Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Review: Garmin Edge 510 GPS Cycle Computer

The Garmin Edge 500 was on my shopping list for a long time; its compact size, long battery life, accurate GPS tracking and power meter compatibility make it the chosen GPS for most road cyclists on the circuit. It provides all the data that you could need for tailored training, without the mapping capability of its bigger brother the Edge 800.

This year however Garmin introduced the 510; predictably it is slightly larger than the Edge 500, it uses a colour display, and a touch-screen interface. Much of the data display is similar to the Edge 500, but it also has many new and interesting feature, such as smartphone tracking, a higher level of adaptability and profiling, and a 'Virtual Partner' training programme.

This review takes an in-depth look at the Edge 510 unit, and is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing over the coming months, explaining the benefits of training with GPS cycling computers and the programmes that accompany them.



The Unit
As mentioned, the Edge 510 is slightly bigger than its predecessor the Edge 500; measuring 9cm x 5cm, with a 3cm depth. The additional size is by no means a hindrance however; the unit fits discretely and snugly onto a stem or handlebar, using the secure Garmin quarter-turn mount (of which there are two in the box), or using a third-part out-front mount. I used the unit last weekend on a 100 mile off-road ride, and there was no sign of the unit coming loose or bouncing, even on the most rugged descents.

Unlike the Edge 500, the unit has a colour screen, which looks more modern and shows up well even in low light conditions, with the level of back-lighting easily adjustable 'on-the-fly'. The interface is also touch screen, rather than the four button Edge 500; the touch screen works perfectly even with full finger gloves on, and in the wet; an impressive feat by most standards.

In addition to the touch screen, there are three physical buttons; on the front of the unit there are two raised buttons; one a lap button, and one a start/stop/pause button for recording. These easily accessible buttons are a useful addition for a more positive feel when using these functions on the move. As well as these, there is a power button on the side of the unit, again a useful easy-access feature.

The unit connects to a USB port (if you are not using wireless uploading) and to the USB charging plug (that comes with a choice of sockets for global compatibility), through a connection port on the rear of the unit, protected by a rubberised plug.


The Display and Profiles
One of the things that sets the Edge 510 apart from its predecessor is the activity and bike profiles.

Bike Profiles - When you start the unit up for the first time you can input data on your stable of bikes; including the bike type (mountain bike or road), the weight, the crank length (needed for the Garmin Vector power meter), the wheel size, and you can pair the device with any ANT+ sensors that you have; such as cadence, speed and power. The customization means that as soon as you select that bike on the start-up page, it will search and pair with those sensors automatically, rather than finding sensors from other bikes that you may have in your garage. The unit will take up to ten bike profiles, for those that are lucky enough to have the storage space for that many bikes at home!

Activity Profiles - As well as the customization of bike profiles, you can also customize the interface for your activity; for example a race profile, a training profile, and an indoor training profile. The idea behind this is that when you are racing you are likely to want different page-views than if you are training. For example, when you are time trialling you probably want to know just your HR, Avg Speed, Distance, Cadence and Avg. Power. Whilst when you are on a winter training ride you may want ten fields of data (the most the Edge 510 will display and two more than the Edge 500), to help make those long miles more interesting!

Certainly there is a wealth of data that the Edge 510 will show, with all imaginable HR measures, Speed, Cadence, Timer, Distance and Power measures; there's no shortage of choice. Of course, the unit will also display information like temperature, elevation and total ascent. Measures that I will highlight the importance of in later posts on training with GPS.

On each activity profile (of which you can set five), you can have multiple pages of data; displaying different fields, as well as elevation profiles, and the virtual partner function (which I will come onto later). To flick between these pages you simply swipe the screen, this is one function of the touchscreen that seems to be a little less strong, but with a slight delay it will change. You can also change the display by tapping the screen and pressing the arrow button that comes up.

On finishing the ride, you can view a summary of the data you have recorded within your ride. This includes a useful elevation chart, as well as the standard feedback in terms of averages and totals.

Another neat feature is the 'Personal Records' page; which is customisable and gives you information such as your farthest ride, most elevation in one ride, and your fastest 40K. This is a cool motivational feature, which gives you an added boost when you finish that arduous winter training ride, to find out that yes, that was the most climbing you have ever done! Of course, for those that really like setting personal records, using the Edge 510 with Garmin Connect or Strava is the best way to set and beat goals in comparison to your peers.



SmartPhone Compatibility
The thing that really sets the Edge 510 and Edge 810 apart from their predecessors is the smartphone tracking. Using the free-to-download Garmin Connect app, which is available on Android or Apple, you can connect the phone via Bluetooth to your mobile device. The connection is quick and easy, using a Bluetooth connection key, the unit securely pairs with your phone using a key number.

Photo from Garmin.com
The benefits of connecting to a smartphone are numerous. Firstly there's a weather app, which allows you to see the next three hours of weather for your location, so that you can take shelter in a nearby café as that unexpected thunderstorm approaches. Second, there is the ability to search the Garmin Connect database to find your previous routes in your locality; a useful feature when you are on holiday or in a less-known location; you can make a route on-line, and then wirelessly transfer it to your device. Thirdly, just as you can download routes and previous workouts using the wireless connection, you can also upload saved tracks from the device to your Garmin connect account, avoiding the need to attach to USB (except for charging).

The real benefit of the smartphone connection however is the 'Live Tracking' capability. Once you have paired your device, you can enable live-tracking and invite others to follow. This invite can be sent through email, Twitter or Facebook; the link that you provide will allow the viewer to follow your progress, and also see your vitals from any ANT+ sensors that are attached to your Edge 510. Live tracking starts and stops as you start/stop/pause you ride on the Edge 510 unit.

The benefits of live tracking are numerous; largely in terms of safety, but also in terms of meeting up with friends en-route. I will go into more depth on this subject in later posts on "Training with GPS".



Virtual Partner
The Edge 510 does not have the capability to follow a mapped route like the 810, but it does have the ability to follow a "bread-crumb" course; a course that is pre-set on a computer device through Garmin Connect, and then uploaded to the Edge 510.
As well as this feature being useful for following new routes, it also allows you to make use of the new 'Virtual Partner' feature on the Edge 510.

The 'Virtual Partner' allows you to set a pre-defined average speed for a selected course, and then see how far ahead or behind that speed you are in distance and time. With a cheery little animated companion to show your progress in visual terms. It is a neat motivational tool, which I have personally found useful riding around time-trial courses during non-race sessions, as it helps you to judge the pacing against your previous rides.


Workouts
The workout feature is one that I have not used extensively yet on the Edge 510, but it looks promising, and is worth pointing out. It allows you to create workouts through Garmin Connect, and upload them to your device. These workouts are usually composed of set "Steps" of efforts and recovery, measured in terms of HR, time or power. The unit then counts through your workout with you, giving you instructions on what is coming up next, and how long is left in the current "Step"; I can see that it will be a clever and useful way of planning workouts for indoor training especially.


Overview and Assessment
Taken as a complete package, the Edge 510 is an impressive gadget. Its upgrades over the Edge 500 are clear and distinctive. At the top of the list has to be the smartphone connectivity; the benefits of wireless uploading/downloading, and live-tracking are obvious.
In addition to the connectivity there are also the benefits of the touchscreen interface, in terms of speed of navigation, and the more modern looks of the colour display. The unit also offers a higher degree of customizability than I have seen on any other GPS unit; with the ability to set separate bike profiles and work profiles, there is no risk that you cannot be seeing the correct data at the correct time.

As with all Garmin units that I've used, both on bicycles, boats and cars, the Edge 510 is well built, well thought-out and comes with all the necessary accessories.

Is it worth buying a 510 if you already have a 500?
That depends how much you want the live tracking, larger interface, and touch screen capabilities. In my mind, if you value these heavily it is worth upgrading.
Undoubtedly though, if you are looking to buy a new GPS, or replace an old worn-out one, I would certainly invest in the 510 rather than buying the now rather outdated 500; it is certainly a significant step forward, that I expect to see on the stems and handlebars of many bikes in the peloton over the coming year.

The Garmin Edge 510 is available from Wiggle Bike Shop (Link)

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