Going by the Numbers – Garmin Edge 500

The new Garmin 500 fronts the improved Garmin Connect; but it still has problems

Seems like our whole lives go by the numbers. We start off measuring ourselves against the kitchen door and it never stops.

Grades, scoreboards, girls' telephone numbers, salary, mortgage, it all adds up. Cyclists may be among the most chronic counters. Logging mileage is just the tip of the iceberg... calories, feet of climbing, power, heart rate, cadence all are fodder for increasingly sophisticated computers. Garmin's latest, the Edge 500, takes a fresh look at the data we love to collect.

No doubt getting input from the men in Argyle, Garmin engineers slimmed the unit down. It weighs just 57g compared to my comparatively portly Edge 305 at 79g. There's a new spin-and-lock mount, secured to bar or stem with o-rings. It feels very secure and that's going to be well received by those who experienced problems with the slide-and-latch mechanism of its predecessors (I never ejected my unit while on the road, but I did snap the tabbed latch off one mount).

Cosmetically, the white and silver unit is prominently trimmed in Garmin blue... that's great... IF YOU HAVE A BLUE BIKE. I'd rather they'd stuck with a neutral scheme: black, white, silver or better yet, provide optional colored bezels. Did no one tell them; we obsess about the total look of our rides?

Even when we're not riding, we're still counting. Last week a combination of weather and work had me go five days between rides, the longest I've gone on foot in three years. Around day four paranoia kicked in and I started thinking this is how you stop riding for good... so it didn't matter that Thursday was horrible out, I was riding no matter what. Some records are NOT meant to be broken.

The Edge 305 survived a trip through our washing machine so I had no doubts about the 500's ability to survive the elements and an accidental drop (or two). Garmin hardware is tough.

Two years ago I complained bitterly about the sorry state of Garmin's Connect software. After acquiring the once nimble MotionBased startup, Garmin seemed intent on hobbling backwards with a slow, buggy and functionally inferior service. I'm happy to report that Connect has improved (at least this afternoon).

Connect Rates a B

Software is the great differentiator. Get it right, the iPhone comes to mind, and success follows. Get it wrong, and a line of dissatisfied customers will soon stretch around the internet block actively sharing their bad experiences with everyone who'll listen. Connect looks cleaner. The dashboard tab displays the last 5 uploaded activities, and the most recent one in detail. The Activities tab shows a 20-record table with quick edit functionality that's passable but hardly efficient. Curiously it provides edit capability for "event type" which is not displayed in the table itself. During the upload process two of my activities never completed processing (with a checkmark indicator) but nevertheless appeared in the table. That kind of disconnect doesn't foster confidence, and there's more.

Firmware Web Updater Rates a D

Logging back in while putting this post together I noticed that there was a firmware update for the Edge 500 (v2.1). After downloading and installing a 20+MB web updater tool, the update was downloaded and applied. Unfortunately, here's where things didn't work so well. The updater carrier finished its role by indicating the device would restart. It never did by itself. Twenty minutes later, I restarted the device and the update was validated but in the process all my screen settings, bike info and history were erased. So much for that great comeback, some of the old inconsistencies remain. Solution: Connect should store all of these customized settings and refresh them on the device in situations like this. There will have to be a pretty compelling reason to update the firmware for me to risk having that happen again.

It's tough to count on software but without it we'd be back to scribbling in notebooks. That might be an option I'd consider, if I could read my own handwriting.

15 Responses to Going by the Numbers – Garmin Edge 500

  1. Todd Royal says:

    M:
    As a mathematician, I appreciated the title and theme of this post (and my website is actually called “Life by the Numbers”). Plus, I was curious about the Edge 500, and this post answered some of my questions (although now I am slightly more concerned about buying from Garmin).

    Keep up the great writing!
    Todd

    • Thanks Todd,

      Given Garmin’s resources I wish the software was better, but perhaps my standards (expectations) are just too high. We need a Garmin competitor to push them a little.

      ::M

  2. Unbelievable. The very day I go out and buy one of these units, so do you!

    Just about to go on our maiden ride.

    I’ve used the Garmin on-line software and know what you mean: it does leave a fair bit to be desired doesn’t it?

    Still, the hardware is just too good to pass up (as is the price of this unit for all it offers).

  3. Kim,

    I had exactly the same thing come up with my friend Tim last week. He was in the office saw mine on the bike and said “hey, I just ordered one of those”

    Was this to replace an existing Garmin model or were you using something else?

    Hope the first ride was good (and you turned off the auto lap feature which seems to be on by default ;-) Beeps every mile.

    ::M

  4. Didn’t play with the auto lap feature, but did accidentally hit the lap button when out on the ride… from then on the unit was giving me lap times every 5 kilometers! I figure that I hit the lap button at around 5 klms and it thought I wanted that lap distance from then on. Lucky for me it was a very short ride or it would have gotten tedious! Oh well, I’ll know better for next time.

    This unit replaced a 705 – they’re a fabulous device, but I just don’t need the mapping and the size is a bit much. I’ve been waiting for the 500 to come out for a while now. I’ve also got an FR60 which I use for heart rate in the gym.

    I agree with you re: colour – the blue really stands out against my colour scheme… (red and white on a 2010 white scheme Wilier Cento Uno) and not in a good way!

  5. Thank you! She’s still going through final build and fitting/testing, but I can’t resist bragging about her!

    I’ll let you know how she rides when I’ve put a few hundred miles down.

    Love the blog – love the photography (I’m also a photographer – some blog entries about your camera hardware/techniques would be great!) – keep up the great work.

  6. Andy Wilson says:

    If you happen to be a Mac computer user, there is an excellent software program that I’ve been using now for 4-5 years to sync my Garmin (305 and 705). It’s called Ascent and it’s excellent!

    Here’s the link: http://www.montebellosoftware.com/

    Enjoy!

    Andy

  7. kurt says:

    The design of this device is very cool. I agree with your assessment on the color scheme though, it really causes pause.

    As indicated in a previous blog, I picked up a power meter for Christmas. The analysis software is suffcient, but not as interesting as the Mac stuff Andy presented.

    Unfortunately, the on bike display of the Cyclops allows you to look at MPH OR heart rate. You can’t view both at the same time. This revelation infuriated me to no end.

    So I if I want to see both MPH and heart rate on the same screen, I need to find another unit like the Garmin 500 ($350) or the Cyclops Joule ($500). Is there another to consider?

    It appears that the two devices are similar in functionality. Tough to pay the extra $150 for compatible color scheme.

    I noticed the Rapha site had additional photos streams on Chinle. Your signature on them is obvious. Really nice work.

    You can expect an order for one of your albums shortly.

    Ride on.

    • Chris says:

      Actually the powertap unit is totally capable of displaying power, speed, and HR all on the same screen.. its exactly how I have mine setup.. the only current drawbacks I have with the current Cycleops head is no altitude, and inability to view avg power from your last interval… reason why I am considering a 500.. but it has its drawbacks as well… Joule looks very promising, but I dont want a laptop computer on my stem :)

  8. matt mc says:

    Thanks for the review of the Garmin.

    However, I think Garmin has a LONG way to go before I start shelling out cash, because the software is just to buggy.

    I personally don’t need the GPS part of my rides, but I do obsess about my numbers (I’m an Engineer, it’s part of me).

    I use a little less complicated system, but very “nerdy” to track all of my rides.

    I use Entry Works. It’s FREE, it’s easy to use, you can output everything to graphs and charts and all kinds of other nerdy things.

    It’s also good for Tri-athletes, Swimmers, Runners, Weight lifting, Walking, and other fitness exercises. You can also track weight, calories, and other health related items. It’ll even calculate your estimated CO2 foot print.

    There are Mapping options to draw a route, with the ability to output directions, just not to a GPS device. (Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if it came out soon.) I can even update a ride on my cell phone web browser and keep track as I ride.

    I’ve been using Entry Works since 2006, and I have found it to be great.

    If anyone is looking for a slightly less complicated way of tracking your workouts/rides, you should check it out.

    P.S. – Great site, and great photos.

  9. I checked out Entry Works via the link in Matt MC’s comment… I think I’ll stick with the online Garmin software for now. Entry Works looks like a little bit too much work – it’s clearly very, very detailed, but I really do quite like the interface of the Garmin online app and the fact that it’s a trivial matter for me to upload a workout. Something that’s important when I’ve just gotten in from several hours on the bike!

    Appreciate the pointers – also had a look at Ascent (was put onto this software by a chap in my LBS), that’s a great looking tool and something that I might use in future as it’s a nice bridge between too much complexity and too little information.

    Cheers.

  10. Stephen says:

    Apologies if this is a really stupid comment. That being said, looking at the Garmin website, looks as though one can either download the data online “Garmin Connect” or to offline software “Garmin Training Center.”

    Besides being able to share, do these do the same thing?

    Is the offline software as “buggy” as the online software?

    Great website!

    • Stephen,

      To tell you the truth I’m not absolutely sure. In the past they didn’t have feature parity when the Motionbased service was part of the equation. Motionbased was definitely superior to GTC.
      I suspect that they do much the same thing now, but Connect is almost certain to be the better-looking experience. Also depends on whether you value the online repository angle for data safety… I do in principle.

      Wish I had the energy to load GTC and revisit the differences, but I’m going to stick with Connect for now. I uploaded my second batch of rides last night, and that went through without incident. Had my stuff named and ran a quick report in ten minutes.

      ::M

  11. Dave Wyman says:

    If more than three screens were available on the 500, I’d be a happier cyclist. I like having no more than two fields displayed on one screen – anymore than that and my aging eyes, even with glasses, have trouble reading the numbers. Now, if the device was the size of an iPad….