Using a Garmin vs. a Smartphone to Track Your Rides

Using a Garmin vs. a Smartphone to Track Your Rides

Now that people ride for Strava times more than they ride for fun you may have started to wonder how accurate the device that you use to track your rides really is? Many people use their smartphones with the Strava app or maybe (and I do mean maybe) a different app to track their riding progress and see how they compare to other riders. Then you have others that use a GPS to track their rides but which is the best for you?

If you use a smartphone with Strava and ride with someone that uses a Garmin or other GPS device that then uploads to Strava you most likely will notice that your data is not the same when it comes to things like mileage and elevation gain. This is because your smartphone is not really a GPS but rather has GPS capabilities within it where a Garmin was designed to be a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite by the way). For example, with a real GPS the elevation data is calculated using a barometric altimeter which is more accurate using the measurements from a topographic map like your smartphone does.

It's hard to say which device will make you appear faster or slower than you really are compared to the other but overall it's always a good thing to stick with accuracy unless you are only concerned with how your performance looks to all your followers! If you have a Garmin try and use both at the same time and see how they compare with the results. You may have to log in with two different users so you can upload both the rides to Strava and then compare them.

One big advantage a Garmin has over a smartphone is that there is no data plan required and no app to connect and log into. Sure you can record your ride on the Strava smartphone app with no Internet access but if you don't have any service you can't save it or view any of the stats until you have an Internet connection again. But one advantage a smartphone has over a Garmin is instant results. With the Garmin you have to sync it with your phone or computer to see your Strava activity and if you didn't bring your phone with you then you will have to wait to see those PRs. And speaking of having your phone with you, when using a Garmin, you can leave your phone at home or in the car unless you like to carry it regardless. Plus with a Garmin you can mount it on your bars and watch your progress as it happens. One other thing to consider is how long the battery will last. We all know how fast our smartphone batteries drain when using them but Garmins will outlast smartphone batteries in a big way.

If you are on a budget then the smartphone option is the better choice because the Strava app is free and so are many others (unless you use the upgraded versions) so there is no additional cost to record your rides. A nice Garmin can run you as much as $600 if you go all out. Sure there are cheaper versions but they won't have all of the features that the nicer ones offer.

So as you can see using a GPS like a Garmin has many advantages over a smartphone app except when the price is concerned. But if you have the budget for a nice bike then what is a few hundred dollars more for a GPS?

Posted by Preston Mason

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Categories: General

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