The Garmin Edge 520 and the Wahoo ELEMNT are two of the best bike computers in the world. The Edge 520 debuted with a bang as pretty much the greatest bike computer upgrade ever – and since then, the Wahoo ELEMNT is really the only bike computer to emerge as serious competition to the 520. This post compares their features to help you decide which of these premium bike computers would be best for you.
Update June 2020: Since I wrote this, Garmin introduced the Garmin Edge 520 Plus, and also the Edge 530. They are better than the Edge 520 because they have much better pre-loaded maps. The 53o even has some navigation abilities. BUT, if you don’t care about navigation, this is very good news for you, because the price of the Edge 520 has dropped HUGELY, making it an exceptionally good deal right now. If you DO care about navigation, check out our newer post on the Garmin Edge 520 Plus vs the Wahoo ELEMNT.
If you’re still with us, here is a chart that compares the key features of the Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT.
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|SIze:||1.9” x 2.9” x 0.8” (4.9 x 7.3 x 2.1 cm)||2.25" x 3.5" x 0.8" (5.7 x 8.9 x 2.0 cm)|
|Weight:||2.1 oz (61 g||3.5 oz (105 g)|
|Display resolution:||200 x 265 pixels||200 x 400 pixels|
|Screen Visibility:||Easy to see in the sun light, and also at night||Even easier to see in the sun light, and also at night|
|Waterproof?||Yes (IPX 7 - Max immersion for less than 30 minutes at a depth of less than 1 m)||Yes (IPX 7 - Max immersion for less than 30 minutes at a depth of less than 1 m)|
|Mount:||You can mount this with any Garmin mount, either on the handlebars or cross bar, or with an out-front mount. All provide for quickly removing the unit when the bike is parked||You can mount this with any Wahoo mount, either on the handlebars or cross bar, or with an out-front mount. The out-front mount is more aerodynamic than the Garmin version|
|Build:||Very sleek and high quality||Not quite as high quality as the Garmin, but very nice, all the same|
|Button control or touchscreen?||Buttons – 7 buttons on the phone, along the sides and on the bottom, front. All have multiple functions, so there is a learning curve||Buttons – 3 buttons in the front along the bottom edge, a power button on the left side, and up-and-down arrow/zoom buttons on the right side. You mainly use the 3 buttons in front when riding, and they are really easy to access|
|Battery:||Lithium ion internal (rechargeable via Micro USB)||Lithium ion internal 1750mAh (rechargeable via Micro USB)|
|Battery Life:||Claimed up to 15 hours. But it depends what you do with the unit – e.g. are you using backlight, GPS, connecting constantly to your smart phone, etc.?||Claimed up to 17 hours. But it depends what you do with the unit – e.g. are you using backlight, GPS, connecting constantly to your smart phone, etc.?|
|Can you program it with a smart phone?||No; you use buttons on the unit to program it||Yes, and it is easy and fun!|
|Download Strava segments to unit?||Yes||Yes|
|How easy is it to program?||Quite a complicated menu system, which you have to control with 7 buttons on the phone||Much easier to program, because you can do it on your smart phone, using the excellent Wahoo app|
|Bluetooth Smart (4.0)?||Yes||Yes|
|ANT+ connectivity so you can connect it to other devices, such as a cadence and speed sensor or a heart rate monitor||Yes. You can also use a Shimano wireless transmitter to Garmin Vector 2S Power Meter Pedals, Di2 Dura-Ace 9070, Ultegra 6870 Di2, or Ultegra 6770 electronic gears||Yes. You can pair with sensors that measure heart rate, speed, cadence, and power, and connect with electronic shifting systems|
|Automatic, wireless transfer of data||Yes - automatically upload rides; automatically download routes, workouts, etc., from apps||Yes - automatically upload rides; automatically download routes, etc., from apps|
|Satellite connectivity?||Yes, GPS and GLONASS (these are the American and Russian satellite systems)||Yes, GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU Galileo, and QZSS|
|Connected features with a smart phone:||LiveTrack; GroupTrack; Automatic Activity uploads to Garmin Connect; Course, segment, and workout downloads from Garmin Connect; Device to device transfers; Social media interactions when uploading activities to Garmin Connect; Weather updates in real time; Notifications of phone calls and messages; Messages – reply with preset text messages; Audio prompts; Incident detection – sends message to emergency contacts; Assistance – you can send an automated text message with your name and GPS location to your emergency contacts; Connect IQ™ downloadable features||Live Track; GroupTrack; Automatic Activity uploads; Weather; Notifications of phone calls, messages, and emails; Course, segment, and workout downloads|
|App compatibility||Share routes and workout data via a huge range of apps accessed via Connect IQ, including: RideWithGPS; Strava; TrainingPeaks; Race Notes; Komoot||Share routes and workout data with: Health app (iOS only); RideWithGPS; Strava; TrainingPeaks; MapMyFitness; Today’s Plan (Android); Komoot; Best Bike Split; SportTrack; Dropbox|
|Current, average, and maximum speed; trip distance; odometer; etc.||Yes||Yes|
|Compute calories burned, based on heart rate?||Yes||Yes|
|Customizable data pages||Yes – set them up using the menu system on the unit||Yes - set them up on your smart phone. You can quickly change the number of fields displayed on the fly, by using the zoom feature. Use the Perfect View side buttons to toggle between views of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 data fields|
|Display and record gradients?||Yes||Yes|
|Cycling-specific VO2 Max and recovery times?||Yes. Reports cycling-specific VO2 max and recovery time when used with connected power and heart rate sensors||No|
|Time in Zone?||Yes. Reports cycling-specific VO2 max and recovery time when used with connected power and heart rate sensors||Yes. Reports cycling-specific VO2 max and recovery time when used with connected power and heart rate sensors|
|FTP (Functional Threshold Power) tracking?||Yes. Tracks FTP, watts/kg and cycling dynamics when used with Vector™ or Vector 2 power meters||Yes, when used with a power meter|
|GPS tracking of routes||Yes||Yes|
|Preloaded maps?||Yes, but pretty basic. It's just to give you a rough idea of where you are. However, you can add free maps from third parties||Yes, and the included maps are very detailed and functional|
|Turn-by-turn navigation guidance?||Yes, but it can only guide you to locations using turn-by-turn directions and off-course alerts IF the location is a saved place, OR IF the location is found on the pre-loaded Yelp app. However, you can add extra navigation if you download routes with cues to the unit from a suitable app, such as RideWithGPS or Komoot||Yes, if you use the Take Me Anywhere feature, or if you download routes with embedded cues that you previously create in apps such as RideWithGPS or Komoot|
As you can see at a glance, both the Wahoo ELEMNT and the Garmin Edge 520 are premium bike computers that offer an impressive range of features. So, which one is better for you? Read on!
Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT, Summed Up
The Garmin Edge 520, like all Edge bike computers, is a rugged bike computer that will stand up to bad weather, and even a fall into water. Plus of course it will enable you to record your rides and a range of other data and upload it automatically to the apps of your choice. The Wahoo ELEMNT is just as rugged, and will also enable you to record and automatically upload your rides and a range of other data – although, not quite as much data as the Edge 520. On the other hand, the Wahoo ELEMNT does have some significant advantages over the Edge 520, as will be discussed below.
Satellites and Apps for Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
When the Garmin Edge 520 was first introduced, it was hailed by many as the biggest leap forward in bike computers, ever – as we mentioned in our complete review of the Garmin Edge 520. Now, a couple of years later, it is still very clearly a class act. The Edge 520 is GPS and GLONASS-enabled (that’s the US and Russian systems) for extremely fast satellite acquisition, and offers wireless transfers of your data to Garmin Connect (or Strava, which you can read about here) – or whichever cycling app you choose. The Edge 520 connects to a wide range of cycling apps, via Connect IQ. These apps include RideWithGPS, Strava, TrainingPeaks, Race Notes, and Komoot.
The Wahoo ELEMNT does not use the propriety Connect IQ. However, it can connect to even more satellites, namely GPS, GLONASS, BEIDOU Galileo, and QZSS. Also, it will connect wirelessly to a wide range of apps, including Health app (iOS only), RideWithGPS, Strava, TrainingPeaks, MapMyFitness, Today’s Plan (Android), Komoot, Best Bike Split, SportTrack, and Dropbox. It too can wirelessly transfer your data.
Advanced Performance Data in Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
The Edge 520 was the first bike computer to introduce new advanced performance and power analysis, including Time in Zone, FTP (Functional Threshold Power) tracking, cycling-specific VO2, and recovery and cycling dynamics. However, these are very advanced features, and require expensive specialized equipment. If you don’t need these advanced metrics, then it will not matter to you that the Wahoo ELEMNT does not have them.
Recently the Garmin Edge 520 has added even more advanced power metrics. WKO4 software, developed by TrainingPeaks, provides WKO4 individual power levels (iLevels), the newest metric for cyclists and triathletes who train with a power meter. iLevels are specific training levels based on an athlete’s unique physiology and current level of fitness. The power duration curve has enabled the introduction of several new training metrics, including Functional Reserve Capacity and Pmax tracking, which you can use to track your specific fitness. Obviously, this has application only to elite level athletes, not your average Joe cyclists, like me!
Live Tracking on the Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
Both the Garmin Edge 520 and the Wahoo ELEMNT offer live tracking – which basically means anyone can check where you are at any time, if you give them access.
Connectivity in Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
Both of these bike computers offers ANT+ connectivity so that you can connect it to other devices, such as a cadence and speed sensor or a heart rate monitor. You can also use Bluetooth on the Wahoo ELEMNT and the Garmin Edge 520. These dual options make for wider connectivity options and lower drain on the battery.
However, the Edge 520 has some other connectivity options – you can use a Shimano wireless transmitter to connect with Garmin Vector 2S Power Meter Pedals, Di2 Dura-Ace 9070, Ultegra 6870 Di2, or Ultegra 6770 electronic gears. Again, if you don’t have these expensive add-ons, then you will not need to connect with them anyway! On the Wahoo ELEMNT, you can use ANT + to connect with electronic shifting systems.
Both of them will do pretty much everything you want a bike computer to do, and then automatically upload your data to whichever apps you have selected, such as Strava or RideWithGPS.
Controlling the Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
Both Garmin Edge 520 and the Wahoo ELEMNT use button control, not touch screen control. Many people prefer button control. Personally, I sometimes find that screen swiping doesn’t work perfectly, especially in pouring rain. Button control gives you complete control, all the time, even with gloves on.
The Edge 520 has 7 buttons, located as follows: 3 on the left edge, 2 on the bottom front, and 2 on the right edge. On the other hand, the Wahoo ELEMNT has three buttons in the front along the bottom edge, a power button on the left side, and up-and-down arrow buttons on the right side. You mainly use the three buttons in front when riding, and they are really easy to access.
While both have a fair number of buttons, in practice you will use the Wahoo buttons less. This is a factor that makes the Wahoo ELEMNT look like a more attractive unit than the Edge 520. Many users love the Wahoo bike computer because it is so easy to use. Many would argue that it is far more user-friendly than Garmin Edge bike computers, because it channels the mega power of your smart phone.
Unlike the Garmin Edge bike computers, with Wahoo you do most of your programming and settings on your phone. Honestly, this is so super easy and incredibly powerful that it made me question all the hours I have spend navigating bike computer menus (and sometimes swearing as I do it). If you love setting up customized data screens, you are going to have a blast with your smart phone and the Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer! Plus, the process of pairing the Wahoo with my phone was so simple that it’s not even worth writing about it.
In fact, the only adjustments you can make on the actual Wahoo unit are adding sensors, turning GPS on and off; and checking for firmware and route updates.
Also, the zoom buttons on the side of the Wahoo ELEMNT are much easier to use than the zooming menu options on the Edge 520. These buttons can be used to zoom from 11 sets of data to just 1 or 2 – quickly and on-the-fly. You can also use them to zoom in and out on maps. It is much harder to do this on the Garmin Edge 520 – you will have to stop your bike and navigate menus. Which really means that with a Garmin, you had best decide what screens you want before your ride, and stick with them!
Build Quality in the Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
The Garmin Edge 520 has a beautiful color screen, and a great hand-feel – it feels very smooth, light, and high quality. The Wahoo ELEMNT is no ugly duckling, but it is definitely a little bigger and heavier, and simply feels and looks a little less high-end than the Garmin.
Although the Wahoo ELEMNT is black and white and the Edge 520 is color, it is actually easier to see the Wahoo ELEMNT, both at night and during the day.
LED Lights on the Wahoo ELEMNT
A great little feature that is not seen on any other bike computers are the two rows of LED lights at the left side and top of the Wahoo ELEMNT. The side LEDs can be set to indicate speed, power or heart rate. The top row of LEDs shows notifications and alerts. Most notably, if you are following a route – even just a breadcrumbs route – these lights will blink red if you go off course, and blink green when you get back on course.
This, combined with how easy it is to see streets on the map, makes the basic breadcrumb routing (which is offered by both the Edge 520 and the Wahoo ELEMNT) actually very useful on the Wahoo.
Turn-by-turn Navigation with Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
Both the Garmin Edge 520 Plus and the Wahoo ELEMNT come with good, preloaded maps. Turn-by-turn navigation is not possible on either of these units on their own, as their maps do not have this metadata loaded. However, it IS possible to get turn-by-turn directions on both of them if you export a route that contains the required metadata from a suitable app to your unit. Such as RideWithGPS or Komoot. You have to create the route in those apps with cues, and export the route plus cues. The created route will show up on both your Edge 520 Plus and your Wahoo with turn-by-turn directions (based on the cues)!
Note that because neither of these units can calculate routes, if you go off-route then all they can tell you is that you are off-route. They cannot recalculate a new route to get you back on course, like your typical car computer can do. (And also units such as the Garmin Edge 820 and 1030).
This excellent video from Clint Gibbs explains it. I recommend subscribing to Clint’s YouTube channel for lots of great reviews and insights. Although the video refers to the Edge 520, it is applicable to the Edge 520 Plus as well.
Indoor Bike Trainer Compatibility with Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
The Wahoo ELEMNT can be used to control one of the excellent Wahoo KICKR Smart Trainers. These are high-level bike trainers that work with numerous apps to provide great indoor training options. If indoor training is important to you, note that Wahoo has really perfected this connection and provides outstanding training tools in its KICKR Smart Trainers.
Of course, you can pair your Garmin Edge 520 with an indoor trainer using ANT+ FE-C and a range of training apps. See our picks for 5 of the best indoor bike trainers here.
Bottom Line on the Garmin Edge 520 vs. Wahoo ELEMNT
Both of these are excellent bike computers. Personally, I would choose the Wahoo ELEMNT over the Garmin Edge 520, simply because it is so much easier to program it with your smart phone, rather than navigating the endless menus of the Garmin Edge 520. It is also so much easier to see more or less data screens on the Wahoo ELEMNT, thanks to the zoom in and zoom out buttons. Plus, those LED lights are useful and fun!
For most cyclists, the Wahoo ELEMNT really does have the “must-have” data covered, and then some. It used to be that the Garmin was way ahead, but really, Wahoo just keeps catching up. So, that factor is no longer important. The differences now come down to color vs. black and white; programming with menus vs with your phone; and the Garmin Edge 520 is a little smaller and more high-end looking.
Ultimately it will come down to what you need and value the most. Good luck with making the right choice for your needs!
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