Phone Mount vs Dedicated Bike Computer for Road Biking

I don’t know why they’re called computers. “Speedometer” seems like a more useful descriptor. Anyway. From 2003 to 2012 I used a super basic bike computer with just speed, distance, and maybe cadence. Very much like this one:

A photo of an old Sigma Sport bike computer attached to bike handlebars showing speed and trip time.

From 2012 to 2023 I used a Garmin Edge 800. It’s way fancier: Gives turn by turn navigation, records the GPS track, has a barometric altimeter, supports wireless speed and cadence sensors (my Trek has a sensor embedded in the left chainstay), etc. And it’s been great.

Photo of a Garmin Edge 800 bike computer attached to my bike handlebars.

Unfortunately the touchscreen no longer detects touches in the bottom left corner. This is a problem because that’s where the “back” button is. So I can’t exit menus. I can still record rides but looking at the map and using turn by turn navigation are basically no-go’s.

I’ve done a few longer rides without mapping and it’s inconvenient. It means I have to stop and take out my phone to figure out where to go. And even then I still miss turns sometimes. It was time to upgrade.

What Did I Try?

Phones are pretty amazing these days and phone mounts are way cheaper than GPS bike computers ($20 instead of >$100) so I gave it a shot. I got this one. For this style mount it’s pretty much as good as it could be. Easy to attach. Sturdy. Holds the phone securely.

Photo of the phone mount attached to my bike handlebars.

But after one ride I don’t like it and I’m planning on switching back to a dedicated computer. There are a few reasons. Roughly listed from minor to important:

– To use my speed/cadence sensor I would need to buy a newer version of the DuoTrap chainstay-mounted sensor that supports Bluetooth (mine is older and only broadcasts using ANT+). I worry that the newer DuoTrap sensor might have worse battery life since it broadcasts using both protocols.
– The phone mount is large and I think it looks goofy.
– My phone’s touchscreen goes right up to the edge of the face. I think the mount was interfering with the touchscreen a little. But it was hard to tell. It did make it hard to tap near the corners, though.
– I had to change my display timeout from 2 minutes to 30 minutes to keep the display on. That’s not secure. Maybe I can find a good app that disables screen lock in use and this would be moot.
– It shakes more than the Garmin, which makes it harder to read quickly.
– Many of my touches were misinterpreted as drags. In part due to the shakiness of the mount but mostly due to general road bumpiness. I think phone touchscreen sensitivity isn’t really calibrated for this.
– I couldn’t find an app I liked. The Garmin displays only the things I care about in a super minimal layout. It’s great. I tried the Strava app but I think it doesn’t do turn by turn navigation. And it doesn’t show speed and distance when the map is showing (my old Edge 800 didn’t either, but I think some newer GPS bike computers can). Maybe there is an app that does a good job with this? I didn’t immediately find one after a little searching and I don’t feel like spending a ton of time installing different apps to find a good one.

What Will I Do Now?

I haven’t bought it yet but the Garmin Edge 1040 is my current top pick. The Hammerhead Karoo 2 is also an option but the fact that it runs Android is actually kind of a turn off for me. It seems like too big of an OS. And I think the battery life is worse, which doesn’t matter now but could matter 10 years from now when the battery has degraded.

I don’t ride much in the winter and it looks like Garmin introduces a new version roughly every two years, which might be next spring. So I’ll wait until spring and buy an Edge 1040 or possibly a newer model then.

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6 Responses to Phone Mount vs Dedicated Bike Computer for Road Biking

  1. Dónal Ó Murchú says:

    Before you spend $$$ try calibrating the touchscreen. It fixed the same problem for me.

    • Mark Doliner says:

      Thanks for the suggestions! I wasn’t aware of either of those things (calibrating or replacing the screen). I might try them out. Thanks!

      • Mark Doliner says:

        Calibrating didn’t help. Actually I couldn’t get calibration to complete. It just kept telling me to touch the dot. I tried being very precise with a pointy object and it didn’t end even after >50 touches.

        And I tried taking opening it and cleaning both sides of the touch surface and that didn’t help.

        So I ordered a “Touch Screen Digitizer Glass For Garmin Edge 800” from Ebay for $32. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. Dónal Ó Murchú says:

    If touchscreen calibration doesn’t work replacement Edge 800 screens are available online and installation looks straightforward (no soldering) Best of luck.

    • Mark Doliner says:

      I got and installed the new touchscreen digitizer and it works! It has some scuff marks on it which is unfortunate but fine. I assume it was taken from an old device. I haven’t ridden with it yet but I’ll see how it goes. Installation was pretty easy–the part came with some double sided adhesive strips.

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