Pack It Up, Pack It In, Fetch Me The Bin

A little over a year ago I tried out the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. It showed some promise, but—as a user whose sole interest is navigation and who cares not one jot for fitness data or senseors—I was frustrated by two things: its inability to cope with the user wanting or needing to divert temporarily from a planned route (a shortcoming which could have been pretty much entirely remedied by three straightforward firmware changes) and the bugginess of its companion app, which was unresponsive and had an extraordinary appetite for phone battery.

And recently, after further frustrations with Garmins, I thought I’d try again—this time with the slightly larger Elemnt.

So, have things changed?

No.

The changes which would have made diversions workable haven’t appeared. I raised all three as tickets on Wahoo’s support site, along with a fourth reporting a bug in the phone app causing heavy battery consumption, and their response was to do the exact opposite of what everyone I’ve ever met in software development would do: they merged all four separate tickets into one. When software developers intend working on bugs or features, we like to have one for each bug or feature, otherwise nothing can be usefully prioritised. So I had a strong suspicion from the outset that these changes were never going to see the light of day. (The original tickets were all closed and marked “solved”. As if.)

To summarise the navigation issues: The map is still completely useless at anything beyond the 1km scale, meaning you can’t zoom out to see a viable diversion. Following a route still means your current position is fixed at the edge of the map, meaning you only see what’s in your current direction of travel and nothing else. And still only a small part of the route is rendered with clear chevrons, meaning that if you’re heading back on track from a diversion there’s a good chance that you can’t make out your planned route at all.

As for the app, it’s still appalling. On hooking it up to RideWithGPS, it was—as before—stubbornly unresponsive while syncing the routes. And although I was prepared to cut it a little slack while it slowly chewed through all of my numerous routes (why is there no option to only sync the pinned ones?) I was feeling less generous when, upon finishing its sync, it immediately started the exact same process again. At the end of which, it did so again. And again. And again…

During this apparently endless loop of syncing, it is barely possible to scroll the list. It moves, but you can pretty much make a cup of tea while it reacts to each swipe. The most responsive interaction you have with your phone during this time (which is all the time) is watching the battery percentage tick down at an alarming rate, while simultaneously warming your hands. I’ve honestly never seen anything eat battery like it. I’ve seen a number of reports of the Elemnt giving unexpectedly high calorie consumption figures, and perhaps this is explained by it adding in all the calories it’s extracted from your phone battery while you ride.

Still, I managed to send a route to the Elemnt (thanks to not caring which route I used for experimentation and therefore not having to endure the misery of persuading the list to scroll to any point in particular) and started it, just to double check the fact that there was still no north-up view while following a route. Once I had done this, the app left me stuck on the route page: I couldn’t navigate back to the main “Ride” page at all.

I stopped the ride on the Elemnt, and this at least took the app away from the route page. But then I tried to delete my ride from the history. Which initially appeared to work, but looking back at the list it was still there. So I tried to delete it again. At which point the app locked up completely, leaving me no option but to kill it. (And when I started it up again, guess what? Yup. It immediately started syncing all my routes again.)

I sent another route to the Elemnt, but this time it never even arrived: the Elemnt just sat there blankly.

I’m not hugely surprised that Wahoo have done nothing to improve their navigation functionality. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised: if they don’t much care about navigation as a feature set (and evidently they don’t) then that’s their prerogative. I am, however, both disappointed and surprised that the app remains so incredibly bad. It’s been fifteen months since I encountered the same major bugs amd raised them with Wahoo support, and they’re still present. (And no, it’s not just my phone: I had an iPhone 5S before, and now I have an iPhone SE. And I had similar issues on my Android phone, anyway.)

I was going to take it out for a ride tomorrow to see if I could live with its navigation foibles in the wake of my recent Garmin frustrations, but I’m not even going to bother putting it on the bike. It’s so bad I can’t possibly live with it. Not long after I powered it up, the Elemnt is already back in the box, the app has been deleted, and my phone is recharging.

It’s a real shame, because—unlike the numerous Garmins I’ve used—the screen is readable in bright daylight (of the two, I seem to recall the Bolt is better) and the battery life is good (at least, the Bolt’s was; I won’t bother testing this one) and it’s seamlessly integrated with RideWithGPS (other than endeavouring to set fire to your phone whilst doing so). But, sadly, I seem to find almost everything else about it to be absolutely awful.

So, based on my brief but miserable experience of using two Wahoo devices with three phones, all I can say is that if you hate your phone and either wish it had a flat battery or want a good reason to throw it at a brick wall in frustration then buy an Elemnt.

Needless to say, mine’s on the next Royal Mail van out of here.

Epilogue

I reported the bug (again). Wahoo’s response: “I am sorry to hear that the Elemnt didn’t work out for you and best of luck finding a product that suits your particular needs.”

To be fair, I’d sent them a link to this post and I guess they probably didn’t take too kindly to the tone of it, but I’m not sure that there’s anything “particular” about wanting a product that leaves me with a working phone.

Clearly, this isn’t a bug that anyone at Wahoo has any intention of fixing.

Meanwhile, I’ve bought another Garmin and my phone is at room temperature.

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