Review: Garmin 510 Cycling Computer

garmin510A few months ago I started noticing some strange data artifacts coming from my Garmin Edge 500 – e.g. abnormally low or high heart rate reading, spikes in elevation, loss of GPS signal. After immersing myself in trouble shooting [ I am indebted to DC Rainmaker], it became obvious that my bike computer had succumbed to  2 1/2 years of rainy rides and occasionally being dropped on the pavement.

Earlier this year, Garmin released the Edge 510: a color screen update of the iconic Edge 500. Here’s what’s different:

  • Larger, higher resolution touch screen color display
  • Bluetooth smart phone interface – so you can get weather updates, use Live Tracking [more about that later] and upload workout data
  • Longer battery life between charges
  • Redesigned GPS receiver that acquires satellite signals in seconds, rather than minutes
  • It’s bigger and weighs 18 grams more than the 500

Reviewers have not been altogether kind. I would summarize the criticism as falling mainly into the we thought you were going to give us more category. Apparently the expectation was that Garmin would take a giant technological leap for mankind. I recall the same kind of belly-aching when iPhone 5 didn’t blow the doors off of iPhone 4. Sometimes technology simply advances a bit without a worldwide media circus prophesying a better life for all of humanity. Hmmm. 

Impressions

The screen is a big improvement. In place of the 500’s low res BW screen, the Edge 510 has a higher resolution color touch screen. Some reviewers complained about difficulty reading the screen in bright sunlight. I’ve had no trouble in bright sun or deep shade – even when wearing sunglasses. An adjustment to the backlighting will give more contrast, if needed. Whereas I was unable to read the 500 display without my Rx sunglasses, I can easily read data from the 510’s display. The touch feature is not sensitive in the way we’ve come to expect from smart phones. But then again, we’re not going to play Fruit Ninja on our bicycle computer. [Are we?] I would characterize the touch as firm with a slightly longer duration. 

Blue tooth and Live Tracking. If you’re not traveling with a laptop, you can upload your data after pairing the 510 with your smartphone. You’ll need either the Garmin Fit or Connect apps – which are free. The Live Tracking feature allows others to see your progress in real time while out on a ride. If you ride on rural roads like I do, this is an amazing safety feature. In the event of emergency, bad weather or injury the rider can easily be found. You can read about the particulars in the Live Tracking link above. The weather update feature is cute, but I can look at the sky and pretty much guess at what’s happening around me. Anyway, all of this hinges on the very important assumption that you are carrying your smart phone with you.

Garmin made a few refinements that are worth mentioning:

  • The auto stop feature can be set to a speed threshold – e.g. 2 mph – so, if you’re walking your bike the timer won’t restart. If you manually stop the 510 during a rest break, the display shows a SAVE or DISCARD message until you hit the start button again. This helps people like me who forget to press the button when the ride resumes.
  • With all the differences in tire profiles, rim depth and width, the auto calculate feature for wheel diameter is pretty handy. For example my Bontrager training rims and my Dura Ace carbon composite rims are both shod with 700 x 25’s, but the wider rim and resultant lower profile of the Dura Ace is a different wheel diameter than the slimmer Bonty rims.
  • I like building workouts [intervals, for example] on the Garmin Connect web portal, and downloading them to the 510. The device will take you through a timed workout routine, and gives the option to set warning beeps if cadence or heart rate fall below goal values. To be fair, the 500 had this feature – but the 510 does it so much better.
  • Finally, if you have accurate elevation info, you can manually set a point of reference that helps the 510 calibrate and calculate elevation data. 

Things I don’t like. Currently there’s no mobile upload for Strava users – which is unfortunate. Adding this feature [meaning Garmin would licence Strava to build the app] would create a broader base for users of the 510. I would think this might be in Garmin’s best interest.

Otherwise, what’s not to like?

edge510vs500

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