So first some caveats … I know the Hammerhead team and have since before they launched their first product. This connection is likely to cause some positive bias because I’ve been a fan and I like to think a friend as well. That said, I’m very optimistic about where this product is going and have some thoughts to share after a few rides – and finally getting outside as well.
I ordered the Karoo back in June 2017 and while I had hoped it might ship late summer did not lose hope or get angry as some in the broader community seem to have needed to do. I know that hardware is hard and that the team is quite small. They are going after Garmin, Wahoo, Polar and everyone else that’s had a product in the head unit space for at least a few years. It took Wahoo a few tries to get it smoothed out and in my opinion, the launch, while delayed a few times for Karoo is still quite smooth considering what’s in the box.
The Karoo is large. There’s no way around this and you’ll either love it or hate it. My Garmin Edge 520 fits inside the bezel space on the Karoo as a reference to scale … sorry I didn’t feel like snapping a pic. The device is very nice though. The screen is incredibly bright, clean to read and amazingly responsive to touch with and without gloves as I found out today. There are 5 hardware buttons which are also a nice option as well. In my Garmin history I’ve gone through touch and non-touch devices and am very glad to have this back as a feature. Even though it’s much larger than I expected it easily fit on my Form Mount as you can see in the main image above. If you have an existing Garmin quarter-turn mount it should easily work unless space is tight. There is a Barfly in the box which will hopefully work for you as an option as well.
I found the set-up to be a very simple process though not perfect. I’d created an account on the dashboard site knowing Karoo was scheduled to arrive last Saturday. When I got things out of the box, my password didn’t work so I had to reset it (twice) but since it’s been fine and I sorta don’t really care, but sometimes web services aren’t perfect. Adding data pages, rider info and sensors was super easy and quick relatively speaking as there’s certainly some time involved to get it set up the way you want.
In the week since getting the Karoo it’s received two software updates both of which were around 600MB and downloaded over wifi at the house. I’m still unclear whether I will add a data SIM, but that’s a really nice option to have. I’ve grown used to the BT Tether on my Garmin and have had some worries on longer rides particularly in low signal areas that I’m burning my phone’s battery when I might need it … we’ll see!
Syncing a route is without a doubt an amazing process compared to anything else I’ve seen and tried. On the Hammerhead dashboard, you can link accounts for Strava, RwGPS, Garmin Connect and MTB Project. Getting things over is as simple as copy and paste as you can see here …
Assuming your Karoo is connected at the time, the process is pretty instantaneous and shows up when looking at your routes list right away. When you load a route on Karoo itself, you can select to make it available offline which is great and quite helpful if you aren’t going to maintain a live data connection on the road. Not having to consider whether I’ve loaded the right map tiles or quadrant is such a nice thing … I’ve traveled and ridden in Australia, San Francisco, Florida and NJ as well as futher reaches of New York than my home area and this is always a real concern if you are going to need a map. I love that Hammerhead just takes care of it. I also love that there’s no more is it TCX, GPX BS … just go.
When you get ready to start a ride, you can choose a route in the same moment. I don’t normally ride routes in my home area, but have certainly been on plenty of group rides and this process is a few steps shorter than Garmin. On my ride outside(!) today it rained on the back half and I was reminded of the Garmin weather alerts which tend to only present if there’s an extreme event (temp or precip) and how Hammerhead has an app store coming … I’d love to see Dark Sky or some weather notification that was fed through the Dark Sky API for up to moment weather info. Running Android makes this all possible and to me, makes this device a very exciting platform if it all works out. There really has not been too much change in the space for a while and the team here has made it quite clear that is what they are trying to do!
Post ride, Karoo let’s you choose what happens. Obviously, you can save your ride which will sync to the Hammerhead dashboard, but you can also auto-sync to Strava or edit and upload which is what I chose so I can have the option to add a title, ride type and choose private if desired.
Everyone will likely have a different set of needs but here’s what I have noticed given mine:
- No incline or altitude measurement
- I know this is coming soon in a software update.
- No Temp measurement
- While my Garmin was always a bit over eager with how cold or hot it might be, it was still something I appreciated having (on a second data page but also baked into my ride stats. Unclear whether this is or isn’t coming … not critical, but nice to have.
- No Sound
- There’s no speaker so there’s no update that will reveal this later … kind of a bummer given my use which was for nav prompts as well as auto-lap splits and time-based alerts which brings me to …
- No auto-splits or time alerts
- On the Garmin, I’ve had a 5-mile auto-split and a 45 min timer loaded for years across a few different devices. I use these for drink and food reminders. Seems like an easy add and for now I’m not sweating it.
- No, live Strava integration but it’s coming. Karoo also does not give itself credit on your strava file … so it’s tracked by an unknown device (nothing). Seems like a simple fix.
- No way to update a data field with a long press once it’s set.
- Inconsistent Nav prompts
- I loaded my first route today which was a link from Strava. I saw the first few turn prompts and then it just stopped. I wasn’t sure if I’d done anything wrong here and was very surprised it stopped working, but given how poor Garmin does this I’m willing to let this slide for now … Garmin is pretty similar here, in fact, it almost never fails to fail in my experience regardless of whether I’m using a .tcx or a .gpx file. I’m not sure what the Karoo does as it passes the link from Strava over, but regardless that data transfer is amazingly simple and something that I honestly can’t believe has not existed until now.
- The prompts I did get were very clear and easy to see as the display is awesome and the alerts are nice and high contrast with bold color.
- Missing page options / view when riding a route
- Garmin sets up a few pages when you are riding a route that is quite nice to have and I would welcome some additional options from Hammerhead here too. Seeing the turn list would be the most obvious choice since so many people like the cue sheet option. I also like getting a look at the upcoming ride profile particularly on more challenging rides with lots of climbing. Perhaps when the altimeter turns on…
- No training or fatigue (TSS) score. Garmin added this a few years ago on the watches and it made it’s way to the Edge series as well. I’ve grown accustomed to the status you get around 3 miles in with regard to training effect (Fenix) and HR (Edge). I definitely want this even if the Garmin measure is a tease never offering Great as an option only good or poor likely for legal reasons. 😉
- No PR notices … granted I’ve only ridden a few times, but pretty certain this is not there yet. I tend to only see things like FTP when riding inside on zwift. I know there are some plans around training and the data on the device so it will be interesting to see how / if this evolves.
I realize that’s a pretty long list of things to come or that are missing but nothing honestly really bothers me too much for now – especially since the hardware is so solid and software can bring additional updates and magic along the way. I am excited for the road ahead. It’s off to a great start!