OVERALL RATING: 91. GRADE: A-. The Garmin Approach G5 is Garmin’s first branded golf GPS device (Garmin collaborated on the GolfLogix GPS-8 that was branded by GolfLogix, but “powered” by Garmin), and is an incredibly solid unit that offers touchscreen navigation. It still suffers from one of the problems inherent with touchscreens, which is that it can be difficult to accurately select targets. But the Garmin Approach G5 utilizes its touchscreen brilliantly to make navigating among the device’s features simple and intuitive. And it requires absolutely no set-up time at all. The recently released Stat Tracking software augments the feature set, enabling users to track the number of fairways hit, greens in regulation and putts in a round, and the average distance hit with each club. Yes, its comes at a premium price point, but this is offset in part by the quality of the device and the fact that there are no fees for access to the course database.
Our conclusion is that the Garmin Approach G5 is a very good device that with a few minor tweaks could very quickly become a great device. The makers of non-touchscreen devices will have to think long and hard about how they can keep up.
(Editor’s Note: We’ve revised our review to include our reflections after testing the new Stat Tracking software update. And check out the new lower price point!)
- The best user interface we tested
- Can determine the distance to any point on a hole
- Tracks score and statistics
- No set-up required – courses are all pre-loaded
- No fee for access to the course database
- When the user touches the screen to determine the distance to a custom point, the pre-marked points are not viewable
- Short battery life
The Good: The Garmin Approach G5 ties the GolfBuddy Tour with a perfect 100 for setup – all the user does is install a pair of AA batteries (not included) and turn on the device. Courses are pre-loaded so no download to a computer is necessary. Take the 20 minutes of setup time you just saved and go work on your short game. No, you should not just go to the range and let the big dog eat…
The Bad: Absolutely nothing.
Required Steps. None – there isn’t anything that the user needs to do. Garmin’s web site provides a free application (the WebUpdater) that can be downloaded to the user’s computer – once the Garmin Approach G5 is connected to the computer with a USB cable, WebUpdater should automatically find the latest software and sync it to the device. In addition, Garmin has promised to make periodic updates to the course database available for free from its web site.Obtaining the free updated course database was a bit more convoluted. Users must go to the Garmin website and find the download on the “Maps” tab within the Approach G5 page in the Garmin shop. The file to be downloaded is an executable file, and once downloaded, can be opened to walk the user step-by-step through the process of downloading and syncing the updated course database. One big problem for Mac users is that the course database updater file is a Windows program only. We hope Garmin has plans to support the Mac platform as well.
Time Required for Setup. None – well, okay, it took a minute to find a pair of batteries.
What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach G5 comes with:
- USB cable
- Quick Start Guide
- Belt Clip
Critical Golf Test: Garmin continues to work hard on adding to its course database, and now scores 97% in our course coverage test, placing them near the top of the pack among the devices we’ve tested.
Manufacturer’s Claims: Garmin claims to have 17,000 courses in the United States and Canada in its database, which currently places the Approach G5 near the tops of our course coverage comparison test for the region. Unlike other manufacturers, however, the Garmin Approach G5 is a North America-specific device. So if you are looking to cross an ocean to play, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
EASE OF USE
The Good: Nice simple interface to access different features. Courses are all stored on the device, so the user doesn’t have to decide which ones to swap on or off of the device’s memory. The touchscreen makes finding distances to a targeted point (as well as the distance from that point to the middle of the green) as easy as touching the screen and moving a cross-hair over the desired point. If the user touches the bottom of the cross-hair, the cross hair can be moved and the user can still see what the center of the cross-hair is targeting. This is a definite improvement over the OnPar, which targets whatever is under the middle of the user’s finger (and thus by definition can’t be seen by the user).
The Bad: Pre-marked distances are not viewable while the user is using the touchscreen to determine a custom distance. We couldn’t make it through two rounds before the AA batteries died. Two words of advice to Garmin Approach G5 purchasers – rechargeable batteries. (Editors Note: The original version of the Garmin Approach G5 did not allow the user to manually zoom in on the fairway – zoom views were limited to automatic zooms by the device as the user got closer to the screen. The latest firmware update enables the user to elect to zoom in on the fairway, which improves the experience significantly. The scores in this review are based on updated version.)
Buttons. The Garmin Approach G5 only has a single button, the power button, which powers the device on/off if held for a few seconds, or if pressed briefly when the device is on, will display a screen showing the date/time, a battery meter, and a button to touch to lock the screen. All other information and controls are accessed through the touchscreen. The interface on the touchscreen is intuitive, and the ways to access different functions are clearly labeled.
Screen. The color screen is bright, and we had no problem viewing it in sunny conditions. The 5.57 inches of viewing area on the screen was second largest among the devices tested.
Touchscreen Sensitivity. The Garmin Approach G5’s touchscreen was solid and consistent – buttons were activated when we touched them. We note that we still had the occasional problem with the device accidentally advancing to new screens when jostled around in a pocket.
Form Factor. The device comes in at a hefty 6.85 ounces, making it the heaviest device in our test. But to quote Cartman, “I’m not fat, I’m big boned”, or “I’m not fat, I’m festively plump” (from a Christmas South Park episode), or our favorite, “I’m not fat, I just have a SWEET hockey body”. The Garmin Approach G5 isn’t light, but because of its rounded shape, it was easy to slip and and out of a pant pocket, and it wasn’t quite as obtrusive within the pocket as other heavy devices. Still, it weighed enough that we preferred to keep it in our bag during shots.
Starting a Round. After powering up the Approach G5, the user needs to manually select the desired course. Courses are listed in order of proximity to the current location. Once a course is selected, the device defaults to displaying the first hole of the course, although there is a button on the touchscreen that can be pressed to advance through to subsequent holes in the event the user is playing just the back nine or is in a shotgun start.
Battery Life. Battery life is relatively short. We found that we were able to make it just short of two rounds before the batteries died – like the bright touchscreen of the OnPar, these device go through batteries quickly. The device does automatically reduce the brightness of the screen after one minute of inactivity to conserve battery life .
For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.
COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING
The Good: The ability to determine the distance to any point and to pinpoint the precise position of a target on the green provides tremendous flexibility, and Garmin complements this with pre-marked distances to many relevant hazards and targets. The view of the green rotates based upon where the user is standing in hole view.
The Bad: Somewhat random as to when distances to hazards are displayed.
Views.The Garmin Approach G5 provides two main views – a “hole view” that shows an overhead illustration of the hole, and a “green view”.
- Hole view – The Garmin will automatically zoom in on the hole view as the user marches closer to the green. There are a number of “levels” of zoom on the hole view – completely zoomed out (the “overhead view”), and then additional zooms as the user gets closer and closer to the green (we counted as many as twelve incremental zooms on one hole), and finally the green view. The user can also manually zoom in on the overhead view by first touching the screen, moving the cross-hair to the desired area, and then touching the “zoom” button (there is only one level of zoom available when manually zooming). Garmin has pre-marked the distances to some hazards and targets, but in the overhead view, it is sometimes difficult to determine the point to which the distance relates – such as if it is to reach or to clear the bunker. Thankfully, in some of the zoomed views, the hazards are enlarged enough that both distances to reach a hazard and to clear a hazard are displayed. We can’t figure out Garmin’s philosophy on displaying distances – Garmin has already marked the key hole targets, so why not show the distances to all of them? The graphics of the hazards are nicely detailed, though there are some minor issues, as bunkers were often shown as overlapping in the graphic when the bunkers still had gaps of approximately 5 feet between them. The hole view always displays the distance to the middle of the green at the top right of the screen, along with the hole number and the par for the hole.
- Green view – Shows the shape of the green, and allows the user to touch any point on the green to indicate the flagstick position. This view also shows the distance from the user to distances on and around the green based on the angle of approach from the user’s current position when the user manually selects the green view (the view will not continue to rotate once the user has selected green view but remains fixed). One of the most thoughtful features of the Garmin Approach G5 is that the device also shows enough of the surrounding area (bunkers, et al) that it’s abundantly clear to the user exactly where they are in relation to the various distances that are displayed. This may sound simple, but the challenge of many of the devices is that when the user is standing at the side of the green, and sees a picture of just the green (out of context), with distances to the “bottom” of the green and the “top” of the green, it usually isn’t clear if the “bottom” reading is the distance closest to the user or to the tee box. Many times the only way the user knows that the green has been rotated is if they know the shape of the green extremely well – which is generally not the case on a course that a user is playing for the first time. Kudos to Garmin for making things clear to even our knucklehead reviewers! (Shades of Charles Barkley – “Lemme axe you a kwustion. You knuckleheads cain’t even figure out what direction you facing? That’s turrible. Just turrible”) Another complaint, which parallels our comments about the hole view, is that the device isn’t consistent in which points it will show – the near and far points of the green are not always what is displayed (we presume that Garmin chooses to only plot a limited number of points around the perimeter of the green).
- Hole Information. The hole number and par are always visible on the “hole view” screens. “Green view” screens do not provide hole number or par. Hole handicap is not available.
- Custom Mapping. Garmin Approach G5 users cannot add and save their own points to the map. This isn’t a huge issue, since location to any point can be determined, but as mentioned above, it would be nice to have greater precision on distances to certain hazards in the overhead view.
Suggestion Box: The hole view is an artist’s rendition of the hole, rather than a photograph, leaving some doubt as to whether every relevant hazard is displayed (the sketch artist perhaps has not had a lesson on how to draw trees yet, since they generally don’t appear in the maps). Which raises a zen-like question – if a tree doesn’t appear on the Garmin, but our ball hits it, is it really there? Based on the “crack” sound that we heard and the nasty gouge on the ball, all signs point to yes.
It would also be helpful if Garmin provided more distances to pre-mapped points in hole view. We encountered a large number of holes where distances to hazards or to clear hazards from the tee box were not provided, and only appeared once we were within 150 yards of the hazard (long after the information was useful).
The Good: A solid grouping of useful features that are executed well. Plus it’s waterproof! So if you’re out on the course and it starts to rain, “I’d keep playing. I don’t think the heavy stuff is gonna come down for quite awhile” (Carl Spackler).
The Bad: Statistics can be tracked, but only for the current round – the Garmin G5 doesn’t aggregate data from past rounds to show your overall performance.
Shot Tracking. The Garmin Approach G5 has one of the simplest interface for tracking shots. The touchscreen really shines on these types of features, since very specific buttons can be created and changed depending on the screen that is displayed. This is in stark contrast to the traditional devices, which have to either assign multiple tasks to each button or have lots of buttons – neither of which makes for a very good user experience. Also, a nice touch is that the user can leave the shot tracking screen to utilize a different feature and then return – the device will still continue tracking the shot distance. With the new “Stat Tracking” software update, while measuring a shot, a user can indicate which club was used, and the G5 will keep a running tally on the average distance hit with that club.
Score and Statistics. Again, the Garmin Approach G5 succeeds in presenting the best interface for keeping score. The user goes to the scorecard, touches a column next to the relevant hole, and is presented a keypad with multiple numbers – the user just touches the relevant number and voila! The device allows the user to enter multiple names (which are also easy to type in with the touchscreen) to track the scoring of everyone in the foursome. The scorecard will show each player’s current score relative to par. With the new “Stat Tracking” software update, the user can now track statistics for each player by entering whether the fairway was hit and how many putts were required on the hole (the G5 uses that information to interpolate whether the green was hit in regulation). One nice feature is that by touching the par listed for a hole, the user can edit the par – handy on courses where there are different scores for par depending on which tee box is utilized.
Auto-advance. The user can choose whether the device will automatically advance to the next hole or require the user to manually advance.
Course Storage. One of the key features of the Garmin Approach G5 is its ability to store all of its courses on the device. Garmin’s web site claims that the Approach G5 has “unlimited” storage – if indeed they have figured this out, perhaps they should go ahead and solve perpetual motion, cold fusion, and cure cancer while they’re on a roll. In any event, with all of the courses pre-loaded, users never have to worry about whether they’ve swapped the correct course on to the device before a round. This helps when you hit the snooze button one too many times before an early morning tee time and are running late.
Preferences. The Garmin Approach G5 has a limited set of adjustable preferences: measurement unit (yards vs. meters); battery type (alkaline, lithium or rechargeable NiMH) and auto-advance (automatic vs. manual). These preferences can only be viewed or modified prior to starting of the round.
For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.
We tested the Garmin Approach G5 on a variety of courses and found the accuracy readings to be within 3-9 yards of sprinkler head markings and our laser readings. On a clear day on one course, we had absolutely no accuracy problems at all. On another course on an overcast day, in which we weren’t getting great satellite reception, we found a number of readings that were 7-9 yards off from sprinkler head markings and our laser readings. It ultimately isn’t clear to us whether the discrepancies were due to lousy reception or if the mappings were off. One thing we liked is that the device continues to provide distance readings no matter how close the user is to the target, unlike some competing devices. As with other devices with hole layouts, it can be a bit disconcerting to see the indicator of your location moving through a bunker when you are walking next to it, or on the green when you are in the near rough, but this is natural for GPS devices where within a few yards is an extremely accurate reading.
Retail Price: At a retail price of $349.99, the Garmin Approach G5 falls into the second highest tier of pricing, behind the group of devices at $399.
Fees for Access to Course Database: Like the OnPar and the GolfBuddy Tour, the high cost of the Garmin unit is offset in part by the fact that there are no fees for access to Garmin’s course database.
Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: There is no cost for access to the course database, so the three-year total cost of ownership of the Garmin Approach G5 is $349.99 (the cost of the device itself). This puts the G5 into the group of premium priced golf GPS devices.
Value: On the one hand, the overall cost of the Garmin Approach G5, even factoring in free access to courses, is not cheap. On the other hand, it’s so solid in so many ways that the cost seems justified. (Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey – “On the other hand, you have different fingers”) Our conclusion is that we can’t quite justify giving it an “A” for value just yet. But we’ll re-evaluate with future updates.