The Hammerhead Karoo Puts on Muscle, Finally Grows Up [Review]

The Hammerhead Karoo cycling GPS gets a hardware upgrade and delivers a refined feature set for tracking rides and following routes.
Hammerhead Karoo map screen

There’s a new version of the Hammerhead Karoo cycling GPS available today, and it’s the first hardware update since SRAM acquired the brand in 2022. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks ahead of the launch testing the third generation Hammerhead Karoo, and this version feels less like a hacked Android phone and more like a refined cycling GPS, albeit one that’s still missing some MTB-friendly touches.


Hammerhead Karoo key specs

  reader rating (1 votes)
  • Screen size: 3.2″ (480x800px)
  • Battery life (claimed): 15+ hours
  • Weight: 117.8g as tested
  • Price: $474.99
  • Buy from hammerhead.io and SRAM retailers

What’s new, Karoo?

The latest Hammerhead Karoo features the same screen size as the original but with a glossier coating that shows blacker blacks and better color contrast that’s easy to read at night or in direct sunlight. An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the brightness of the screen, or you can manually set it.

Karoo keeps its subtle keystone form factor, but now the wider edge is on the bottom rather than the top; an upside-down keystone, if you will. There’s a new power button at the bottom of the unit and a reconfigured USB-C charging port and cover that looks better protected, though the Karoo keeps its same IP67 overall water resistance rating.

The Hammerhead Karoo is lighter, too, with my test unit weighing 117.8g, which is 20g less than the old one. Unfortunately, the suggested retail price of the Karoo did not get lighter, increasing from about $400 to $475.

Under the hood, the Hammerhead Karoo gets 64Gb of internal storage and a quad-core processor running at 2Ghz, both double the specs of the previous version. I instantly noticed that the new Karoo is much faster and more responsive, no doubt thanks to the upgraded hardware.

Hammerhead says the battery in the latest Karoo should last 30% longer than the previous version for 15+ hours of tracking. I’m not sure that the math works out (the previous version claims 14 hours of battery life) but 15 hours seems like a fair estimate for normal use. After about six hours of riding my battery level sits at 58% which suggests almost exactly 15 hours of total battery life. There is a battery saving mode that promises to extend the battery life a bit beyond that.

A new iPhone companion app is available for the Hammerhead Karoo, which is welcome news for a lot of riders. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much to do in the app; almost all of the settings are still configured on the device itself. What the app does allow is live tracking in conjunction with a smartphone and the ability to send a pinned location from any iOS app like Google Maps to your Karoo for navigation. The app also syncs ride data and routes without needing a wi-fi connection. There is no SIM card option for the latest Karoo.

What a Karoo can do

The Hammerhead Karoo has one of the best-looking screens among today’s cycling GPS units. The color contrast is excellent, and the detail is impressive. Hammerhead basemaps make use of a lot of different colors, so it’s easy to distinguish between, say, a road, a trail, or a bike path. One of my complaints about the previous Karoo was that some of the text was too small, and this time around, everything appears to be more readable.

The touchscreen on the latest Karoo works better than expected, with or without gloved hands. It’s much quicker and easier to navigate using the touchscreen whenever possible, though it doesn’t work very well in wet weather or with sweaty hands. You can deactivate the touchscreen anytime during the ride with the rain lock feature and rely on the physical buttons instead. Personally I prefer to use the touchscreen whenever possible.

Hammerhead Karoo GPS unit, side view
Hammerhead Karoo top, Garmin Edge 530 bottom.

The Hammerhead Karoo buttons got bigger and are spread farther apart than before. They’re also significantly larger and protrude more than the buttons on other GPS units I’ve tested, such as the Garmin Edge 530 shown in the photo above. It’s taken me some time to get used to the size of the buttons and the fact that it takes very little pressure to register a click. A single finger or thumb press will suffice; there’s no need to cradle the unit in your hand and brace the other side with your palm.

With Hammerhead falling under the SRAM umbrella, AXS integration is a key feature that’s being promoted for the Karoo. On the device you can check battery levels for your AXS components (my Garmin does this too) and you can also track which gears you’re using throughout the ride. 

I connected a Garmin watch to the Karoo to gather heart rate data, and everything was added to my ride seamlessly. The Hammerhead web app doesn’t offer quite as much analysis out of the box compared to Garmin Connect, which even includes charts for MTB-specific stats like ride Grit and Flow. One feature I really miss is Garmin’s jump and hangtime stats that make use of the device’s accelerometer data.

Another big miss for mountain bikers (well, half of us anyway, according to this recent survey) is the lack of a Hammerhead Mounting System mount for 35mm diameter handlebars. As far as I can tell, one does not exist, let alone ship with the device. Hammerhead does provide a quarter-turn-style adapter that works with Garmin and Wahoo mounts, so I used that with a quarter-turn mount zip-tied to my 35mm-diameter handlebar.

Unfortunately, this is not a very secure solution, as I discovered following a crash on the trail. The zip ties I used for the mount seem to have failed, and the Karoo was knocked off my bars. After riding a couple miles I realized the GPS was gone and returned to the scene of the accident to find the Karoo on the ground. Based on this experience I definitely recommend using the included security tether, especially if you’re unable to fit the included Hammerhead Mounting System to your bars.

Impressive that this track shows very little overlap despite very tight trails.

The Hammerhead Karoo does a good job with routing, either on the road or the trail. I tried to confuse the Karoo by purposely loading a route and not following it and I found its re-routes to be responsive and easy to follow without being annoying. In a nod to mountain bikers Hammerhead does have a setting to prioritize trails over roads for routing and this feature, along with their free online route-making tool, works well.

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Pros and cons of Hammerhead Karoo

Pros

  • Brilliant color screen
  • Touchscreen is surprisingly good
  • Fast and responsive

Cons

  • No Hammerhead Mounting System option for 35mm handlebars
  • Battery life

Bottom line

The Hammerhead Karoo is a zippy and full-featured cycling GPS that’s great for routing, tracking ride stats, and connecting with other devices and services. And it’s by far the best Karoo yet.