Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Garmin Edge 25: simpler, lighter, smaller equals better

SCRainmaker has a "hands-on" (as opposed to an "in-depth" review; still way more in-depth than any other reviews on the web) of the new Garmin Edge 20 and 25. These are, finally, Garmin addressing the simpler/lighter-is-better market for GPS.

On bikes, a huge amount of attention and money is directed towards minimizing weight. The best way to minimize weight of a GPS unit is to ride without a GPS unit. But the prominence of social networking website Strava has increased the value of GPS data. So for many, GPS has become a virtual requirement. What's the point of riding if you can't get kudos?

Yet despite big push for lighter bikes, and with real estate on the handlebars and stem so limited, Garmin has seemingly ignored the value of lighter-and-simpler-and-smaller by producing a series of increasingly complex, heavy, and bulky GPS units. The Edge 500 came out more than a half-decade ago, and yet it has remained the lightest and most compact unit provided by the company until these new units. And the Edge 500, while still a "current" product, has been abandoned for firmware upgrades, the firmware remaining buggy and now not supporting the Vector pedal dynamics metrics which were made available on larger/heavier Edge 510, a unit with a poor reputation for reliability. Indeed, it's remarkably the company ever produced the 500 in the first place: it's simply too elegant, compact, and functional. It must have been an anomaly.

So I was surprised when I saw these new units, which come it at half the weight of the already light (57 gram) Edge 500. There had to be a catch....

And there is. First, the Edge 25: that has ANT+ Sport support and also low-energy Bluetooth. But these are supported only for heartrate straps and for communications with phones. Obviously if you can trade data packets with a heartrate strap you can do the same with a power meter. But the unit refuses to communicate with power meters. Was this an engineering decision or a marketing one? On the engineering side, you might argue that communicating with a power meter would be too large a drain on the battery, which is rated at only 8 hours. After a hundred or so charge-discharge cycles surely that will come down, making the unit barely able to survive a fast century ride. Road races are shorter, so for racers the battery might be sufficient, but add in the extra drain of power meter support and that's pushed a bit further. But they are willing to communicate with a heartrate strap.

So I think this is likely marketing. If they put too much power in the 25, they believe, that will take away sales of more expensive, complex units. But this is monopolistic thinking. In a competitive market, suppliers are compelled to make all of their products as good as possible, otherwise competitors will do so and outsell them. In a monopoly, you're competing mostly against your self or against "none-of-the-above", in which case you can afford to play games like this. I think the GPS market is competitive, so these market-slicing games are a mistake which will in the end cost Garmin marketshare. After all, power meter support will differentiate the units from what might be the #1 competitor to low-end GPS units, which are smart phones and, increasingly, watches.

Another missing feature is a barometric altimeter. Barometric altimetry, as opposed to GPS altimetry, is much more reliable especially in situations where the GPS signal is compromised, for example wooded hillsides or canyons. Barometric altimetry is susceptible to errors from weather fronts, but in conjunction with GPS, those errors can be minimized. The two together are better than either by itself. And good altitude data is really useful for estimating power on climbs when power meter data is unavailable.

A subtle feature of the new units is they are listed by DCRainmaker as being "smart recording" only. Smart recording can result in gaps between data of up to 8 seconds, which is terrible for Strava segment timing and possibly even segment matching. This seems silly because it's a software-only issue. The motivation for having provided 1-second recording on the Edge 500 was analysis of power data. Initially 1-second data recording was available only when power meter data was being recorded. But they eventually allowed 1-second recording as a general option, most likely because of Strava. But this unit has taken a step backwards by being smart recording only. For Strava fans, this alone should be a deal-breaker.

So give me a compact unit with a barometric altimeter and at least minimal power meter support with one-second recording and I'm all over it. I don't need fancy displays. I don't need access to a huge number of data fields at once. I want to see distance and power and I want to record everything else. These are the key things.

On the plus side they did include the same level of navigation support provided by the Edge 500. And while that's flawed and error-prone, it is nevertheless extremely useful when the GPS signal is strong. I used it extensively when riding out of Switzerland last year. So perhaps real-time navigation isn't part of my claimed support for "simpler" but I'll use it if it's there. It can always be ignored.

It's perhaps ironic that the low battery life, good enough for road races but not good enough for century riding, combined with the exceptionally light weight could well have made this an excellent "race day" GPS unit. But then they crippled it with a lack of power meter support and lack of 1-second recording, neither of which would require additional hardware. So instead you have a unit which isn't particularly good at anything. It's unfortunate.

So while this is a good start, but Garmin needs to go further. The smaller-lighter-simpler = better philosophy has been long neglected at Garmin, and it would be great to see it get attention again.

5 comments:

Isaac Wu said...

about the smart recording issue, I think it has something to do with the memory storage space of the device, you can't fix it with software update.

Wu Isaac said...

Hello djconnel,

how are you,
this is Isaac, our company is looking for product reviews,
can I have your contact email so we can talk about it in details?

thank you
Looking forward to hear from you

Isaac

Wu Isaac said...

Hello djconnel,

how are you,
this is Isaac, our company is looking for product reviews,
can I have your contact email so we can talk about it in details?

thank you
Looking forward to hear from you

Isaac

John Stewart said...

Your article is spot on with my thoughts. After accidentally sending my 510 to disappear into single track woods, I am in the market for something more practical. Looking for all the features you mentioned in a small unit as well. Been limping by with a wahoo rflkt but miss the reliability of a proper unit.(rflkt is just a thin client for your phone).

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