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Should You Buy the Latest Garmin or iPhone?

By Jiri Kaloc

Nowadays you can use any smartphone as your cycling computer, there’s no question about that. Phones can do so many things so well that you have to wonder: Is the latest Garmin still a better bike computer than the latest iPhone?

Garmin has good GPS, fitness tracking, battery life, and user interface, but so does the iPhone, and a lot of other smartphones too. Can Garmin do everything better by a large enough margin than the iPhone to justify its cost? Let’s compare Garmin Edge 1030 with iPhone X in several key areas, and see how they perform.

Durability – Garmin wins

The iPhone is IP67 certified, which makes it dustproof and waterproof to 30 cm. But if you wanted to make it shockproof and stable on a technical terrain, you would need to invest in a good protective case and phone mount. The Garmin is completely weather-sealed and has a very tough front glass and a perfect aerodynamic mount included. It was built to be mounted on a bike, so there’s no surprise Garmin wins over iPhone when it comes to durability.

© Martin Roman

Maps – It’s a tie

When it comes to mapping, the iPhone has a lot of options, like Gaia GPS, Trailforks, MTB Project, OnX, so you can easily match the capabilities of Garmin that comes with a strong set of base maps. Both can also be connected to Strava for easy downloads and uploads of your rides, so overall they perform similarly.

Fitness tracking – Garmin wins

The iPhone can give you the basic stats, like speed, distance, and duration, thanks to Strava or any other of the many fitness apps available for download. Unfortunately, it can’t track more advanced data, like heart rate, power, or cadence, from devices that connect via ANT+. Garmin blows the iPhone out of the water here with full ANT+ connectivity and compatibility with other stuff, like Shimano Di2 components or various lights and cameras.

User interface – iPhone wins

User interface is where the iPhone shines. A large touch screen with tried and tested iOS is what made the iPhone famous and continues to be one of its best qualities. Garmin has a decent screen and it works well, but the menus are not as optimized – there’s no comparison to the polish of iPhone X.

Battery life – Garmin wins

Battery life is where big smartphones struggle. One day of use is about the maximum we can expect from a flagship phone with general use. But turn on the GPS, data, and your whole screen and in about 4 – 5 hours your battery will be gone. Phones are simply not optimized to be used as navigation devices. Garmin, on the other hand, was built with that in mind and has no problem running 19 hours straight. Plus you can buy an additional battery pack that clips to the bottom of the unit and gives you an additional 24 hours.

© Martin Roman

Cost – It depends

Garmin is the cheaper device, currently priced at around 500 EUR, almost half the price of the iPhone at 900 EUR. But if you own the iPhone already, then your costs might only be about 100 EUR for the special cover and mounting gadgets. So in some cases Garmin, even though it’s the cheaper device, might represent the higher expense.

Which one is better?

Thanks to the built-in mapping capabilities and connectivity options, the Garmin is a clear choice for cyclists who enjoy measuring and tracking advanced data. The battery life also makes it well worth the price for those who regularly go for long rides or bikepacking trips. On the other hand, if you’re a cyclist that doesn’t regularly ride over 3 hours and doesn’t need advanced data, then the iPhone will do just fine. Just make sure to invest in a quality case and phone mount because crashing and breaking you Garmin would suck, but breaking your iPhone would be much more expensive and annoying to deal with.