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Friday, November 09, 2018

Review: Garmin Edge Explore

When eBay had a 15% site-wide coupon, I gave in and bought the Garmin Edge Explore, the latest of the Garmin Navigation/Touring units. I'd been very unsatisfied with my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt's navigation and dependence on the smartphone for routing, and thought that I wouldn't miss the barometric altimeter on the more expensive units that have all sorts of training and Strava live segments features that I would never use anyway.

First of all, the big 3" screen is awesome. I love it, especially when the brightness is turned up. Everything is sparkly clear, and the radar output looks gorgeous on it. It paired happily with my speed and cadence sensors as well as my RTL-510, but wouldn't activate the RTL-510 as a light to automatically turn it on. This might have been because the RTL-510 was already paired with my son's Edge 25.

On short rides the unit is nothing short of superb. One of the improvements Garmin made since my venerable Garmin Edge 800, for instance, is that on the road, sharp curves will provoke a warning as you approach them. This happens even without navigation turned on!

Garmin sent me a coupon upon registering the unit, and I tried using it to buy the EU maps. When Garmin Express tried to download the map, however, it complained about the lack of storage, even though the unit reported 8GB free! A call to Garmin confirmed that I needed 10GB, which meant that the lack of SDCard storage meant I couldn't have both EU and US maps on the unit at the same time! Garmin refunded my money.

On the Levi Gran Fondo, however, the unit failed in several ways that made me request a return. First of all, it disconnected from the Varia Radar in the middle of the ride, about 3 hours in. I can understand my Vivoactive HR doing that, since I'd get off the bike and go to the bathroom and get food at rest stops. But the Edge stayed on the bike the whole time, and had no excuse. Bowen's Edge 25 had no problem staying connected. The only solution would have been to stop the ride and save and then restart the unit. It also disconnected from the cadence sensor at the same time. I called Garmin support and they blamed it on (1) the length of the tandem causing disconnects and (2) being surrounded by lots of other cyclists with ANT+ units.

I didn't think that it would bother me not to have a barometric altimeter, since my Vivoactive HR would record the proper elevation gain (or loss) anyway. But it turned out that because of the missing barometric altimeter, the unit also doesn't have a temperature sensor either. And it wouldn't pair with my Garmin Tempe sensor! So I was now missing 3 pieces of data that I would have liked to have displayed on that nice big screen: temperature, gradient, and elevation.

That in itself might not really have bothered me, but the last straw was that about 6 hours into the ride the unit complained about low battery and then died on the way back to the parking lot after the ride. Looking at Garmin's specs, the unit is rated for 12 hours of battery life, and to get only half that was disappointing. The Edge 25, for instance, had no issue staying on for the entire ride, and neither did my Vivoactive HR. Various net searches indicate that lowering the brightness from 90% to 60% and then staying off the map screen would yield better battery life, but the screen at 60% loses much of its appeal to me, and that, in combination with all the other disadvantages made me conclude sadly that the unit should go back to Garmin.

So here's who might find this unit useful:

  • Flat-landers who don't need elevation/gradient/temperature data
  • Navigationally challenged riders who don't exceed the battery life of the unit (about 6-7 hours)
  • Those who don't tend to tour in other continents, or who don't mind swapping maps in and out of the unit
Unfortunately, I don't fall into the above categories.


Scott said...

It sounds like "people who would be happy with this unit" is approximately equal to "people who would be happy with a phone mount"!

Piaw Na said...

Most phones won't survive even a 6 hour ride with GPS/navigation turned on.

Mariposafan said...

Mostly I love the idea of this unit but I'm worried about that battery life. Altimeter and other connections aren't an issue for me, long rides are. I'm checking to see if there are ways to connect it to a spare battery (carried in my handlebar bag) while it's on the bike. Garmin confirmed that it will charge while in use so that's good, but the charging port underneath the unit is...bizarre!