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  1. #1
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    Cheap Bike Computer vs Phone Apps

    Hi Everyone,

    I'm a newbie to riding, and have just purchased my first MTB. There's a wishlist of accessories that I have, although I'm trying to keep it real rather than spend recklessly out of excitement for the new hobby I'm about to embark upon.

    I would like to add some sort of tech to monitor speed, distance and a few other basic bits of feedback, and am considering a CHEAP bike computer, such as this one:

    https://www.99bikes.com.au/azur-12z-...-bike-computer

    But I find myself wondering if a mobile phone might serve a similar purpose for basic functions.

    For example if I use the WAZE street navigation app, that detects speed via GPS. maybe that will be sufficient. It works OK in the car.

    I also have a Garmin Vivoactive 3 sports watch, where I could manually set a new exercise to track my distance travelled. Another potential plus for the Garmin, coupled to the Garmin Connect app, is that I can monitor my heart rate in real time from the phone screen.

    Something that might be handy, and which the phone may not do, is an odometer, to keep a track of overall distance (may be good for servicing schedules), which the cheap bike computer does have (although I dont know if it has a battery for memory backup if it goes flat)

    I would prefer not to have two devices on my cockpit, so I'm not sure if there is a 'one phone app solution to rule them all' approach. That said, I don't have a lot of $$ to spend on Garmin cadence sensors, HRMs or other accessories, so maybe the trade off for price is that I will need to go for two devices.

    What are your thoughts ? And are there some other considerations that I'm missing ?

  2. #2
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    I'd use the Vivoactive and Garmin Connect with the Strava app. Aside from in-ride info you'll get a ton of interesting data that will accumulate for as long as you use the app.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.B. Weld View Post
    I'd use the Vivoactive and Garmin Connect with the Strava app. Aside from in-ride info you'll get a ton of interesting data that will accumulate for as long as you use the app.
    Hey JB Weld - I've heard of the Strava app, but never used it. Have only had the Garmin watch for around six months, and mostly use it for tracking my walks (both urban and on bush trails), and also as a HRM at the gym when indoor rowing (before all the gyms closed !)

    And I really like the data it captures, from my limited usage. I will do some testing with Strava today.

    I've also found an article on Garmin's website about a feature called 'LiveTrack'

    https://www.garmin.com/en-US/blog/fi...ies-real-time/

    The only downside that I've found with the Garmin watch is that I have to remember to 'start activity'. There is a feature that auto-detects the activity (in my experience, walking) but it doesn't kick in until 15 minutes after starting ! Seemed a bit pointless so I turned it off.

    Whereas, so far as I know, a bike computer kicks in as soon as you start pedalling. Of course with the downside is that the cheap devices don't have data logging to external devices/apps.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    Hey JB Weld - I've heard of the Strava app, but never used it. Have only had the Garmin watch for around six months, and mostly use it for tracking my walks (both urban and on bush trails), and also as a HRM at the gym when indoor rowing (before all the gyms closed !)

    And I really like the data it captures, from my limited usage. I will do some testing with Strava today.

    I've also found an article on Garmin's website about a feature called 'LiveTrack'

    https://www.garmin.com/en-US/blog/fi...ies-real-time/

    The only downside that I've found with the Garmin watch is that I have to remember to 'start activity'. There is a feature that auto-detects the activity (in my experience, walking) but it doesn't kick in until 15 minutes after starting ! Seemed a bit pointless so I turned it off.

    Whereas, so far as I know, a bike computer kicks in as soon as you start pedalling. Of course with the downside is that the cheap devices don't have data logging to external devices/apps.
    Yes, you have to remember to press start. You'll figure it out eventually, but it's not such a big deal if you forget sometimes. There are legit reasons you would want to do it that way.

    Use what you have. Your vivoactive will do the job reasonably enough without spending any additional money. Those cheap bike computers do their jobs...until they don't. Every single one I ever bought (before GPS computers) bricked after awhile. Always a hard failure, no recovering it. If you want to log anything with them, you're going to have to make yourself a spreadsheet. Might as well do it with a pencil and graph paper for nostalgia's sake.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    Yes, you have to remember to press start. You'll figure it out eventually, but it's not such a big deal if you forget sometimes.
    Indeed, this is a 'first world problem'. I'm not that obsessed with exercise that I must log every single activity. If I forget to start (or as is more often the case, I forget to stop), it's no big issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    Use what you have. Your vivoactive will do the job reasonably enough without spending any additional money.
    Yep. And I could instead spend the money on a decent phone mount, rather than a cheap computer. I'm eyeing the Quad-Lock system, it looks pretty secure.

    In reality, I'm asking myself what do I need live feedback on ? The data logging is irrelevant while I'm on a ride.

    I think Speed + HRM is all I might need. Speed I can do with Waze, and HRM I can see on Garmin Connect. I'm fooling around with this at the moment, hoping to get a split-screen view of two apps, but sadly it appears that Garmin's app does not support split screen - despite there being an article on their website claiming to do so. Maybe it's a limitation of my phone.

    Worst case scenario, I can have WAZE in the cockpit, and simply view my HRM on my watch face.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    In reality, I'm asking myself what do I need live feedback on ? The data logging is irrelevant while I'm on a ride.

    I think Speed + HRM is all I might need. Speed I can do with Waze, and HRM I can see on Garmin Connect. I'm fooling around with this at the moment, hoping to get a split-screen view of two apps, but sadly it appears that Garmin's app does not support split screen - despite there being an article on their website claiming to do so. Maybe it's a limitation of my phone.

    Speed, heart rate and elapsed time are important ones for me, elapsed time because it's helpful for turn-around times when I'm on a schedule. Just get the strava app and you'll have all the info you need on one screen, you only need Garmin Connect to talk to strava.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    Indeed, this is a 'first world problem'. I'm not that obsessed with exercise that I must log every single activity. If I forget to start (or as is more often the case, I forget to stop), it's no big issue.


    Yep. And I could instead spend the money on a decent phone mount, rather than a cheap computer. I'm eyeing the Quad-Lock system, it looks pretty secure.

    In reality, I'm asking myself what do I need live feedback on ? The data logging is irrelevant while I'm on a ride.

    I think Speed + HRM is all I might need. Speed I can do with Waze, and HRM I can see on Garmin Connect. I'm fooling around with this at the moment, hoping to get a split-screen view of two apps, but sadly it appears that Garmin's app does not support split screen - despite there being an article on their website claiming to do so. Maybe it's a limitation of my phone.

    Worst case scenario, I can have WAZE in the cockpit, and simply view my HRM on my watch face.
    No. Don't use Waze on the trail. It's just not good for that. I use it in the car, and it works for that, because that's what it's meant for. If you use it on the trail, it's going to get wonky because it thinks you should be on a road.

    Mounting your phone on your bars is just not a good idea on a mtb. It's less of a bad idea on a road bike, but phones are just so big anymore that they just get in the way. Let alone the risk of smashing it in a crash. Leave the phone tucked away in a pocket. Use your Vivoactive for ride data.

    For bonus points, you can get speed and/or cadence sensors that will work with your Vivoactive. The ONE thing that the cheap computer does better than a GPS computer is record accurate distances (assuming your calibration is good). You can make your GPS computer just as good, IF it is compatible with a wireless wheel sensor. Which the vivoactive watch appears to be.

    I'm not going to explain the whys of the distance accuracy here. I've written about it repeatedly in this forum and you can find those explanations elsewhere. Suffice to say that it happens, and a wheel sensor works. It also does give more accurate speed readings (because speed is calculated from time and distance. GPS is based on atomic clocks flying in space, so they've got the time thing nailed. Use a wheel sensor for distance, and speed is then more accurate).

  8. #8
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    Speed/cadence sensors are not that expensive.
    I have both Garmin and off brand $25 sensors and they are pretty much the same.
    Garmin does have a better build quality but my $25 sensor works just fine.

  9. #9
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    No rights or wrongs. In time I've mostly moved to watch and phone because they're plenty fine for sports, have replaced other tools for trail work, and accommodate being on call for work. I use the Abvio bike app, GaiaGPS, clinometer and Theodolite apps most. If I use my cellular wrist watch only, I can import the activity into other apps I use.
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  10. #10
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    I've had dumb cyclocomputers, I've used a Garmin watch, and I now own a Wahoo Bolt, so I've pretty much progressed through everything except for using a bar mounted phone- mostly because I'm too worried about damage to the phone. Live turn by turn navigation- where it corrects for missed turns- would be nice, but not something I'd be willing to risk my phone for, and my old phones don't have the battery life for using the GPS more than a couple of hours.

    Given this experience, your watch is probably fine for basic ride info and Strava data collection. A dumb cyclocomputer is handy for at-a-glance speed and one other field- I usually look at trip distance- but it's not strictly necessary. The watch is also good for navigating courses up to about 40 miles, then it runs out of cue points. You don't really need a GPS computer until you reach that navigation limitation or want more data fields on one screen.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    Hi Everyone,

    I'm a newbie to riding, and have just purchased my first MTB. There's a wishlist of accessories that I have, although I'm trying to keep it real rather than spend recklessly out of excitement for the new hobby I'm about to embark upon.

    I would like to add some sort of tech to monitor speed, distance and a few other basic bits of feedback, and am considering a CHEAP bike computer, such as this one:

    ...
    For my road bike I have cheap wired bike computer that gives me speed and distance. I have a wrist watch for time and record the ride on my phone which sits in my pocket, then post to strava for the details My mtn bike goes without anything other than the phone in my pocket and wrist watch. I get bored on the road bike so speed is nice. On the mtn bike I just ride. Except for really long rides where I might use a garmin to follow a track. But it is easy to have a very cheap computer and then record on your phone.
    Joe
    '18 Specialized Epic 29", 19' Vassago Optimus Ti SS 29", '19 Ibis Ripmo, XC, AM, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  12. #12
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    There are some great comments in this discussion, although at times conflicting. It gives me some things to consider.

    Perhaps I should clarify where I'm at right now. I'm close to 50 y/old, and have not rode for over three decades. I was an enthusiastic BMXer as a teenager of the 1980's, until I had a major accident that tore my face apart. I still carry the scars.

    It's been less than a week since I bought my new beast, and I have done three short runs (just got back from a morning ride!) on sealed pathways. Not far from my home is a network of 35km of bitumen, concrete and boardwalk trails, intended for shared usage (cycling/walking, no cars).

    It's absolutely my intention to get out into the dirt, but I plan to log a lot of hours in safer environments as I get the hang of it. There are some basic obstacles that I can ease into, but def. nothing XC related. There are some made-made structures, mangroves, stairs etc that I can fool around with as I feel ready. As I progress, I'll start heading out to an MTB park in the western suburbs that appears to have different levels of difficulty, and after that I would like to explore some fire trails in the National Parks that surround my city, all within 100km driving from me.

    I'm in no hurry to get to any particular level of competency, but it's unlikely I will be throwing my bike around like some of the stuff I've seen (on the GMBN Youtube channel for example). How far I go is likely self-limiting by the bike I have anyway (an entry-level hard-tail, no seat dropper)

    So all of that considered, mounting a phone to my bars is probably not going to carry too much risk of being broken, for the forseeable future anyway. And I have a retired Pixel1 that's quite small, which I can mount to my bars, and tether it to my in-use phone (which is huge) that can live in the pouch I bought to mount under my saddle, along with a spare tube.

    I've already spent $1k in the last week on the bike + some basics, and while it's not a lot of money for some, it's a huge outlay for me. Plus I have a 'wishlist' of other accessories & tools, so I need to be careful that I don't go crazy with my spending, as I often do with a new hobby.

    So at this stage I think I will 'work with what I have'. I've got a few ideas on how I can mount my phone for just a few dollars rather than buying a proper mount, so I might work on that design today, and see if I can get the live data I might want, using a combination of my Garmin watch, the Garmin app and Strava.

    Strava's recording is almost perfect, but it lacks HRM on-screen. It kind of sucks that I can't do 'split screen' to have both Strava & Garmin Connect displaying at the same time.

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    I should add that the cheap 'dumb' cycle computer I was looking at doesn't have HRM either, since there is not bluetooth connectivity to my watch, so I guess with Strava's live display I'm more or less getting the same info I would, without an additional purchase.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    Strava's recording is almost perfect, but it lacks HRM on-screen. It kind of sucks that I can't do 'split screen' to have both Strava & Garmin Connect displaying at the same time.

    ??? Strava displays HR on screen.
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    OK new discovery.

    I've just worked out that on my old Pixel1 phone, if I have just two apps running (Garmin Connect + Strava), I can double-tap the right lower button to toggle between the two with ease. No menu diving, no tricky UX navigation, just tap twice, and I'm in another app. Seems it would be pretty easy and safe to do while riding

    One for live HRM (Garmin Connect) and the other for time, speed and distance (Strava)

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    Quote Originally Posted by J.B. Weld View Post
    ??? Strava displays HR on screen.
    Not for me. My Garmin Connect is picking up HRM from the watch, but nothing showing on an active Strava session.

    Don't know if I can upload images, but if so, take a look at this screenshot...
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Cheap Bike Computer vs Phone Apps-strava_001.png  


  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    Not for me. My Garmin Connect is picking up HRM from the watch, but nothing showing on an active Strava session.

    Don't know if I can upload images, but if so, take a look at this screenshot...


    Yeah I wasn't thinking straight, don't listen to me

    I use a garmin device during the ride which automatically uploads to strava as soon as my ride is over, then all the info is displayed on strava.


    Couldn't you use the watch for HR during the ride?
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.B. Weld View Post
    Couldn't you use the watch for HR during the ride?
    Riding with one hand off the grips .... Do you think I'm some sort of daredevil !?!?

    Seriously though, yes, I can monitor HRM on my watch, if I start an activity on it. Or I can toggle between apps as mentioned on post #15

    Anyway, the conclusion is that there's no justification for buying a cheapo bike computer. I'll put that money towards a decent floor pump instead.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    Anyway, the conclusion is that there's no justification for buying a cheapo bike computer. I'll put that money towards a decent floor pump instead.

    Definitely a floor pump. Also maybe stash some cash towards a garmin bike gps, if you like data during rides they're really nice.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    So all of that considered, mounting a phone to my bars is probably not going to carry too much risk of being broken, for the forseeable future anyway.
    Oh, but the nastiest crashes seem to happen in the mellowest scenarios. That's how it's always worked for me, and most people I've ridden with. And crashes on paved surfaces being the worst of the worst.

    Also, Strava stopped accepting heart rate data from external sensors in its app some time ago. Not sure about the app on the watch itself, but it's possible that one wouldn't either. So if you want heart rate data in Strava, you've had to use some other device and get the data into Strava some other way (through Garmin Connect is how people with Garmin devices do it).

    I'm just telling you that your watch device can do the things you want without needing a phone at all. If you need to know something about ride stats, you can probably set alerts on the watch. Otherwise, there's not really much need to look at it while riding. You definitely don't want to get into the habit of doing that because if you try it on a proper mtb trail, you're going to find yourself in the dirt pretty quickly.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post

    I'm just telling you that your watch device can do the things you want without needing a phone at all. If you need to know something about ride stats, you can probably set alerts on the watch. Otherwise, there's not really much need to look at it while riding. You definitely don't want to get into the habit of doing that because if you try it on a proper mtb trail, you're going to find yourself in the dirt pretty quickly.


    Yeah I think I'd just use the watch too. Monitoring speed during mtb rides can be kind of depressing, when you can see it you're going really slow and when you're going fast you can't see it

    I do like to keep check of heart rate and a few other things during rides though, and on road rides I like all the all the all of the available data on display.
    I brake for stinkbugs

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    Oh, but the nastiest crashes seem to happen in the mellowest scenarios. That's how it's always worked for me, and most people I've ridden with. And crashes on paved surfaces being the worst of the worst.
    haha, I'm reminded of a terrible situation my neighbour had a few years ago, riding the very same local pathways I'll be riding. He broke BOTH his arms taking a relatively easy grass downhill slope.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold View Post
    Also, Strava stopped accepting heart rate data from external sensors in its app some time ago. Not sure about the app on the watch itself, but it's possible that one wouldn't either. So if you want heart rate data in Strava, you've had to use some other device and get the data into Strava some other way (through Garmin Connect is how people with Garmin devices do it).
    Right. In the captured data from this morning's short ride, Strava does show (average) HRM, plus a graph of HR over the activity duration. But since I didn't have my phone on me, I guess that comes from my watch syncing to Garmin when I got home, then transferring those logs to Strava.

    For what it's worth - the Garmin App does show real-time HR on the phone screen. Before the gyms shut down, I was using it to monitor bpm while indoor rowing.

    My interest in HRM is not so much about 'getting into the zone', but out of health reasons. I'm in pretty bad shape, and when I joined the gym last year and bought the watch, I found that with cardio work I was hitting 165bpm+. This is not a safe zone, so I need to keep an eye on it.

    But overall, you're right. My watch will display the basics when I manually start an activity.

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  23. #23
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    The VA3 can also send your HRM from the wrist sensor to any ANT+ bike computer, i.e. garmin, wahoo, etc. It can live-track when paired with a phone and does so more reliably than my Edge520+

    It has some kind of shared display function with the Edge units that I've never attempted to use.

    The VA3, as I have alluded to before, also doesn't have most of the dysfunctions of some of the Gamin Edge units, since they seem to have a much bigger and more business-critical customer base for their watches.

    As mentioned the VA3 also can record from a speed sensor, cadence, and separate chest-mount HRM. Basically all it can't record is power, which is a niche metric among mountain bikers anyways.
    The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration

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    Hi Ghettocruiser - the VA3 is my first time wearing a fitness tracker.Well, I did buy a (much cheaper) Fitbit a week before the Garmin, it was COMPLETE GARBAGE. I didn't like the dahboard reporting, but worst of all it would record ghost steps while I was drivinng. Not just a few dozen, but thousands. It's a commonly reported issue on the Fitbit forums. Fortunately, at the same time two things happened. Fitbit were bought out by Google (that turned me off), and the Garmin VA3 was slashed in price by 50% as my local gear retailer.

    I couldn't be happier with the Garmin. The app is great, the step count is accurate, it works in the bush, it's lightweight and isn't very chunky. All I need to do is look for a leather band, because I get some weird skin problem relating to the rubber.

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    In all fairness, the app comment is based on personal preference. My sister got a Garmin for xmas, and she HATES the Garmin Connect app, preferring the fitbit reporting, dashboards etc. So to each their own....

  26. #26
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    Jay719, for those that are new to mountain biking, I always recommend Trailforks. Besides tracking your ride (speed, elevations, moving time, total time, climb and decent distances, average speeds, etc.), it also provides a great database of trails. It's useful to have it on unfamiliar trails, like when you're at an intersection and aren't sure which way to go. So yes, its live tracking shows where you are on the trail with heads up direction. And, BTW, you don't need a cell service signal for mapping to work. Regions (basically states in the U.S., countries outside of the U.S.) can be downloaded so maps are available "off line".

    The trail data base is the best, most accurate, I've seen for MTBing. Descriptions, conditions reporting, photo's, videos, etc. Nicely done interactive maps when you're looking for trails. BTW, they're now expanding into non biking activity trails.

    Just recently, someone I recommended the app to used a Trailforks feature I never really give any thought to. They crashed and were immobilized. They used the Emergency button in Trailforks, which apparently calls and provides longitude and latitude to whoever you configured, including emergency services (911). I need to look into that feature more.

    If you feel the need to use Strava, Trailforks will sync to it.

    Cost? Nada. Free. No adds. No limitations.

    https://www.trailforks.com/apps/map/

    My lengthy point is, if you're new to trail riding, using Trailforks a great one-stop-shop not only for tracking your stats nicely, but also for finding trails to expand your newfound hobby!
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  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay719 View Post
    I couldn't be happier with the Garmin. The app is great, the step count is accurate, it works in the bush, it's lightweight and isn't very chunky.
    Same here. IMO the guys complaining about these things online have no idea what a crappy Garmin device is actually like.

    On that note....If you get an Edge unit, expect reliability to go down as the number of functions goes up.
    The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruiser View Post
    IMO the guys complaining about these things online have no idea what a crappy Garmin device is actually like.
    Quoted for truth. And not just a crappy Garmin, but anything crappy. Or any device from 20yrs ago.

    Lord, I remember using a Kodak digital camera that saved photos onto a 3.5" floppy disk (yes, the camera had an actual disc drive on it), and we geotagged the photos by plugging a Garmin GPS IV directly into the camera via its NMEA (I think) interface, and used a big aluminum rack to hold both devices. You want to talk about clunky interfaces?

    Or even look at modern survey-grade hardware that's still using the outdated Windows Mobile OS. A lot of that stuff costs in excess of $20,000 and the interfaces pale compared to a Garmin from the past few years.

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