Some Feedback on the Garmin Edge 705 cycle GPS
By bblfish on May 12, 2009
After close to 500km of cycling with my new Garmin Edge 705 I think I have enough experience to be able to bring the community some valuable feedback on this device.
Improvements since previous model
Compared to my old Garmin Etrex Legend, which I blogged about in July 2005, the Edge is a huge improvement.
- The old Etrex had a ridiculous limitation of 24MB of memory, which was ok for loading up maps for a circumference of 100km of your neighborhood, but not enough for cycling long distance across Europe. The Edge 705 can take 2GB extension memory cards and is able to load the road maps of all of Europe. That is great: It means I don't have to carry a computer everywhere I go - even though I do currently - and I don't have to load up maps onto the Edge once every day.
- The price has fallen dramatically. The GPS + the maps of Europe came to €400, half the price nearly of the previous model.
- The Edge can better calculate cycle roads. I noticed this last Friday when having carefully used my laptop to draw out the road from Troyes to my destination I found myself on a two way road which would have been very pleasant had it not been for the 20 ton trucks passing me every minute in both directions. I stopped, asked the Edge 705 to calculte the road free of any of my interferences, and it immediately found a little dirt track to get me off that road (even though I had specified that I'd rather wish to avoid dirt tracks). The dirt track punctured my tire, which I found then was in a pretty bad state anyway. But rather have the tire punctured, than my head...
- The Edge 705 comes with a heart rate monitor
- It knows the elevation one is at, and the rate at which one is climbing
- It can calculate the calories spent: it added no calories when I was zooming downhill without pedaling
Compared to Cell Phones
Before buying my Etrex I had inquired into whether a cell phone could have done the job. I did the same this time, and I have to say that it very nearly did. I found quite a number of iPhone add ons for cycling (listed on my delicious account) and I think for something close to the same price as the Garmin Edge, I could have put something together. It would have required
- an extra battery pack (or two) to extend the battery life (perhaps Mophie's Juice pack Air
- a cycle mount (such as this one perhaps)
- some protection against rain. The Otterbox iPhone armor series would have been nice, but is no longer produced it seems. But perhaps Mophie's juice back with a waterproof bag would have been enough.
- a heart monitor which is really important when out for some serious exercise. such as smhearlink perhaps?
- Some turn by turn navigation software. Google Maps is really amazingly good, much better and faster than Garmin's software available on PCs amazingly enough. It has a pedestrian and a car mode, but not a cycle mode which is a pity. Still this would need to be tied up with the heart rate monitor, some visualization tool to tell you how fast you are going, some way of giving you directions, etc... This may come with a release of the next version of the iPhone, and I have seen some impressive demos of software called xGPS that provides turns by turn navigation on a jail broken iPhone.
All of this was perilously close to being possible. With a bit of energy I could have gotten all of this to work. What stopped me, was the data costs in Europe. I was going to leave France, go to Germany, Austria, the Czech republic, and Greece at the very least. And of course as soon as you leave your country of origin, data rates are simply not affordable: 9€ a Mega Byte. So that was clearly not an option. So the Garmin by allowing me to carry all the maps on the device and not requiring any internet connection is just the only solution for the international cyclist.
The Garmin software is also meant to work on OSX now, which it did not a few years ago. But it still does not work very well. I expressed my annoyance publicly after spending 8 hours trying to install the maps on the 2GB SIM card, and failing to. I had to do it from Windows in the end. That is a very very bad initial experience. It was a sunny day, and instead of being out on the road, I spent it trying to install and re-install software. I very nearly gave it all back there and then.
The Garmin software for OSX and PCs is dead slow. Google whose servers are on the other side of the world, has much faster responses. My feeling is that Garmin, being an MS-DOS company, does everything through disk access, because I could swear that it is not much faster on my dual 2.33Ghz Intel than it was on my 1.3Ghz Power Book.
Also the Garmin software does not have a cycle route calculation mode. It is only designed for cars. So you can't really sit down on your PC and calculate your route in advance there, because it won't be the same as what your GPS comes up with.
The cycle calculation mode on the Edge could do with a lot of improvements:
- Cycles are not cars. You can do a U-turn on a bicycle in an instant - you don't have to find the next intersection to make a turn. If on a cycle I don't turn after being warned, it is probably because I don't want to turn.
- In Germany and Austria, I noticed that Garmin does not seem to have such a good idea of where the cycle paths are. It would be really helpful to the GPS to know those.
- The Garmin path calculation algorithm is very slow. I think it recalculates the whole route whenever one makes a wrong turn. It should really just make a quick adaptation, and find the shortest smallest change required to stay on the same route.
- I am just about to check, but one very important list of shops the Garmin Edge should have are the cycle shops.
The Garmin Edge holds a good advantage over the onslaught of cell phone options, but if I were them I'd be watching the cell phones very carefully. They are not at all far from being able to offer some very decent, or equivalent solutions. (How far that is depends on your ideas of how quickly roaming rates will fall in Europe)