Despite its size, the Hammerhead Karoo is a quality option that shouldn't be ignored - it's ideal for the adventurer who still likes to send it on the open roads
Larger than rivals
No protective casing
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While Garmin has ruled the roost for the better part of a decade now it’s only recently that the likes of Wahoo - and Polar, Bryton and Lezyne to a lesser extent - have begun to put up any form of resistance in the race to create the best cycling computers.
In fact, we’re seeing more and more cyclists jumping ship and moving away from the perennial favourite. But what if we told you there was a new GPS device in town with the ability to challenge the main players?
It all began several years ago when Hammerhead founder and CEO, Piet Morgan became aware of the challenges of navigating by bike when he cycled across the United States over 63 days. It was here he had an epiphany - it occurred to him that the concept of light-guided aircraft carrier landings could very well be applied to cycling.
He used this rhetoric to develop his company’s first product, the Hammerhead H1. As the name describes, the device took the form of a t-shaped handlebar-mounted unit that displayed navigational prompts through a simple and elegant LED visual interface; just like a head-up display.
With the help of co-founders Laurence Wattrus and Raven Beemsingh, the company realised that the more serious cyclist could benefit from the same thinking but with a larger screen and a more focused device. And just like that Hammerhead’s second product, the Karoo was born.
Design and aesthetics
Make no mistake, the Karoo is a pretty sizeable unit when compared to its rivals but it is a sleek-looking unit nonetheless. The build quality is exceptional and the housing itself is chunky, hardy and designed to take a beating on the road or trail, perhaps that's why Hammerhead doesn't offer a protective silicon case, although we would appreciate the option. The Hammerhead boasts one of, if not, the best screens on the market. Utilising a 0.9mm-thick sheet of Gorilla Glass, the high-definition 640x480 (229 pixel per inch) touchscreen is super-responsive and one of its biggest drawcards.
Tech and spec
The Karoo runs on a fully customised Android 6 operating system. Setting it up is a relatively simple exercise. You’ll first need to create an online account but that too is quick and easy. Once logged into the Karoo dashboard you’re able to browse through your profile, build routes, check your activities and update your settings and links to third-party apps such as Strava or Training Peaks. Creating customised data screens is simple and quick to do. You can insert up to 12 fields per screen, each of which can be assigned to various bikes, power meters and heart-rate sensors.
The full-colour mapping is superbly detailed and it’s the accuracy of the routing that sets it apart, not to mention the turn-by-turn instructions which display on the bottom of the screen - the company does, after all, pride itself on its navigation proficiency. Routes can be added by loading any of the usual file extensions such as GPX, FIT, TCX, KML, or KMZ.
There’s unfortunately no sound prompts (for now) but that’s negligible considering everything else it can do: you can pinch-zoom on the map as well as scroll around the map to see what’s ahead or behind. With around 16GB of onboard storage (8.5GB of user space), downloading maps and rides will never be an issue.
The Karoo’s screen is a work of art and by far the best in its class. Not only does it feature a matte, anti-glare finish it also benefits from hydrophobic properties so water and other liquids are repelled from the screen. Then there are the diagonally opposed buttons, arranged in this way to prevent accidental clicking when clasping the device from both sides. The textured surface of buttons also makes it easy to operate with gloves.
Hammerhead is constantly developing new tech and will send out a host of software updates every month to further refine the user experience. It’s also compatible with a Garmin mount so it’s easy to switch between bikes. Also included in the box is a genuine Barfly-branded mount should you need it but it’s a bit bulky, to be honest.
At 98 x 72 x 28mm the Hammerhead is a fair whack bigger than its rivals but something that didn’t quite bother us. In fact, the bigger screen made monitoring vitals such as power and heart rate less of a strain and more of a pleasure. To nitpick I’d say it’s more the device’s weight - 186g (actual) versus the similarly sized and specced Garmin 1030’s 124g (actual) - that will freak out the weight weenie in us all, but that’s a small price to pay considering the Karoo is by far less of a headache to deal with on a daily basis; no frozen screens or random switching off here. In fact, its ease of use and intuitive functionality will nullify any preconceived issues you may have with its dimensions.
The Hammerhead Karoo’s mapping and GPS capabilities are unsurpassed, trumping its rivals in terms of accuracy, directional prompting and level of detail. In terms of battery life, Hammerhead claims 15 hours per charge which is on par with segment standards. A clever touch is a battery-saving mode, which allows the Karoo's screen to be turned off while still recording the remainder of the ride.
The Hammerhead Karoo provides users with a worthy and refined alternative to the Garmin and Wahoo onslaught currently dominating the segment. Yes, compared with its rivals it’s a heavier, somewhat bigger device but these are negligible attributes considering the glitch-free experience it provides the user. Its screen is by far the most responsive we’ve tested and the resolution unprecedented. In fact, over the entire test duration, there were no gremlins or any kind of hiccups experienced. In terms of accessibility and pricing, the Hammerhead Karoo is available for purchase directly through its website or local distribution centre making delivery a breeze. Coming in at well below the £500 threshold, the Karoo makes an endearing case for itself as a left-field option trumping the segment mainstay, the Garmin 1030, on price, performance, experience and mapping functionality.
- Price: (Starting from) US$399 / £329 / AU$588
- Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth, WiFi
- Operating system: Android 6.0
- Weight: 168g claimed, 186g actual
- Companion App: Yes
- Navigation: OpenStreet Map
- Claimed battery life: 15-hours
- Colour Screen: Yes
- Screen resolution: 640 x 480, 229 pixels per inch
- Screen size: 3.5in / 89mm diagonal
View Cyclingnews' roundup of the best cycling computers.
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