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Cycling Gear Reviews

Garmin Varia Vision Review

Garmin’s never ending question to produce every conceivable electronic cycling gadget continues. This time, not content merely merely to have their devices adorning our bikes and arms, now Garmin wants them on our faces – I give you – The Garmin Varia Vision…

Garmin Varia Vision Review

When I saw that Garmin was producing a head mounted camera… I was exceptionally interested… because unlike the Recon Jet, which is frankly a pain in the neck for people with glasses, the Garmin Varia Vision mounts on your existing glasses, be that regular prescription glasses, or your sunnies! So given that fact I practically offered a kidney to get a hands on with the device.

OK, first things first – the Garmin Varia Vision is expensive. I thought it was a little surprising when the Garmin Varia Light cost as much as it did. But The Vision costs £319 online, whilst the Garmin Edge 1000, costs £349! Now the Vision will work with other edge units, but this is an EXPENSIVE bit of kit which has NO stand alone function. To clarify, the Varia Vision CANNOT talk to your existing sensors, and should be considered merely as a secondary display for your Garmin Edge

Seeing how far Garmin is now able to shrink GPS units like the Edge 25, and now the Vivosmart HR +, combined with the steep pricing, I did expect built in GPS functionality at the very least. I’d have happily accepted a bit of weight gain, in order to get that increased functionality

Device Design

The Garmin Varia Vision is simply put a very interesting device, and as soon as you pick it up, you get the impression that the device is very dense, very solid. Although that is obviously a very subjective feeling

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When you open the box, you are presented with the Varia Vision in profile.What struck me first when opening the box, and picking up the unit for the first time was just how small it was. After having used the Recon Jet, I was expecting a much bulkier device.

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The device consists of three parts, which we’ll call the screen head, arm, and the body

On the side of the unit is the sealed on button. Which unsurprisingly switches on the unit – and triggers a vibration. I wasn’t expecting a vibration unit inside the Garmin Varia Vision – possibly as I associated vibrations with non-visual feedback, so initially makes little sense to me for a very visual unitTitaniumGeek IMG_4122-1 Garmin Varia Vision Review Vision Varia review Glasses garmin Cycling computer cycling

At the back is the charge port

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Where the charger clicks into a little indent on the back of the Varia Vision, before the led status light on the back of the unit illuminates.

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On the other side of the body is the touch sensitive strip which allows you to interact with the unit software. A slight indentation is visible where you need to place your finger

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You swap your finger either forwards, or backwards along the strip, allowing you to cycle between displays on the unit

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The unit comes with the arm in a flat position in the box,

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The arm has a an impressive level of flexibility, reaching, and more importantly, holding a 90 degree angle without any issue, due to flexible metal within

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However, once you have bent the metal, you are not going to easily be able to get it straight again – my OCD didnt like this!

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There is a a titanium coloured ring at the base of the head unit, which allows a 1-2 degree of rotation, but it is very slight, as can just been seen in the photos

Straight in midline

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RIGHT rotation from the midline

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LEFT rotation from the midline

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However I’ve not found that to be a particular restriction, as you can also rotate the Vision at the mounting.

Quite easily, you can cover most of the field of vision in your glasses to find a spot which works for you

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Specifications

  • Dimensions: 60.0 x 19.7 x 19.8 mm
  • Weight: 29.7 g
  • Display resolution: 428 x 240 pixels
  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • ANT+ connectivity
  • Water rating: IPX7
  • Sensors: Ambient light and accelerometer
    • NOT IT WILL NOT CONNECT TO ANY OTHER SENSORS YOU HAVE!

Using the Garmin Varia Vision

The Garmin Varia Vision attaches to ay pair of glasses… THANK YOU Garmin. From the bottom of my heart, and every person who had prescription glasses THANK YOU!

TitaniumGeek IMG_4112-1024x768 Garmin Varia Vision Review Vision Varia review Glasses garmin Cycling computer cycling   You have a mount which you attach to your glasses using rubber ties, and then push and rotate the unit on, in a very similar way to the usual Garmin quarter turn mount.TitaniumGeek IMG_4205-2 Garmin Varia Vision Review Vision Varia review Glasses garmin Cycling computer cycling

The rubber bands have little tags on one end which helps when removing the tags, in case you’ve not used the correct size rubber, or want to take them off your regular glasses, as the mount is still a little visible.TitaniumGeek IMG_4208-1 Garmin Varia Vision Review Vision Varia review Glasses garmin Cycling computer cycling

The back of the mount also has three grippy rubber sections. Two strips at either end, and a dot in the centre to prevent the mount moving around on the glasses arm when you are riding, or running (If you are lucky enough to own at Garmin 735XT, you just throw your Edge into your back pocket)

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As you get two mounts in the pack, you’ve spares, or can apply the mounts to two pairs of glasses. Again for someone with prescription glasses, that’s brilliant. I can swap from sunglasses to regular glasses mid ride, and still be able to use the unit.

Although for a pair of light glasses like mine, the unit does make them sit slightly lopsided on your head. From my perspective, the ability to use a device like this with my regular glasses, that is a small price to pay, which could be easily addressed with a head band

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Also as a slight health warning, you tend to look a little vacant, when looking at the screen pre-ride!

You can mount the unit on either the RIGHT or the LEFT side of your glasses and the Varia will then flip the screen to ensure to read out is always facing up correctly – Well always, I did have the unit jam a few times upside down when I’d connected it to the Garmin Edge 1000, BEFORE twisting it onto my specs, although that seems to be resolves by connecting it AFTER you have mounted the unit.

In terms of mounting, because of the thin arm, and the ability to position the Varia Vision how YOU want on your glasses, you can arrange things so that there is very little to block your lateral vision.

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In addition, because of the size, assuming you are using black glasses, the unit does disappear on the face more easily than things like the Recon Jet

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Once you have strapped everything up, and mounted the unit for the first time, you’ll switch it on…and likely find you have to take it off again for the latest firmware update before the Varia Vision will talk to your Edge unit

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With the latest update, I was pleased to see the new ForeRunner 735XT connectivity supported, so you can use the Garmin Varia Vision out on a run… just not with anything other non Garmin Edge devices yet!

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There are a few little oddities with the Garmin Varia Vision, for example, when plugged into USB, the screen activates to tell you the time and the charge status. I’m not sure how many people are going to be using the device, whilst it’s charging in this way. But hey, some people want more than just a blinking status LED

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Once you are charged and the correct firmware is installed, you can continue to connect to your Edge.

You connect to the Varia Vision in the same way as any other ANT+ sensor. From the sensor screen, you’ll see the option to add the Garmin Varia Vision, and when it’s paired, it will show up in your sensor with it’s associated glasses icon

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You’ll configure the Garmin Varia Vision display options, and the data pages on your Edge device.

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Personally I prefer to have auto scroll on with the Vision. Swiping backwards and forwards whilst on the bike, and with your eyes not fully on the road seems to be another way to a broken arm to me!

But finally you are ready for the off!

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You can have up to 5 customs pages – each with 4 different data fields. So not vastly different from a normal Edge, but data overload in my mind, for such a small screen – here is an idea as to what you’ll be looking at with a lot of data – and no, photographing the screen INSIDE the Vision isnt that easy!

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I think there are two ways for using the Varia Vision, an configuring the displays – as a replacement for the Edge, as seen above, or as a supplementary display, set up with information to be glanced at. Garmin helps with this by offering a series of graphical options, when you use fewer data fields

Here a larger field is devoted to speed, but that same field, can then be used as a graphic display

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Note the graphical menu option, ONLY appears when you are using a larger field.

There is a range of graphical options, all the usual suspects

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You can actually test out what the Vision will display on the Edge,the you go out for a ride,

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Here is an example of the Power bar graph, on the Edge, which personally is my favourite view for use on the Garmin Varia Vision

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Then within the Garmin Varia Vision itself you’ll get the following view, which for me is brilliant when pushing along a segment.

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One of the functions of the Garmin Connected bike I was not able to get functioning was the communication between the Garmin Varia Radar – which I think is an amazing product, and the Garmin Varia Vision. Garmin has the two working on their promotional video, but I wasn’t able to get the devices communicating nicely. The Varia Radar would communicate with the Edge, but nothing occurring on the VisionTitaniumGeek Screen-Shot-2016-05-30-at-22.42.28-1024x481 Garmin Varia Vision Review Vision Varia review Glasses garmin Cycling computer cycling

Similarly, I had a play with the navigation options, but these are again, just a mirror of the Edge 1000 mapping directions, and personally, I didnt feel having it on the Vision added any great utility.

Use with Zwift

I think there is a limited use case for the Varia Vision with Zwift, in the sense that it can provide a different output for your data, but I think this is probably limited to using for people who have visual problems requiring varifocals. You can position the Garmin Varia Vision on your glasses so that you can focus on the screen with Zwift, and have the Garmin Varia Vision in the bottom, lower part of your vision – HOWEVER I do think this is a VERY narrow use case, and is a VERY expensive way of making it – but, at least the utility has been checked!

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Conclusion

Visibility

On the unit, you are always going to theoretically see the battery status, temp, and time along the bottom. I say theoretically as these datum read outs are much too small for me to see when riding. The reason being that the Garmin Varia Vision isnt a true heads up display, in the sense of fighter pilots, or even computer games. You can’t see through the screen, so the data is not overlaid onto your vision, it’s still IN your vision.

Due to the nature of our binocular vision, you do still look through the screen to some degree, but more in the sense that there is something in the way of your vision, and your brain is trying to cancel it out. Then when you actively cast your eye in the direction of the Garmin Varia Vision screen, then you are more able to read the screen. Putting it simply using the device takes a little getting used to, and in all honesty I didn’t like the device when I first had a go with it. I really hated it in fact.

HOWEVER with time, and a bit of training, I’ve really come to see the benefit of it. I won’t say enjoy using it, but the benefit certainly.

Personally one of my best use cases so far is trying to get a Strava segment – I don’t want to take my eye off the road. I don’t want to move my head. Yet now a quick glance of the eye allows me to register my power and speed, and more importantly, glance on my power graph to ensure i’m staying steady or increasing.

Garmin have certainly made the best take on a heads up device like this so far, and the ability to use my own prescription lenses makes the Garmin Varia Vision very compelling – no I dont like contacts!

Pricing

HOWEVER I’m not sure that it’s £319 compelling. If I was racing regularly, or a TT rider, where maintaining and aero position, and not moving your head was a major factor, I’d be actively looking at the Garmin Varia Vision, although I would suggest trying to find a shop which would allow you to have a demo with a unit first!

I wanted to love the Garmin Varia Vision SOOOO badly. The ability to mount to prescription glasses, and swap between glasses easily is amazing. You have access to every single piece of data you normally have on your Edge. The adjustability is fantastic, the screen is beautiful, and designed so well. But it’s not quite a TopGun HUD yet.

The Garmin Varia Vision is very much a supplementary display. The Garmin graphical visuals really bring this home. It’s for critical information to glance at.. But more than that, for the pricing , the Vision NEEDS GPS. For me this really is a deal breaker at this price, with normal vision…

Prescription

Whilst the price is VERY high, for someone with glasses, it has the lowest cost to entrance compared to other HUD units, as I dont have to faff around getting new lenses cut to insert into the device, and when I have a change in prescription the Garmin Varia Vision is unaffected.

Additional, for the price, I was hoping that more Forerunners/Fenix’s would be supported out of the box. I understand that this tactic pushes more sales potentially to the 735XT, but at the same time, the Garmin Varia Vision is an expensive device. The ability to use it with running watches as well, might have made the price a bit easier to swallow – Although I’m not sure that the bouncing around whilst running will really help you see the screen!

 

Final Verdict

Great device. Overpriced without integrated GPS – wait for the sales!

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!