Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Garmin Edge 500 vs iPhone Strava App

“I’m a data addict”. Sad but true, my addiction for information is all consuming, but fortunately for me most of my appetite for information is fed by my day job as an Analyst. Like I said MOST!

Once an Analyst always an analyst though and as a result I still need to feed the beast that is my mind to gain insight through the use of data; even in my hobbies. So, it comes as no surprise that on a recent ride with my wife that I decided to do a comparison between my Garmin Edge 500 and the Strava application on the iPhone.

The aim was to satisfy my curiosity and to establish if the information gathered using the FREE Strava app was a) accurate and b) enough to satisfy my addiction therefore rendering the pricier ($250- $350) Garmin Edge 500 redundant.

The most obvious place to start is the price comparison; and on this occasion the iPhone app wins hands down. Assuming you have an iPhone the saving is up to $350 which you can put towards other toys, like new wheels, or a LAID Cycling kit and still have plenty of change left!!


The Strava app has the basics covered. It captures distance, ride time, average speed and elevation as well as plotting the ride route. The beauty of this tool is as soon as you hit stop on the ride it automatically uploads your ride to the Strava website. This allows you to compare your results against everyone else that has uploaded their rides.

Data useage on phones can be a potential catch, pushing you over your data cap and incurring a huge monthly bill. Strava indicate on their website that the GPS signal is received seperate from the 3G data which means you can use it here and overseas (assuming you have data roaming switched off) at no extra cost.


This is a case of you get what you pay for. The purpose built Garmin takes the next step having a fully integrated data set which includes all the basics mentioned above with the addition of; cadence, gradient, temperature, heart rate (Garmin 500 bundle) the list goes on. All of this allows the software to imply a power metric which whilst not 100 percent accurate is very handy piece of information.
You can upload the output onto the Garmin site, or alternately the Strava website which I personally find superior. Like with the iphone app you can compare your rides against your mates and everyone else.

I selected a short ride which was a 1.0km looped course with undulating terrain. I did seven laps at various speeds which included a unscheduled stop on one lap. It seems my wife’s helment is a magnet for Bee’s one of which stung her on the ear! The total distance covered was 7.1km.

Once I uploaded the Garmin data to the Strava website I did a comparison of both the outputs. What I got were two different results.

The distance covered was marginally different with the iPhone 200m shorter, but the big difference came with the profile of the ride. As illustrated below the iPhone struggled to capture the ride correctly.

The speed profiles were fairly similar, although the iPhone didnt quiet capture the rapid changes in speed as accurately. I put this down to the fact that it’s a phone and the processers are busy doing other functions like getting signal from communication towers. In addition there is a lot of movement as it was stored in my back pocket for the duration of the ride.

One of the major shortcomings of using the iPhone was the drain on battery. I started the ride with 42 percent power and finished some 20 minutes later with 26 percent. That’s not a ringing endorsement, especially if the phone is your only means of communication in case of an emergency.

I tested this on an old 3G iPhone, but a friend tested it on the 4G phone during the Kinglake ride and didnt have the same level of battery usage. For what it’s worth I stuggle to get through a day without having to recharge my phone so that could have an influence.


I would undoubtedly stick with the Garmin as it gives me so much information and importantly it is accurate and reliable. Being a data geek that I am, this is of utmost importance to me as I am using the data as a yardstick for improvement.

The iPhone app has it’s place though. If I couldnt afford the Garmin or my Garmin was ever flat, or even if I was out on a social ride just curious about the distance I covered, then it would be great tool, but for me it’s Garmin all the way.


  1. As an update Garmin have now come out withe VERY competitively priced Garmin 200 which retails for around $150. This makes the equation much more enticing!

  2. Nice post with great details. Thanks for sharing.