Words by Katherine Moore
You’re unlikely to have heard of the Taiwanese technology manufacturer, Xplova, which is owned and operated by Acer, more commonly known for their laptops and hard drives. The X5 is their first product launched into the sports industry, and they’ve dived straight in - integrating a video camera and GPS cycling computer. In a market dominated by Garmin and a few smaller rivals, can the Xplova X5 challenge them all?
After a month of intensive testing on the bike around South West England, it’s time for the verdict. Naturally, I’ll be comparing many of the features to my regular choice of the Garmin 810 (which believe me, is not without its own faults). It’s a conflicted result; there are certain features that have me jumping for joy, and others that have demanded all my willpower not to fling the X5 into the nearest hedge...
Out of the box, it’s clear that the Xplova X5 is no small piece of kit; coming up between the size of a Garmin 810 and an iPhone 6. However, it’s surprisingly streamlined considering the built-in camera, which has a front facing wide-angle lens. The X5 weighs in at 120g, only a fraction more than the Garmin 1000 at 115g, and has the same mounting system, so you can use an existing Garmin mount to attach the unit to the stem or handlebars, in a simple twist-and-click fashion. An orange and black Xplova out-front mount is also supplied in the box.
There is a single microUSB port on the rear for charging and for manual data transfer, covered securely by a rubber seal. Compared to Garmin’s miniUSB, you’re more likely to have one of these cables lying around for when you inevitably misplace the cable supplied. Battery life is good considering the size of the screen, and typical of the market leaders. For example, a 20-mile ride drains 15% battery with minimal video recording, so consider using a battery pack or dynamo if you want to go on really long rides. There’s also a SIM card slot if you want to connect the X5 using 3G connectivity rather than rely on WiFi to upload your rides.
Two buttons on either side of the unit and a start/stop and record buttons on the face give additional functionality to the full-colour touch screen, which is a large 6.5x4cm. Rated at IPX7 for waterproof properties, it’s designed to withstand rain and heavy splashing, and immersion in shallow water for less than 30 minutes - although not recommended!
Let’s start with the first, and most important reason why you’d pick up the Xplova X5, or any cycling computer for that matter. Strava or it didn’t happen, right? Both on your ride and after, a cycling computer will let you know how far you’ve gone, over how much time and how quickly.
All you have to do with the Xplova is hit the start/stop button once the unit has been switched on and you’ll be recording your ride. The first screen features five dials; a large central speedometer, plus cadence, heart rate, elevation and gradient. At the bottom, power, time and distance are also displayed, which covers off all of the main parameters that you’ll be likely to need. Just like other devices, you can easily link up to your heart rate monitor, cadence sensor and a power meter.
The other screens are customisable, where you can choose three parameters to be displayed (e.g. calories burned, heart rate zone, average speed, temperature, sunrise/sunset, laps), alongside two graphs, showing the selected parameter over either distance or time. Unfortunately, these graphs are fixed on the display; for me, these are interesting to analyse after a ride, not during. By presenting the data in this way it is less legible at a quick glance; some riders will prefer the simplicity offered by other units. The touch screen is easy to use and more responsive than it’s older Garmin competitors, and once you familiarise yourself with the navigation between screens it’s pretty straightforward.
Once you’ve finished your ride, the activity will be uploaded to the ‘My Space’ area of the website and to the free Moment app from a WiFi or 3G connection, rather than Bluetooth. From the website, you can then enter the activity screen which has a few handy features. Choose to crop an activity that you forgot to end, merge with another activity if you recorded the ride in two parts, compare to other activities or simply click the ‘Sync Strava’ button to transfer the recorded ride to the same platform. Unfortunately, unlike Garmin Connect, it won’t automatically push your upload onto Strava, so you’ll have to do this manually after each ride.
On the first inspection, I was blown away by the mapping features on the Xplova. Rather than purchasing the maps separately or a complicated online download via a computer/miniSD card, you can download free, fully detailed maps for different countries directly on the unit with a WiFi connection. This has saved hours of faffing already, and the inevitable panic when you start riding abroad and realise you haven’t downloaded the local map to your unit yet.
It’s a fantastic mapping experience. Zoom in and out by pinching the screen or using the +/- buttons, toggle to jump to your location and lock on, or scroll easily across the map. Zoom in for full road names, business names and other POIs; all the detail you need and more with the OSM maps. Unfortunately, the GPS accuracy wasn’t as good as expected in built up areas like the city centre, but proved to be much better when out on country lanes.
When it comes to loading up a route to follow, there’s a second round of hallelujahs. Forget having to have a wired connection to your PC or (heaven forbid) creating a route through Garmin Connect. You’ll need to create your route online using the tool of your choice (I find ridewithGPS to be the best), upload the GPX file to the Xplova Moments app, and when you have WiFi or a 3G connection with a SIM card the route will transfer wirelessly to your profile on the device.
When it comes to following your route, you won’t find turn-by-turn navigation on the Xplova, which is a big blow for many riders. Directions often appear at the top in Taiwanese, which is a difficult language to learn on the go. A software update should solve this issue, which is rumoured to be in progress by Xplova. Additionally, there is an altitude screen when following a loaded route, so you can study the hills and descents to come. Just as on the mapping screen, you can easily zoom in to study in more detail.
Unlike the more common continuous stream of video that you can take on other devices, the X5 captures short clips, which you can set to 3, 6 or 9 seconds long. These start either manually, by pressing the record button (which seems to be a little temperamental), or can be preprogrammed to start when a certain parameter is met using the Smart Video. Set this as a high speed, heart rate, or gradient, for example, and the X5 will be set to automatically capture the real highlights of your ride.
Once set to realistic levels, it’s a feature that works well to cut out the hours of uneventful riding and helps you to capture only the most exciting descents, gruelling climbs and efforts. After some teething issues on the setup and what felt like a feature-length movie of my favourite coffee shop, the X5 tested now helps me to select the best moments.
At the end of the ride, you can preview these clips on the large 3" LCD colour screen which is great, but the upload process is both mysterious and frustrating. Rather than being able to upload all individual clips to a PC to edit, you have to choose up to 8 clips from that ride to create a compilation video to upload to your Moments app, which can only be done when you have a good internet connection. It can be a tricky choice when there are over 40 videos from a ride or if you just want to see them all on a big screen before editing.
So what about the picture and sound quality? Well about what you might expect; it’s certainly not the finest, but at 720p it’s good enough to capture the vibe of the ride with the wide-angle lens, especially when shot in good daylight. The sound quality is pretty poor, so you’ll probably want to mute the sound and add in some music if you’re going to share your story. As it’s primarily a cycling computer and camera second, you don’t have the versatility of say, a GoPro, where you can mount the camera in many different places to get a wide variety of shots. Internal storage with 2GB gives enough space for video files from a couple of rides, depending on how many video clips you choose to take.
Retailing in the UK at £429, the Xplova X5 is no small investment. As the business’ first foray into GPS units, there are some great features that solve some of the frustrating issues in competing tech, but is in need of greater refinement before it becomes a serious contender in the market. Greater GPS accuracy, language fixes and turn by turn navigation, along with an improvement in the video handling and upload process would make the X5 into a very attractive proposition.