So, you’re wondering whether to invest in a bike computer or just stick with your smartphone and save some cash.
Well, it’s something nearly every avid cyclist has considered and many come to different conclusions as it does greatly depend on why you cycle.
In this article, we’ve covered some of the key differences between the two and some things you should think about before you do decide so you can come to an informed decision and don’t end up dropping $80 on something you’ll use twice.
So read on and we’ll give you the lowdown on the perks and drawbacks of each then tell you our verdict on the matter.
As a side note- one thing that puts many people off of a bike computer is the setup that’s involved and it’s true that it can sometimes be a pain. But, to make your life easier we’ve got that covered too and you can check out our article on how to install a bike computer.
Now you’re up to speed, let’s have a look at this question that we’ve all asked ourselves and finally settle the winner when it comes to bike computer vs smartphone.
Bike Computer Vs. Smartphone: Considerations
Most mobile phone screens today have are larger than the displays you would see on almost all bike computers. A large mobile phone may leave you with very little space on your handlebars, especially if you want a headlight on your bike too. This may well be a deal-breaker for some people who would prefer the compact nature of a standard cycling computer.
The cost of a cycling computer can vary greatly starting at around $25 and reaching lofty heights of a few hundred. If you’re tight on cash then you may want to stick with your smartphone rather than adding the additional cost of a dedicated cycle computer.
However, if you’re riding in harsh conditions then you may want to invest in a phone case. It’s also important to remember that you run the risk of damaging your cellphone while riding your bike and replacing a phone is considerably more expensive than buying a basic cycling computer that will most likely be smash resistant. If you want a bike computer for a great price then check out our guide on the best budget bike computer.
How Frequently You Ride
If you use your bike to commute to work or just to lose a few calories twice a week then you’re most likely not going to need the best bike computers or a bike computer at all. Whereas if you’re training for an event then having all of that accurate data is going to be a serious help when it comes to improving your cycling.
As we mentioned above, your phone is at risk of falling from your bike while you’re whizzing down a trail and smashing into pieces, trust me, this happens more than you’d think. Wind, rain, snow, and extreme temperatures are just some of the hazards your chosen device will need to withstand and bike computers vary based on what kind of protection they offer.
But, bike computers generally, are a better choice when it comes to durability. While a weatherproof case may be an option for your smartphone, keep in mind it will increase the size of the device and make the function of the touchscreen more difficult to use as well as affect your screen brightness making it more difficult to see in sunlight.
Unless you have a portable charger, your phone probably won’t last more than 4-5 hours before running out of battery, especially if your brightness is high due to glare from the sun. If you’re going on a long ride far from home then you’ll also need your phone battery to be high in case of emergencies so if you’re a distance rider then a phone’s battery life just won’t cut it and you should opt for a GPS bike computer.
- Durable – Cycling computers are weatherproof, crash-resistant, and designed to fit on handlebars so they don’t fall off.
- Compatibility – Cycling computers link up to pretty much all cycling smart devices, so if you want to push your training to the next level with a power meter or cadence sensors you won’t need to deal with the hassle of checking compatibility.
- Battery Life – Recording GPS data is a vital part of cycling for some riders and bike computers have a long battery life to do just that.
- Price – If you’re new to cycling, are shopping on a budget, or don’t plan on lengthy rides, the cost of a bike computer can be a little off-putting when your cell phone can give you much of the same metrics data.
- Only For Cycling – A bike computer is designed specifically for cycling, so if you run or take part in any other sports, you’ll need to use a smartphone or a smartwatch to track your data.
- Convenient – the vast majority of people already own a smartphone making it that much more convenient than buying a dedicated cycling computer. You can simply download a smartphone app that tracks much of the same bike ride data as many bike computers which is considerably easier than shopping around for a bike computer.
- External Capabilities – With many heart rate monitors and power meters now connecting to recording devices via Bluetooth, it’s easier than ever before to delve a little deeper into how you’re performing.
- Short Battery Life – The biggest drawback to using a smartphone to record your rides is the effect GPS use has on battery life. Installing and using a GPS app will drain your battery after just an hour or two which prevents you from going on long-distance rides.
- Fragile – A smartphone is a costly thing and they aren’t built to withstand harsh weather or being dropped. So having it mounted on your handlebar can expose it to all sorts of weather. On top of that, if it’s not secured properly then there’s a good chance it will fall off and smash.
- Not As Advanced – While mobile phones can usually match many of the key metrics seen on GPS bike computers such as average speed, distance, etc. They don’t provide details on some of the more advanced cycling data that can come in handy if you’re serious about your bike riding.
- Compatibility – While some devices can connect to smartphones some still can’t. So relying on a smartphone can lead to some headaches if you want to invest in any extra devices like a speed sensor.
While cycling apps provide some of the key data you require sensors are key to offering you information on your speed, cadence, and other metrics.
While there are no power, speed, cadence, and heart rate sensors that work with Bluetooth and smartphones, if you’ve already invested in ANT+, your phone won’t support this.
You could potentially purchase a third-party dongle to plug into your phone and get the data that way but you’re limited in choice as platforms like Strava removed third-party support meaning you won’t have any of that data to use there.
however, if you’re not too bothered about ANT+ and can go for Bluetooth then this is a viable option for your sensors. You’ll need to find an app that displays data while riding and also allows you to export it to analyze after your ride.
So, while a phone can be used with sensors, it’s not as easy as it is with a dedicated bike computer as these will auto-connect instantly, displaying the data on multiple screens that can be easily interpreted.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a bike computer better than a phone?
In short, a cycling computer is the best option. But if you’re looking to save some cash and keep device ownership to a minimum, a phone will give you all of the essentials that dedicated computers do.
What is a bike computer?
A bike computer or cycling computer is a small device that attaches to your bike and gives you live data on your cycling. Some of this data includes speed, distance, and time although some of the more advanced models act as a GPS computer giving you detailed maps, GPS tracking, weather reports, as well as other data such as your heart rate, cadence, height above sea-level, etc.
Is a bike computer necessary?
If cycling is a one or two-day-a-week occurrence for you then it’s definitely not essential to lug around more equipment. But if you’re training for a race and find yourself on your bike for four, five or even six days a week, a cycling computer will give you more useful data to suit your routine and help you improve your cycling.
Bike Computer Vs Smartphone: The Verdict
So now we’ve had a look at cycling computers and smartphones it’s time to give you a definitive answer as to which is the better choice.
Most bike computers come with all the features you’ll need from speed and time to turn by turn navigation so you don’t need to worry too much about investing in a top-of-the-range bike computer just to get the data you need.
A dedicated bike computer is built to withstand the rough terrain you’ll likely encounter on your mountain bike and they have a long battery life so you can go on all kinds of road adventures and not have to worry about running low on juice.
Smartphones are definitely more convenient and it’s true that they offer the same data as a bike computer but if you like to take your cycling seriously then they’re just not the practical choice.
They run low on battery very quickly and are much more susceptible to damage than a bike computer. So, if you exercise regularly or take part in cycling events, trails, etc. then a bike computer is a must-have accessory.
Alternatively, if you only ride your bike to work or for a 30-minute ride once a week then you probably don’t need to bother with a bike computer and your phone will do the trick if you want to check your data.
Overall, a cycling computer is the best choice and will benefit you in more situations than your smartphone will. And so the winner of bike computer vs. smartphone is definitely the bike computer.