Shiny New Things: Garmin Edge 25

Edge25onstem

Garmin recently released two new GPS cyclecomputers, the Edge 20 and 25, which might interest those of you who are looking for a simple cyclometer but with the ability to record a GPS track to post to Strava or other online fitness/mapping sites. By Garmin standards the 20 and 25 are “bare bones” cycling computers giving you just the basics—current speed, mileage, average speed, ride time, etc. and in the case of the Edge 25 also cadence and heart rate. The Edge 20 is completely self-contained and goes for $130; the Edge 25 costs $170 and that premium buys you the ability to pair it with an optional heart rate monitor, cadence and speed sensor. By comparison Cateye makes a heart rate cyclometer that does everything the Garmin 20 and 25 do except GPS and runs for about $115. Keep in mind that the Edge 25 does not include any sensors and their cost bumps up the overall cost quite a bit. In fact, the overall cost starts to run into the territory of Garmin’s mid-line computers such as the Edge 500, which although long in the tooth can be had for about $150-$200 and which has many more features including the ability to be paired with a power meter.

The Edge 20 and 25 have two “features” that stand out: they’re by far the simplest Garmin cyclometers to use and they have a small, pleasing form factor. Neither simplicity nor ease of use are Garmin’s design forté but it has mostly managed to accomplish both of these by drastically cutting back on the number of features and by making the screen small so that at most three metrics can be displayed at once. Compare this with the Edge 1000, which has a plethora of customizable training pages and up to ten fields that can be displayed at once—talk about distraction!

I’ve been using an Edge 25 so I’ll focus on that. If you want a full review (actually, a preliminary hands-on review) you can do to dcrainmaker. There is also a good summary at road.cc. I’m going to comment on just a few salient things that have either irked or pleased me.

Size. I was looking for a cyclometer to replace a dead Polar and I wanted it to be small. Although I also use a Garmin 800 and 1000, I find their size to be awkward, bulky, and inelegant. Also their advanced navigation features, although quite useful if not indispensible for touring, are irrelevant for riding around home. I’ve always admired the long-gone Avocet cyclometers for their small size and the Edge 25 comes very close—it’s barely bigger than the mount to which it attaches. It’s unobtrusive and gives your bike a very clean, old school appearance as it does on my DeRosa. Of course if you tend to go to town on accessorizing your bike, e.g. full-size bike pump, lights, bell, handlebar bag, etc., having a small cyclometer for the sake of esthetics is, well, pointless.

Edge25

Screen. The screen is black and white and very readable in sun or shade, better than the older Edge 800 I still use. The two data pages have just three fields presented vertically. This is a lot less visual clutter than on Garmin’s other units, which can have eight to ten fields per page. However the size of the type is almost the same in all three fields—the central field is just a hair bigger than the one above and the one below. I’d prefer it be significantly bigger to increase its salience when glancing at it quickly: 90% of the time all I want to know is how fast/slow am I going. The screen is small so all three metrics are close together and in this case it’s both a plus (easy to see all three at once) and a minus (now which one is speed and which is distance?).

Screen Management. It’s a simple button push to go through the pages. The screen is not touch sensitive and that’s good because I’ve found Garmin’s capacitance touch screens on the 800 and 1000 to be just modestly reliable, I’ve found the 25’s buttons to be a relief especially on such a small screen.

Set up, Part 1. It’s pretty simple especially if you have no sensors to pair it with. It relies on GPS to calculate distance and speed, so no calibration is necessary. Like Garmin’s newer units, the Edge 25 uses GPS and GLONASS satellites, so the location accuracy (and hence distance and speed) is quite good. The Edge 800 only is capable of using GPS satellites and it’s usually (although not always) accurate, so I think the Edge 25 should be even better and more consistent in areas where satellite signals are weaker (e.g. in the trees or near tall buildings or landforms). Locking onto satellites is very quick when using both systems, a matter of seconds. By comparison with my old Edge 800, which only uses GPS satellites, it usually is less than a minute but sometimes, especially at a new location, it can be much longer.) You can also turn off using GLONASS satellites if you want to conserve power. Configuring the fields on the two data pages is also very easy because the choice of metrics is purposely kept to just these: speed, distance, time, average speed, calories, and total ascent. On the 800 and 1000 the variety of metrics you can display is positively dizzying and to be honest, really unnecessary for 99% of us; the Edge 1000 has 92 different metrics!

Set up, Part 2. Going back to their handheld backpacking GPS devices, Garmin has a long history of providing, uh, challenging documentation. Their manuals tend to have overly terse explanations of how to set up, use, and problem solve their devices. For example years ago when I got the Edge 800–and being a “I read the manual before I do anything” guy–I tried to follow their directions on setting it up only to run into roadblocks. After much swearing and pulling of hair, I found out that there was an unmentioned firmware update that changed the interface so that the included manual was no longer accurate. Keeping to that theme in the case of the Edge 25, they “forgot” to mention some critical things when you try to connect the 25 to the optional sensors. First, it turns out you can pair only one cadence sensor and one speed sensor (or just one cadence/speed sensor). If you have more than one bike, you’re going to have to re-pair your 25 each time you switch bikes. Second, if you use a speed sensor instead of relying on the GPS to calculate distance and speed, Garmin never tells you that you don’t need to calibrate the sensor as you do with almost any other cyclometer. The Edge 25 does it automatically against its GPS signal. Now, that’s great but it never tells you it’s doing this or that it has accomplished doing it nor is anything mentioned in their paper or online documentation. Third, when you do pair optional sensors the Edge 25 will alert you that a pairing is successful, but the message is flashed across the screen so quickly that if you were not staring at the screen the whole time, you will probably miss it. The natural thing one does is in that case is to think that the pairing wasn’t successful or didn’t start and then to attempt again to pair the units. You will then get a message that pairing “wasn’t successful”. That’s because you actually did pair successfully the first time and now the Edge 25 thinks you’re trying to pair to a second sensor. After a round of puzzlement that turned to annoyance, I finally figured out that everything was alright and paired when I spun the crank and the wheel. Be warned.

Power. Oh, you have a power measurement device like a PowerTap, Stages, or a Quarq? Well, don’t get the Edge 25. Even though it can connect to ANT+ sensors, it apparently was deliberately dumbed down so it could not be used for power measurement. Of course Garmin doesn’t mention this. It’s such an obvious thing to include, why would Garmin not? It’s probably because they want you to buy their much more expensive 510/520/810/1000 models that can measure power. If you’re really into training and racing the one factor you’re most interested in is power, so the Garmin 25 is not going to help you at all.

Uploading your track. I don’t have anything to say to you Stravanauts because I don’t use Strava and I find Garmin Connect to be interesting but pointless. But I do upload tracks to Garmin’s BaseCamp application and it works easily, the same as with the 800 and 1000.

Battery life. I haven’t pushed the boundaries of battery life yet since most of my rides are under five hours. But the advertised battery life is eight hours. I’ve done some three to four hour rides with both GPS and GLONASS on and the battery has been down about 60%. Since most of us don’t do rides that last eight hours, this isn’t a problem. But if you’re doing centuries and taking your time or you like to do epic all-day rides, this isn’t the device for you. There is no way to attach an auxiliary battery pack while the 25 is attached to the bike mount, so when the battery dies it’s game over. On the other hand I’ve encountered the same problem with Garmin’s flagship cyclocomputer, the 1000. The 1000’s real battery life barely goes over nine hours; I can stretch that a bit by cutting power usage through turning off the screen, turning off GLONASS, and putting the device to sleep at rest stops. But those are all more than minor inconveniences and cause other annoying problems. But the 1000 can attach to an external battery pack if you use a dedicated bar mount rather than Garmin’s inexpensive quarter-turn mount, and that’s exactly what I do now. The only way to hook an external battery pack on the 25 is to remove it from the bar mount, attach it to its recharging mount, which has a USB connector, and plug it into a USB battery pack. But then you can’t attach it to your bars. I suppose you could then use duct tape to attach it to the stem but that seems inelegant!

Navigation. The Edge 25 has rudimentary navigation ability. You can download a track from Garmin Connect (incidentally, who uses Garmin Connect??) and the 25 will give you bread crumb navigation on its tiny screen. Keep in mind that the screen has no map and you’ll be following a black line with no other information. If I really wanted to download a route to the 25, I’d get it from RideWithGPS rather than Garmin Connect, but Garmin doesn’t currently provide a way to do that. In any case navigation is pointless for most of us because we’re riding at home on the same routes we do every day. Robust navigation is usually only critical if you’re riding on unfamiliar roads such as on a tour. If you want real navigation, you have to step way up to the 810 or the 1000. If you want to use the Edge 25 on a club ride with breadcrumb navigation, in your computer you would have to export the RideWithGPS route, upload it to Garmin Connect, and then download it to the Edge 25. It’s a bit of a pain.

Despite my kvetches about the 25, now that it’s up and working I do like it. As you can tell, I most appreciate its simple, limited abilities and interface. I also like its diminutive size and easy-to-push buttons. However the price is something else. If you just want a simple, bare-bones cyclometer, you could get one for under $40 and not pay the $170 that Garmin demands. A less expensive cyclometer would probably have a battery that lasts a year or two rather than eight hours. On the other hand, you then do not get a track, heart rate measurement, nor the sundry online and phone communication that the Edge 25 has (and that I didn’t care about). You would also have a wired wheel sensor, which may offend your aesthetic sensibility.

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