that would do most of it and perhaps enough. Any thoughts on the subject would be appreciated. Following are my initial thoughts:

1. More accurate and instant speed monitoring vs GPS.
2. More rugged and weather resistant.
3. More purpose built for cycling.
4. Save battery power on phone on long rides.
5. Save wear and tear on phone.
6. Remove watch from wrist. Although I could mount watch on handlebars.
7. A new toy to play with.

For those of you who use the phone, what app do you use and why?

For those of you who use a computer, which one and why?

For those of you who just like to make snarky remarks. Go ahead, but make sure they are clever or you will lose points on your snarky ranking.
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Old 07-07-21, 09:30 AM
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There can be good reasons to use a smartphone as the computer. Many folks just buy a cheap used phone, no SIM card and just load RideWithGPS or Strava or something similar. Most reported issues are battery life can be poor, you need to finagle the phone to have the display on all the time, screen can be difficult to read in bright sunlight, you might need a waterproof case (phone model dependent), phones are typically much larger sitting on a h-bar, not everybody wants that huge phone out there.

Lot of folks say why bother and just get a dedicated cycling GPS device.
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Old 07-07-21, 09:30 AM
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I have used before.
Pros.
If you are a data geek, with IPbike app you can customize and cram as many data on the screen
With ant+ if available, you can pair with power meter etc without the hefty price of, say a wahoo unit.

Cons
Heavier than a bike computer. I have used handphone almost the size a head unit but its still heavier. If you ride fast the road vibration can eventually cause the phone to be dislodged from the mount and risk damaging.
Screen visibility is poor under sunlight.
Battery life can only last 4-5 hours depending on capacity
In the rain the water can mess up the touchscreen, unless you use a screen locking app.

Basically the cons outweight the pros for me. I still use it for navigation alone during bikepacking trip because my computer lacks the function.
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Old 07-07-21, 09:39 AM
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For a phone app I like RideWithGPS. It works good and is a good system for creating routes. I can create a route on my computer or my phone. Also a lot of clubs and organized rides have routes in RideWithGPS. I have my RideWitGPS account linked to my Garmin account so if I pull up a route on my phone or computer all I need to do is pin it and then sync my GPS.

Most of the time I use my Garmin 1030 plus. I like it better than my other Garmins due to the larger screen. I like the GPS for most of the reasons you list. Plus it's easier to read the screen in daylight.

For your point 1 that is only true if one is using a speed sensor and the other is using GPS. RideWithGPS and Garmin will use the same sensors. I don't think a speed sensor is more accurate but it's faster responding to speed changes.

For your point 6 I have a Garmin watch and I use it a lot of times when I don't have my chest strap on for hart rate. I set it to broadcast wrist hart rate and the GPS picks it up.
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Old 07-07-21, 09:59 AM
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Depends entirely on what you prefer.
I have never owned a phone that I could see well in bright sunlight. Nor have I ever owned a phone that I'd want to chance knocking off the bars and it being run over by others. A common gps device, who cares if it gets run over, it's only got that days info on it anyhow. At least that's all mine has on it.

I'm assuming your list of numbered statements is why you might think a gps cyclometer is better than a phone. I won't disagree, but phones are getting better in weather resistance and ruggedness. Now if the phone makers would stop putting them in such fragile housings like glass or thin aluminum they'd be pretty rugged without a bulky outer box that has to be bought in addition to the phone. One of my older droid Maxx's had a kevlar body and it took drops and other hazards well without additional protection. But people didn't think that as stylish as the glass body of my moto x4 which had to be hidden in a outer box.... wow.. am I ranting? <grin>

But that sounds like I'm too pro phone use for cycling, and I personally am not. I keep my phone in my back jersey pocket where I feel it safe. I've had several bad crashes in the last five years and it survived there very well and in the one where I had a severe concussion it was easily found by the person that found me and they called my wife with it.

For a bike computer I want it on my bike stem or somewhere thereabouts or out front. I don't want it on my wrist because mostly I use if for gee-whiz info while riding such as to briefly glace at while going downhill. So I want both hands on the bars securely. Most of what I look at on a ride is just for gee-whiz purpose. I don't have a PM and I've learned to gauge perceived effort without having to know my HR or anything else. The device is mostly just to record data to look at after the ride. If it wasn't for the post ride review and analysis of my ride, I'd have no need for a cyclometer.

Which computer... I'm not a this brand is better than the other brand person. They all will work well for you if they have the features you want to use. Garmin, Wahoo and Lezyene have been good for a long time. Others are getting into the picture now too. I've been using Garmin handhelds for hiking and Garmin chart plotters for sailing since the mid 2000's. So circa 2010 it was natural to choose the Garmin Edge 500. I got a Edge 530 in 2020, but the 500 still works perfectly.
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Old 07-07-21, 10:23 AM
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I use my everyday phone (an iPhone 11) with either the Cyclemeter or Ride with GPS app to track my ride (I use RwGPS particularly if I'm following an existing route). I do have it paired with a chest-strap heart-rate monitor, and could pair it with a rotation counter or power meter, so in terms of data collection, there's no advantage either way (except that with my phone, I am either restricted to Bluetooth gadgets, or need to add a Bluetooth/ANT+ gateway). In terms of data display, the dedicated head units have an advantage (which is a pet peeve I have with the apps, since there's no reason they couldn't offer customization the way Garmins do). For the most part, I ride with the screen off, and have the app announce my stats at regular intervals. If I do need to look at the screen momentarily, it's not hard: the screen is oriented so it can see my face, and face-unlocking means I just need to swipe up on the screen. Battery life is a non-issue* even on 150-mile rides; power banks are an easy insurance policy. The phone is water-resistant* and has lived on my handlebars through some pretty heavy rainstorms. I do have a case with a lanyard loop in the event my bar mount (Quadlock, recommended) fails, but so far so good.

I did consider getting a dedicated head unit, but I've read numerous complaints about how buggy Garmins are especially, and just didn't see a big advantage over my current setup. For me, "new toy to play with" is at least counterbalanced by "new gadget that needs managing."

There are times when its nice to have the phone accessible on my bars, apart from using it as a bike computer. The only time I've cracked the screen on a phone was when I dropped it pulling it out of my back pocket on a ride (while stopped). So the "wear-and-tear" argument could go either way.

* The one caveat about battery life and water resistance is this: the phone is smart enough to deactivate its charging port when it's wet. On a very rainy 145-mile ride, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to charge it to have enough power for the next day's ride, and I was depending on it for navigation. In theory, one could use wireless charging as a workaround for this, but I didn't have a wireless charger on that ride.
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Old 07-07-21, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by mibike View Post
For your point 1 that is only true if one is using a speed sensor and the other is using GPS. RideWithGPS and Garmin will use the same sensors. I don't think a speed sensor is more accurate but it's faster responding to speed changes.
Yes, this is my understanding. I think over long distances, GPS is probably more accurate, depending on how well the speed sensor is calibrated.

I like the "instant" speed feedback. I do not really need it. Sometimes I like to try to hold a speed on a climb and the instant feedback is useful. In another thread, someone mentioned that they like the instant feedback for when it is their turn to pull on a group ride, they can hold a more steady speed.

It is also my understanding that some higher end cycle computers use both a speed sensor and GPS to deliver the best of both worlds.
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Old 07-07-21, 03:24 PM
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Most Garmin computers will use a speed sensor if you have one and gps if not. I have a wheel rotation speed sensor, it's useful with a power meter to do aerodynamic testing. Otherwise it isn't worth having.
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Old 07-07-21, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
Most Garmin computers will use a speed sensor if you have one and gps if not. I have a wheel rotation speed sensor, it's useful with a power meter to do aerodynamic testing. Otherwise it isn't worth having.
until you ride into a underground parking lot then its ok if you go less then 6mph. otherwise when you pause and save the rife the GPS starts right back up again. this drove me nuts till I realized what was happening. worth a cheap speed sensor to do away with that.
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Old 07-07-21, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by adamrice View Post
* The one caveat about battery life and water resistance is this: the phone is smart enough to deactivate its charging port when it's wet. On a very rainy 145-mile ride, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to charge it to have enough power for the next day's ride, and I was depending on it for navigation. In theory, one could use wireless charging as a workaround for this, but I didn't have a wireless charger on that ride.
I noticed the first thing to wear out in my phones was always the charging port. I invested in wireless charging pads and prolonged the useable life of my phones. Highly recommended. I've had the same thing coming home from a rainy hike many times where the phone refuses a charge except wirelessly. A lot of the pads are small and light.
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Old 07-12-21, 01:07 AM
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I used my iPhone 11 Pro as a bike computer for a while with the Cyclemeter Elite app (I'm now using a Hammerhead Karoo 2). There are definitely a few drawbacks, but honestly, it's better than a bike computer in several ways. I had my phone mounted using a Quadlock case and mount. If you are going to use your phone on your bike, I highly recommend the Quadlock system - it's really strong and secure and well designed. Here are the pros and cons, IMO:

Pros:
• excellent screen - big and bright. No problems reading in the sun
• Cyclemeter app is fantastic, almost infinitely configurable and very easy to read. It uses different colors for different data points, which makes it faster to see the data you want.
• Cyclemeter has more data points (I think) than my Karoo
• Weight. Yes, it might be heavier than some head units, but unless you are leaving your phone at home, you're carrying 2 devices if you use a separate bike computer.

Cons:
• Battery life -- I got about 4 hours of life or so on a full charge (which means I usually carried an extra external battery - thus negating the weight savings)
• No ANT+ unless you get a separate dongle
• Greater risk of damaging phone in a crash
• Cyclemeter does not integrate my Varia radar, so you have to run the Varia app also and toggle back and forth.

The Karoo is great - but I kind of miss the Cyclemeter display. If it weren't for the Varia integration and battery issues, I'd probably still use the phone.
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Old 07-12-21, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by mattcalifornia View Post
.......................
Cons:
• Battery life -- I got about 4 hours of life or so on a full charge (which means I usually carried an extra external battery - thus negating the weight savings)
• No ANT+ unless you get a separate dongle
• Greater risk of damaging phone in a crash
.
Those reasons made me reject the phone solution, phone is along in my jersey.
I use a Garmin Vivoactive HR to record rides (Biketracker APP from 007 software); while there are probably better ways to "analyze" the data, Garmin Connect does the job for me.

BUT looking at the watch was a potential hazard, to have the readout right in front of my nose I supplement with a iGS50E.

There are a lot of apps for Garmin watches, very handy for all kinds of uses.
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Old 07-12-21, 08:34 AM
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As someone who doesn't own a smartphone, I use my garmin 1000 on the bars. I have a cheap pay-as-you go burner phone in a ziploc baggie in my jersey pocket for emergencies (used it when I got hit earlier this year and was glad it was there). That works pretty well. I've thought about just letting my garmin watch track my ride, but I like to be able to look down and see my speed (and more importantly the time so that I can compare it to how long I told my wife I'd be gone) right in front of my face. Plus, my chest strap HR meter is much more accurate than my watch. My power meter is my powertap hub, so that provides rotational data. I occasionally calibrate the wheel size using gps, so it's instantaneous and fairly accurate.
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Old 07-12-21, 08:58 AM
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I've played with all of it. Phones, devices, toys of all types. Fun. But, after many years, navigation help became secondary - it's very rare that I really need it. And I found that I really don't want a phone-sized thing parked on the bars. I found the Garmin 130 Plus to be the "goldilocks" solution - unobtrusive on the handlebars, great breadth of data collection, customizable display, size of an Oreo cookie. I can program that device with a pre-planned route if I want, and even without it, I can always "navigate home." I don't need maps, I don't need on-the-fly routing. Full navigation was cool at the beginning, and great to learn, but now, meh. I keep the phone in the jersey pocket, no screen-on battery burn, where Strava picks up data redundantly.
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Old 07-12-21, 01:59 PM
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I use my phone with ridewithgps. It's not perfect, but neither is anything else. I connect my phone to an external battery and tell my screen to stay on. I bought an expensive mount and case for the bike (both Quad Lock). Operating the touchscreen while riding is very tricky. The display is very legible.

I also put Quad Lock mounts on both cars' dashboards, and my spouse has a Quad Lock adapter on her phone case. All of this stuff was expensive but it's very convenient for us.
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Old 07-15-21, 10:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
1. More accurate and instant speed monitoring vs GPS.
My phone reads the output from my bike's speed sensor, so I can choose if I'd like to look at GPS or wheel-derived speeds.

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
2. More rugged and weather resistant.
IP68 is plenty for me. I don't plan to ride my bike underwater for more than 30 minutes. It is true that the controls are hard to use with sweat all over them.

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
3. More purpose built for cycling.
Yes - but is this an advantage? What features that benefit from it "purpose built" are there? It's an electronic device with software, controls, etc. And while a bike computer is purpose-designed for cycling, someone probably spent $50 million in R+D on it vs $50 billion to date on a mobile phone.

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
4. Save battery power on phone on long rides.
I think this becomes a problem if you want to use navigation nonstop for more than 4 hours or so. I've done 6 hour rides with tons of battery left, not sure I have more endurance than a fully charged phone. I do make sure it's charged before a long ride.

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
5. Save wear and tear on phone.
Other than some anecdotal concerns about the image stabilizer, I think my phone in a quadlock case affixed to my dampened handlebar probably has less risk of damage than it does in my pocket, where I might sit on it or drop it.

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
6. Remove watch from wrist. Although I could mount watch on handlebars.
Not sure how these relate. You can ride with your phone, no watch, your watch, no phone, both, add a bike computer or not.

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
7. A new toy to play with.
I feel that. But there are always new apps, you can configure them endlessly. If you get bored with rwGPS, try strava or bleevo or whatever...

Originally Posted by Sorg67 View Post
For those of you who use the phone, what app do you use and why?
I use both rideWithGPS and mission control. The former for the really great route builder, being able to see the coming climbs when navigating a route, and generally looking at maps. The latter for data from the bike's sensors like speed, power, and cadence, to change bike settings, etc. Normally that's what's on my screen.

Other phone advantages: weight. No way I'm going for a long bike ride without my phone, for safety and other purposes. If there's a family or work emergency, I need to know, if I have a catastrophic bike failure, I need to get a lyft, etc. It has my emergency medical info, and so on. So the weight of the bike computer is solely additive. I wouldn't mind getting a 12 mini as a "bike phone," but I'm not that much of a weight weenie to pay for cell service on a second phone to save 92g.
flexibility and upgradability: new apps come out all the time, new features are added, new integrations, etc.
screen quality: i haven't seen a bike computer with a big, high res, bright, full color screen like a modern smartphone.
Data service: routes appear on the phone magically whenever planned on any computer on the internet. No need to manually download stuff or bring the computer near wifi.
Cost: I already have a phone. Simplicity: one less thing to remember to keep charged, have with you, synced with maps, etc.
Sensors: near field communications, wifi augmented GPS, accelerometer, compass, cameras, microphone, etc. I doubt there's a bike computer with as many sensors built in as a phone, and various apps take advantage of various bits and pieces of them. I've never seen a dedicated GPS only device which locked on to location as quickly and accurately as a modern phone.
multitasking: heaven forbid, if i have to, i can jump on a zoom while i'm on the bike. firing off a slack or two is no problem. it reduces the stress of being out of the office for so long when i can see the notifications of important messages and decide if want to do anything about it, or wait until the ride is over.

To me the ONE notable disadvantage is that the touch screen doesn't work well when i've dripped a bunch of sweat on it. My head sweats like a mofo. I'm considering some sort of little clear aero flip up sweat shield that i would reach under to interact with it. It would be less of a problem if I had it mounted farther forward, but I like it tucked back tight to the stem.

I do find myself riding with the screen off longer and longer, as I've gotten more in tune with my optimal power ranges, ride unfamiliar routes less often, etc.


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Old 07-15-21, 11:19 PM
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Old 07-16-21, 07:17 AM
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I've found that my phone running Strava is accurate enough for me. I don't have to have accuracy down to 100 ft. or anything, I just want a general idea of how many miles I'm riding.
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Old 07-16-21, 11:44 AM
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I have a garmen 1030 plus and love it. I also use my phone mount sometimes. The garmen is great for pre planned routes, integrated maps with all the bike functions. I can
flip through screen while on the go. It's awesome. Sometimes after you have already been riding a while and want to go some where else nothings beats a modern phone and google/apple maps. You can zoom in/out so fast on the phone. pick an intersection to go back or just search for something. Maybe you parked by sportsbasement etc...
You're in bike group and someone got a flat. They can send you a pin drop and you can go back and help them.



I would never use phone 100% of the time. Kills batteries too fast. Is not integrated with bike functions and gps/map etc...
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Old 07-17-21, 07:23 PM
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IMO I find the convenience of having my phone as my primary + cycling device covers 95% of what a dedicated computer can do. Bright screen, app flexibility, accurate enough tracking, and SOS capability in case of a crash. Not to mention, the phone's UI and app availability are more intuitive to navigate and are far more powerful than any GPS unit. The reality is that the market has invested a ton of R&D into smartphones over the past decade or so... no GPS can come close.

Sure, a bike computer will serve those 5% outlier scenarios great for hyper-accurate tracking and accessory compatibility for power users. But I don't think those power users have ever been torn in deciding anyways... they'll happily put the $$ down for that extra 5% capability. Companies like Hammerhead are also pushing the GPS units closer to phones from a GUI innovation perspective. Smartphones are the way the industry is moving from my point of view overall though.
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Old 07-20-21, 04:20 PM
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mschwett Very detailed and useful reply. Thanks!

I am riding with RideWithGPS now and it works very well. I keep navigation and the screen on for the entire ride. Lasts about four hours. I have a battery bank as back up. I am relatively new to road riding. I could see myself riding with the screen off soon, particularly on familiar routes. At the moment, I am getting in tune with my riding and I am learning new routes so I like to have the screen on all the time, but I suspect as I ride more I will need the screen less.

Gonna hold off on the bike computer for now, might get one someday.
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Old 07-22-21, 12:13 PM
  #22  
JohnJ80
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Been there, done that (ie. used a phone).

Virtually no phones now have ANT+ connectivity. Using BT to connect to sensors is a giant PITA because it's a one to one connection. ANT+ is a one to many connection which allows you to have more than one computer listening if you need redundancy (say if you're having a problem). I've also had issues with some of the metrics - for example I used to use Cyclemeter but found that the caloric measurement was wildly off (like by almost 100%). Maybe they've fixed that, but I moved on. I ride with a full sensor set up with HRM, Power Meter, speed sensor. A speed sensor is much more accurate than is GPS for distance and speed. GPS is not as accurate as most people perceive it to be.

Problems with hardware that I've had are that the phones often have trouble with heat in direct strong sunlight while trying to act as a bike computer. They are built to be in your pocket with a low duty cycle. They are not built to be 100% of the time on a hot day sitting on your handlebar in bright sunlight for hours on end. They also are not anywhere near as rugged as a bike computer is to dropping or crashing.

Then there is cost - a bike computer costs anywhere from $100 to $500. You're smartphone starts at $600 and goes to $1200. That's cost in the wrong place, IMO.

So my experience has been that the metrics are not as good, the phone is not as robust in environmental specs, and it's not as durable. Basically, it's just not the right tool for the job. Yes it will work, but I guess I'd rather not put a computer on my bars that costs twice as much as a bike computer and isn't as good.

J.
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Old 07-22-21, 12:20 PM
  #23  
prj71
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I tried the phone as a bike computer in the past. Any ride recording or navigational features chew up the battery way too fast. Then if you actually need to use the phone as a phone...can't because the battery is dead.

As cheap as bike computers are it's just better to buy one.

If you are interested I have Lezyne Super GPS for sale at half the price of a new one. Just send me a private message.

https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/revie...r-gps-enhanced
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Old 07-22-21, 12:37 PM
  #24  
Iride01
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Originally Posted by prj71 View Post
I tried the phone as a bike computer in the past. Any ride recording or navigational features chew up the battery way too fast. Then if you actually need to use the phone as a phone...can't because the battery is dead.

As cheap as bike computers are it's just better to buy one.

If you are interested I have Lezyne Super GPS for sale at half the price of a new one. Just send me a private message.

https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/revie...r-gps-enhanced
For some very few, it might be just addiction to their phones that they want them out there. Yesterday, I passed a oncoming woman running with her phone stretched out in front of her. Had to call out to her to get her to look up and move over. Over fifteen minutes later I passed her again. Still with her phone held up in front of her.

And I've passed many a walker and wrecked once trying to avoid walkers with their head down looking at their phones not knowing others were coming toward them.

I still have never owned a phone I could see well enough in the sun. And I will always feel better about a Garmin, Lezyne, Wahoo or most any other cyclometer flying off my bars to be run over than I will my phone.

Last edited by Iride01; 07-22-21 at 12:43 PM.
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Old 07-22-21, 01:23 PM
  #25  
Seattle Forrest
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Originally Posted by JohnJ80 View Post
Been there, done that (ie. used a phone).

Virtually no phones now have ANT+ connectivity.
While I continue to agree that phones are amazing, versatile, and transformational devices, they aren't the best possible choice for cycling.

That said, FYI, all Samsung Galaxy phones have ANT+ antennas. Strikes me as bizarre.
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