This is part one of a two-part series on my experiences with the SmartHalo 2 bike computer. It’s no secret that I’ve backed a few Kickstarter projects over the years. Some have entirely failed to deliver, some have delivered products so atrocious that it doesn’t bear thinking about, and some have delivered a product that delivers (and sometimes well and truly overdelivers) on the pitch.
With an estimated delivery date of December 2019, I would have written off SmartHalo 2 as one of those projects that simply don’t deliver if it hadn’t been for the fact that they have been updating the backers on a more or less regular basis, Even so, when it finally arrived over eighteen months after schedule, I was curious to see if they had delivered on their pitch.
Unboxing and initial setup
Packaging is generally only important until you throw it away. Even so, the unboxing experience does matter. It’s all about how you’re introduced to the product. I believe that most companies could do worse than taking a look at how Apple does it – and the SmartHalo team very probably has. The device is presented front and center, with the accessories in small boxes within the box. Speaking of which, in the box you get:
- a SmartHalo 2
- an anti-theft mount
- a quarter-turn mount adapter
- spacers for differently sized handlebars
- a micro-USB cable
- a setup manual
- a torx-key to mount the anti-theft mount
The device comes with little to no charge on the battery, meaning that the first thing you need to do is to charge your device. I found that a bit annoying, in particular because it looks to me like the firmware upgrade I needed to perform before finishing setup failed the first few attempts because of an insufficient charge on the battery. Once the battery had enough of a charge, however, the firmware upgrade was a snap to install from the companion app.
I also found it annoying that I had to install the firmware before I could finish setup of the device. While that might be understandable had it been a product that had been on the market for a while, I think it shouldn’t have been so with a product that hasn’t even been delivered to all Kickstarter backers. Mounting the anti-theft mount on my handlebars was very easy indeed; the combination of hinges and torx screws meant it was done within ten or so minutes.
SmartHalo offers both turn-by-turn and directional navigation. In my experience, both work very well. The turn-by-turn option takes a little getting used to. Once you’re used to it however, it mostly works, including roundabouts which can be a bit tricky. Like any sat-nav, it automatically reroutes if you miss your exit.
I also like that the directional navigation shows up if you use a different display than the navigation display, and that it switches to the directional navigation when you’re coming up on a turn if you’re on a different display. I would have liked it if the turn by turn-navigation showed distance to destination as well as the distance to the next turn, which can definitely be useful information.
As for the negatives, there is a bit of a learning curve involved with it, and using it in places where you’re less than familiar can offer a lot of frustration – at least until you get to stretches of road with a good bit of distance between turns. Feature-wise, you can’t choose points that you want to visit – or drive by – on the route. In and around Oslo, the coverage of the navigation of bike paths is spotty, leading you to take routes that are less than ideal.
With its 250 lumens (as per the KS campaign), the light does the job for urban riding (as well as satisfying legal requirements for lights on bikes in Norway). It has both a wide portion, lighting up the area immediately in front of you, as well as a relatively narrow beam. The throw is not all that impressive, and it burns through the battery pretty quickly. It provides added visibility while on the road, but I would caution against relying on it for single-track or backcountry riding. I would strongly recommend getting a dedicated light if you’re planning to go for extended night-time rides.
I like the alarm a lot. It starts off quietly, with a simple visual warning, next giving off a bit of sound before letting loose the full 100 dB. I believe it would be an effective deterrent to most thieves – assuming, of course, that the battery has a charge.
The alarm automatically disables when the unit pairs with your phone, and you can use a tap code to deactivate it if you’ve left your phone at home. In practice, I’ve found this to be a bit finicky, but I’m sure it’s something I’ll get the hang of if I put my mind to it.
You can set a fitness goal (choosing from time, distance, calories, and CO2 savings) through the app, and that certainly works. I would, however, have liked the option to set multiple goals. If you, like me, are a Strava user, it probably doesn’t matter much. I manage my workout goals in Strava (and to a lesser degree in Apple Fitness). Even so, it works nicely, and seems decently implemented.
I find it annoying, however, that the device doesn’t prompt you that you’ve completed a set fitness goal if you’re on a different display; they’ve done it with navigation, and I see no reason why they couldn’t also do it with goals.
The display and mount
The fit and finish of the device feels good, and the feature set works well. I would have liked to have seen an option to change the throw angle on the light independently; if I prioritize legibility of the display, the throw angle is much too high, while prioritizing throw angle makes the display less easily legible – particularly if you’re riding during a sunny day.
The anti-theft mount is easy to install, and removing the display does, indeed, require the key. That said, it relies on a magnetic solution, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lockpicking Lawyer found it easily bypassed. Combined with the alarm functionality, however, I think it’s likely good enough to deter most thieves.
I would have liked it if the mount placed the device a little closer to the stem and head tube, but I also understand that the way it’s made means it has greater compatibility.
The weakest link in the SmartHalo 2 equation is the battery – or rather the active time. Using the light burns through it pretty rapidly, as does using navigation. During a ride of less than two hours, I went from over 75% to empty. I will note that I switched navigation on and off a few times to get different routes, which I am sure contributed to this. My experience is that I get three or so hours using the light at full power, and somewhere between two and three hours using navigation.
Frustratingly, it doesn’t seem to give any indication that it’s about to run out of power. The result is that I have experienced looking down to see my current status to find that it’s simply died on me.
The touch panel
Interacting with the SmartHalo happens through two interfaces. One is through the companion app, while the other is through the touch panel on the device itself. It generally works well – although it will stop accepting input if wet, making it less useful in the rain.
The touch panel accepts three types of inputs; swiping left to right or right to left, short taps and long taps. Using a series of one to four short or long taps you can tell the SmartHalo to do such things as turn on or off the light, navigate to your preset home or work location, or honk the built-in horn to mention a few.
The SmartHalo 2 feels like a product from a company that knows what they are doing. Though there are some things I might have done differently, it’s a decent product that appears to deliver on what they have promised. I like how it delivers navigation prompts – which doesn’t take your attention away from riding. With audible prompts and a fairly intuitive way of showing where you’re going, it feels less like a satnav and more like having someone giving you directions.
Stay tuned for next week, when I will talk about the different displays offered, as well as my experience using the touch interface.