Given the justified popularity of Garmin’s Edge devices, as well as the emerging head units from the likes of Wahoo, it’s always going to be tough for a new player to establish itself in a competitive market.
However, Xplova – and parent company, computer specialists Acer – have the basis for a serious contender in the innovative X5 head unit.
Fundamentally, it’s an all-singing, all-dancing head unit that provides full navigation, incorporates WiFi and a slot for a micro SIM card for direct uploading of your ride, as well as all the usual refinements: ANT+ connectivity to any compatible device, a touch screen and button interface, country-specific maps, live tracking… and a video camera built in.
Let’s start with that headlining feature shall we? Where we often see lights with integrated cameras, or specific cameras to record your ride, the X5 integrates one into the front-facing area of the unit.
It’s operated by the big recording button on the unit, and can record stints of three, six and nine seconds in 720p HD resolution.
- Price: £429
- Website: Xplova
It saves these recordings onto the sizeable (but non-expandable) 2GB internal memory whereupon it offers to create a linear video of all the clips after you’ve uploaded your ride. You can opt to use this and export it, or export all the clips to your computer and use your own editing software to put together a video.
I really like features like these because they really allow the rider to be creative with the fruits of their ride, although there are limitations to the hardware as we enter 2018.
These days, 1080p HD is the minimum standard (4K if you’re really into your quality), while the overall image quality itself isn’t even close to being in the same league as a GoPro, for example.
That might not surprise you given the integrated nature of the unit, but if you’re expecting the X5 to be a genuine competitor to dedicated recording units like the GoPro, you’re in for a bit of a reality check.
Still, it’s great if you want to record small snippets of your ride for reporting purposes. Let’s say you’re witness to some poor behaviour on the road, you might want to press the record button to capture some evidence of it for future reference.
It’s a shame that you can’t set it to record constantly, so long stints of road-going misbehaviour (or, potentially, confrontations) can’t be surreptitiously committed to memory, nor the entirety of your 10-mile time trial, for example, but it clearly still has a utility.
Instead, what you can do is set it up to auto-record clips at given speeds, gradients, power outputs and so on. Set it to a lower-than-average speed, and naturally you’ll get lots of clips auto-recording, or you can set it to automatically kick in at high speeds so it locks down on what might be the most ‘extreme’ portions of your ride.
This is all fine, but you need to bear in mind that the software replaces all your data fields with the live recording video feed when it does kick in, which can become annoying if you happen to glance at it.
In the end I set it to auto-record when I went over 40km/h (so shifting a fair bit when riding solo), and manually engage it at moments of my choosing. The bottom line is that I prefer to look at it as an ‘added extra’ in the X5, rather than a central defining feature. With the recently updated X5 Evo we’ll wait to see if that perception might change, although for all intents and purposes the camera itself has remained the same.
Turning our attention to the ‘bike computer’ aspect of the X5, it’s a proverbial treasure trove of features that should cater for pretty much any need a cyclist has.
It features ANT+ connectivity to pair to peripherals like heart rate monitors (cross-brand too; my Garmin one worked perfectly), power meters and speed/cadence sensors, and displays the data on a clear and detailed 240x400 pixel backlit three inch screen.
It’s touchscreen too, which means if you have a map showing, you can drag around the map using your finger to see ahead to what’s coming.
"I prefer to look at the camera as an ‘added extra’ in the X5, rather than a central defining feature"
You can set the brightness of the screen in the menu, and although Xplova say you can get 12 hours of battery life out of it, to be able to see the screen properly in all conditions you need to have it turned up to around half brightness, which impacts the battery life.
It also depends on how many peripherals you’ve connected, if you’re routing or not or using the camera, but I got around 8-9 hours of life out of it for general use, including routing, a HR monitor and occasional use of the camera.
In map mode, there are two data fields at the bottom for speed and distance, and on-screen buttons to zoom in and out, switch between a fixed north perspective and tracked, and a view reset button that drags it back to where you are. It’s a lot to squeeze in on the screen, but thankfully the touchscreen sensor in the panel is accurate and highly responsive, so you don’t really feel any lag or experience any missed inputs, nor a lack of space for the map itself.
Swipe left or right over the two data fields (as opposed to the map portion of the screen), and you open up two dedicated data field screens, just like you find on touchscreen Garmin Edge devices.
There’s a standard face with speed, HR, power, grade percentage, altitude and an odometer in a nice graphical design, and a dedicated data field screen for heart rate analysis that updates its graphical output as you ride.
From the dedicated HR screen, you can swipe up or down to bring up a similar screen with power stats (or use the toggle buttons on the side of the device if you’re gloved up), and from the standard page you can do the same to bring up pages that give more details about the ride and conditions (e.g. trip time, distance covered, calories burned and the temperature among others on one, and lap counters, timings, and ascent and descent measurements on another).
All the usual data fields are accounted for, although with one caveat: you can’t customise the graphical screens. That means you’re stuck with the pre-determined layouts, with no possibility of expansion or customisation.
It’s a drawback which won’t bother some, but it might others, who may enjoy knowing how many beers their ride equates too as they go, or don’t have a power meter to fill the fixed field with satisfying numbers.
Xplova have also thrown in the capability to track fellow X5 users live – assuming they’ve a SIM card installed so they can communicate. It’s a forward-thinking functionality to include, with definite positive applications for ride leaders and event pacers, although fundamentally it’s hobbled until enough people are sporting Xplova units (i.e. at least two in the group) to make it worthwhile.
Interface and integration
Generally speaking, the X5 has an easy-to-use interface that incorporates both touchscreen technology and buttons on the side.
You get up and down toggles on the right, and the on/off and menu button on the left (plus a slot for a micro SIM card).
I like the flexibility of this, although if you delve into the multi-layered settings menus, the only way back out is to return to the home screen again by pressing the menu button, which is a little annoying if you just want to go back one step.
"It’s easy to use, has a very good screen, and meets all the demands of a data-hungry cyclist"
Of course, ours was set up in the English language with UK maps downloaded through the WiFi connection (you can download others as and when necessary), but occasionally you do notice the X5 is made in the far east, with the occasional intrusion of foreign language notifications, most notably when you arrive at the end of your ride and it flashes up with Taiwanese instead of English.
Uploading your ride is easy too – the unit will simply connect to your WiFi and upload directly to the Xplova platform (or use the SIM card if you have one installed).
It won’t send it over to Strava automatically, though – you’ll need to download the .FIT file and upload it manually, which is a shame. Given Strava’s supported community includes 14 fitness tracker brands now for seamless uploading, we hope Xplova joins them soon.
It’s also worth pointing out that, in a direct test against my iPhone’s normally-reliable Strava app, it managed to lop off 1.6km of the same 55km ride, and 185m of elevation gain.
You can’t see it on the tracks, except to say that the iPhone app is much more detailed in its elevation profile, leading me to believe that it isn’t smoothing things over like it is in any data transfer of the X5 file.
For the record, the route I’d inputted bore most resemblance to the Strava app ride file, rather than the X5 file I’d exported over, indicating that it’s the X5 unit that’s likely to be the most ‘drifty’ of the two when recording.
Route generation is simple too. You need to use Xplova’s portal to do it, or do it directly on the X5 if you like, but you can’t just sync your Strava or Garmin routes across – again, a shame in my view.
You can export Garmin and Strava routes as .GPX or .TCX files (among others) and upload them to Xplova’s site, whereupon the X5 unit will be able to see it on your account, but I found routes made directly in the Xplova system seemed to work more smoothly in terms of giving directions and notifications consistently.
Routes themselves are easy to make from scratch, using Google maps as a default overlay.
The data-gathering engine that helps define which roads to take between waypoints isn’t quite as detailed as Strava’s one, so I found it didn’t want to recognise some bike paths and one-way contraflow bike lanes at times, or occasionally sending me what I’d consider to be the long way round.
But it’s only a rare occurrence, and it’s a decent interface, if not quite as polished-looking as some others.
"The bottom line is that the X5 is a very well-featured head unit... but it's not quite the finished article yet"
The nice thing about Xplova’s route generation is it’ll automatically recognise where the major climbs are coming and warn you ahead of time, and show you where they start and finish.
However, it’s a riff on a theme – you can do something similar with Strava Live Segments, and that works a treat, especially if you’re gunning for a rival’s time.
The bottom line is that the X5 is a very well-featured head unit. It can hold a candle to Garmin’s Edge range of computers as fa as data concerned, while also recording small portions of your ride using its camera. It’s easy to use, has a very good screen, and meets all the demands of a data-hungry cyclist.
However, it’s not quite the finished article, with a few minor issues including, prominently for me, a lack of full Strava syncing at the time of review. I get the overall impression that it remains rough around the edges.
But, what is good is, despite this slight lack of fine polishing, this X5 bike computer is already a legitimate alternative challenger to the established stable, meaning it should keep the likes of Garmin on their toes. At the very least, if you’re not willing to spend over £400 on a non-mainstream unit, then you should be pleased units like this exist, nipping at the market leader’s toes.
Keep an eye on Xplova: there’s serious potential here.
- Clear navigation
- Video clip recording
- WiFi/cellular connectivity
- Clear data fields
- Good screen
- Limited recording ability
- Elevation profile appears inaccurate
- Software could use polishing
- Not seamless with Strava