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by Matt de Neef
November 27, 2015
Photography by Matt de Neef
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
The most recent addition to Garmin’s range of GPS cycling computers is the Edge 520. Following on from the bulky Edge 1000, the 520 is the latest addition to the 5xx line, joining the seemingly ubiquitous Edge 500 and the more modern Edge 510.
CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef spent some time testing the Edge 520 to find out what’s new and how this latest addition to the Edge line-up compares to its predecessors.
The Edge 520 is slightly smaller than the Edge 510 and has almost the same external dimensions as the Edge 500. The screen on the 520 is considerably larger than that on the 500 though, and is bigger even than the 510 screen, despite the smaller unit size overall.
The Edge 500 on the left and the new Edge 520 on the right.
While the Edge 510 and the more recent Edge 1000 and 810 have a touch screen in addition to a handful of buttons, the Edge 520 has eschewed a touch screen in favour of more buttons. There are seven in all: an Enter button and Back button on the right of the unit; a Start/Pause button and a Lap button on the bottom; and an on-off/brightness button and up and down buttons on the left-hand side.
While the touchscreens on previous models weren’t perfect (the 510 in particular), I found myself missing the touchscreen on the Edge 520. In a world of smartphones, tablets and phablets, going from touchscreens back to buttons feels like a step in the wrong direction.
I found the arrangement of the buttons to be somewhat awkward at times as well. Placing the up/down buttons and the Enter button on opposites sides and ends of the unit made it uncomfortable to cycle through menus, even when using two hands. The buttons also feel considerably stiffer than in previous units, further reducing the ease of use.
The Edge 520 has seven buttons in all.
The Edge 520 has a standard IPX7 waterproof rating meaning it can withstand “Incidental exposure to water of up to 1 metre for up to 30 minutes”. It will certainly cope with even the heaviest rain you’re likely to face while out on the bike.
As with the rest of Garmin’s cycling computers, the Edge 520 uses the ever-popular quarter-lock mounting system. Included in the box are two mounting options: an out-front mount or the older but no-less effective stem mount.
For anyone that’s used a Garmin Edge device before (and particularly the 510, 810 or 1000) using the 520 will be a familiar experience. Once you’ve entered some basic personal info (height, weight etc.), using the device is as simple as waiting for a GPS connection, selecting your activity profile (Train, Indoor or Race, all of which can be customised) then hitting start to record your ride. Hit the Lap button whenever you want to create a new lap marker, and when you’re finished the ride, hit the pause button then save the ride to your device.
As with other Edge devices (and indeed with just about every cycling computer) the Edge 520 features a number of data screens that can be customised to show the information you want to see. Cycling through the screens is a case of hitting the up and down buttons on the side of the unit.
As you’d expect the 520 can receive data from a range of ANT+ devices including heartrate monitors, powermeters, speed & cadence sensors, smart trainers, Shimano Di2 shifting systems (via the D-Fly wireless system) and so on. This data can then be displayed on the various data screens in whatever arrangement takes your fancy.
One of the data screens available by default is a map. Sadly, the base map that comes with the Edge 520 is terrible. There’s almost no detail on the map at all, bar a few major roads. Thankfully, replacing the base map with a much more usable third-party alternative is easy. Simply follow the instructions on DC Rainmaker and you’ll have detail-rich OpenStreetMaps on your Gamin Edge 520 in a matter of minutes.
Bear in mind that with limited storage space on the Edge 520 and no Micro-SD card slot, you’ll need to be judicious with the size of the map you put on your device, so as not to run out of space mid-ride.
OpenStreetMaps can be put on the Edge 520 for free. Bike tracks and other paths are shown too (see the purple line on the bottom left of the screen).
The Edge 520 doesn’t do route-finding and directions like the Edge 1000 — that is, you can’t punch in an address and the device will find the best route and direct you along it. What the Edge 520 can do is show you where you are on the map and help you to follow a course that’s overlaid on that map.
Loading a course file with a cue sheet onto your Edge 520 will give you turn-by-turn instructions in addition to a coloured line on the map to follow. I used TCX files downloaded from Ride With GPS for this purpose to direct me through a three-day bikepacking trip in unfamiliar terrain. The Garmin provided reliable directions and always provided a visual and audio reminder when a turn was approaching.
But as good as the maps are for following courses and giving you a sense of where you are, if you’re looking to zoom in or out quickly or find a route mid-ride, you’re probably better off pulling out your smartphone and opening the Google Maps app or equivalent.
In addition to the regular ANT+ connectivity, the Edge 520 can also connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth Smart as per the Edge 510, 810 and 1000. Doing so will allow your Garmin to display weather updates and any text messages you receive, upload your ride to Garmin Connect without connecting to your computer and, if you’re using the Garmin Connect smartphone app, use LiveTrack.
We’ve covered LiveTrack in previous Garmin Edge reviews, but the idea is that the combination of Garmin Edge unit and internet-connected smartphone allows friends or loved ones to log in to a webpage and track your progress on a map during your ride. It’s a nifty feature but one we’ve never really found a need to use in the time since its roll-out.
The dependency on an internet connection means LiveTrack is also of limited use when you’re riding away from built-up areas and while Bluetooth Smart is less battery-hungry than its predecessor, some users will no doubt worry about draining battery life on their smartphone.
Live Track can be used to keep your friends and family abreast of where you’re riding.
Unlike the Edge 1000 (and some of Garmin’s triathlon watches), the Edge 520 doesn’t have Wi-Fi connectivity with which to directly upload activities to Garmin Connect. But with numerous ways to upload rides already, this omission is unlikely to be missed by many.
Like the Edge 510 and Edge 1000 before it, the Edge 520 has both GPS and GLONASS (a Russian satellite-based navigation system) and acquiring satellites at the start of a ride is quick — normally within 10 seconds.
Probably the biggest new feature for the Edge 520 is the introduction of Strava Live Segments. Garmin introduced the idea of live segments with the launch of the Edge 1000, allowing riders to load particular road segments onto their device and try to set a new personal best or overall record while being given live feedback. The problem was that the only segments available were those created through Garmin Connect and with most riders preferring Strava over Garmin Connect, this meant the number of segments was limited, as too was the number of people that had attempted those segments.
While frustrating, it made sense for Garmin not to include Strava segments — Garmin wanted to further develop its own online community. But since then, Garmin and Strava have started working much more closely with one another and it’s now possible to load Strava segments on to your Edge 520 (and indeed on to the Edge 510, 810 and 1000 thanks to a recent firmware update).
There’s only limited information in the Edge 520 manual and on the Garmin website about how to get this working and the best explanation we’ve found comes from DC Rainmaker. As he explains, you’ll need a Strava Premium account (the Edge 520 comes with a three-month trial) and you’ll need to connect your Strava account with Garmin Connect.
To do so, head to the Garmin Connect ‘Sports’ page, click on the cog in the Segments pane and then authorise Garmin Connect to connect to your Strava account.
The rest of the process is automated — any Strava segments you’ve starred (“favourited”) or set a goal on, plus a selection of dynamically generated local segments, will all be sent from Strava to Garmin Connect and loaded onto your Edge 520 next time your device connects to Garmin Connect (via Bluetooth/smartphone app or via computer).
Like with the live segments functionality in the Edge 1000, you don’t need to do anything specific to start a Strava Live Segment. Simply ride to the start of a segment that’s loaded onto your device (they’ll show up on the map — see image below) and the Edge 520 will give you a countdown then start recording your effort, comparing your time with that of a rider who’s gone slightly faster than your own PB on the segment.
Approaching the start of a segment. Note the green line on the map denoting the segment.
Integrating Strava segments into this live segments functionality is certainly a step forward for Garmin. It appears the company has realised the value of tapping into Strava’s massive community as way of potentially selling more units. This comes at the expense of being able to push people exclusively towards Garmin’s own segments, but that’s only really a downside for Garmin, not for the average user (particularly given Garmin Connect segments can still be used for live segment tracking, for those that don’t use Strava).
Note that while you can still use Garmin Connect segments on the 520, it’s a case of one or the other at any given time: Garmin segments or Strava segments. You can toggle between the two in Garmin Connect.
While Strava Live Segments is probably the most important new feature of the 520, there are a number of other smaller features that have been introduced to the Edge range with the 520.
Features like the Recovery Advisor (how long you should rest after your latest activity), a VO2max estimator, functional threshold power (FTP) tracking and testing, and personal records have all come across from Garmin’s range of triathlon watches. There’s also the ability to connect the Edge 520 to your ‘smart trainer’ of choice via ANT+ in order to manually control the resistance. I tried this with the Tacx Neo trainer (full review coming soon) and it was easy to setup and easy to use.
When the Edge 520 is connected to a smart trainer, you will have the option of setting the resistance, as well as a range of other functions like riding a pre-loaded course with gradient feedback.
These new functions aren’t likely to sell Edge 520s on their own, but they do add some degree of value, depending on how you plan to use the Edge 520. The Recovery Advisor is probably the feature I found myself using most — I found it interesting and informative to see roughly how long (roughly) it would take to recover from a ride I’d just done.
According to Garmin, the Edge 520 battery should last for 15 hours before needing a recharge. Contrast this with the claimed 20-hour run time for the 510 and the 18-hour claimed run time of the six-year-old Edge 500.
It’s worth noting that following a course seems to drain the battery quicker than normal — a five hour ride with just over four hours moving time drained the battery to just 53%.
As with previous Edge units, there are two options when purchasing the Edge 520: device only or the performance bundle. The former comes with the Edge 520 unit, two mounts (one out-front and one stem mount), a tether, a USB cable and some quick-start user manuals. Buying the bundle will get you all of the above plus a heartrate monitor strap, a cadence sensor and a speed sensor.
At the time of writing you can buy the Edge 520 directly through the Garmin website for AUD$449 or for roughly $390 elsewhere online. The bundle will set you back $559 through the Garmin site or less than $500 from other online retailers.
By way of contrast, the Edge 510 bundle will currently cost you just shy of $400, the Edge 810 bundle is just short of $500, and the Edge 1000 bundle retails for between $600 and $700.
The Edge 520 brings Garmin’s class-leading range of GPS cycling computers up to date in impressive fashion, delivering a variety of new features and a fresh design, all while sticking with a tried and tested formula.
The Strava Live Segments feature, while a welcome addition, probably isn’t enough to make the Edge 520 a must-buy, given the functionality is also now available on the 510, 810 and 1000 as well. But the improved mapping (compared with the 510) and other minor features mean that riders looking for an upgrade to their Edge 500 (or those looking for their first GPS cycling unit) will be well served by the 520.
The decision to do away with a touch screen feels like something of a backward step and the placement and stiffness of the 520’s seven buttons makes for an at-times awkward user experience. But overall the Edge 520 is another solid offering from Garmin and one that will do just about everything the average rider needs a GPS cycling computer to do.