Garmin Edge 500 vs. Polar

| March 20, 2010 8:11 am
Garmin Edge 500 vs. Polar

by Franz Kelsch

For more than 20 years I have been a fan of Polar Heart Rate monitors, a company that was the pioneer in the field. Being one who both runs and cycles, I was happy when Polar came out with their tri-sports S625X watch. When coupled with the footpod and the bike sensors, I was able to measure speed and distance for both running and biking.

It is obvious to many that Polar seems to have lost it’s luster, being replaced by other companies, most notably by Garmin, who focused on GPS.  I did not have an interest early on because tests showed that the early running Garmin watches, which relied only on GPS, were not as accurate in tracking distance, as the Polar HRM was when using the footpod.  This was confirmed later when Garmin released a footpod for their subsequent running watches.

I liked the advantage of the 625X which I could move from bike to bike and to my wrist for running.  I could also download the data to my computer to not only track my progress, but analyze my workouts.  It was this later feature that started to become frustrating with the Polar.  My Polar 625X relied on the ancient IrDa method to transfer the data and also only worked under Windows.  Despite considerable talk on the various blogs, Polar has continued to ignore the Mac, which Garmin started to make software for their devices to run on both Windows and the Mac.

Garmin released the Edge 205/305 series and they looked appealing.  But I heard that the battery only lasted 10 hours, not long enough for some of the double centuries.  They then released the Edge 705, which supported maps, and with a longer battery life.  But the price seemed too high for me.  When Garmin released the new, smaller, Edge 500, I decided to make the purchase.  After a few days, I am ready to compare using it with my two Polar 625X HRMs.

Weight

Turns out that the new Edge 500 was the same weight as the my Polar 625X HRM.

Mounting

I always thought that the Polar watches were easy enough to move from bike to wrist to bike, but the Edge 500 is a dream, with a very clever bike mount that only requires a quarter turn.  My package included two bike mounts and a lot of the special o-rings that are used to attach the mount to the bike, either on the stem or handlebar.

ANT+ Devices

The Garmin Edge supports connection to ANT+ devices.  I purchased the bundle with the heart rate strap and the bike speed/cadence sensor.  Too bad that I could not use my Polar heart rate straps, which are excellent.  If you have a power meter that supports ANT+, you can pair it with the Edge 500.  Note that you can use the Garmin Edge 500 without the speed/cadence pickup since it will use the GPS to calculate speed/distance.  This works well when you have a GPS signal and there are not a lot of sharp bends.  I use this method to mount the Edge 500 on the rear of our tandem, where it replaced out Garmin eTrek GPS.

The speed/cadence sensor is a very nice single unit design that mounts on the chain-stay.  I had no issue with the transmission even though the pickup is quite a bit further away from the Edge 500 unit than is typical where you have a speed pickup mounted on the front fork.

Initial Setup

After charging the device for the recommended 3 hours and turning it on, I was put directly into the setup.  I noted how fast it found the satellites compared with my Garmin eTrek, even though I was indoors.  The setup involved entering your age, weight, height, etc.

Display

Then I went about modifying the display.  Similar to the Garmin hiking GPS units I have owned, I was pleased to find out you could select what data to put where you want it.  You are given 3 different pages you can switch between.  For each page, you can set from 1 to 8 data fields to view at one time.  If you select 5 or fewer fields, one field is displayed at the top in larger characters.

The number of different data you can pick from is amazing.

Cadence Heart Rate Laps Speed
Cadence – Avg. HR – %HRR Power Speed – Avg
Cadence – Lap HR – %Max Power – %FTP Speed – Lap
Calories HR – Avg Power – 30x Avg. Speed – Max
Distance HR – Avg. %HRR Power – 3s Avg. Temperature
Distance – Lap HR – Avg.%Max Power – Avg. Time
Elevation HR – Lap Power – Lap Time – Avg. Lap
GPS Accuracy HR – Lap %HRR Power – Max Time – Elapsed
Grade HR – Lap %Max Power – kU Time – Lap
Heading HR Graph Power Zone Time of Day
HR Zone Total Ascent
Total Descent
VS – 30s Avg.
Vertical Speed

One thing I notice when setting up the Edge 500 was how difficult it was for me to read. I was not sure why since the size characters on the display were similar to my Polar HRM.  So I compared the two together, mounted on the bike.

The difference in the contrast is quite striking.  The Edge 500 has a contrast adjustment but that seemed to have little affect.  In all cases it was much easier for me to read the Polar 625X display.  Having used the Edge 500 on several rides now, I did note that reading anything but the large sized font at the top, is hard.  Those with better eyesight may not have an issue.

This image is from the Garmin website. I would like to know how they photographed it so the screen is so readable.

Data Download

After taking my first ride I was anxious to download from the device.  I installed the free Garmin Training Center software on my Mac.  I connected the Edge via a min-USB cord, and it was immediately found and the workout was brought in.  I was amazed how good this software was.

I find this layout much better than the Polar software, which mixes your speed, heart rate, elevation all on one graph.  Compare the above view with what I had with the Polar software shown below.

Web Based Options

Garmin also offers free web based software called Garmin Connect.  I gave that a try and the data from the Edge was brought in just as easily.

I tried some of the other web based applications.  One of particular note is Strava.  This site requires payment but does a good job of analyzing your data.

This site offers a very interesting feature.  When you upload your Edge 500 files to it, it can determine when you do certain climbs and then compares your times against other Strava users.  When I did the Metcalf Mauler ride, it knew I had climbed Metcalf and compared with other Strava users.  Too bad that I didn’t have this Garmin GPS device last year when I climbed Metcalf in 13:18, or I would be KOM on their page.

Conclusion

I am happy with my purchase of the Garmin Edge 500 and have taken the Polar speed sensor off my main bike.   It has found a home on the rear of our tandem, replacing the Gramin eTrex I was using.   Downloading the data is much easier, especially for Mac users since I no longer need to boot into Windows to get my data.  The options for analyzing the data is much greater.  I am disappointed in the screen readability.  I am not sure why Garmin can not use the same type of LCD screen that Polar uses, which would make it much easier to read while riding.  Having a GPS opens up a lot of possibilities, such as the automated climb time comparisons that sites like Strava offer.  For a very in-depth review of the Garmin Edge 500, read the blog posting by DC Rainmaker.

12 Responses to “Garmin Edge 500 vs. Polar”

CCROBLES wrote a comment on May 24, 2010

I was making my mind that I needed an edge 500.. but IMHO bad screen readability is the greatest of all sins on an outdoor device. I’m definitely not buying this and can’t for my life imagine what they were thinking when they choose to use that screen 🙁 I will continue with my polar + mobile phone with external bluetooth GPS solution.

[…] Edge 500, which was primarily built for cylcling weights no more than the Polar 625X.  See my previous post for the detail […]

Manren wrote a comment on November 1, 2010

My only comment as an owner of both the Polar CS-600 and Garmin Edge 205 would be in regard to the software. I do prefer the Polar layout versus the Garmin. I prefer to view my stats in the format that Polar provides. I can view everything on one screen and cross-reference any point in time by clicking on say your heartbeats per minute near a mountain top and view all of my stats at once. The Garmin splits it out individually and it’s not so easy to correlate since you can’t overlap the data. I also do prefer the battery life on the Polar.

As for the Garmin, it does have a lot going for it. Better illumination at night. Data field customization is easier to do and it uses ANT+ which is pretty much an industry standard at this point. The GPS is second to none but if it only just had the option to read like the Polar graph.

So to sum it up, I have a love/hate relationship with both products. The Polar is looking a little long in the tooth and the Garmin has shortcomings in battery life and overlaying data on the software side (but that could be just my meaningful preference).

Just my two cents…

The Adventures of Franz » Poor Man’s Garmin Forerunner sent a pingback on September 7, 2011

[…] Garmin Edge 500, which was primarily built for cycling weights no more than the Polar 625X. See my previous post for the detail […]

Les McElhaney wrote a comment on December 3, 2011

Looking at your Polar and Garmin plots, I see HR for both. I am curious if you wore 2 HR belts/sensors? If so, how did your total calories burned compare? I use a Garmin Edge 305 and see calorie counts that look suspiciously high.

Franz wrote a comment on December 5, 2011

I did some tests using two heart rate straps, one for the Polar and one for the Garmin. The Garmin seems to report lower calories when using a heart rate strap, and higher calories if not wearing a strap. Of course the Polar will only report calories if you are using a heart rate strap. I was going to write up a report about this with the data, but never got around to doing it.

Gunnar Christensen wrote a comment on December 14, 2011

I also own a Garmin 705 and a polar unit with power meter. The only thing that keeps me from switching 100% over to Garmin is the fact that Polar offers the least expensive power meter on the market.

The Strava web site is also addictive and keeps me using my Garmin devices…..

Also, I have to agree with a previous post that the Polar software is superior in my opinion to the Garmin software.

Scrimager wrote a comment on December 28, 2011

I own the Polar 625x and I’ve been fairly impressed with it. My only complaint is the chest strap defrayed and I couldn’t get a HR to display about 30% of the time. I am a long distance runner more than anything and I found the footpod to be as accurate as anything available on the market today. However, I have read many articles complaining about the speed/cadence sensors from Polar. Not to mention, they can not be mounted on the rear chainstay to monitor speed/cadence while riding on an indoor trainer. I know it’s sinful to ride indoors, but sometimes I don’t have a choice.

Question: does anyone know if the Garmin speed/distance sensor can be read by a Polar 625x? I would love to keep my Polar for running, but I want a rear mounted sensor.

Franz wrote a comment on December 28, 2011

You will not be able to use the Garmin speed/cadence with then Polar 625x. I had two Polar 625 watches but have now totally given up on them. I use Garmin FR 610 for running and a Garmin Edge 500 for cycling. The 610 can also be used for cycling but the battery life is more limited and the 500 is so easy to remove from the bike.

Harry tanfield wrote a comment on February 27, 2013

Hi, do you know if Bluetooth chest straps, such as one from ithlete are compatible with the garmin edge 500? I think they are compatible with strava on the 4s.

Any help would be appropriated

Thanks
Harry

Franz wrote a comment on February 27, 2013

Only an ANT+ heart rate strap will work with the Garmin 500. It does not support bluetooth. The new Garmin models 510 and 810 do support bluetooth but I am not sure if they will work with a bluetooth heart rate strap. I have the Edge 810 but never tried it with anything other the Garmin ANT+ sensors.

James Stephens wrote a comment on September 25, 2013

It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but it looks like the Garmin 500’s back light is not on. Pressing the ON/LIGHT button brightens the screen for a set period.

I use a Garmin 800, and it is easy to read in all conditions, including bright sun. But it dims after a time to save the battery. Maybe the 500 is different.

At first, I thought the screen was terrible. Then I realized that I can switch it on when I need it.

Best wishes.
James