Still Disappointing After All These Years

It has been  3 years since I wrote the original post outlining my dissatisfaction with Garmin products and not much has changed in my experience. My biggest gripe remains the software interfaces that should work seamlessly at this point but do not. For example, why is it that you cannot clear old routes and favorites off your device from Garmin Sync (or Express or whatever they are calling it this month) or Basecamp? Sometimes it works; other times, you have to go to the device and do it manually. Either way Garmin, make a choice: either enable that capability or remove it but it shouldn’t be “sometimes it works.” Same thing with transferring routes and a host of other functions.

I’ve noticed over the past few months that even my otherwise reliable Zumo is acting strangely. It takes me wherever the hell it wants, regardless of my routing preferences. For example, a 25 minute straight line route becomes a wandering 45 minute exploration of backroads notwithstanding how I set the route preferences. I now more or less rely on Google Maps on my iPhone unless it’s a trip that I’ve pre-programmed a bunch of POIs into. I know, I could do a factory reset to see if it fixes the problem, but the point is you shouldn’t have to keep reseting a device to get it to work properly.

I’ve given up on buying map sets. I have a lifetime set for my Zumo, but stopped updating it for my other devices. OSM (Open Street Maps) is the way to go. Current & free! Basecamp looks nice but hasn’t lived up to its potential. Even with a current map set installed, it is lacking critical POIs and destinations such as hotels and attractions. Last fall I visited Fort Levenworth, Kansas. It’s a major military installation with public attractions on the base and nearby off-base. But most of those attractions were not on Basecamp, which meant I had to toggle back and forth between Google Maps and Basecamp to get addresses and GPS coordinates to input into Basecamp. Once I had all the POIs selected, I selected “Send to Device” and, of course the information was not on my device despite a dialog box telling me the transfer was complete.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to go back to using a Hagstrom map book.

I’ve given up planning cycling routes on Basecamp. About 50% of the time the route transfers to my 800 but the turn-by-turn instructions do not work. Yes, I know you have to turn that feature on in the 800’s settings page for each route. I now do all my route planning directly on RidewithGPS and upload routes from there directly to my 800. It works every time.

On 3 occasions, I’ve come close to buying a Fenix but cannot bring myself to do it. The message boards are littered with unhappy customers complaining of freezes, lost tracks etc. Assuming that half of those dissatisfied people just like to complain, there’s still too many people voicing dissatisfaction to warrant shelling out $500 for a device that Garmin will no doubt “update” by the time I finish typing this sentence. Instead of updating everything, how about picking one product and making it work flawlessly?

The only nice thing I have to offer about Garmin is that they swiftly sold me a refurbished 800 after I destroyed mine trying to change the battery. Customer service in that instance was polite and efficient and they helped me get back on the road in under a week or so.

I’ve given up hope that Garmin will stop pooping out new devices that do not work properly in favor of completely fixing all of its existing issues. They’re probably not reading this blog or their customer support message boards. As such, I’m going to imagine what a company might look like if all it did was make awesome cycling computers. Anyone with enough capital to make this company a reality may feel free to do so. Please send me a million dollars if you succeed.

The company should:

  • have a mission, vision and values to focus on making one product line and making it the best cycling GPS known to man.
  • design products with feature sets chosen by cyclists. Some riders don’t care about maps but like the GPS for mileage tracking. Great. Make it so you can turn off the map feature. Same with all the other features. By the way, some of the crap in current devices is unsafe and probably a liability; for example, routing emails and texts to the unit is an uneccesary distraction and would be illegal in a car in many states.
  • NOT release products until they have been tested by real cyclists in the real world. Pick random people off RidewithGPS, bike clubs etc and let them trounce the the thing for six months before you sell it to the public.
  • support the products once they are released. If users have issues, address the issues promptly and not let them fester.
  • make the devices with interoperability in mind. They should work with RidewithGPS, Strava etc etc. Make it so you can pair it, if you want, to your cell phone.
  • not release a new product or update the current product unless it legitimately needs a replacement. Don’t release a computer on Jan 1 and then offer the same thing on March 1 with the addition of a night vision goggle feature.
  • charge a premium if it works as designed. People will pay $$$ for their gadgets but they have to work properly!
  • primarily be in the hardware business. Leave maps and software to other companies. OSM maps are free, so use them as a standard. Make a simple interface for updating firmware and leave it at that.
  • be humble and honest. Computers develop issues, just like people. If there’s an issue: acknowledge it, apologize and get to work fixing it.Don’t alienate your customer base by ignoring complaints because you’re too busy working on the next best thing.

So far the closest I’ve come to finding my dream device, is my smart phone running Google Maps or the RidewithGPS app. I know I’ve mentioned RidewithGPS a number of times. It’s what I have experience with. I’m not a social media promoter or anything like that. I’m sure there are other apps that work fine. I tend to find something that works for me and stick with it.

The downside, for me, of using my iPhone as a navigation device is two fold. First is battery life. Running a mapping app rapidly depletes battery life, even if you cache the map into memory because you’re still using the phone’s GPS. This is the only place, that I can think of, that the Garmin devices “win:” they have very good battery life for what they accomplish. I do not like the idea of running down the battery of my phone navigating and then not having a working phone in case I need to make a phone call.

The second downside of using the phone as a navigation device is that it’s the phone. I ride my bike to escape email, texts and phone calls. Having the phone sitting in front of me is a potential invitation to “check in” during a ride. I’ve ridden with people who take phone calls and exchange texts while pedaling. It’s obnoxious and unsafe. I don’t want to be tempted.

I think what I’m looking for in my dream device is a Garmin 8xx or 1xxx made and supported by an entirely different corporation that only focuses on cycling and not driving, golf, fishing, running, flying, swimming, shuffleboard and bo-taoshi.

Someone please make this happen. PM me on where to send the $1million.

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About robertkerner

Educator, registered nurse, attorney, inquisitive mind
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