We put the new entry level bike GPS from Garmin through its paces... briefly

Garmin's Edge 200 is the new base level model in the Edge range. Launched at Eurobike, the Edge 200 is currently in production and will be available to buy, priced £129, in the next month or so. We couldn't wait that long, so we hot-footed it down to the New Forest and the Garmin Ride Out to have a quick go before they hit the shelves.

Physically, the unit is the same size as the next-tier Edge 500; that is to say, not very big. It's a little bit bulkier than a standard wireless computer, but a fair bit smaller than the more fully featured Edge 800. It sports a black and white LCD screen with a backlight, there's four clicky rubber buttons on the sides and hidden round the back is a USB port. And that's it, pretty much. The battery is not user-replaceable; it charges via USB and Garmin reckon it'll go for 15hrs on one full charge, about what they (pretty accurately) claim for the Edge 500.

The mount is the same as the other Edge units, a simple twist-to-lock port that can be mounted on the stem or the bars using rubber bands. It's simple and effective and we've never had any computer using the system eject itself over the rough stuff.

Turn the unit on and you're presented with four options: Ride, Courses, History and Settings. Ride is the one to pick if you just want to use the 200 like a standard bike computer; hit go and you'll get a readout of your speed, elapsed time and distance, with the other data scrolling in a fourth position below the three big numbers. Assuming you have a GPS fix, the Edge will also start to record your ride.

Courses allows you to use previously recorded or uploaded courses with the Edge 200. This base-level unit doesn't have proper mapping, of course; what you get is a breadcrumb trail of the route, with an arrow to indicate where you are. When you're selecting the route you'll see the whole thing and when you set off the view zooms in to a meaningful scale. So if there's a right or left turn at a crossroads, for example, it's easy to see which way you should be going. It's less clear for things like forks in the road, but if you go wrong you'll get an off-course warning to let you know you've gone awry.

History allows you to access previous rides. The Edge 200 has virtual partner functionality, so if you like to time yourself on a regular course you can race against either your last performance or your fastest time. System gives you access to some setup options, although there really isn't that many compared to the higher-end units. It's easy to change from miles to kilometres though, for example.

And what's missing? Well, the most obvious thing that's missing is ANT+. The Edge 200 won't talk to your HRM strap, cadence sensor or power meter, so if you like full-fat stats it's not the gizmo for you. Garmin obviously feel that if you want to train with those metric then the Edge 500 is the one for you; the opinion among the assembled hacks seemed to be that even though Garmin aren't aiming this computer at data-miners, basic HRM functionality would have been a bonus. 

The other thing that's immediately noticeable is that you can't configure the data screen, at all. On the Edge 500 and 800 you can add whatever fields you like to the display; here you're stuck with what Garmin have programmed in: speed, distance and time at the top, with average speed, total ascent and calories burned at the bottom. You can't have lap time or distance, gradient or any of the other metrics that the unit is measuring as a matter of course given its level of functionality.

This is a pretty major omission, and means that the Edge 200 is displaying less data than many lower-priced wireless computers, even if it's recording more. That doesn't seem right to us, and we wouldn't be surprised if later firmware updates gave at least limited scope for customising the display. Please. PLEASE.

So what are the reasons to upgrade from a standard wireless unit? Well, your time on the bike is only half the story with a GPS computer. One of the major draws of owning a Garmin is that you get access to Garmin Connect, their ride-logging website. Plug your Edge 200 in to your computer and you can upload the ride to your space; you'll be able to see the ride on a proper map and compare it to other rides of the same course, and the software will use full topographical data to adjust the route distance and climbing totals.

As of last week it's now possible to create routes on the Connect site too, and upload them to your unit ahead of a ride. In the past that was previously only possible via other websites and could prove quite fiddly in practice; now it should be straightforward. Garmin's online community is one of the biggest of its kind; over the summer the Connect site was logging close to 200,000 journeys on its busiest days. There's lots of scope for sharing your rides with friends and keeping a handle on your training, and the interface is one of the best out there.

The other big draw of a GPS computer is that it's a piece of cake to swap it between bikes. It doesn't take any magnet fiddling or inputting of wheel diameters, it's just a case of swapping the mount (a 30 second job) and riding off. If you have more than one bike, it means easy gathering of all your rides in one place.

So how did I get on with the Edge 200 out on the road? Well, it was a shortish ride at a fast lick in a big group; 27 miles at an average of over 21mph. That meant a lot of chewing the handlebars and following wheels (including Dan Lloyd's, but not for long...), and not much reliance on the GPS to know where to go. But it's simple to read and easy to use, although the four buttons do very different things depending on what screen you're on so that'll take a while to get the hang of; it's not quite as intuitive as its siblings straight out of the box.

We had the Garmin Ride Out route programmed in to ours and the 200 flipped between the data screen and breadcrumb map screen regularly; on the map you get a progress bar at the top and other metrics (such as distance to finish) at the bottom. Sometimes the arrow wasn't quite on the line, but that might have been an issue with the GPX file rather than the unit itself; time will tell. That meant the odd erroneous 'off course' warning but a quick check of the map screen was enough to set my mind at ease.

Stupidly I hit 'discard' instead of 'save' at the end of the ride (those pesky multi-function buttons) so I don't have data to upload to Garmin Connect. But I'll remedy that in due course. If it's anything like the Edge 800 and 500 – which it no doubt will be – the process is pretty painless.

Is it a good computer? Yes, undoubtedly. It didn't wow me like the Edge 800 did, but I'm a sucker for OS mapping. The 200 looks like a solid performer and will be a good seller, no doubt. Garmin are looking to push this unit to people who were going to buy a normal wireless box; if you were thinking of spending, say, £80 on a computer there's plenty of good reasons to shell out the difference and go to a GPS platform, with the connectivity and ease of use that it brings.

We'll be subjecting the Edge 200 to a full test soon, so stay tuned for that.

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.