Wahoo Elemnt Bolt v2 review: Better screen, smarter navigation

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt v2 review: Better screen, smarter navigation

Wahoo Fitness has launched a major update today to its Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS cycling computer. While the new screen will invariably grab the lion’s share of the attention, there are also some significant changes under the hood.

Story Highlights

  • What it is: The second generation of Wahoo Fitness’s popular Bolt compact GPS cycling computer.
  • Features: A new 64-color LCD screen, enhanced navigation functionality, expanded 16 GB on-board memory, updated case design.
  • Weight: 71 g (computer only, without mount)
  • Price: US$280 / AU$420 / £250 / €280
  • Highs: Vastly improved screen legibility, highly intuitive operation, truly usable navigation.
  • Lows: Questionable satellite lock, substantially more expensive than before.

The new screen uses the same 2.2″ diagonal size and 240×320-pixel screen resolution as before, but it ditches the old monochrome LCD panel in favor of a 64-color display that also has better contrast for easier viewing, particularly in bright sunlight. Helping matters is the fact that the display layer is now a lot closer to the protective Gorilla Glass outer layer, which helps reduce the shadowbox effect. In practice, the display now looks more like what you might find on an e-reader (albeit in color in this case).

Also new on this more grown-up Bolt is the addition of Wahoo’s Smart Navigation functionality. Current Bolts already incorporate a basic navigation function, managed through the companion smartphone app. The second-gen Bolt now allows you to select destinations directly on the computer itself, and it’ll also automatically reroute you if you deviate from the original route for whatever reason. Turn-by-turn directions pop up automatically at the top of the screen, along with on-screen breadcrumb trails and distance cues that indicate upcoming turns.

As with the larger Elemnt Roam, the new color screen on the Bolt helps with navigation, too, since the color-coding makes it easier to visually follow the prescribed path.

The new full-color display is a huge improvement over the original Bolt’s monochrome screen.

Carrying over is the single row of colored LEDs along the upper edge of the case that provides a graphical measure of selectable metrics like power, heart rate, and speed. It also serves as a sort of visual alarm if there’s an upcoming turn, incoming call or message, or an approaching car (if your Bolt is paired with Garmin’s rear-facing Varia radar unit). And if you’re so inclined, Strava Live is still built into the firmware so you can know in real-time just how mediocre you really are.

Additional changes include much more onboard memory — from 4 GB on the old Bolt to 15 GB on this one — along with subtly raised buttons that are easier to operate (especially when wearing gloves). As expected, Wahoo has switched from micro-USB to USB-C for a more durable connection and faster charging, and final assembly now happens in Taiwan instead of China.

The case itself is slightly revised, retaining the overall tapered shape but with a hint of extra length, a smidgeon less width, and a larger glass panel. The included out-front mount is different as a result, although that doesn’t create as much of a compatibility headache as you might expect.

Like on the original Bolt, Wahoo includes a profiled mount that fits perfectly with the updated case and is claimed to be more aerodynamic than more mix-and-match setups. The shape has changed enough that older Bolts won’t fit on the new profiled mount, but newer computers will work fine on older mounts, albeit with a less-than-perfect transition to the computer body that’ll bug only the most detail-obsessed. 

The updated case shape comes with a new mount, too, that unfortunately doesn’t work with the older Bolt. Newer Bolts work with older mounts, though.

On the plus side, this means that riders who have ponied up for fancy aftermarket mounts such as K-Edge’s Aero Race Mount will still be able to use them without issue, and since the interface itself is unchanged, other mounts that are designed to work with all Wahoo Elemnt computers should still fit just fine.

Claimed battery life remains the same at 15 hours, and like on the original Elemnt Bolt, Wahoo says the new version has an IPX7 weatherproof rating, meaning it can theoretically be submerged to a depth of up to five meters without the thing short-circuiting. 

That won’t be a concern when using the Bolt inside, though, which is entirely likely given that you can control Wahoo’s suite of indoor training equipment from the head unit.

In terms of weight, that additional case size has brought along a few extra grams. Where the old Bolt tipped the scales at 62 g (without mount), the new one is a bit heavier at 71 g.

Retail price has climbed significantly. It now sells for US$280 / AU$420 / £250 / €280.

Bolting up the new Bolt

I’ve only had this updated unit for about a week so you can consider the following to be more akin to initial impressions rather than a full-blown long-term review. But that said, I’ve spent an awful lot of time over the past couple of years on the first-edition Bolt, and know what I like about it — and what I don’t.

Without question, the second-gen Elemnt Bolt’s new screen is a massive improvement over the original. Although the physical pixel count supposedly hasn’t changed, the contrast sure has, and the reduced shadowbox effect cleans up the edges of digits and letters even further. When combined with the sharper fonts and full-color format, the new display is much more legible than it used to be.

Wahoo says the screen resolution hasn’t changed, nor has the screen size. But other changes still make the new screen look much sharper and crisper than the old one. Photo: James Huang.

This might seem like a minor thing, but I’m also really happy with the button improvements (something tech editor Dave Rome noticed as well). Although only the ones on the left and right edges have grown in size relative to the original Bolt (and only a tiny bit at that), the newly raised surface for the more important buttons on the front face makes them easier to operate (especially with full-fingered gloves). They’re still just as clicky as before, too.

“The frontal buttons used to sit below the level of the screen, which almost required you to dig your nails in to push them,” Dave said. “The new buttons are raised and way easier to press. Accidental presses are now a potential, but it’s a trade-off I’m happy to have.”

While I like the larger Elemnt Roam in terms of functionality, I still prefer a more compact form factor overall, so it’s nice to see Wahoo integrate the more feature-rich navigation software into the smaller Bolt. The on-device navigation is slow and clumsy since there’s no touchscreen and no way to enter (or search for) an address unless you already have one inputted from the app. In this sense, something like Garmin’s Edge 830 has an indisputable advantage over the Bolt since the former’s touchscreen is much better suited to navigation. However, Wahoo really intends for users to primarily choose destinations using the companion app, which — in typical Wahoo fashion — is extremely easy and intuitive to use.

Although choosing a destination on the device itself is pretty clumsy, doing so via the smartphone app is incredibly straightforward. Once you’re done, routing information is instantly transferred over to the computer.

Once you’ve got a location entered either way, the updated Bolt does a pretty good job of finding agreeable routes to get there, and despite the small display, the on-screen prompts are easy to read while rolling along (assuming your near vision is in good shape, of course). For the most part, it doesn’t have too much of an issue rerouting you if you miss a turn or encounter some road construction, although it’d be nice to have a little more leeway in tweaking the route initially, sort of like what you get when searching for directions on Google Maps. 

While the app makes the Bolt’s navigation a lot easier to live with, it’s also the app that ultimately sets the Wahoo apart from anything that Garmin (or anyone else) offers. 

Pairing the two requires little more than pointing your smartphone camera at the QR code displayed on the Bolt during the setup process. Tedious tasks like arranging and organizing your display pages, pairing sensors, and setting up profiles are far less onerous on a smartphone than when you have to do everything directly on the device. Setting up your display pages is the same drag-and-drop process you use for other stuff, for example, and it sure is nice to have a full keyboard when changing page titles or modifying profiles. 

The corresponding smartphone app is what sets Wahoo’s GPS computers apart from the rest.

As long as you’re running the app in the background, Wahoo’s auto-track feature automatically sends a message to designated contacts when you start an activity. Garmin offers something similar, but the Wahoo version works more consistently in my experience. Data uploads automatically from your device after you’re done with your ride, too, and provided you’ve granted permissions, information is forwarded on to third-party apps like Strava and RideWithGPS with no further work required.

One feature that’s still missing, however, is the ability to mirror an existing setup profile on to a new device — if you’re upgrading from a first-generation Bolt, say, and want to use the same display settings on the new one. It’s a seemingly straightforward task (I’m no programmer, mind you) that I’m surprised Wahoo still hasn’t added.

Otherwise, the new Bolt is much the same as the old one, and I mean that mostly in a positive sense. In some ways, the Wahoo vs Garmin thing isn’t all that different from the Apple vs PC dichotomy. Both get the job done, but one (Wahoo) hides all of the heavy lifting behind the scenes and leaves behind a simpler and cleaner interface for the user, while the other (Garmin) is arguably more powerful, but there’s a steeper learning curve and more bugs to deal with. 

Wahoo has finally abandoned micro-USB in favor of the more robust (and faster-charging) USB-C setup.

That’s not to say the Bolt is perfect, though, and unfortunately, the only real downside I’ve encountered so far is also a pretty fundamental one.

Wahoo says the Bolt can access the GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS satellite networks, which, in theory, should make for a very fast and robust location lock. In reality, my test sample had a hard time keeping track of where it was in thick tree cover or in canyons — environments that comparable Garmin units have tackled just fine. In one recent mountain bike ride, for example, the total actual ride distance was a little over 19 km (12 miles), but because the Bolt spent so much time thinking I wasn’t moving (and was thus auto-paused), it only recorded 16 km (10 miles). 

Wahoo says a firmware update has taken care of the issue, but I haven’t yet had a chance to head back into that same area to verify that.

To be determined …

Overall, the new Bolt at least seems like a major improvement over the original one, as it should be given the hefty price increase. The screen is heaps better, there’s now a usable navigation function (and a lot more memory for maps and stored rides), and the whole thing even looks more modern and upscale. But the fact that it has so much trouble holding on to satellites in environments that Garmin computers handle with ease gives me a little pause. 

Road and gravel riders aren’t likely to have as many problems — or maybe even notice given the clearer line of sight to orbiting satellites. However, mountain bikers that spend a lot of time in the woods and are still interested in the Bolt might want to consider running a standalone speed sensor so you don’t lose any precious ride distance.

Assuming the satellite lock problem isn’t really a problem as Wahoo claims, are the new features enough to justify the upgrade for current Bolt users? If you don’t need the more advanced navigation features and can already see the screen as is, then I’d say it’s a questionable proposition. But if you’ve been looking for a new mid-priced GPS device and were contemplating an Edge 530 vs an Elemnt Bolt, Wahoo has made the choice a little tougher.

More information can be found at www.wahoofitness.com.

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