Our Early Verdict
With the best screen and navigational metrics in the game the Hammerhead Karoo 2 brings a premium experience to a broader audience
- Unrivaled touchscreen
- Stellar navigational prompts
- Audio notifications
- Refined aesthetics
- Weight more in line with rivals
- Brand loyalty of rival users
We reviewed the Hammerhead Karoo GPS back in September last year and came away feeling impressed by what it offered users in terms of a holistic cycling computer experience.
As one of the best cycling computers available, it hit all the markers when it came to its high-definition screen, intuitive functionality, advanced mapping and GPS capabilities but was ultimately let down by the market's propensity for smaller, slimmer units.
In an attempt to address some of these concerns Hammerhead has gone back to the proverbial drawing board and redefined the concept altogether with its latest offering, the Karoo 2. Having teased the unit a couple of months back Hammerhead sent us a final engineering prototype to sample ahead of its official release in late October.
Here's what we've learned so far.
Design and aesthetics
It must be noted that the Hammerhead Karoo 2 pictured here is an engineering prototype and is not 100 per cent representative of the final product. Attributes such as the paint finish, colour, button texture and feel will be significantly different and more refined. The embossed Hammerhead logo on the top edge of the unit will be filled with metallic silver detailing and the unit's overall colour will most likely feature a darker grey or black finish.
The most notable change comes in the form of the Karoo 2's dimensions and weight - it's 40% smaller and 33% lighter than before, and tips the scales at a mere 125g (actual weight). In fact, according to Hammerhead founder and CEO, Piet Morgan, the new model is more in line with what the company originally envisaged for Karoo 1.
The limiting factor with Karoo 1 came in the form of the battery, power requirements and internal titanium skeleton - all of which made it difficult to produce on a smaller scale hence the previous model's larger proportions.
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With Karoo 2, however, the engineers and designers were able to radically reduce the unit's dimensions without sacrificing much of the screen real estate - in fact, in terms of height the screen remains on par with the Karoo 1, the only significant difference being that it's a touch narrower which does nothing to limit the user experience.
Like its forebear Karoo 2 is built around a high-definition touchscreen. The 3.2in/82mm display is finished in a responsive, scratch-resistant DragonTrail glass for improved resilience and user experience - even in wet weather.
Hammerhead's modus operandi with Karoo 2 was to neatly shoehorn the highest performing components into the smallest possible package.
To achieve such a feat brought with it a unique set of challenges because unlike its rivals, Karoo 2 boasts a quad-core, smartphone-grade Qualcomm processor, a high-definition screen and a cellular radio - the culmination of which requires a bigger power source and increased antenna space.
The device itself represents a radical evolution over its predecessor but the core ethos and functionality remains the same. While the Karoo 2 uses a touchscreen, four buttons (two on each side) gives the user complete control over the device when navigating trickier terrain where touchscreen operation might not be possible. These buttons together with the outer edge of the entire unit are covered in an elastomer-based material for added grip and protection against impacts.
In terms of hardware specifications, the big news surrounding Karoo 2 hinges around connectivity - particularly that of its smartphone integration and push-notification functionality. It features a brace of Bluetooth, low-energy chipsets that connect to ANT+, WiFi, Smartphone and, of course, GPS, 3G and 4G which lets it talk to any device - iOS or Android - and operate in any situation. Flip the device over, unclip the circular cover and you'll be able to slide in a SIM card - allowing you to navigate anywhere, receive notifications and upload your activities without reliance on WiFi.
The Karoo 2 also benefits from a USB-C charging slot for faster charging - 30% in 30 minutes and 50% in one hour. Of course, connecting to multiple sensors as well as utilising the device's mapping capabilities will have a bearing on battery life which Hammerhead pegs at 12 hours. We managed to eke an impressive 14 hours from a single charge but ran the device sans any sensors and used it exclusively to record GPS data - no navigational prompts.
Another key focus came in developing a Karoo-specific mounting system. In this case, a unique, dual-lock mechanism which ensures the unit remains planted and balanced during operation. According to Hammerhead the Garmin-developed 'quarter-turn' paradigm is better suited to smaller/lighter units and isn't conducive for the modern cycling computer. Hammerhead's new linear-lock design has a larger contact area that provides more support for the device and is also compatible with time trial/tri cockpits. Those who prefer the now-universal quarter-turn mount or have Garmin-style brackets set up across myriad bikes can just slide in an adaptor plate (the adaptor plate is available as a pre-order option only).
Like Karoo 1 it runs on a fully customised Android operating system - Android 8 to be exact. The software is identical between both the Karoo 1 and Karoo 2. Of course, you'll need to create an account but this gives you access to further customising and route-building options, viewing your activities as well as updating your profile. As expected it's also fully compatible with third-party apps such as Strava or Training Peaks.
My time with the new Karoo 2 was limited to a few weeks so I wasn't able to fully put the potential of its functionality to the test.
The bulk of my testing comprised regular GPS tracking, which also took into account sensor compatibility and checking whether or not it drops or loses signal. It doesn't - in fact, it does a pretty stellar job when it comes to displaying and tracking various performance metrics, made all the better by using Strava Live Segments to help track improvements on your local segments.
As a navigational device, the Karoo 2 doesn't disappoint. Like Karoo 1 it offers unrivalled levels of accuracy, directional prompting and mapping detail.
Creating a course is a straightforward procedure that can be carried out on the Hammerhead dashboard route builder online - this can be done from scratch or previous rides can be added as a route and synced to the device.
Navigational prompting is superb and the audio alerts ensure you will never miss a turn again. It's also worth noting that you needn't be on the map screen itself to receive turn-by-turn navigation - the directions will show up on any screen.
On first impressions, the Hammerhead Karoo 2 appears more in line with the contemporary cycling computer formula than its forebear - it's smaller, slimmer and lighter but it's also super fast when it comes to processing speeds, mapping and route guidance. Hammerhead is pitting it directly against the segment's top players and, quite frankly, I feel the device has what it takes to challenge the Garmin 1030 for top honours, what with its newly improved aesthetics, smaller dimensions and killer touchscreen.
At $399 the Karoo 2 will find favour with a whole new customer base considering all the improvements that have been carried out - both visual and under the skin. Considering its chief rival, the Garmin Edge 1030 and 1030 Plus, retails for $200 more, the Karoo 2 offers a worthy alternative for those willing to embrace change and move into an intuitive and user-focused ecosystem.
Furthermore, Hammerhead is also offering a neat trade-in package where owners of Karoo 1 can upgrade to the new model and exchange their old device (granted it's still in good working order) in return for $120 off the asking price of the Karoo 2.
A comprehensive review will follow once we receive the full production version later this year.
Tech Specs: Hammerhead Karoo 2 cycling computer
- Price: (Starting from) US$399 / £300 / €335
- Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth, WiFi, cellular
- Operating system: Android
- Water-resistant: IPX7
- Dimensions: 100.6 x 60.8 x 19.3mm
- Weight: 123g claimed, 125g actual
- Storage: 32GB
- Navigation: OpenStreet Map
- Claimed battery life: 12-hours
- Colour touchscreen: Yes
- Screen size: 3.2in / 82mm diagonal
What is a hands on review?
'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.
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