Acer Xplova

Acer Xplova

                             Xplova is Acer owned , so it knows a thing or two about putting a computer together. At its heart this computer is an Android phone. It's running Android system software and it has a 3in colour touchscreen. You can put a 3G micro SIM into it for a data connection, and it also has WiFi capability. It's powered by a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery and you can charge it (and connect it to your computer) with a micro-USB cable. There's ANT+ connectivity for pairing your sensors. It's 62x110x23mm, which is marginally bigger than Garmin's Edge 1000, and it weighs 126g. You can see more here (link is external). As there are similarities to a phone, so there are differences. The X5 is IPX7 rated for waterproofing: that's full immersion for half an hour, so if it falls off into a puddle you won't lose your ride. It won't fall off though, as it has a standard Garmin quarter-turn mount on the rear. It's compatible with any Garmin mounts you might already have, and comes with its own out-front holder.

                    As it's essentially a phone, with a SIM port, a microphone and a speaker, it's a shame that it doesn't have any call functionality at all, not even calls to the emergency services, or an emergency contact. Because it doesn't, you're still unlikely to leave your phone at home, when otherwise you might be persuaded. Another thing that could be added is an emergency crash function, where accelerometers in the device detect a crash and then send a text to an emergency contact. I'm not sure how that would work without the ability to actually call you on the device, though.

Camera: good, longer recording would be useful
The X5 also has an HD camera built in. It's forward-facing, so you don't need to take the X5 from its mount to record ride footage. One of the X5's unique selling points is that it can be set to auto record based on certain criteria. So the camera can be told to fire up if your speed or your heart rate goes above a certain threshold, or the road/trail gets really steep, for example.

                 The camera isn't designed to continuously record, instead it takes short segments of footage (3, 6 or 9 seconds) which you can then stitch together to make a ride video. When you finish a ride and stop recording, the X5 will ask you if you want to make a video and you can pick up to eight bits of footage to include, which it will then pull together. Or you can drag the footage off onto the computer and edit it in your favourite video software if you want more control. The 720p/30fps footage is decent enough. It's not GoPro good but it's fine for knocking together some ride videos. At night the footage is okay; the frame rate slows when the shutter speed drops below 1/30 of a second but it's still usable. What it can't do is record your whole commute, as the maximum length of video you can shoot is 9 seconds at a time. You can set the auto-speed really low and have it recording basically the whole time, but there are gaps, and the video capture display overlays and obscures the other data, so you won't want to.

It'd be good if there was an unobtrusive way of just recording longer videos; there's 2Gb of internal storage so you can fit a fair bit of footage on there. That internal storage is not expandable with a micro SD card, though, which is a pity.

                Another thing that could be really useful is the ability to auto-record based on GPS position. My commute has one or two specific points where I'm likely to meet issues, and the new firmware on the X5 allows you to record at set points on a route, based on markers that you set up. I haven't really had time to fully explore that yet, but it does mean you'll need to set up and follow a route each time, rather than just press go.

Portal: a bit clunky but all the functionality is there
Xplova has its own portal where your rides are automatically uploaded via 3G or WiFi. You can create a profile or sign in from Facebook. If you do the latter, it asks if it can post as you every single time you log in. Please, make that stop.

                   You can sync them to Strava from the portal. Currently there are two issues with this. Firstly, there's no way of auto-syncing so you need to go in and do every one manually. Secondly, the Strava sync currently timestamps the ride with the time that you uploaded, not the time that you started, so if you rode with friends you won't all be together. We'd expect both those issues to be ironed out in due course. The portal isn't as slick as either Strava or Garmin Connect, and it still feels a bit Far-Eastern in its focus (sharing to Renren is above sharing to Twitter) but it is fully featured, and gives you a bunch of tools for both creating routes and viewing and editing your activities.  Creating a route is easy: either draw it in directly, or upload a GPX/TCX file. Once you do you'll get all the information you would elsewhere: distance, elevation and so on. One clever thing that the Xplova portal adds is that it will automatically detect climbs on the route and add markers for the start of the climb, and the summit. The start marker tells you the average gradient, and once you're past that the X5 counts you down to the summit. If you're riding somewhere you don't know then that's a useful extra bit of information. You can add or edit the markers manually if the system doesn't automatically pick them up, or you want to move them.

                    Once the route is saved on the Xplova portal you can access it on your device via WiFi, or 3G if you have a SIM installed. If you opt to ride the route then you'll get turn-by-turn directions on the device, although I found that only worked reliably if you created the route within the Xplova portal and not if you imported it from a GPX file. The turn-by-turn on the X5 I found to be very good: you can see what you're going to get on the portal, and the device just talks you through the turns, with a notification before each one. If you go off-route, then it doesn't go to that much trouble to get you back on the line; it would be good if you got an off-course notification, but I can't say I missed the Garmin's constant nagging if I didn't do what I said I was going to. You may prefer Garmin's more proactive approach, but personally I find turn-by-turn on a Garmin intrusive enough that I never use it, preferring instead to just display the route on the map and follow it. The X5 is a sort of happy medium between the two.

                   Apparently the next update of the X5 will mean more off-route guidance, and hopefully it won't be too in-your-face. Sometimes the English mask slips and a bit of Chinese slips through, for example on the finish line notification. I'd expect those issues to be ironed out too. There are other sections of the Xplova portal – live rides, events and races – that aren't really up and running yet. There's a bit of activity in Taiwan, but that's about it, so it's hard to say whether they're going to be useful. My experience with portals tied to a particular brand or device is that they don't really achieve the critical mass needed for stuff like that; while Strava can call on users of pretty much any device, Xplova (and Cateye, Lezyne and even Garmin) are only able to access a small slice of the whole pie.

Riding experience: not perfect, but probably the best so far
Getting information from the X5 on a ride is easy peasy thanks to the excellent screen. Nominally it's the same 240x400 resolution as the Edge 1000, but in reality it's much better: easier to read, and good in sunlight. The backlight can be ramped up far enough to make it legible in all conditions I've encountered, and there's an ambient light sensor that'll automatically adjust to conditions.

                            Having the backlight on full gas will impact the battery life. Xplova claims you'll get 12 hours out of a charge; in reality it's not that much, about 8 hours with the screen on a low-to-medium brightness that's okay for daytime viewing. If you're out in fairly bright conditions you can get away with having the backlight off, which ups the run-time to about 10 hours, but the screen isn't as good with no backlight as a Garmin colour screen would be. If you're looking at going further than that in one go then you can charge it when you stop; the position of the micro USB port means that if you're using an out-front mount then you won't be able to charge on the go, although it is possible if you use a standard mount, on the handlebar. I did that and completed the 14 hours of the Barry's Bristol Ball Buster with one on-the-go charge from 25% to 70%, so about half a battery's worth. Bottom line: for most day rides, you can make it last.

                   The transflective touchscreen behaves similarly to a phone screen: it's quite sensitive, and doesn't work that well if you've got gloves on. It's not really affected by the rain, though, which is good, and the hydrophobic coating on the screen is very good indeed, keeping it legible in all conditions. You can swipe between screens on the X5 but there are also five hardware buttons, which give you access to all the data screens, the video camera and a lot of the settings. If you're delving deeper into stuff it's much easier to use the touchscreen for that, but usually that can wait until the cafe.

The dashboard screen is nice but it's not configurable, so you're stuck with the data fields Xplova has settled on. That means speed is always your main metric, when there are tons of instances (road race, time trial, audax, indoor training... actually, pretty much anything) when you would likely pick something else. It's a very easy-to-read screen with most of the stuff you'd need to know: speed, heart rate, cadence, slope, power, trip time and trip distance. It'd be much better if you could play about with it though, and that's something I'd definitely like to see in an update.
There are configurable screens as well, which are a more straight-down-the-line data representation. You can set them up for different types of riding with different data: training, racing and so on. An up or down press on the hardware buttons toggles between the dashboard and the data screens. You can have up to 11 different bits of data on one screen.
Press the mode button and you move to navigation mode: there's a map page, a screen showing the markers on a route and an altitude graph, as well as two configurable data fields. The maps are open source and you can download whatever regions you need to the device; you'll need to manage them, though, because there's not enough space on the device for a lot of countries at a time. The map page works well, and you can opt to show North as up, or for the map to rotate with you. Sometimes the compass got a bit confused, leading to the map flipping about a bit, but switching to North-as-up and then back again fixed it.

                The altitude map takes a bit of memory to draw, and on longer routes I sometimes got the Android 'app is not responding' message, although it never actually crashed. The Altitude screen needs work, though: it's fiddly to use and you can't easily see where you are on a ride. You can't easily zoom in and out like you can on the map, either. Hit mode again, and you're through to training: training screens allow you to map data such as speed, power or heart rate against distance or time, so you get a constantly updating graph of your ride. It's not a mode I've used an awful lot, especially out of doors where it tends to require more of your eye time than I'd consider to be prudent. Indoors on the static trainer it's pretty good, though, giving you a real-time breakdown of how your session is going.

                 We've only got one X5, and so we weren't able to try out the group riding functionality of the device, which is a bit of a shame. It's hell being an early adopter. It is something that looks really interesting, though. If there are two or more of you on a ride, and you each have an X5 with a 3G connection, then you can all join a ride and share your location with one another. So on your map screen you'll see where your riding buddies are. Surely you'd know where your riding buddies are? Well, yes and no. There are certain times when this could be really useful. For instance, if you're riding with someone else in a big sportive it's really easy to get separated, and once you are it's nigh-on impossible to find each other again; usually you don't even know if your mate is ahead of you, or behind. If you were linked up you'd be able to speed up or hang back to hook up again.

              The same goes for any ride with big climbs in, which tend to split a group. If you're heading to the Alps for some col bagging you'll be able to see if your mates are just lagging behind, or if they've fallen into a ravine. I can certainly see a market for organised group rides: everyone can ride at their own pace and support can be given as and when it's needed. It's worth saying, though, that Google is now offering similar functionality on Google Maps, and that's free. Navigating the menus of the X5 takes a bit of getting used to. It's certainly not intuitive, and there are occasions when you'll press the back button expecting to go up a level, only to be booted out and you'll have to go back in again. The menus are contextual, so on a training page you'll get a training option. Other settings are a bit spread about: there's 'device settings', and there's 'settings', and 'my space', which for some reason doesn't include 'my bike', which is separate, and then there's a separate icon for altitude correction for no readily apparent reason. It's a bit of a jumble, but you work out where stuff is after a while.


this is right at the top end of the market. It feels like a quality bit of kit, and it's offering a range of features that's different to your other current options. The interface is good, although the lack of configuration options for the dashboard is a pity. Mapping and routing is excellent so long as you're prepared to work within the Xplova portal to create your routes. Connectivity is good, with the ability to fit a SIM and broadcast your location, as well as auto-upload routes, a bonus. The camera does a decent job of getting some interesting ride footage, although it's not a replacement for a GoPro or similar if you want proper high quality footage. Navigating through the menus can be a bit clunky, and at times the portal and the device feel like they're not quite finished, but it's by no means the first device we've had in at that's been like that out of the box.

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