Look, it’s hard writing this review. I won’t be telling you how well it incorporates with an ANT+ enabled power meter because I don’t have one but, if you do, it will do that. In terms of live Strava segment beating? Screw that, I’m mostly on my commute when I’m using this and, sorry if this isn’t very road warrior, it’s better keeping my eyes on the road. Shimano Di2, Garmin Varia, Vector and Virb integration? Yep, it does those and I won’t be dealing with them either. What I aim to tell you is whether, as a cute little GPS unit, it’s actually any good at the basic stuff. Does it do what it says on the really nice waxy paper covered box?
I’ve owned a few Garmin units over the years. Indeed, I once owned the Garmin Forerunner 101. Google it. It’s a laughably big wrist based GPS that looked like you were wearing a small clock on your arm, whilst running. But it worked and spurred you on a little when training. You’ve got to keep your average speed up, run dammit.For me, that’s pretty much what these are all about. I had an 800 once, decent enough, with mapping. You have to love mapping. I wonder how many users of map units set it to navigate home from work? Just because you can. I had a 510 as well. That worked, didn’t look all that pleasant, but had some exciting new features such as live tracking. It had a touchscreen as well, that horrible resistive type that needed you to press it hard. Good with gloves but old feeling tech.
Anyway, Garmin have always been at the forefront of this technology. On the road they had to fend off the advance of TomTom et al. In the fitness band market they’re arguably second to Fitbit. But, in the GPS cycling world, it’s been pretty much Garmin or nothing. There are newcomers, Leyzne, Bryton and now Wahoo fitness, but it’s a pretty hard market to crack. Can Garmin still lay claim to being the best there is? Is the middle ground Garmin the best of the Garmin range?
What’s in the box?
Quite a lot as it happens. There’s the Edge 520 unit itself of course, did I mention how cute it is? And there are the usual manuals and warning notices, mini USB lead which you will no doubt lose because you have thousands more (it’s a micro USB by the way, none of that silly mini USB stuff), there are cadence and heart rate monitors if you bought that version (I did not) and there are mounts. Oh my there are mounts. Where the previous versions brought you a couple of stem based mounts this one goes even further. There are two stem mounts and numerous rubber bands to attach them, but there’s also the addition of an out front Garmin mount. This works nicely and feels quite premium. It’s not metal but, hey, it’s less likely to do nasty stuff to my bars. The RRP of it is around £30 thus making the entire boxed proposition that bit more attractive in terms of price.
Why didn’t I opt for heart rate and cadence? Well, there’s the thing. Cadence first, this unit lives on my road bike, where it’s certainly useful and two 1x geared bikes where, frankly, cadence is pretty much dictated by the gears I have (or don’t have). And I’m a grinder. Cadence has a place and that’s to educate. I’m pretty much beyond education now and slip back to bad habits frequently, so there’s no real need for it, for me. And heartbeat? Same thing really, I’m just not really all that good at dealing with what I take from it. But, if you’re training sensibly and want this stuff? Then it’s all there for you. The problem is that the RRP is about £60 more. That’s fine. It’s better to buy it together as it’s cheaper to do so. But there’s another issue. On actual selling prices the cadence and HRM equipped model is near enough £80 more than the base unit. Or, for perspective, more expensive than a base unit 810 and not far off a cadence and HRM equipped 810. You pays your money etc. So you have to decide what’s important to you. But there are some very useful fitness parts to the 520 and I may well decide to get a HRM in due course. Somebody asked me to do a Triathlon today. Despite the fact that this breaks all sorts of rules I might. And training properly might well assist.
What’s the unit like?
Well, it looks cute. It’s aesthetically pleasing in a way that the 500 was and the 510, with its rubbery bottom buttons, was not. Back to being cute then. And in terms of its form it’s tiny. It manages to be almost as small as the 500 was, packs in a much bigger screen but has shrunk in overall size from the previous 510. That’s great. It means that it’s going to sit well on smaller stems. Anyone running an 80 or 90mm stem will be familiar with this. With the quarter turn mount in place the older 510 unit sometimes dragged on the top cap or the front of the stem. No such worries with this little thing. And if you mount it out front it’s still sufficiently large so that you can see it and read the screen. In terms of size I think it’s probably spot on.
Turning to design aesthetics it’s more Apple like than the slightly more industrial and plasticky units of the past. It’s light but has a bit of heft to it. It should survive falling off and bouncing along the road. There’s a tiny little lanyard lead supplied which you can fix around the bottom of the unit and your stem if you’re not too confident of the unit staying on the mount. I wouldn’t worry though, it appears to be very secure and a far cry from the old slip in attachment that was found on the older 705 series. I’ve experienced no issues with the quarter lock but I have seen some people who have sheared off the rear tabs. If that happens you’re in some trouble, so take it easy.
The rear of the unit houses the moulded in quarter turn mount and the USB charging point. There’s a little rubber flap over the USB point and the unit is IPX7 certified. That means it’s dust proof and should survive in around 1 metre of water for about 30 minutes. No, I’m not testing it for you. The position of the charging port underneath is a much better option than at the side. That said, if you’re using the out front mount in the wet bear in mind that there is scope for water to come up from the front wheel. In practice it’s been fine and should continue to be fine. The rubber insert in the charging port is more than tight fitting enough to do the job. I used the Garmin on the stem for Battle on the Beach and it got soaked a few times but it performed flawlessly and wiped clean immediately.
So, back to those buttons. They’re pretty easy to follow. The bottom two are start/pause on the right and lap on the left. In practice I tend to leave the lap one alone. The right hand button is pretty easy to operate and has a ridged surface to ensure that it’s grippy enough. I press start at the beginning of the ride and let the setup do the rest.
The top left button turns the unit on and off and allows you to select the brightness of the display (which I typically have at about 80%). The two left hand “up and down” buttons allow to scroll up and down through the various options lists. The top right button is effectively the “enter” button and allows you to confirm commands. The bottom right hand button is the “back” button. There’s no home button so once you’ve drilled down to the micro level of a menu structure you have to press back a multitude of times to get back to where you started.
Gone are any attempts to integrate any type of touch technology into the product. It’s all buttons. 7 of them to be precise, which is quite a lot. I don’t really like touchscreen tech for this type of product. For me buttons are easier, especially when wearing gloves. Buttons certainly can be annoying as well but these are fairly intuitive once you know what you’re doing.
The screen is colour, 2.3 inches and 200 x 265 pixels. I’d describe it more as colourful than colour, certainly when compared to something like the Garmin 1000 which is more mobile phone like in its representation of different colours. What is most certainly is not is in any way high definition regardless of Garmin’s claims. It’s very clear, works well even in direct sunlight and is utterly readable. But don’t compare it with a mobile phone.
Menus are straightforward, it’s just a case of drilling down to where you want and using the buttons to make changes. An example is below. I’m on the screen that’s customising the settings for “train” mode. You can create a multitude of modes to use each with separate customisation. In the below screen you use the up and down buttons to navigate between each menu line then the enter button to drill down further into them. It’s clunky and takes a bit of time but it’s the only obvious method. But, there is a better way in my view. Both the See Sense Light app and the Go Pro Camera app allow you to customise the unit using the app itself. That customisation then transfers to the unit. And this is an area where it appears that the new Wahoo Elemnt kills the 520 stone dead. That app, if the claims are correct, allows you to customise it far more easily and intuitively from your smartphone with a simple select, drag and drop approach. I think there’s probably a reason for this. Garmin’s Connect App works with all their devices. Pairing it with each results in that devices information being available on the App. But Garmin have a bewildering array of devices to integrate. Wahoo’s approach is to give the Elemnt its own bespoke app which makes it easier to write for. Nevertheless it’s something I think Garmin should embrace. It’s time to move on. 7 buttons is a lot of buttons, can we lose some of them?
How does it work?
First things first. I paired the Garmin 520 with my Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone via Bluetooth. Despite internet grumbling about issues with this I have not experienced any issues at all. I installed the Garmin Connect App on my phone and this means that all my rides will instantly transfer to Garmin Connect as I complete them. My Garmin Connect app is then given permission to sync to Strava. I also have that app installed on my phone. I can then consult either app on my phone or either website on a desktop to see how I’ve done. In practice the Strava website (and app) are a much clearer way of viewing things. But this is not really a review of those apps and websites other than to say that they work fine for me and I’ve had no issues with them. Anyway, Strava is orange and orange is nice.
OK, what you want to know is, how does it look afterwards, once you’ve done your bit of training. I guess what’s most important to you is how your info looks on Strava and, if Strava is down, does it look OK on Garmin Connect (app or desktop). Let’s have a look at how the 520 talks to each application below. If you click on the link it should take you to the desktop version of the ride and the screenshot shows you how it looks on the mobile. Bear in mind that this was a race across open beach, open grassland but a huge amount of wooded area. At no point did the unit ever lose its GPS signal.
The first screenshot is the Garmin Connect ride page and the second is the overall “Snapshot” page.
There are a few issues, it seems. Strava has me slightly quicker, although only very slightly. Perhaps this may be down to a very slight rounding down. We’ll let that one pass for the time being. But Garmin connect has me doing 288 metres of climbing, which, on a beach, is more than a little unlikely. Strava has me down for the default (it seems) 600ft but once corrected (Strava is very very clever at this stuff) it settles down to 197 feet and that seems about right. It’s an odd one and I’ll need to have a play with it but my conclusion at this point is that Strava deals with this better than Garmin. Which is all a bit weird. I’d add here that I have played round with the Connect elevation data and it continues to show too much climbing. It’s an odd one particularly since the 520 is equipped with a barometric pressure sensor. It’s even odder because the ride history on the device only shows 597 feet of climbing. So, in terms of tracking and recording it just works, apart from the climbing bit on Connect which, for me, doesn’t work at the moment. Anyway, it’s fine on Strava and I prefer Strava.
There’s a load of integration with social media on there, as you’d expect. So a quick bit of hitting the share button will see your noble effort uploaded to bore everyone to tears on Facebook or Twitter.
There’s a nice feature called live track though it’s quite hard to demonstrate as I’m not typing this live. Essentially you choose to share your ride with a live audience either by email recipient or something like Facebook or Twitter etc. Then they can share watching you move around a map. Brilliant, I guess. I don’t know, I’m the one doing the moving rather than the watching. I set it up for both Battle in the Beach and the Dark and I understood that it worked and one or two people watched me for a few minutes as I did up to 21 mph on a beach in a straight line. In addition you can set it to be view able for up to 24 hours as well so you can re-watch it if you’ve run out of episodes of Game of Thrones. It can have its uses though, imagine someone doing a night ride over wild terrain, you could keep an eye on your loved one or something, just in case. It’s a nice feature in this very sharing world if that’s something that interests you.
So that’s what it looks like afterward. But, actually, I’m more interested in what it looks like during your ride. And that’s pretty much why I have it. Because if I sound a little cynical about the added value of the stuff above my reason for owning one is that it pushes me to go that little bit faster overall, particularly on routes which I already know, such as my commute home. So, knowing that my best time for the commute home is around 48 minutes I can judge my exertion, see if I can get close to it and improve my overall fitness.
I do accept that I can do that on the Garmin 20 or 25 (the 25 being the better choice as it has Bluetooth and the 20 does not). So whilst the 25 would be ok the thing is I quite like multiple data fields rather than scrolling through many different screens. The Garmin 520 is best for that. I currently have mine set to 6 fields, you can have more or less depending on your preference. So if you want your cadence and HRM displayed you can have those as well. My personal preference is for speed, average speed, time of day (must be on time for work) and a few others. Despite the diminutive size of the screen everything’s still very readable indeed. And to add to that not only can you have up to 10 fields on a screen but you can have 5 screens! You cycle through them during the ride using the up and down buttons. You can also have a 6th which shows a map, if you have one. Given how many individual things you CAN track there’s scope for having all the data a person might never need. This is how mine is currently set up and, at the moment, I’m not using more than one screen. As I get used to it I plan on adding a few more with some other settings to try and get a bit fitter and a bit faster.
I should add that I leave the back light on. At night that’s essential as you just won’t see it after the screen timeouts (you can customise the setting for this). In the day it’s much less important but it’s a little brighter overall and doesn’t have a massive effect on battery life for me. If I was doing a sportive of 6 hours plus I would probably turn it off, just to maximise the battery. But given that it should eke out 15 hours plus in its most economical mode then there should be few concerns in this respect. I’ve been commuting in and out and only charging it once a week.
So, in terms of living with it, it starts up quickly, picks up satellites very quickly indeed, shows me all the information I realistically want and syncs my data up reliably afterwards. It’s probably not a massive step up from the Garmin 25 in all those respects but, as a unit, I prefer it overall. It’s a little more advanced, there’s stuff that I want to start to play with and it’s a bit more future proof. If you’d like to have a look at how some of the main features compare across the Edge range then click on the link that appears below.
Well, believe it or not, it does do navigation. None of that fancy car type turn by turn stuff that you get on a big daddy GPS or something like the Garmin 800/810/1000 or Touring versions. But you get something to follow, a breadcrumb trail to be exact. The 520 actually has base maps. They’re ok, not very detailed but most of the main routes are there. In the example below I’ve used one of my previous rides as the route and pressed ride. The unit is showing me how to navigate to the start of the ride. As you can see, until I do, it’s telling me that I’m off course. Once you’re on course it’s “simply” a matter of following the trail. You can zoom in or out as desired. It prompts you with junctions (on a different screen) and turns coming up and tells you how far they are. Most of the time. If you stray off course it will beep at you. You just need to find your way back on the map. It’s not perfect. It’s not meant to be. But it works well enough if you just want to find your way. You can plot your own routes using Garmin connect or map my ride and import them onto the device.
There’s a pretty good video of what all this looks like in practice here. 520 Turn by Turn
You can add new maps but, of course, the 520 has no additional SD storage. So, to do so, you will need to google some stuff. Essentially, you need to remove the existing maps and install areas with more detail on individually. I’ll leave it to you to look at but, essentially, you should be able to get a good map of Wales or France (for example) on there with little effort and a lot more detail.
UPDATE : 1st April (and no, not an April’s fool!). I’ve been playing round with this a little and installing new maps is very easy indeed.
You need to browse to open street maps using this link. Open Street Maps
Once you’ve done that you need to create a map using the various menus available. So, for example I manually selected all of South Wales by using the available boxes. You will need to select “routable bicycle” as the setting. Enter your email address and a few moments (or a few hours depending on the queue) you’ll get an email with your map. You will want to download the one named gmapsupp.zip. That’s going to replace the file called gmapbmap.img on your Gamin. Move that file to a safe place and then replace it with the file that you’ve unzipped (which will now read gmapsupp.img. Rename it to gmapbmap.img. Then reboot and you’re all ready to go.
There’s a very good video link here: Youtube Link
Anyway, here’s the history of what I went through in relation to my nav experiences. My first attempt was to a course in Strava and downloaded the relevant file. Strava allows you to select the device in a drop down box. Just select the 500/510/520 etc and you get a .tcx file on your PC or MAC. Drag that file into the Garmin “New Files” folder. Then eject the Garmin, restart it, go to menu/training/courses and you should see your new file in there ready to use. You do need to make sure that you drag it to new files and not courses. That might seem a little counter intuitive but the act of restarting puts your new file into the courses folder on the device.
So, using that Strava file, I tested the turn by turn features over 17 miles or so. It works just fine but it wasn’t quite as good as that video I posted above. There are some observations. If you leave the 520 on the map screen then everything is rosy. You get a marker showing where you are, the route is coloured and arrows flash up to show the direction of travel. If that was all that there was then following that would be easy. It’s not the biggest screen in the world but the detail is good, particularly if you zoom in, and it’s all rosy.
You can leave it on the map screen and get turn notifications. So it pops up with messages like “90 yards turn left” along with an arrow to indicate turning left. Those road turnings are accompanied by an audible beep. So, if you’re turning on and off roads at junctions it works very well. Roundabout integration is less good. If you’re going, in effect, straight on, it doesn’t really tell you to do anything. If you have to turn left or right then it does do that. But it comes much later than the warning in relation to junctions. If you’re on the map screen then that’s an easy thing to deal with. But what about when you’re not? Well, if you’re on your training screen (i.e. speed, average etc) then the turn warnings and beeps still occur when you approach where you need to go. Ditto the roundabout turn notifications. But, in the straight on situations, you don’t get any messages. That’s fine, you just need to assume you are going straight on. But, the thing is, you might not be. You may find, as you’re on the roundabout, that it suddenly says “turn right” and that might be too late for you. So care is needed. If you go off course it gives a shrill beep and tells you so. So, that’s how it works with a Strava file.
Reader Michael Robinson alerted me to the fact that a file created with RidewithGPS might be a better file as it has both course points and track points. So, I created an identical file (my commute) and tested that over 17 miles instead. That file was much better. First, it deals with roundabouts properly. So it will tell you to take the 1st, 2nd exit etc. That, if you’re going fast, or if you’re not on the map screen, is a crucial addition in my view. Second, it seems to alert you, in most cases, to the action that you need to take a little earlier. And, third, it does incorporate some road naming conventions into the directions it tells you to take (so, turn left A4119 for example). Not all roads are necessarily named so sometimes it just says “turn left 300 yards” but it’s better than the Strava file it seems. My only criticism is that I’d like to have my roundabout turn indication a little earlier than as I enter the roundabout. The file does say, for example, turn left and then say take 2nd exit, but, to me, turn left means 1st exit in those cases. That only happened on one roundabout so perhaps a little more investigation into that is needed and also whether the notification can be set up to come earlier. Whereas I thought that the Garmin with Strava file was a decent addition but no replacement for a full on turn by turn I do think that the Garmin with a RidewithGPS file is much better and could well bridge that gap.
In practice, if you are using it to navigate, then I guess you would stay on the map screen anyway and just enjoy the ride. Another point to add here is that directions on any sat nav that provides true turn by turn will always be subject to how that unit views your progress. So it may pick the shortest route from A to B where, in fact, a different route was better. No such issues with this system as, of course, you’ve mapped out your route in advance. What it does mean is that there’s little scope for changing that route on the fly. All that you can do is wander off course and then pick it up later on.
If you’re prepared to put a little bit of work in on creating courses and dragging them to the device then it’s a very tidy feature.
And the rest?
It does plenty of things, specifically:
- Bluetooth smart text and call notifications (they pop up on the screen)
- A shedload of training tools such as recovery adviser, VO2 max, various fitness metrics
- Loads of ANT+ features so integration with stuff like HRM’s, Cadence and Speed Sensors and Power meters
- You can use it indoors on your indoor trainer with something like Zwift, Trainer Road etc
- And, as stated earlier, you can use it to interact/control various other Garmin bike components.
It’s pretty easy to live with and, since I started using it again, it’s fairly clear to me that, during the time I took it off the bike over winter, I’ve been pootling. Since putting it back on my average speeds are up, weight has dropped a bit and I’m feeling fitter. That’s not to say that without it on the bike I couldn’t have ridden faster. But it gives you something to aim for. A lot of this can be achieved with the 25. If you’re in the market for a cheaper option then look to that. It does all the fancy live track and instant Bluetooth integration in the same way. I’d avoid the 20 if you want to upgrade to things like ANT+ or just because plugging things into a PC is really not the most modern method of upload. If you’re not after detailed maps then I think that the 520 offers the best feature set and value of the Garmin range, particularly given the addition of so many mounts.
There are some well priced competitors. The Lezyne range offer a very similar set of features but lack any form of navigation. They do however have a better sense of humour than Garmin. One “question” on their website asks whether the Mini GPS could survive being eaten by a domestic animal to which they have responded “Due to legal reasons we were not able to verify the Mini GPS’s digestion resistance (DR) with domestic animals. However, one of our engineers has volunteered to ingest one for testing purposes. We are still waiting for the final test results before we can give the Mini GPS a “passing” DR inspection.” Given that the Garmin 20 and 25 are smaller they do appear to be a better bet for ingestion.
But it’s the Wahoo Elemnt that really looks interesting. A friend of mine has recently bought one so I’ll look to update this review with this thoughts. It looks like something that, whilst costing a little more than the 520, offers a bit more in terms of future looking functionality. Perhaps, at last, in the cycling GPS market there’s something to provide some real competition.