Gear and Gadgets

Can the trimm One shift the paradigm of cycling computers? Five reasons why I’m skeptical

trimm promises to disrupt the market for bike computers. I'm waiting for that to happen. With a pretty but very basic device, they are aiming too high.

trimm One is a new bike computer that appeared on Kickstarter a few weeks back. I’m a perennial crowdfunding supporter. Here’s two good news: First, I have (at some point) received every single product that I’ve backed via crowdfunding except one. One arrived prior to the announced delivery date (Stac Zero), while I waited up to two years for the worst (Mokacam). Second, this is a Kickstarter campaign. Not only by my own experience, this is much more scam-proof than Indiegogo.

In a way, this is a similar post to the one that I wrote on the Hammerhead Karoo. That was about a year ago. Since then, many things have happened. The Karoo entered the market and got lots of updates. It’s a powerful device, but it kept limitations that would not bring me to buy a bike computer. At this point, I still haven’t found anything to make me give up the combination of Garmin FR 935 (for tracking and for navigating most of the way) and OruxMaps (for navigating the tricky bits).

Superficial observations and speculations

I write about the trimm One because I do think that it’s an exciting device. I’ll treat it as if it exists with exactly the features that I can infer from their Kickstarter campaign page and their own website. I write about this now because the campaign is active and people are investing into the device. The anticipated shipping date is already in April 2019. There are no Kickstarter updates to guess how capable they are of meeting the time-line. No updates. Not a single one. Bad sign. Be warned. For now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

My eyebrows rose another time when I noticed that their funding goal was only 20,000 EUR. They have not specified what they will use the funding for, but this amount is virtually nothing. Back in the days when I was a professor, I had a master student investigate why startups might do this. Turns out it might increase the total funding. Currently. trimm has secured around 70,000 EUR. Still far from what I’d expect for a genuinely new device.

Put differently: you may anticipate that the trimm One is a compilation of off-the-shelf components from Chinese manufacturers. At the core, it’s easy to guess that this is an Android-powered device. The status bar at the top suggests that. I don’t think that’s bad. It could be awesome. All depends on how they use it.

The status bar at the top suggests the trimm one relies on Android

And that’s where I’m in doubt. Here’s why.

1. Statements don’t add up

The campaign advertises a new paradigm for cycling computers. What then do you expect to read about first when you scroll down to the campaign description? Marketing 101: It’s gotta be the unique selling point. Like me, they are maybe just not structuring their content very well. Or they are, but then their main features is, ehm… customized colors of the case?

I use the Page-Down key six times before I get information on details other than color. Until then, I see the same mock-up screen 12 times, one time in fancy rotation. Then there’s a list of 8 key features. I list them in their own order:

  • Aluminium body
  • Large screen
  • Sleek profile
  • Smart battery management
  • Solar charger
  • Powerful navigation with online map
  • Smartphone connection
  • Multilingual support

The first three are all about the form factor. It’s definitely the thinnest of all existing bike computers. The display is indeed large in comparison with other large bike computers (only the Garmin Edge 1030 and the Hammerhead Karoo feature larger screens) and certainly large enough. Don’t go crazy. Compared to a phone, 3.2″ isn’t technically large enough. Also, 200dpi does not exactly imply stellar resolution.

I’ll talk about the battery and the solar charger in a moment. I’ll also address my opinion on the navigation down there. I just want to stress that smartphone connection and multilingual support cannot be standout features of a bike computer in 2019. They are not key features; they are must-haves.

2. Battery life benchmarks rely on a crude test protocol

So, battery. In order to convince you of great battery life, they demonstrate one of the most crude test protocols that I’ve ever seen. If I want to measure battery life in terms of time, I’ll fully charge the device and use it until it’s depleted. If it’s a benchmark, it should be the same test for either device. Their approach: take a fully charged iPhone from 2014 and a fully charged trimm One. Cycle for two (!) hours. Read the battery indicator of the iPhone 6 at 98%. Measure the voltage in the trimm One at 4.088 V as compared to 4.1 V before. Now I have a question: how do they manage to only lose 2% of battery life on an iPhone 6 while it’s tracking a bike trip? I think Apple might be interested.

Here’s the key sentence to their promise of long battery life:

Through collaboration of various built-in sensors such as GPS, gyros, accelerometers, altimeters, external speed sensors and mobile phones, power consumption for location tracking is minimized.

The problem with transparency: if you’re in a position of questionable legitimacy (like selling via crowdfunding), telling a little is probably worse than telling nothing. This sentence raises a lot of questions regarding accuracy. It could be a phrase that pretty much just translates to: “we’re doing what everyone else is doing as well”, but it could also read as: “we sample less from GPS and then interpolate the track, which saves battery life, but we didn’t optimize for accuracy”.

3. It’s more a smart screen rather than a bike computer

Most unclear to me is their reliance on the smartphone. There’s an inbuilt GPS module after all. From what I understand, the smartphone replaces the settings menu and it’s their recommended (!) way to operate the computer. Ehm… so… why not just build an awesome smartphone app and a rugged battery case for the phone? The trimm One is not exactly minimal weight etc.; I have to carry the phone as well. Minimal weight is the least intrusive, least heavy system. Look at this like: you can have a wonderfully lightweight Monolink saddle stem, but if you’re running a classic saddle, the adapter will eat up your weight savings and then add some.

trimm One is like an avatar of our smartphone app. Everything you do on your smartphone is immediately applied to the trimm One, and vice versa. Nothing can beat the smartphone’s convenience on the road. Stop struggling with the small screen and buttons. Use your smartphone app to handle your cycling computer.

4. Navigation isn’t powerless, but powerful it isn’t either

I’m really keen on good mapping. It makes or breaks a bike computer for me. To that end, I’m rather demanding. Good mapping to me has to offer a few key elements. I do it the same way as for the Hammerhead Karoo. Next, there’s a screenshot of my favorite bike map, followed by a list of benefits.

Maps by OpenAndroMaps in OruxMaps: lots of outdoor-specific details

Here’s the list:

  1. OruxMaps offers information on the incline right in the display of the route. Blue tones indicate descents, while yellow and red tones indicate inclines. Where it’s green, it’s flat (it’s not flat in this screenshot). It’s not always perfect, but often it’s spot-on.
  2. The map includes elevation lines. If I were to think about alternative route, they provide immensely useful information. They also help me to further understand steepness.
  3. I have information on specific buildings, not just grey areas.
  4. Roads of different rank have different colors. I can clearly distinguish them. I can even understand the pavement of roads and forest paths, and inaccessible roads are clearly marked.
  5. Points of interest appear on the map. The screenshot is from a detailed zoom level, but I still find them on a zoom level that’s roughly five times less detailed than the one above. I can select which points of interest I want to have displayed. Commonly, I display public fountains, i.e. spots where I can re-fill my water.

To sum it up, this is how I imagine a good navigator:

  • It needs to be informative for cyclists. See above.
  • I want offline maps. While I now have a generous data plan, I’m not always riding where this plan applies.
  • Route planning for cyclists via standard navigation tools like Google Maps tends to be funky at best.* I personally prefer to plan my routes myself basically point by point. My go-to resource is GPSies.com.

* Some resort to Strava heatmaps. I’m not a big fan. Many people riding over one street doesn’t mean it’s the best street. It’s a likely candidate. However, human intelligence can discern this from the opposite case: when many people ride the bad street just because they haven’t figured out that there’s a slightly longer, much more safe/scenic/comfortable alternative. How could that happen? Well, if many people rely on the algorithm of their standard navigation tool.

Anyways, there’s offline maps on the trimm One, but they are only cached. (Sadly, there’s no information regarding the storage capacity of the device.) This could mean two things. Possibility 1: You have the maps for all the areas you’ve ridden in already with your mobile network on. That wouldn’t make much sense, as evidently you have mobile reception in this area. Possibility 2: You start a route to follow and the trimm one caches the map tiles for that route. That’s not much better. Imagine a larger deviation to due road closures that leads you off the cached tiles. Imagine that you want to go on a ride without a preset route.

There’s also route planning. Well, not technically on the trimm one. You plan the route via your companion app. Uploading ready-made gpx-files is possibles. (I appreciate that.) The route can be constructed from up to 30 way points. Here are their words again:

Navigating on your bike is different from automobiles. We have put a lot of efforts on route design mechanism. Don’t hassle with your desktop, just tap the smartphone a few times, and it will automatically designate the optimal route to the destination. Offline caching allows you to check out the map in areas where you can’t reach the network. You can also save cell phone data and battery by using the saved map information. Already have the GPX file? Just import and play.

Their tutorial video on YouTube suggests that you can only set way points and that this will always automatically create “the optimal” route. Anywhere I’ve lived, I’ve experienced map errors. They can cause big and very non-optimal route suggestions for cyclists. Or I might be fine with taking a stair of five steps. A good planning tool offers me an option to switch to a manual mode. I claim that trimm’s route planner cannot accommodate that. But hey, nothing is perfect, and you can upload the gpx-file.

The single most important element of maps, however, is their informational value. Unfortunately, it’s the single most important limitation of navigation on the trimm One. From their Kickstarter page, I’ve taken two screenshots of the most detailed map views that they’ve presented to backers.

The second screenshot has the cyclist riding in a settlement. There are no street names. Fine, I can live with that. There is no color. I can live with that. There is no hierarchy of streets, no point of interest information, no nothing. Actually, I can live with that, too. It’s the same as on my Garmin watch. If I want more details, I open the phone. Since trimm wants you to have your phone in your pocket anyways, that’s no change for me.

I like how they display turn information. That’s visually clear. How good it works is a thing to be tested in practice. Not by me though. I’m put off: The map itself offers virtually nothing. It’s not powerful navigation. Don’t sell what you don’t have or accept that you’ll be called out for offering a scam.

5. They don’t give credit to their truly unique feature

So, why am I put off? I am because the trimm competes in a different segment. It should take on standalone bike computers, not a fitness watch. I am because my watch is a device from a few years ago. Its successor offers maps. In color. I am because at this point I don’t see anymore the added value of this product. What single key feature does it actually do better than existing alternatives on the market? Why should I spend on it?

Oh yes, right, suspicious claims on battery life. Light weight aluminium body (that doesn’t really safe weight). Support for different languages. Colored cases.

Nope. The solar charger. It’s optional. It’s small. It appears to use a standard Micro USB port on the trimm one. It should be able to offer juice to any device with a Micro USB port. Let me think about one. Yeah, I have it. How about… a phone? Or this:

See, this solar charger is potentially the best thing about their campaign. Unfortunately, there’s no detailed information regarding its charging capacity. However, it’s something they can and should sell independently.

Ever forgotten to charge up your Garmin/Wahoo/Hammerhead/Phone and you just notice it before you take off for a ride? With this solar charger, you might be served. For a device that claims to have the most amazing battery life anyways, it’s a strange addition instead. (Or a hint that the battery life isn’t all that amazing.)

Wrap-up

I’m a very happy supporter of crowd-funding initiatives. There are lots of great campaigns out there that show creativity and innovation and that promise added value. However, broadly speaking you can divide tech campaigns into three camps: (1) visual, design-focused improvements, (2) functional, value-focused improvements, and (3) scams.

The trimm One is not a scam or so I don’t want to claim. Their marketing speech hypes their product beyond its capabilities. For many readers of their campaign, this should become rather obvious. The lack of details gives it away. However, the trimm One effectively is a design-focused improvement. It looks neat. It’s got color. It attracted me first to open the campaign. Under the hood, there’s a solid improvement of basic functionality for a sleek bike computer. As of yet, the more advanced functionality to back it up is not there. I don’t expect a new entrant to offer all features that Garmin has built over many years. There’s a middle ground in between.

I won’t back this device, but I want to be optimistic: If they can acquire enough funding with an inferior first generation, then a trimm Two could be a more interesting option. That doesn’t even need a new physical device if the first generation includes the hardware already. Hammerhead has come its own long way just by means of software updates. And in any case: competition keeps the big guys moving.

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2 comments

  1. Who on earth wants online-only maps? What if you cycle into an area where there’s no reception. I want all my maps downloaded and stored on the device, just like my Garmin. As for solar charging. Couldn’t you just buy a small solar panel charger that uses a USB output and plug that into your Garmin or Wahoo device anyway?
    Apart from that, at least it looks nice.

    Like

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