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Xplova 3 bike computer review

11 Jul 2018

Competitively priced GPS computer that fails to outshine its rivals

Cyclist Rating: 
•Reasonably priced •Good battery life
•Awkward to use •Poor navigation

When the first wireless GPS bike computers appeared they were like miracles. Here was a box no bigger than a bar of soap that could connect to a satellite and track you wherever you went. It could tell you accurate speed and distance, help you navigate on unfamiliar routes and show you where you were on a map.

No more getting lost; no more carrying large paper maps; no more arguments about whether it’s left or right at the next junction. It was like living in the future.

Sadly, the future arrived and kept on coming while bike computers stalled. Now anyone with a smartphone – ie, everyone – has more data-crunching power and navigation technology in their pocket than the average bike computer can manage.

A bike computer has to be able to offer something really special to justify spending a large chunk of cash, and among the latest to set out its stall is the Xplova X3.

Buy the Xplova X3 bike computer from BikeInn here

Hitting a price point

Xplova is one of the newer players to the bike computer market, and is part of Taiwanese electronics giant Acer.

A year or so ago it launched the X5, which had the neat addition of an integrated camera. That meant it could do many of the things that top end Garmin computers did, as well as taking video footage of rides and linking it to the route mapping information.

It was very innovative and provided a genuine point of difference to the other bike computers on offer. However, at over £400 it was only for cyclists with deep pockets.

The X3 is Xplova’s attempt to tackle the more budget end of the market, to compete with computers such as the Garmin Edge 130 or the Bryton Rider 530 in the £100-£200 bracket.

Of course, that means it is a significantly simpler model compared to the X5. There’s no camera, for starters. There’s also no mapping – navigation is of the ‘breadcrumb trail’ style, where you follow a line on the screen.

So what can the X3 offer to make it stand out from its rivals? The company itself highlights four areas where it feels it has an advantage.

Firstly, it has a colour screen, where most are monochrome. Next, it uses GPS (American), Glonass (Russian) and BeiDou (Chinese) satellite systems, potentially offering better position location than computers that use just GPS.

The X3 claims to be able to store up to 700 hours of cycling records, more than double most other models. And it also claims to have an exceptionally long battery life, lasting up to 27 hours on power saving mode, although it admits that this is not as long as some rival computers.

Beyond that, the functionality of the Xplova X3 is much as you’d expect from a bike computer in this price range.

It can display five data pages, four of which can be adjusted to show between one and ten data fields on the 35mm x 46mm screen. The fifth page shows data in coloured dial graphics, which cannot be adjusted.

There are also two other pages that display elevation profile and the navigation breadcrumb trail.

The data fields can show the usual metrics, such as speed, distance, heart rate, power, cadence, altitude, etc, as well as multiple variations on each of them. Connection to external sensors is done using ANT+ or Bluetooth.

Plotting, downloading and viewing routes is done via a website or phone app, which also offers various training sessions that can be transferred to the X3.

In the box, the X3 comes with two mounts of the elastic band variety. There is no out-front mount, but Xplova has taken the cunning decision to make the mounting system compatible with Garmin, so you there are plenty of aftermarket options available.

Dazed and confused

I really wanted to like the Xplova X3. In a world so dominated by Garmin, I can’t help rooting for the plucky underdog who dares to take on the might of the American behemoth.

Sadly, the X3 failed to impress.

First is the look. It’s a chunky, plasticky little box that, while not heavy at 89g, is significantly heftier than the Garmin 130, which weighs 33g for a similar size screen.

The Giant NeosTrack computer (that I reviewed recently and compares with the X3 on price and functionality) manages to include a much larger screen in a package that weighs 79g.

While we’re discussing the screen, I couldn’t determine any real advantage to it being in colour. Most of the data screens are black and white, and the only coloured data screen is the one with the dashboard dials.

I thought at first that those dials might move, like a speedo on a car, which would have been cool, but they don’t. They just take up space, and once I’d established that the screen couldn’t be customised, I never used it again.

I can only conclude that the dashboard’s only real purpose is to make use of the colour screen, and help create a point of difference from other bike computers.

It was a similar story with the other ‘benefits’ highlighted by Xplova. It may have access to multiple satellite systems, but I couldn’t notice any quicker connection or more accurate positioning compared to any other GPS unit I’ve used.

And while it’s great to have large storage and long battery life, these are not aspects that I have ever had any issue with on other bike computers. As such, it is hard to determine what the X3 can offer as a genuine reason to move away from more established brands.

Then there’s the usability. In the age of the iPhone, any modern piece of technology should be judged on how simple and intuitive it is to use. With the Xplova X3 I found it awkward to set-up and frustrating to use.

I dutifully downloaded the app and opened the website, but connecting them to the device proved to be trickier than I expected. There was altogether too much faffing with installing software, downloading and reading instructions, scrolling through endless screens in search of the Bluetooth function.

I just wanted it to work, but instead I had to spend valuable time learning its various quirks and idiosyncrasies. The three buttons on the device look like they stand for ‘on/off’, ‘left’ and ‘right’, but it’s not that simple, and again I had to devote a fair amount of time, pressing and cursing, until I could fathom how to navigate its systems.

At times I couldn’t get the device and the app to connect at all.

Talking of navigation, creating ride routes on the website or app proved to be equally frustrating. Quite apart from the fact that the website assumed that I lived in Taiwan, plotting a route on the map required infinite patience, as the system kept trying to take me on roads I didn’t want to go down, with no means of adjusting other than to delete each step and try again.

The only way I could find of getting the route I wanted was to plot it in tiny increments, making the whole process so tortuous that I soon stopped bothering.

Buy the Xplova X3 bike computer from BikeInn here

Even when I did manage to download a route to the device, following it on the breadcrumb trail map was a hit-and-miss affair, and almost impossible in complex situations such as navigating around city streets.

Ultimately, this is not a bike computer for finding your way on rides (which goes for almost every computer that uses the breadcrumb trail method of navigation). However, for all its faults, the X3, once you get the hang of it, is perfectly serviceable as a data-gathering machine. It will tell you how fast you’re going, how hard you’re working and how far you’ve been.

On that front, it is still a useful device, but I can’t help thinking that if I am going to fork out £150, I should get more for my money.

On this evidence, Garmin won’t be panicking just yet.

£150 (approx)

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