Garmin Edge 500 Review

by Brian Mullin on July 6, 2010

I had read about the new Garmin Edge 500 just before the Interbike 2009 show, and was very fascinated by the features of the unit. It is more comparable to my Edge 305 then the Edge 705, since it doesn’t have the 705’s maps and routing capabilities. What it does have is a lot of the newer technology that has evolved from the Edge series engineering and knowledge base, and it has been rolled into a lightweight and small package. I was intrigued by the unit, since I have found that I rarely use a GPS’s visual mapping capabilities on a ride, and much prefer the raw number data, such as mileage, heart rate, speed, time of day, elevation, etc., which, in a nutshell, is the Edge 500.

For comparison, the Edge 500 is about 2/3 the weight and size of the Edge 305. Mean and lean!

Edge 500
The Edge 500 is a light and compact GPS, that was made specifically for cycling. The performance oriented receiver, can track distance, speed, location and elevation using a highly sensitive GPS chipset and a barometric altimeter. The displayed data is highly configurable, and has multiple customizable alerts and a course feature for training. Recorded data is easily downloaded to a PC using a USB cable, and the data can be analyzed with Garmin’s training software. The receiver comes equipped with a new mounting system for stem or handlebar attachment, and uses HotFix™ technology for faster satellite acquisition. The Edge 500 can synchronize wirelessly using the ANT+™ network protocol with compatible third-party power meters, and it pairs with Garmin’s speed/cadence sensor and heart rate monitor. The unit can store up to 180 hours of history, and has a 18 hour battery. The receiver comes in two basic versions, the Edge 500, and the Edge 500 with heart rate monitor and cadence sensor.

The kit comes with the Edge 500 (obviously), a USB connector, a CD, quick start manual (in a slew of languages), USB to wall power connector (with multi country plugs), and the new mount system (which includes 2 mounts and extra attachment bands).


Features
– HRM (heart rate monitor): optional, new calorie calculations
– Speed/Cadence sensor: optional
– Power Meter: optional, compatible with 3rd party ANT+
– Training Software: Garmin Connect and Garmin Training Center
– Course: train against a previously recorded activity (needs to be uploaded to the receiver)
– Barometric altimeter: accurately calculate elevation
– 4 multiple function buttons: 1) Power/Light and Back, 2) Page/Menu and Enter, 3) Start/Stop and Up, 4) Lap/Reset and Down
– Alerts: customizable alerts for specific Time, Distance and Calorie amounts, and optional Heart Rate, Power and Cadence.
– Auto Lap: customizable auto mark and alert, triggered by either Distance or Position, repeatable, starts a new lap
– Auto Pause: pause data recording when motion stops or customizable speed threshold
– Auto scroll: cycles through the 3 pages of data, at 3 different speed (slow, medium, fast)
– Start Notice: Motion Detector, customizable Off, Once Repeat
– Backlight: timeout and contrast customizable
– History: recorded in .fit files, storage capacity of 180 hours of data , can be viewed or deleted in the field
– Storage: 50MB or 180 hours ride data
– Customizable display: eight fields per page, 41 data fields, three pages of data, 1st page critical info, 2nd and 3rd for additional/secondary data
– Battery: 18 hours, 700mAh rechargeable lithium-ion
– Water resistant: IPX7, accidental immersion in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes
– GPS: SiRFstarIV chipset

Measured Specs
– Weight: 57.3 grams (2 oz), mount 7.9 grams, total 65.2 grams
– Size: 70mm x 48 mm x 22 mm (2 3/4″ x 1 7/8″ x 7/8″)
– Screen size: 29mm x 35mm (1 1/8″ x 1 3/8″)
– Screen resolution: 128 x 160 pixels

Set Up
I turned the unit on, and it walked me through some basic configuration, such as language desired (English and Bad English), age (old), sex (Often), etc. The screens are very intuitive, and the 4 multi-function buttons which were easy to use and comprehend. After the initial configuration, you can set up the data fields that appear on the screen in any layout you desire. There are 41 data fields that can be chosen, and they run the whole gamut of information from speed, distance, time, heart rate, etc. Some of the data fields are only pertinent to the optional input devices, such as power meter, heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor. Another great new feature is having 3 pages of data screens with up to 8 data fields each, so you put lower priority data on the secondary screens, and access them if needed. The multiple page feature prevents cluttering up the screens with too much information, since I personally find more than 5 pieces of data hard to read and focus on. The screens can easily be paged through using the buttons, or the Auto Scroll feature can be enabled for automatically rolling through the pages.

In regard to ANT+ sensors or devices, I predominately used the heart rate monitor, and on rare occasions used the cadence sensor (power meters are more roadie specific). The devices need to be paired (synced) up with the unit, which entails enabling the device within the menu system, and then scanning for the device. After the initial pairing, the device will automatically be recognized.

The included CD is just a user manual (60 pages) and doesn’t contain any software, so you need to go to the Garmin web site and download any of the required software. I downloaded and installed their WebUpdater software, and plugged the Edge 500 in when prompted, and it loaded the latest firmware. I next installed their training and data gathering software, which consists of Training Center (locally based) and Garmin Connect (web based). The USB connector port is on the back of the unit, behind a small rubber cover (it can be a pain to slip back into its slot). One thing I really liked is that there is a charging counter, that shows the current percentage of battery storage.

Installing the new mount system was a breeze. You simply place the mount on your stem or bar (notches pointing forward), clip the rubber band on the mount’s hook, wrap it around to the other side and hook it up. The industrial strength rubber band, come in 2 sizes, and there are quite a few extras in case they get old, broken or lost. This past week I lost a band while I was on a road trip, while the bike was on the rear bike rack. I rode the unit with one band on a bone jarring trail, and it did not fall off! I didn’t have an extra with me, but a normal rubber band seemed to work just fine as a temporary stop gap.

To install the Edge 500, push the back tab into the mount’s slot to engage it, and then rotate it 90 degrees.

GPS 101
The US NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) is operated by the U.S. Air Force, and is a space based global navigation satellite system. It consists of three parts, a space segment which is 24 to 32 satellites in medium Earth orbit (20000 kilometers), a control segment which comprised of five monitoring stations (Hawaii, Kwajalein, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia, Colorado Springs), three ground antennas (Ascension Island, Diego Garcia, Kwajalein), and a Master Control station (Schriever AFB in Colorado), and lastly a user segment which is the receiver such as the Edge 500.

The satellites send out a microwave signal at the frequencies of 1.57542 GHz (public) and 1.2276 GHz (military), which includes the time the message was transmitted (via onboard atomic clock), precise orbital information (the Ephemeris), and the general system health and rough orbits of all GPS satellites (the Almanac). The signal (30 seconds long with 1500 bits of encrypted data) is encoded with high-rate pseudo-random (PRN) sequence, which is unique among each satellite. Each receiver knows the PRN codes, so it can decode the signal and distinguish between different satellites. Each of the satellites is in an orbit that allows a receiver to detect at least four of the operational satellites from any spot on Earth. The receiver utilizes the data to determine the transit time of each message, and computes the distances to each satellite using the time lag, and along with the satellites’ locations it uses trilateration (intersection of 3 spheres) to compute the position of the receiver.

Usage
To start the unit up, press and hold the Power button. The unit loads its software, locates the satellites and then displays the timer page. Acquiring the satellites is wickedly fast in comparison to the Edge 305, and it usually pulled them in around 15-30 seconds, even indoors in my house. The new HotFix™ technology uses predictive calculations of satellite positions for faster acquisition. The unit senses the heart rate monitor (if wearing one), and a simple pressing of the Start button initiates the data recording of a ride. If you forget to press Start, it then beeps and the screen states ‘Movement Detected’ after riding about 50 feet. I really like this feature, since I have had rides where I look down after some distance and realize my mistake. Press the Stop button when the ride is completed. You can save the ride data by pressing and holding the Reset button, or wait until the unit is hooked up to a computer.

The new mount system has proven to be strong, easy to use and install, although sometimes when fat fingering the buttons or accidentally hitting the unit, it rotates slightly out of position. The buttons can be a tad tough to push when wearing thick gloves, so it takes a decent push to engage them. The menu system is very simple, and intuitive, and most anything can be done after some practice. The user manual is effective, and goes into just enough detail to not be overwhelming nor too technical. It’s easy to change the data fields on the screen to any customized setup that is desired. The display shows the numeric value and title for the enabled data field, and the values size is dependent on the number of fields and positions on the screen.

I really enjoyed having the 3 pages of data, which keep the main page less cluttered (only important data), while allowing secondary data on the other pages (example: Total Descent, Temperature, etc.). The accuracy of the temperature is in the ballpark, but the readings can sometimes wildly vary. I found that most of the time the elevation reading was right within its accuracy (+/- 15-20 ft), but since it uses a barometric altimeter for its calculations, weather and pressure differences can give occasional erroneous values. You can set up to 10 known elevation points within the menu system, to provide more consistent and accurate readings. The GPS SiRFstarIV chipset has location-aware architecture and has enhanced sensitivity, reduced time-to-fix and improved positional accuracy.

I added a protective cover over the screen (like for a phone), just to save it from scratches and normal abuse. It also helps out with an overly shiny screen, which can be tough to read in bright light conditions. I haven’t had any battery issues, and I have done 6+ rides, and it seemed fine. I always seem to recharge and download my activities after each ride, so I haven’t bumped into the 18 hour battery limit. The backlight was a nice feature, especially at dusk (I am never up that early in the morning), and the timeout and contrast level is customizable.

Alert Features
You can set up Alerts for the unit, such as distance, time or calorie, and when the limit is hit, the unit beeps and the Alert is displayed. I liked using the distance one myself, and usually did it for 5 or 10 miles, and found it a handy way to remind you how far you have been. There are also some advanced alerts for heart rate, power and cadence.

Auto Features
Auto Lap automatically marks a lap (alerts with a beep and display) at a customized distance or position, and it will repeat whenever the criteria are met (like every 5 miles). I use this regularly as a marker for my mileage.
Auto Pause pauses for data recording when motion stops or reaches a customizable speed threshold. I tried this once, but it isn’t very applicable to a mountain biking situation. Frequently, you go slow on some terrain, almost to a standstill, and the Auto Pause goes on and off (it goes berserk), which I found really annoying. I think the addition of a time threshold (like 1 minute), would make this a nice feature to exclude long stops or breaks.
Auto Scroll will automatically cycle through the 3 pages of data, at 3 different speed (slow, medium, fast).
Auto Power Down is a 15 minute timer, which will automatically power down the unit, if it has not been started or has been stopped after a ride. It gives you an Alert with a beep and display, and allows 10 seconds for manual intervention before shutting down. This is a nice utility for those times you toss it into your bag and forget to turn it off.

ANT+ Sensors
HRM’s (Heart Rate Monitor) are great for training, are useful for keeping oneself in the proper heart rate zone, and when taking a breather it allows you to start when your HR reaches a plateau. The Garmin HRM comes with the full kit, or can be bought separately, and consists of an elastic strap that attaches to the flexible HRM, and is worn across the chest. Once the HRM is paired with the unit, you can keep track of your HR with a quick glance at the screen (if displayed). You can customize zones (1-5) or take the default (age related), and you can set a max and min Alert. I always set the max Alert (185 bpm for my age), and the unit beeps if you hit that mark, and when that happens you’re definitely in a hurting zone!
Speed/Cadence Meter (SCM) is really useful for indoor riding, since the GPS would be turned off, it will record speed and distance data, even though you aren’t going anywhere! Garmin’s SCM is the GSC 10, and it comes with the full kit, or can be bought separately. It consists of a pedal and spoke magnet, and the GSC 10 sensor/transmitter. The sensor can be problematic to attach to full suspension chain stays, and tends to work better on hardtails, and I only use the GSC 10 on my commuter bike.
Power Meters (Garmin doesn’t make one) are really more applicable to the roadie world, so I never tested one with the unit, though it’s compatibility with any third party ANT+ power meter on the market.

History
They changed their file format from .tcx to .fit, which is more flexible and has a smaller footprint. The file format may cause issues since it cannot be read by 3rd party software without first doing a file conversion from within Garmin’s training software. Unloading data is an easy task, just hook up the USB connector to the back of the unit, and the other end to a PC. Data can be uploaded and viewed from Garmin’s Training Center (GTC) or Garmin Connect (GC). The GTC is installed locally on a PC, and is their old school software. It has been around as long as I can recall, and really hasn’t changed much over the years, it’s primitive, albeit effective. I use it to backup my history to my PC. The most important feature of the GTC is setting up and uploading a course to the receiver. GC is Garmin’s web based activity and training management site. You connect to the site, and upload your activities, which can then be viewed and analyzed. Data can be drilled down for finer details, maps can be changed from topos, Google 3-D, satellite or city, and a much broader swatch of information is displayed. I liked the calendar, and activity tabs, so I could get a macro overview of my data. I do wish you could save the map to a graphic file?

History can also be viewed, and deleted from the unit’s menu system, although it is a bit slow accessing the data. The unit can save up to 180 hours of data, before a memory full message is received, so backing up the data to GTC, GC or a local computer is always a good idea. The unit appears as a mass storage device when hooked up to a computer, and you can manually upload .tcx, .fit and .crs files.

Courses
This feature allows you to train against a previously recorded ride, in which you battle against a Virtual Partner, following the course on a rudimentary map or elevation profile. You can load an existing ride that is already on the unit, or create a course within GTC or GC, although only GTC allows the addition of course points, or breadcrumbs. When you are following a course, it pings you with a ‘Off Course’ if you stray off the path. Being somewhat primitive, prior knowledge of the course helps, since it doesn’t inform you in real time of upcoming directional changes. Through some trickery, you can also load rides as courses from friends, the internet and other 3rd party software. I really never used the Course feature, so I can’t comment in depth on its usefulness, after all you get there when you get there?

Bottomline
The Edge 500 has been used 3 days a week since the winter, and it has proven to be a pretty hardy GPS. It has been through snow and rain storms, bashed down rock gardens, and enough gnarly terrain to tucker me out, and it has run just fine. It has some great features and functions, such as Alerts and Auto settings, and 3 pages of customizable data. My favorite is the Start Notice, which beeps if you absently mindfully forget to start it. The combination of the SiRFstarIV GPS chip and the barometric altimeter, gave accurate readings, and data was well within tolerances. It’s nice to have the abilities to use the different ANT+ devices, but I personally only used the HRM. The new mount system is easy to install and swap between bikes, and it’s very strong (ran it with only one band). The long term issues I had were a slight crackly area on the bottom of the unit, and the small rubber USB port on the back was a pain to get seated properly.

I have really enjoyed the Edge 500, it has been durable, accurate, with excellent usability and intuitiveness, and has given me all the needed data I required for my bike rides. I never found the lack of mapping capabilities to be an issue.

Strengths
– Compact
– Light
– Customizable data: 3 data pages, up to 8 per page, 41 data fields
– Superb mounting system
– Backlight
– Compatible with heart rate monitor, cadence/speed sensor, and third-party power meters.
– Barometric altimeter
– Temperature monitor
– Start Notice and Auto Power Down

Weaknesses
– Shiny screen (hard to view in the bright sun)
– No max altitude
– No true mapping capabilities
– Auto Pause needs a customized timer
– Back USB port cover tough to seat

MSRP
Edge 500 $249.99
Edge 500 $349.99 (w/ heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor)
HRM $60
GSC 10 $60

Garmin Edge 500 url

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

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