Magene L508 Review
This is a detailed review of the Magene L508 smart radar tail light. The summary immediately below is followed further down by much more detail.
The Magene L508 is compatible with most newer bike computers and Garmin sports watches. It has two key features 1) a radar which detects multiple vehicles behind you enabling their positions to be displayed on your bike computer screen 2) a bright flashing that increases safety by changing the flashing pattern as vehicles close in on you.
It’s a good product. Here’s why
Verdict: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ Could easily save your life when cycling.
Build Quality & Design
Features, Including App
Openness & Compatability
Verdict: great features, great performance, decent price. Watch out Garmin.
Magene L508 Review Summary
It’s easy to get the L508 up and running.
The seat post mount will probably fit your bike and the L508 will probably pair with your ANT+ bike computer/watch or BLE smartphone app in 10 seconds. Press the button in the middle of the light to select your desired flashing mode and off you go.
You can have confidence that its 20 lumens of light give you visibility even on a bright day and you can be confident that visibility is increased for several more reasons including a wide 40-degree detection angle and in-your-face, smart flash patterns for drivers. Whilst I prefer the single, solid light of Garmin’s competing RTL515 I have no issues with Magene’s circling flash pattern and pulse mode.
Like Garmin, Magene has a Peloton mode to avoid blinding and annoying your cycling buddies and its unique brake light is a welcome and innovative new feature that I hope Garmin copies.
Apart from that, what you see on your bike computer is essentially the same as if you owned the Garmin radar light.
Each bike computer/watch implements the standard ANT+ RADAR feature subtly differently. But they all essentially show a bar on one side of the screen to represent the road behind you. As vehicles are detected their progress is ‘plotted’ on the bar and you can see them getting closer without turning your head around. There will also be various beeps and colour changes to indicate increased danger or that a car is no longer behind you. That sounds complicated but it’s not and it all works REALLY well.
At £115, Magene has correctly pitched the price compared to the Garmin RTL515 with a rrp of £170.
- Widely compatible with bike computers, sports watches and some smartphone apps
- Good flash patterns
- Good vehicle detection
- 16-hour battery (max, claimed)
- IPX7 Waterproof
- Lanyard to prevent accidental loss
- LED/Flash patterns are not as good as Garmin but more than good enough
- Garmin is brighter in some modes but for a big price premium
- Like-for-like, Garmin’s battery life appears longer.
How does the Magene L508 work? An overview
The L508 uses radar to detect the relative speed and positions of several vehicles approaching from your rear.
The rear-facing radar uses the doppler effect to detect the time taken for an emitted series of signals to be returned. If the time taken for the signal to return is less than for the previous signal the vehicle behind is gaining on you.
The radar signal needs to have no obstructions between the Magene tail light and the vehicle behind you. You might think this will stop the detection of many vehicles but, not so. It’s actually pretty good with a very high success rate as there are rarely obstructions that totally hide an approaching car. OK, it might miss the 4th car in a series of 6 cars but it will highlight the other 5 and that’s probably all the information you need to be safe.
The algorithms are only sensitive to closing speeds above 6mph (that’s a Garmin figure, I assume Magene is similar), so that explains why cyclists and tailgating vehicles are not usually detected. A cyclist closing in on you at 10mph WILL be detected and your peloton buddies will not be detected.
The relative speed and position of each approaching vehicle are passed to your bike computer and the bike computer translates those to a moving graphic on the side of the screen to give a pretty good indication of what’s going on behind you.
Your bike computer further interrogates the speed and position information to audibly alert you to newly detected cars, cars that are no longer detected and dangerously fast approaching cars.
Opinion: It sounds like magic. But it all works well.
What the button does
The ON button scrolls through the flash modes in this order. The third one is the one you will probably want to normally use.
- Solid mode
- Flash mode
- Pulse mode
- Peloton mode
- Single radar mode
Magene L508 – Can I trust it?
The L508 will rarely make a mistake.
Initially, you will probably not trust it as it sounds too good to be true. However, once you start to notice that it really does detect some cars WAY behind you WAY sooner than you hear them then your trust will grow. Then you might ride in a noisy urban environment and just not hear cars that the L508 detects and conversely those peskily quiet electric cars will no longer sneak up on you unannounced. You can’t hear them but Magene can see them.
Finally, you’ll hear one car behind you and notice that MAgene says there are 3 cars. Sure enough, all 3 will speed past you when previously you might only have expected one.
You will eventually trust it. But, please, still look over your shoulder
What does it look like on my bike computer?
Something like this 😉 …have a click
Those images are ones I already had from use with a Garmin Varia…they are exactly the same as the Magene.
Magene L508 Compared to the competition
Garmin radar tail lights have been around for almost 5 years but competition is now emerging. I get the distinct impression that both Garmin and Magene’s products are still somewhat technically stuck in 2018.
That said, Garmin now has a relatively mature range of radar & tail light products which include radar-only versions and versions that also record video. The Magene L508 is the first proper competitor to Garmin and we can expect a similarly-featured Bryton R300 in a few months.
A Potted History
Here’s a short history of bike radars
- Garmin RTL510 (2018) – ANT+ only radar taillight
- Garmin RTL515 (2020) – ANT+ and BLE radar light with Peloton mode and a slightly improved battery life
- Garmin RVR315 (2020) – ANT+/BLE Radar only
- Garmin RCT715 (2022) – Adds pointless video clips, massively increases the price, lowers the battery life and adds some other peripheral stuff
- Magene L508 (2022) – Broadly matches the Garmin RTL515 but adds an automatic braking mode and loses a bit on the brightness and battery life. Lowers the price!
- Bryton R300 (2023) – TBC
A Possible Future
The key weaknesses of the entry-level Garmin are battery life from a bygone era (2018) and the lack of USB-C charger. Magene has the latter but could easily have doubled Garmin’s battery life. As it is, they broadly matched Garmin’s battery life but failed to literally outshine the brilliance of some of the Garmin light modes.
Garmin’s future products will be mesh network lighting and more advanced audio/visual features. Garmin needs to justify much higher prices with hard-to-beat niche features. Magene and Bryton just need to produce a better-specified product at a lower price point – ie brighter lights, smarter lights and longer-lasting batteries.
Unboxing, Installation & Pairing
You get three rubber bands and a relatively universal seat post mount. Obviously, you get the L508 flashlight itself but you also get a lanyard to avoid accidental loss of the light.
I have an unusual D-shaped seat post tube but the L508 kinda fits it. It was the same ‘kinda fit’ with Garmin but the Garmin didn’t have the safety lanyard so I had to pay for a specialist mount to avoid accidental loss. With the Magene I was just happy to clip it on.
Pairing to my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt 2 as a radar was simple. When you pair it to a Garmin, as I also did with my Forerunner 955 Solar, you should find that the Magene light pairs both as a radar and as a light, you might have to make two pairings to achieve this on older devices that but I didn’t with the 955.
That’s it! It really should be as simple as that.
Note: Magene’s seat post mount appears to be 1/4 turn Garmin-compatible but aligned differently by 90 degrees. More expensive seat post mounts are rotatable, the cheap Magene one isn’t.
Note – Not Tested: When you pair as a light with a Garmin Edge, the Edge might turn the Magene off when recording ends.
the App & Subscription
The Magene utility app is very simple and also fairly poorly designed and implemented. But that’s OK as you don’t really have to use it unless you want to customise the default flash patterns and I can see no reason to do that, other than to extend the battery life a bit.
Also inside the box, you will find a card that invites you to scan a QR code to unlock the customisable light mode in the app. You either have to pay a one-off small fee for that privilege or instead sign up for a free newsletter. A very bizarre waste of the company’s time in my opinion. Still, you might as well do it and then immediately unsubscribe from the newsletter.
Magene L508 Road Tests
I’ve done just shy of 500 miles with the L508 and I have no issues with it recognising approaching vehicles in regular, daily suburban London use. I’ll probably revert back to the Garmin on my road bike and will quite happily add the Magene to my TT bike as I currently don’t have a tail light on that.
It doesn’t feel like there is the same algorithm as Garmin uses to detect vehicles, maybe the Magene doesn’t quite detect vehicles as far away as Garmin and maybe Magene doesn’t quite recognise a tailgater that’s dropped back and then approaches again. Maybe ..it’s hard to say definitely but Garmin and Magene are very similar despite any subtle differences in their detection abilities.
However, in terms of what the driver sees, there IS quite a difference. Magene is not quite as bright in some modes (but still bright) and most of its flash patterns are dumb and don’t change based on what the radar is telling it.
The flash patterns of the Garmin are simply different frequencies of on/of and fading. Magene does that too but the Garmin only has one LED whereas the Magene has 18. This enables Magene to deliver a rotating flash pattern which I’m a little undecided on whether or not I like.
The on/off button for the L508 is in the centre of the light. It’s easier to find and press than Garmin’s. #HighlyUsable.
People I ride with say the light does not appear as (annoyingly!) bright on the Magene when compared to the Garmin and I’d have to agree it looks that way when I cursorily inspected them both.
Magene has a novel braking feature using an inbuilt accelerometer. It’s been hard to test and see how it works as it’s behind me
A false negative means that a car that was there was not detected.
It’s hard to definitely say that there were no false negatives as Magene does not claim to detect slowly closing cars (like Garmin).
I would say that other than missing one car in a closely packed group of cars there were no false negatives that I noticed.
YouTube Play: List of test video
Battery Life – Battery Issues
My experience with the older Garmin RTL315 and RTL515 was let down by their battery lives. Never did it seem to match the claims and I frequently got the ‘Low Battery’ message during a ride. That was OK though, as there was always a couple of hours of juice left at that point. It’s just that I seemed to have to charge it more frequently than I would have liked. I put the problem down to Garmin’s standby mode depleting the battery more than it should.
In reality, I also left the light on at the coffee stops, still beeping away at vehicles and I probably didn’t always turn it off straight away when I got back home.
All those ‘user errors’ were repeated with Magene. HOWEVER, Magene’s auto-sleep mode seemed to work properly and better saved the juice.
When it comes to replenishing said juice, battery-charging devotees will love the USB-C charging port. It IS a better-charging port than Garmin micro USB charging port but, hey, it’s only a battery charging port. I don’t get too excited about these things.
You should also factor in battery degradation over time. Batteries lose maximal capacity as they age…it’s just the way it is. I started to notice that with my Garmin after about 2 years but I’ve not had the Magene long enough to offer an opinion here.
As a general point, more modern electronic devices have cleverer charging modes that
- Restrict charge to 80% capacity; &
- Automatically learn when you might need the device and slow charge if it thinks that’s sufficient.
Doing both those things can prolong battery longevity but neither Garmin nor Magene do that. Neither do they have fast charging. I’ve not tested how long it takes to fully charge either the Magene or the Garmin but it ain’t quick. It’s probably a couple of hours and certainly more than an hour.
Magene L508 versus Garmin Varia RTL515
The Magene and Garmin specs compare favourably. Simply put, if you pay a bit more for the Garmin you get a slightly better product. Both are perfectly fine in terms of the core features of brightness, safety and battery life.
Whilst the Garmin does perform better in some circumstances with a brighter light and longer battery life, it’s the Magene that gives you a few nice extras namely; a more responsive braking mode, a customisable mode and a USB-C charge port.
If you’re the sort of person that waits for a deep sale price then the Garmin RTL515 and its RTL315 predecessor are periodically discounted to levels below the current rrp of the Magene but we’ve yet to see what sales discount the Magenene might attract…my guess would be a Black Friday price that’s 20% lower than the rrp and easily going under £/$100.
|Feature||Magene L508||Varia RTL515|
|Dimensions||94×38×25 mm||98.6×19.7×39.6 mm|
|3.7×1.5×0.98 in||3.9×0.8×1.6 in|
|Claimed battery life||6 hours solid||6 hours solid|
|8 hours peloton||8 hours peloton|
|10 hours flash||6 hours night flash|
|12 hours pulse mode||16 hours day flash|
|Max battery life||16 hours (on the box – not sure what mode it’s for!)||16 hours day flash|
3 hours full charge
|Brake sensing||Yes||Yes an Auto Deceleration mode exists for sharp braking
|Auto standby||Yes, 3 month’s standby||Sort of, Garmin Edge light modes will enable and disable the light when recording a ride.|
|Lumens||20 (solid + flashing mode)||20 (solid mode)|
|6 (peloton mode)||8 (peloton mode)|
|3-20 (pulse mode)||29 (night flash)|
|(1.2km visibility!)||65 (day flash)|
|Light modes||Solid, peloton, flash, pulse, custom||Solid, peloton, night flash, day flash|
|Customizable light modes||Yes (paid subscription or free with registration)||No|
|Horizontal detection angle||40°||40°|
|Vertical detection angle||+/-10°||?|
|Closing speed detection||10 to 120 km/h (from 6 to 80 mph)||10 to 160 km/h (from 6 to 99 mph)|
|Vehicle detection distance||140m/150yards||140m/150yards|
|Protocols||Bluetooth, ANT+||Bluetooth, ANT+|
Magene L508 Aesthetics
The Magene L508 is very slightly smaller and lighter than the Garmin. It’s also a bit more rounded on the edges. The main difference though is the LED light. Garmin has one massive bright LED and Magene has a ring of lights.
I slightly prefer the looks of the Garmin though would freely admit it is starting to look a bit ‘dated’. I have no problems with the aesthetics of either light.
I’m only mentioning this as the upcoming Bryton light seems to have POORER aesthetics than Magene.
Magene L508 Compatibility
The L508 tail light supports the BLE/ANT+ standards and so should be compatible with many sports computers including the following
Bike Computers – Compatibility
- Wahoo – Bolt, Roam
- Garmin – 130, 520, 530, 820, 830, 1000, 1030, 1040
- Bryton – R750, S500
- Hammerhead Karoo 2 (and original)
- Stages L50/M50
Smart Watches – Compatibility
- Garmin Forerunner 245, 645, 735, 935 and newer (eg Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar)
- Garmin Fenix 5 family and newer (eg Fenix 7)
Smartphone app – compatibility
- Does NOT work with the Ride with GPS (RwGPS) app
- Does NOT appear to work with the Garmin Varia app
- Administrative links to the Magene app.
- It fits round cross-section seat posts and also my tear-shaped TT bike
- It fits my D-shaped Cervelo seat post
- 3rd party adapters are available for Garmin mounts.
Magene L508 Summary
The Magene L508 is a good radar tail light that’s priced sensibly. I’d gladly recommend it as well as Garmin. I’d go as far as to say that all cyclists should use one of these smart radar lights ALL THE TIME. Smart flash patterns can save your life.
I’ve pointed out the nuances of how the Magene differs from the older Garmin RTL515 but for all intents and purposes, they are very similar. Maybe the Garmin edges it as the light is brighter and there are more modes with a noticeable smart flash – but you’re paying a big premium for that.
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