Bend in the Road: Tracking down Garmin

Why I'm excited about Magellan GPS computers

My experience with Magellan products has been limited to a few months testing a Switch triathlon watch — which I reviewed as being distinctly okay — but I'm more excited about Magellan GPS cycling computers coming into the US than probably any other product this year. For starters, it could make Garmin Edge computers cheaper.

This month Magellan is entering the US with a range of GPS cycling computers, a few of which roughly correspond to Garmin Edge products but at a much lower price. In Europe, the company sells somewhat inexplicably under the brand Mio. Same stuff, different name. Anyhow, as with Garmin, Magellan is a player in the general GPS market, which has seen aftermarket sales of auto units nosedive as more and more vehicles come with integrated GPS units. Outdoor and fitness sales, meanwhile, are headed in the other direction. What all this means is more technology for cycling computers - and more competition from brands like Garmin and Magellan/Mio for your business. 

Competition is good

As good as most Garmin products are, the company sorely needs some real competition. Category dominance is great for them — they're the Coke of cycling GPS — but not so good for us. To really push the envelope of new technology, every Shimano needs a SRAM just like every Mark Cavendish needs a Peter Sagan. Right now, Garmin has... who, exactly? Cat Eye? PowerTap? Not exactly going toe-to-toe on feature set, much less advancing the game.

With its Cyclo 505, Magellan has a GPS computer fairly close to Garmin's Edge 1000. Although — at least here in the US — Edge 1000 units started to circulate a few weeks ahead of the Cyclo computers, Magellan has made a point of touting that its 505 was 'first' to have wireless Shimano Di2 support, WiFi connectivity, text message notifications and more. 'First' here being defined I suppose as a completed product, ahead of the 1000 by a few days.

Further, as the underdog, Magellan will have to push ahead with either more features, better prices or, hopefully, both. The fact that Magellan's Cyclo units are iPhone and Android compatible is already a big plus over Garmin's iPhone-only status.

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Price competition is better

As much as we all love looking at (and here, reviewing) the latest and greatest, the reality is that when it comes time to buy, the vast majority of us make reality-based purchases. Most people aren't buying US$15,000 super bikes; we're buying a US$2,800 bike with Shimano Ultegra. And as a group, we operate similarly with GPS computers. To use myself as an example, I replaced a lost Garmin Edge 500 last year with... another Edge 500 because the price was right.

For now, Garmin owns the market and can largely price its computers up to what it thinks the market will bear. But that can't last. My Australian colleague Dave Rome pointed out that as Magellan and Garmin have both found themselves into mass consumption electronics stores — similar to what GoPro did a few years ago — the more brand bias from "the dude behind the counter" is removed, and the more it becomes about features for the dollar. Here, excuse the pun, Magellan has an edge.

For some rough comparison, the Magellan Cyclo 105 is priced about the same as a Garmin 200 but has features similar to the more expensive Garmin 500.  The Magellan Cyclo 505 HC Bundle will retail for US$499; compare that to the Garmin Edge 1000 bundle at US$699. This isn't quite apples to apples — yet, but the feature sets are getting pretty close.

For me, the Magellan Cyclo computers still don't have the look of a direct Garmin competitor. Some of the features are better, some are worse, but the overall aesthetic of the Magellan is still a little behind. The home screen, to me, just looks cheesy. Maybe it's just the childlike color palette; I don't know. But when it comes right down to it, if Magellan can offer a GPS cycling computer that does 90% of what a Garmin does at 60% of the price, you better believe I and a lot of other people are going to give it a good look. And that fact should improve the prices and the product from both companies.

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