Pioneer PotterNavi bike computer proves smartphones can’t always do it all

pioneer potternavi bike computerPioneer may have bowed out of the TV business years ago to return to its bread and butter of car and home audio, but that hasn’t stopped the company from branching out. In the proverbial back alleys of Mobile World Congress 2012, the company was exhibiting its latest crack at a new market: a bike computer.

pioneer potternavi bike computer sensorThe so-called PotterNavi may sport a generic name, but it’s unique among cycle computer in that it sports an always-on 3G connection, and a color 2.4-inch display. In a way, it combines the best of smartphone navigation with the best of a traditional cycle computer, with a design that eliminates many of the compromises. Like a smartphone, it loads maps and destinations over the 3G connection, logs statistics like speed, calories burned and cadence remotely in real time, and has a customizable user interface. Like a real cycle computer, it natively interfaces with speed and power sensors, has a waterproof exterior, and hard controls.

Having once reviewed an iPhone bike kit that included an app, case mount for the handlebars, and an accessory dongle to wireless communicate with a wheel sensor, I reluctantly admit I see the appeal here. While I’ve tried to cram just about every activity possible into my phone, having it on my handlebars just didn’t work out well.

Swapping the phone in and out of the case and attaching the dongle was a pain. It had no waterproofing, so I couldn’t use it in the rain. The LCD washed out in the sun. This particular model didn’t even have a navigation function, you just had to use Google Maps or another company’s nav software.

pioneer potternavi bike computer handlebars

So there’s a case to be made for the dedicated bike computer, even in a smartphone age, and Pioneer’s model might just be one of the slickest I’ve seen. If you can afford it. Pioneer plans to begin selling the PotterNavi next week in Japan for a base price of ¥38,000, or ¥39,000 after taxes. That’s about $485 USD, but it does include two years of wireless 3G service from NTT Docomo and the sensors you need for speed and cadence. (The PotterNavi will come to the U.S. this summer, but pricing has not yet been announced.)

Pioneer claims that fitness gadgets will be an area it explores further thanks to Japan’s aging population, so don’t be surprised to pedometers, sportwatches and the like from the company in the near future. Unless a smartphone can do it better.