When it comes to GPS, Garmin is king. Everyone knows the name, and everyone knows what they do. I recently picked up a Garmin Edge 500 GPS to see if their reputation for excellence extended to their low-/mid-range bike gear. Here’s a breakdown of what I found out.
Garmin Edge 500 Review
The Edge 500 is a small unit, which is great for weight-conscious riders, though it might make it difficult if you want to view more than five different statistics at a time (I find that five is more than enough, but you can display up to eight at a time).The mounting system is different than any of the ones that I’ve used before―it uses two bands that attach to the mounting bracket―each band attaches to one point on the bracket, wraps around the stem, and loops over another point on the bracket. It’s a bit weird to get it attached at first, but it keeps everything firmly in place, even through bumpy descents. The bands don’t seem like they’re going to suffer from much wear.
To attach the Garmin Edge 500 to the bracket, all you need to do is place two projections on the back of the GPS into the notches in the bracket and turn the unit 90 degrees. Because you can turn it either way, it’s impossible to mount the bracket upside down, which is a big bonus if you’re not very mechanically inclined (like me). I was worried about the security of the unit in the bracket at first, but I haven’t had any problems, and pushing the buttons on the side of the unit hasn’t ever caused it to turn in the bracket.
The side buttons are somewhat difficult to press, but I find that I don’t use them much (if at all) on the ride, so I really only use them to turn it on and get it started. The labels on the buttons are tiny and can be hard to read when you’re out on the trail, but you get used to them pretty quickly.
Garming Edge 500 Screen
Probably the most important part of the unit, the screen provides a lot of versatility and customization options. There are a lot of different pieces of information that can be displayed, and you can choose which you want to be able to see on the primary screen and the following screens, which are accessed with a button press. You can set up multiple screens to see this information, and you can set the number of sections on each screen. If you only want to see a few things at a time, they’re much bigger and easier to read. I find that I like to have my ride time, ride distance, current speed, current time, and current elevation on screen one. This is really all the information that I want while I’m riding.
The display is pretty clear, and easily visible even in the sun, which is nice. While it’s not quite as readable as an e-ink screen, it doesn’t seem to have many glare issues, at least when you’re wearing sunglasses. I haven’t ridden with it at night, so I can’t speak to the effectiveness of the backlight.
Accuracy and reception
So far, I haven’t had any problems with reception. I lost the signal once while I was down in a wooded valley, but when I came back out onto the path, the Edge picked up the signal again pretty quickly. When I looked at the course map later, I didn’t notice any skips, so either it reconnected really quickly or it did a little extrapolating.
And as far as I can tell, the unit is accurate. I don’t have much to compare it to, but all of the measurements that it’s taken seem reasonable. It seems to give slightly different altitude readings at the same point in different laps―that’s something I’ll have to look into further and get back to you on.
Garmin’s BaseCamp software is free to download and lets you import your GPS data from the unit via a USB cable; you can then view your course and stats. The software isn’t great; it’s not all that easy to use, and it’s just plain ugly. But it does the job. It keeps the data from your past rides, so you can look back and compare.
One nice thing that BaseCamp does, though, is export your GPS data to Google Earth, so you can get a much better view of where you’ve been riding. Making a fly-over video of your ride is pretty cool. (In fact, I got distracted making one of these while I was writing this review . . . don’t start making one at work, or you won’t get anything done!)
At $250, the Garmin Edge 500 isn’t the cheapest GPS you can get, but the price is still a little under what I would call mid-range. For this price, you get a great little unit that provides all the functionality that you could want (plus power meter and heart rate monitor integration) with a decent screen and the Garmin reputation. I give it my seal of approval!