Garmin Varia RCT715 Review: Great Idea but Badly Executed

Garmin Varia RCT715 Review: RCT715 mounted to my YOELEO R12

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This is my review of the Garmin Varia RCT715 radar with camera and taillight.

I’ve been using it for the last few days, and I share my experience with it in this review.

Here is my quick summary:

However interesting and innovative the RCT715 is, I don’t think you should upgrade (yet) if you already have the Varia RTL515 unless you desperately want the camera recording functionality. While the idea is great, the execution could be much better at this price point. I will explain why below.

If you cannot wait to get your hands on the RCT715, you can buy it here.

Garmin Varia RCT715 Summary

Here is the summary of the pros and cons of the Garmin Varia RCT715.

Varia RCT715 Pros

  • 3-in-1 device – radar, camera, taillight
  • Increased sense of safety
  • Incident detection
  • Battery life
  • Radar reliability
  • USB-C charging port
  • 16 GB microSD card included

Varia RCT715 Cons

  • Price
  • Varia app flaws & footage quality
  • Possible compatibility issues with non-Garmin devices
  • Size & weight

Below, I highlight its most important features.

Garmin Varia RCT715 Main Features

  • Weight: 147 g (0.32 lb)
  • Dimensions: 4.2×1.7×1.3″ (106.5×42.0×31.9 mm)
  • Battery life (with recording on):
    • up to 4 hours solid or night flash
    • 5 hours peloton mode
    • 6 hours day flash
  • Camera quality: 720p/1080p (30 FPS)
  • Lumens: up to 65 (day flash) – means up to 1-mile visibility
  • Light modes: Solid, peloton, night flash, day flash
  • Camera modes: Continuous, off, radar-activated
  • Water resistance: IPX7

What is the peloton mode?
Peloton mode is designed for group rides. The radar can detect that you ride in a group with other cyclists. It will alert you about incoming cars, even when other riders are already being tracked. (Source)

Who Is Garmin Varia RCT715 for?

Garmin Varia RCT715 is a useful gadget for cyclists who want to feel safer on roads.

The in-build radar will warn you about approaching objects like cars, motorbikes, etc., increasing your awareness.

Thanks to its in-build camera, you can record what’s happening behind you and eventually have proof if somebody endangers you on the roads. Or just capture unique moments.

And finally, the taillight will increase your visibility even during the day.

RCT715 is most suitable for passionate road cyclists and commuters. It informs you about approaching vehicles through your phone or cycling head unit.

Also available at rei.com, wiggle.co.uk, and wiggle.com

What’s in the Box?

The Varia RCT715 box includes the following:

  • Varia RCT715 Radar with a Camera and Taillight
  • Mounting Kit
    • Mounts for various seat tube shapes (v-shaped, d-shaped, and flat)
    • Rubber bands
    • Zip ties
  • USB-C charging cable (!)
  • User manual
Garmin Varia RCT715 box contents - mounts, RCT715, manuals, charging cable, zip ties
Garmin Varia RCT715 box contents – mounts, RCT715, manuals, charging cable, zip ties

Yes, you read correctly. Garmin finally switched from micro-USB to USB-C charging. Hopefully, their future head units will use it as well.

The mounts for multiple seatpost types are also handy because of the many different standards and increasing popularity of aero bikes.

How Does RCT715 Work?

Garmin Varia RCT715 is the 4th generation of radars from Garmin. It works on the same principle as the RTL515 but adds the camera recording functionality.

Here is the official definition from Gramin.

Varia Radar Tail Lights have a radio transmitter that emits radar signals behind your bike and a receiver that detects radar signals reflected by moving objects behind you. It analyzes the reflected radar signal to identify vehicles and determine their distance and approach speed.

In other words, once the radar detects an approaching car, motorbike, cyclist, or any other object, it will notify you about them using the Varia smartphone app or on your head unit.

Setup

The initial setup is the same as with any other sensor. Depending on what head unit you have, you simply pair the RCT715 using the bike computer or phone.

When pairing your phone with Varia, the app will show user warnings. You should never rely just on the radar.

My Experience with Garmin Varia RCT715

I have a pretty rich experience with Garmin Varia RTL515 radar. It’s probably the most useful cycling gadget I bought.

But what about RCT715?

I extensively tested it for the past few days (unfortunately, I didn’t get it from Garmin before its release to the public).

When I learned its price, my first thought was: ‘Wow, that’s expensive!’ And unfortunately, using it didn’t prove me wrong yet.

The radar and taillight functionality is awesome (it always was), but the added camera could be better.

It doesn’t include any passive (or active) stabilization, so the footage shakes – a lot.

But that shouldn’t be such a big deal because nobody will use its footage for fancy videos. Right?

The problem is with the Varia app. It desperately needs improvements. When testing, it was slow, unreliable, and not user-friendly.

For example, when I connected my phone to Varia and wanted to browse clips, they took a long time to load. Often, the video playback stopped, and I had to reconnect to the Varia again.

Finding the right clip is also tricky because the app creates 30s clips.

But more about these issues later.

Varia RCT715 Pros in Detail

Let me explain the pros of the Varia RCT75 more in-depth.

3-in-1 Device

I couldn’t find any other device that would combine all three functionalities (radar, camera, taillight).

Similar gadgets usually only offer two—for example, camera + taillight, or radar+taillght.

Garmin Varia RCT715
Garmin Varia RCT715

This makes RCT715 unique, and maybe even, for this reason, Garmin decided to put such a high price tag on it.

People who want all three functions in one device have no other choice.

Increased Sense of Safety

The main added value of Garmin Varia radars is the increased sense of safety.

I know what’s happening behind me, even in strong winds. This is because the radar detects approaching vehicles even before I can hear them.

It provides me with enough time to prepare for air blasts, especially when I am being overtaken by large vehicles.

In downhills, I don’t have to look behind me. Therefore, I keep my eyes on the road ahead and won’t deviate from the safe line. Additionally, I can adapt my riding style if a car is approaching.

But, this does not mean you should 100% rely on this device. Although it is very reliable, you will get the following warnings during pairing.

Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2 Varia RCT715 safety warning
Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2 Varia RCT715 safety warning
Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2 Varia RCT715 safety warning
Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2 Varia RCT715 safety warning

I also like the bright taillight. It can reach up to 65 lumens in flash mode. So it’s well visible even in daylight, making you more visible to drivers.

Incident Detection

The incident detection works the best with a connected Edge bike computer that can send the info to the radar.

But if you will use RCT715 with a 3rd party bike computer (or Edge computer without incident detection), it may trigger false alarms just by riding over speed and other road bumps. This is because RCT715 only uses accelerometers.

Edge computers (like 1030 Plus) have more sensors, so they are more precise at detecting incidents and won’t trigger false alarms.

Anyway, if the incident is detected, the camera will save the footage before, during, and after the event. (Source)

Battery Life

Garmin claims up to 4 hours of battery life in solid and night flash modes, 5 hours in peloton mode, and 6 hours in day flash mode (with a recording turned on).

That’s a decent battery life considering that the battery has to power 3 devices.

During my testing, I got almost 5 hours of battery life with recording on (3 hours flash mode + 1 hour and about 45 minutes solid mode).

Naturally, the recording drains the battery a lot, so you get about 50% longer battery life if you turn it off. But disabling the camera would miss the point, right?

The RTL515 promises up to 16 hrs, so it will last you for a week or two, depending on how much you ride.

Remember that Varia radars will reduce the battery life of your head unit.

Radar reliability

The RCT715 radar is still super-reliable. I didn’t get any false alarms. And honestly, I don’t think I will.

Sometimes, the radar detects cars approaching from a sharper angle (from side roads), but they disappear from the screen quickly (if they don’t continue in the same direction as me).

However, as noted above, the RCT715 sometimes triggers false incident alarms.

USB-C Charging Port

Yes. We finally got the USB-C charging port. I guess we expected the transition from MicroUSB to USB-C to be faster in the tech industry but better later than never.

The RTL515 uses MicroUSB, and when I reviewed it, it was one of the flaws I highlighted.

Although the included cable is MicroUSB to USB-C, I am glad Garmin started this transition. Hopefully, its future head units will come with USB-C too.

Also available at rei.com, wiggle.co.uk, and wiggle.com

Varia RCT715 Cons in Detail

RCT715 is not about positives, though. Instead, it has more cons than you would expect.

Price

The big elephant in the room is the price of the latest Varia. The recommended retail price is $399 (€399.99, £349.99, and 639 AUD).

That’s a lot of money because the RTL515 can do the same except record the footage for half the price.

So, is this price increase justifiable?

Only you decide.

I would be hesitant to spend my money on it because I am satisfied with Varia RTL515.

I don’t need to record the footage. But maybe, if something bad happens (hopefully not!), I will change my mind.

Varia App Flaws

The Varia app needs improvements. When I tested it, it was slow, and the connectivity with the camera was not reliable.

For example, I could not download a clip to my smartphone because the download always failed. Instead, I had to physically take out the microSD card and put it into my computer.

Varia app download failed
Varia app download failed

You will probably (unless Garmin fixes it) experience the biggest headaches with browsing and downloading the 30s clips. Yes, you read correctly. The app splits the recordings into 30s clips.

That’s 240 clips during a 2-hour ride!

So, finding the clip you need will test your patience. I hope Garmin will improve the app user experience.

Footage Quality

The footage quality is ‘meh.’ It’s shaky because of the lack of stabilization. Also, it’s sometimes hard to read the license plates of fastly overtaking cars. The camera also struggles in low-light conditions.

See the following pictures:

TIP: While reviewing the footage, I noticed that it’s better to have the taillight in the ‘solid’ mode than in ‘flash’ mode during bad light conditions because it better illuminates the license plates.

Compatibility Issues with non-Garmin Devices

I tried Garmin Varia RCT715 with Garmin Edge 1030 Plus, Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2, and ELEMNT ROAM.

As you would expect, the compatibility with Edge bike computers is flawless.

However, Wahoo head units can’t wake it up from standby mode or turn it off once you finish your ride.

They also won’t allow you to change the modes. You will have to do this manually. So, keep this in mind.

I couldn’t test RCT715 with other head units, but I expect all devices that supported RTL515 will also support the RCT715.

Remember, non-Garmin devices won’t allow you to change the camera settings or modes. They also won’t be able to send any info (e.g., speed, date & time, GPS) to the camera.

Size & Weight

The RCT715 is bulky and heavy. But, of course, it depends on the reference point. I compare it with Varia RTL515.

RCT715 is 76g heavier than RTL515. It weighs 200g with the included mount and 147g without it. Honestly, I don’t like it too much on my road bike. RTL515 looks much sleeker.

You will learn more in the following section.

Garmin Varia RCT715 vs. RTL515 – What’s the Difference?

The main difference between Garmin Varia RCT715 and RTL515 is that RCT715 has an in-build camera that can record 720p or 1080p footage. RTL515 doesn’t offer this functionality. RCT715 is larger and heavier than RTL515 and uses USB-C charging port, while RTL515 has MicroUSB. The battery life is shorter on RCT715 (6 vs. 16 hours day flash mode), and RCT715 is twice as expensive.

Below, I add a few comparison pictures of RTL515 vs. RCT715.

Learn more in my comparison of Varia RTL515 and RCT715.

Garmin Varia RCT715 Alternatives

The main question you should ask yourself when looking for Varia RCT715 alternative is:

What functionalities do I look for?

Currently, no device combines all three functionalities of RCT715 (radar, camera, taillight).

There are cycling cameras like Cycliq Fly6, or Teentok LED with a taillight. But they don’t feature the radar.

In my opinion, the best alternative to Varia RCT715 is the Varia RTL515. It doesn’t have a camera for recording footage, but it has radar and taillight.

You can use a 3rd party camera like GoPro to record better quality footage.

Garmin Varia review: RTL515 radar mounted on my road bike
Is the Garmin Varia RTL515 the best RCT715 alternative?

Also available at trekbikes.com, rei.com, performancebike.com, and wiggle.co.uk

Garmin Varia RCT715 FAQ

My Verdict

You will feel much safer on roads with RCT715 or any other Varia radar. It’s hard to get used to riding without it. You will feel like missing a hand.

I like the idea behind the Varia family products. They are really helpful mainly for road cyclists and commuters.

It’s also great that Garmin finally switched to USB-C charging cable. The RCT715 lasts up to 6 hours in flashlight mode, with recording turned on.

But the entire radar-camera-taillight is bulky and heavy. Additionally, Garmin could do a better job with the camera and dedicated Varia app.

The camera offers zero stabilization, and the app is not user-friendly. While they can fix the app with software updates, the hardware ‘fix’ can only come with future generations.

Considering the high price of the RCT715, I don’t recommend it to people who don’t need to record what’s happening behind them. The RTL515 is a much better choice.

However, if you want to get the 3-in-1 functionality, there is probably a no better option than Varia RCT715.

What’s your take on it? Let me know in the comments.

Also available at rei.com, wiggle.co.uk, and wiggle.com

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