Editors’ Note: OnPar went out of business on July 31, 2011. SkyCaddie had a trade-in offer for OnPar owners for the new SkyCaddie SGX that was available until September 30, 2011. If you are considering purchase of an OnPar now from eBay or elsewhere, know that OnPar has turned off the ability for owners to download additional courses so chances are you won’t be able to use the device (unless by luck you live in the same area of the previous owner who already had downloaded all the courses you want to play).

With its iPhone-esque touch screen, the OnPar Touchscreen GPS qualifies as one of the the shiniest and sparkliest units on the market. The device has a strong feature set, including overhead views of each hole, reasonably detailed green views, the ability to determine distances to any point on the course, and easy tracking of a plethora of statistics.

We first reviewed the OnPar Touchscreen GPS in 2009, shortly after its release, and had issues with some bugginess in the software and with the sparse course coverage. We recently had occasion to revisit the device, and we were pleased to find that OnPar has done a nice job of remedying the software bugs and incomplete course coverage we encountered earlier. One continuing complaint is that OnPar doesn’t pre-mark any distances on the hole maps other than the front/middle/back of the green.

The improvement in the device warrants higher marks, and the OnPar now grades out with a 90, good for an “A-”. Gadget freaks won’t be disappointed in the “wow” factor they get from their friends when they pull out the OnPar. A couple of tweaks here and there and the OnPar would be ready to compete for top honors.

SCORE
90
GRADE
A-
Setup
91
Course Availability
90
Ease of Use
90
Course Details
91
Features
93
Accuracy
85
Cost/Value
90

Pros:

  • Easy tracking of scores and statistics
  • Overhead hole maps
  • Intuitive interface
  • Can determine the distance to any point on a hole

Cons:

  • Distance to hazards not marked
  • Hole view can be challenging to use, particularly selecting a target point
  • Distances may not be initially be visible on the screen, but rather require users to zoom out to pan to see

Retail price: $349.00
Availability: Company went out of business on July 31, 2011


91 / A-

Setup
The Good: The process is simple and the interface is intuitive. The Quick Start guide is descriptive, and we encountered no glitches in getting up and running.
The Bad: When the user launches the course synchronization software on the computer, the program only runs in the background until the device is plugged in with the USB cable. In other words, it’s confusing to the user as to whether the software has been launched or not. OnPar’s FAQs address the issue, but it would be nice if the Quick Start instructions provided guidance as well. Sadly, the OnPar isn’t compatible with Macs.

Details:

  • Required Steps. Setting up the OnPar is similar to most other devices we tested, and involves:
    • registering on their web site to create an account;
    • installing course synchronization software on your computer;
    • searching for and selecting the courses you want to load to the device; and
    • connecting the OnPar to the computer via a USB cable and “syncing” the courses to the device.
  • Time Required for Setup. OnPar’s Quick Start guide does a nice job of sketching out an orderly process that took a total of 16 minutes from start to finish, about 7 minutes of which was spent downloading and installing the course synchronization software on a PC. The course searching process is easy and straightforward, as is loading courses on to the device. OnPar makes it simple to request mapping of a course that isn’t currently available, and grants priority to mapping a course that a user identifies as his or her “home course.”

Suggestion Box: During the set-up process, OnPar presents the user with two different versions of the desktop synchronization software that can be downloaded, which are identified as 32-bit and 64-bit. Unfortunately, they don’t explain the difference between the two. Even if they assume that gadget-heads who are already using 64-bit operating systems will know what to use, it would be nice if they provided some indication of which version is relevant for the rest of us.

What’s in the Box: The OnPar comes with:

  • USB cable
  • Wall charger
  • Protective rubber case
  • Wrist strap
  • Quick Start Guide.

Required Downloads:

  • Desktop synchronization software
  • OnPar User Manual

90 / A-

Course Availability
Critical Golf Test: OnPar has made huge strides since its release, and now has a solid 90% coverage in our course coverage test, finishing in the top half of devices tested. The OnPar has relatively fewer “Best New” courses (16 out of 20), and courses in the Northeast (16 out of 20) mapped, but we are pleased to see such improvement in a short amount of time.

Manufacturer’s Claims: OnPar claims to have approximately 14,500 courses in its database, which puts in near the bottom in manufacturer’s claimed coverage for devices tested.


90 / A-

Ease of Use
The Good: The OnPar stores up to 300 courses, so the user is unlikely to need to swap new courses in and out because of storage capacity constraints (we would note that playing more than 300 courses on a regular basis is a high-class problem to have, and one we’d like to acquire). Finding distances to a general area (where precision is not critical) is as easy as touching the point on the screen.
The Bad: Hazards and other points are not marked on the OnPar’s maps; rather, the device presents an overhead illustration of the hole. When the user touches a point on the hole, an icon of a golf ball is placed on the picture, and the distance to the golf ball icon is indicated, as well as the distance from the icon to the green. In our experience, pinpointing a particular spot, like the edge of a bunker, required zooming in on the hole as much as possible, followed by a painstaking and delicate process of fine-tuning the position of the icon on the screen by nudging it back and forth. Note that to move the icon, the user puts his finger on it…which then obscures his vision of the icon, making it difficult to determine where the icon is on the map (this will be even more difficult for users with large fingers). We had similar problems in indicating our position with the “track shot” feature – the touch screen just doesn’t lend itself to precision. Perhaps this gets easier over time, but it didn’t exactly scream “easy to use” to our reviewers.

We also note that when zoomed in to precisely identify a target, the distance displayed may be beyond the edges of that screen – forcing the user to zoom out to see the distance, and then zoom back in if they want to adjust the target point. It’s like trying to set up a TV satellite dish on your own, shuttling back and forth between the dish on the roof and the TV in your living room to see if the dish is pointed in the right direction to pick up a signal.

Details:

  • Buttons. As would befit a touch screen device, the OnPar only has a single button, which serves as both a power button and to take the device in and out of sleep mode. Accessing menus and zooming and panning around the screen are all done through the touch screen.
  • Screen. The color screen is bright, and the largest among the devices tested. The screen will automatically increase brightness in sunny conditions.
  • Touchscreen sensitivity. The color screen is bright, and the largest among the devices tested. The screen will automatically increase brightness in sunny conditions. Panning across holes isn’t as smooth as one would find with an iPhone, but it was generally acceptable.
  • Form Factor. The OnPar is similar in size to larger cell phones. For some perspective, the OnPar is to an iPhone as Rumer Willis is to Demi Moore – you can definitely see the resemblance, but it’s a bit shorter, wider, and thicker. The width is a bit more than ideal (we’re talking about the OnPar, not Rumer Willis) for sliding in an out of a pocket, particularly if the protective rubber case is used, but it’s not ungainly. The device comes in at a reasonable 4.5 ounces (as tested).
  • Starting a Round. After powering up the device, the user needs to select the desired course. If the device has acquired satellites, the courses are listed in order of proximity to the current location; otherwise, the courses are listed alphabetically. After a course is selected, an overhead drawing of the entire course is then presented, and the user can touch any of the holes to see the detail of that hole and begin play. It is a bit unusual to select the hole by graphic instead of scrolling through a menu, but it works.

Suggestion Box: In order to more accurately place the golf ball icon on the screen, it might be useful to allow the icon to move even when the user’s finger is touching the screen in the approximate area of the icon, such as 1/2” below or to the side, allowing the user to better see the point where they are setting the target.


91 / A-

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. With the touch of a finger, users can stand on a point and save that point to the hole map, and the device will show the distance to that point in future rounds.

The Bad: We would have liked to have seen OnPar add pre-marked distances to targets and hazards to its ability to determine the distance to any point on the hole, similar to the approach taken by the Callaway uPro (albeit through a cursor, rather than a touch screen). Without pre-marked distances, the user is forced to spend time on each hole checking distances to various hazards or targets – a user experience more akin to the use of a laser rangefinder, but without the same level of precision. Thankfully, as indicated above in “The Good” and below in “Custom Mapping”, OnPar makes it easy for users to customize the map with hazards or layup points.

OnPar Hole View

Click on image for slideshow

Details:

  • Views. There are two views available – a “hole view” which shows an overhead illustration of the hole, and a “green view”. The distance to the front, middle and back of the green are displayed at the top of these views.
    • Hole view – The user can pan around on the illustration of the hole with the touch screen, and can zoom in and out using a sliding button on the touch screen. As indicated above under “Ease of Use”, touching a point on the hole will display the distance to that point, and the distance from that point to the green. The hole view always displays the distances to the front, middle and back of the green at the top of the screen. The OnPar can also provide an overlay on the hole view that shows radiating bands (with different color lines) at 250, 200, 150 and 100 yards from the center of the green.
    • Green view – Shows the shape of the green and some surroundings, and allows the user to either touch any point on the green to indicate the flagstick position and determine the distance to that point, or use arrow buttons on the touchscreen to nudge the flagstick position in increments of one yard. This view also shows the distance from that point to the front or back edge of the green (whichever is closest to the flackstick position, and based on the angle of approach from the user’s current position) and the nearest lateral edge of the green (i.e. the user can find the point that is five yards from the front edge of the green and 10 yards from the right edge of the green). Unfortunately, the orientation of the green view is always fixed – it does not rotate based upon the user’s angle of approach. Dotted lines indicate the line of approach. Users can move into green view at any time by touching on the green, or allow the OnPar to automatically move to green view at approximately 50-65 yards.
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par are always visible on the “hole view” and “green view” screens. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping (“OnMark”). Users can easily add their own custom points to a hole map by standing on the point to be mapped and pressing a button. That point will remain mapped for future rounds, and the device will indicate the distance from the current position to that point. The availability of this feature overcomes much of our concern about the lack of marked hazards.

Suggestion Box: The hole view is an illustration of the hole, rather than a photograph, which, while perhaps not as accurate as a satellite view, allows the hole image to be seen more easily in bright light. OnPar would benefit from modifying the color of the trees in the hole graphics, which in bright light are challenging to differentiate from the rough.


93 / A

Features

The Good: The OnPar is chock full o’features, and is particularly good about tracking prior performance. Gadget lovers will enjoy exploring the capabilities of the device over time.

The Bad: We’re not really sure of the utility of a lot of the features. We did encounter issues when a user accidentally touches certain edges of the screen while in shot tracking mode, the result being they may not be able to delete the accidentally recorded shot, and can wind up compounding the error when trying to delete it. This is an interface issue that should be fixed.

OnPar Features

Click for slideshow

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The device has a simple interface for tracking shots and for indicating the club used on each shot. A unique feature of the OnPar is that if a user tracks shots through a round, the next time the user plays that course, the device can display the tracked shots from the prior round (“OnShots”). Reviewing shots from past rounds during play isn’t particularly useful for us, but perhaps is for some. If users are tracking club distances, updated average distances only become available on the OnPar beginning one day after the round, in order to conform with USGA rules.
  • Scores and Statistics. The touch screen shines in how easy it is to track scores and statistics – score and putts are input by pressing either the “plus” button or “minus” button on the screen. During one of our test rounds, we noted an incorrect number for par on one hole – unfortunately, the OnPar does not allow users to modify the scorecards. Fairways hit and greens hit in regulation are logged by touching a check box on each hole. If the user is using the shot tracking function, the device will prompt the user on whether a fairway was hit or if the green was reached in regulation. Statistics displayed will include average putts per round and per hole, average score, long drive, average drive, fairway hit accuracy, and greens in regulation.
  • Club recommendation (“OnClub”). If the user tracks shots and the clubs used for each shot, the OnPar will calculate the average shot distance with each club over the prior 18 rounds, and based upon that calculation, provide a recommendation for the club to be used at a given distance. This function can be turned on and off. The OnPar will track minimum, average, and maximum distances for each club tracked.
  • Auto-Advance. The device will automatically advance to the next hole when in hole view, or the user may manually advance to the next hole.
  • Preferences. Users can select to turn on and off such features as the display of colored yardage arcs on the hole display (a useful option), whether to display distances to selected points, display shots from the previous round, and modify the clubs in your bag.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS features across all devices tested.


85 / B

Accuracy
Device Accuracy: We experienced no distance accuracy issues in our test of device accuracy, with all distances within the acceptable range of plus or minus 4 yards. The OnPar does take longer than other devices to acquire satellites to start the round and to provide distance readings during the round. It was only on the order of a few seconds, but we became accustomed to pausing to get the most accurate reading before putting the OnPar back in our pocket.

Mapping Accuracy: We tested the OnPar on a variety of courses and had a few course mapping issues. One egregious error was that on one course, the holes were mislabeled – holes 1-9 were labeled holes 10-18, and vice versa. We also experienced a number of holes where fairway bunkers, in landing areas no less, were not displayed, as well as areas of wild rough and grasses incorrectly shown as bunkers.
The device will stop showing distance readings when the user is within 5 yards of the green, but a cutoff distance that close didn’t affect our general testing of accuracy (some devices cut off distance readings inside of 30 or 50 yards, which may give some indication that they are less confident in their accuracy).


90 / A-

Cost/Value
Retail Price: The OnPar’s retail price of $349 puts it on par with most of the full-featured golf GPS devices tested.
Fees for Access to Course Database: Balancing the cost of the device itself is the fact that there are no fees for access to OnPar’s course database. That’s far better than just “on par” (oh come on, you knew we were going to use that sooner or later).

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: Since there is no cost for access to the course database, the three-year total cost of ownership of the OnPar is $349 (the cost of the device itself), puts it in the middle of the pack in our cost comparison.

Value: With its touch screen and other features, the OnPar definitely is among the tops in terms of “cool factor” (although we will continue to bemoan the lack of pre-marked hazards and targets). The lack of fees for accessing the course database is great, and the price of the device is at the same level of other full-featured GPS devices. The OnPar is one of a select group of top-end devices on which we would actually consider spending our own money.