25 November 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Garmin Edge 705 GPS

I don’t use a cycling computer most of the time. Usually I just go out and ride. However, on longer trips or new trails, I like to use a GPS to record the most important statistics so I can file them away on my computer and review them when needed. This is nice for trip planning, training, and whatnot. When Garmin introduced a GPS that doubles as a cycle computer, I bought it straight away. I started with the capable Garmin Edge 305, but quickly upgraded to the Edge 705 on its release this year. I won’t go into the comparisons between the two units as they are many and that is not the focus with this review. You can go to the Garmin website to get a comprehensive list of differences. The Edge 705 is a GPS and a Cycle Computer in one, and I find that I (and most people) under-use this unit’s capabilities in both aspects. What I mean to say is that one can do so much more with the Edge than I am doing, that I really can’t give you a comprehensive review of every little function. I will, however, show you how awesome this unit is- even for me.

One of the most redeeming features of the GPS handling the cycle computer’s data (for me) is that you have eliminated the wires and magnets and crappy batteries that hinder your typical bike computer. Anyone who has used, or is using, one of those can tell you that they can be a pain in the ass and are often not working when you think they are. The Edge is simple. Program your figures (weight, age, wheel-size, etc…) into it once when you buy it, and install a mount on each bike that you would like to use it with. Voila, you are ready to go. All you have to do when you get to the trail is turn the Edge on, wait for it to acquire enough satellites (usually about 2 minutes), reset the timer, and then push start. The rest is all automatically recorded. It even works through the top of my hydration pack, so you can use it for other sports or if you have a mounting issue (i.e. riding a bike that no longer has a mounting bracket, which has happened to me a few times).

The 705 has all the usual features of a bike computer like: speed, distance, time, etc… but it also has a bunch of other useful (or not so) data that can be displayed. For instance, you can display the time the sun will set or rise that day, or altitude, or total descent and ascent. In fact there are so many I’m just going to list some of them: Compass heading, calories used, elevation, grade, & bearing. It doesn’t stop there though; there are a multitude of settings that have to do with speed, cadence, heart-rate, and power. The 705 has no power measurement capabilities itself- The power data requires that you have a third-party ANT+Sport-enabled power meter which the 705 will gather data from. Cadence is an option with the Garmin 705 and not included on the base package. Garmin offers the 705 in several different packages. I bought the 705 with the heart rate monitor and then bought the SD card map separately. They offer it as the 705 with HR, or the 705 with HR, a wheel speed and cadence sensors, or with all of the above and pre-loaded European or North American map cards.

With the SD card installed the Edge can also take care of all the mapping duties you might require. I bought the topographic version for the Mountain South and it covers all of New Mexico and Arizona. If I ride somewhere else in the country, I can buy that SD card, slip it in the slot and I am ready to go- no software installs or nonsense like that. The topo maps from Garmin are pretty damn good too. All the important stuff seems to be on there, and although they aren’t as detailed as a 7.5 minute series paper map- it’s more than adequate for most of the lower 48. The high detail 24k Series SD cards are not available for all areas of the country, but most of the Rockies and the West Coast are available- the rest of the country is covered by the less detailed Topo USA SD card. In use though, I only look at the 705’s map once in awhile when riding and it’s not my go-too reference map when on the trail- but it could be. It just takes a bit more time to zoom-in and zoom-out to confidently navigate using the small screen. I have used it very effectively to navigate short-cuts back to the trail-head and that kind of thing. It is very helpful if you get lost of course.

The Edge 705 has a color screen which is not so important for the computer functions, but is great for the mapping functions. The battery life is supposed to be 15hrs. but in reality is more like 11-13 hours depending on temperature and other conditions. That is still a long time to be on a bike so it should cover most situations that a cyclist will be in. The Edge uses a lithium-ion rechargeable battery- the best kind. The 705 (and the rest of the edge series) uses a new series of GPS antennas that are much more sensitive than the previous generations. Once the GPS has locked on to satellites, I have yet to be in a situation where it doesn’t work. I have even had it work inside before. The whole unit is very easy to use. The set-up is fairly easy and intuitive. The use of the unit on the trail is so easy that most techno-retards can manage it with no trouble at all.

If you are a data hound or a techno-geek, you really have to check the website to get the full details of what you can do with this unit can do. It can do things like “share, store, and analyze” your routes and workouts so you can swap with friends or see how your training is going. You can even use the unit to race against another rider's time on the same course. I don’t do this much. Actually, all I do in this regard is store rides in my computer’s database so I can refer to them for planning future trips. My only complaint would be to have some way to replace the battery or add a piggy-back unit so that the 705 could be used for rides even longer than 13hours (i.e. 24hr. racing). Still this is a minor niggle.

The Edge 705 is very expensive, especially if all you want is a good cycle computer- but notice I didn’t say it was “overkill”. Many people would tell you it is overkill if you just want a cycle computer, but that is not actually the problem because you never have to see, or deal with, all that extra data if you don’t want to. The reality is that it’s just too expensive for most people to use that way. However, standard cycle-computers don’t tend to last that long or work that well with mountain biking and if the Edge 705 is too expensive, there are Edge models that start as low as $249.00 (which is still a fair amount of money).If you want a hassle-free cycle computer and feel like you could use the GPS aspect or any of the other functions of the Edge, then I highly recommend it. Garmin is very good at support too, so that big chunk of money you paid is well protected.

In the end, the Edge 705 is an unbelievably reliable electronic tool for cycling, that can be as simple or as detailed as you want it to be. It includes (as standard) 2 bike mounts, a USB cable, an AC charger, and an owner’s manual (on disc) along with the rest of whichever package you choose. The 705 and HR package that I bought retails for $499.00.

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