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Garmin Approach G3

OVERALL RATING: 92. GRADE: A-. The Garmin Approach G3 is the latest Garmin-branded golf GPS device, and delivers everything that the predecessor Garmin Approach G5 unit does, in a smaller package and with a lower price. “Breathtaking. I shall call him…Mini-Me.”

The Garmin Approach G3 is a solid unit (maybe a little too solid when you slip it into your pocket, since despite its small size, it’s still relatively heavy at 5.35 ounces – compare this to the Callaway uPro at 3.1 ounces). Like the G5, it suffers from one of the problems inherent with touchscreens, which is that it can be difficult to accurately pinpoint your desired targets (particularly if you have large fingers), but the touchscreen also makes navigating among the G3’s different features simple and intuitive. Garmin’s use of illustrations of holes, as opposed to actual satellite photographs, is really starting to grow on us – the illustrations are much brighter than photographs, and are thus viewable in all light conditions. An added bonus is that the Gamin Approach G3 requires absolutely no set-up time at all, with all courses pre-loaded on the device.

One of our few complaints is that we wish the device had the ability to track statistics – an unfortunate oversight for a premium device. And while we’re nit-picking, the combination of the G3’s bulky shape and weight make it a bit of a brick in your pocket. A 20% smaller and lighter brick than the G5, but a brick nonetheless. As a note, since the G3 is so similar to the G5, we borrowed liberally from the text of our earlier review for the G5 in writing this one…We’re not lazy…just efficient!

SCORE
92
GRADE
A-
Setup/Syncing
100
Course Availability
97
Ease of Use
95
Course Details
94
Features
92
Accuracy
93
Cost/Value
92
Pros:

  • Matches the G5 with the best user interface we tested
  • Can determine the distance to any point on a hole
  • No set-up required – courses are all pre-loaded
  • No fee for access to the course database

Cons:

  • No tracking of any statistics (fairways hit, GIR, putts, sand saves, et al)
  • When the user touches the screen to determine a custom point, the pre-marked points are not viewable
  • Short battery life

Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Garmin Approach G6
Retail price: $269.99
Three year total cost: $269.99
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


100 / A+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: The Garmin Approach G3 scores 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 downloads are necessary.

The Bad: Absolutely nothing.

Details:

  • 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 G3 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.
  • Time Required for Setup. None, other than the time it takes you to find a pair of batteries.

What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach G3 comes with:

  • USB cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Belt Clip

Required Downloads:

  • None

Optional Downloads:


97 / A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: Garmin keeps adding courses to its database, now scoring 97% in our course coverage test, which places it among the top devices in overall coverage.

Manufacturer’s Claims: Garmin claims to have 17,000 courses in the United States and Canada in its database, which currently places the Approach G3 near the tops of our course coverage comparison test for the region. Unlike other manufacturers, however, the Garmin Approach G3 is a North America-specific device. So if you are looking for one device to use in other continents, you’ll want to look elsewhere.


95 / A

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.

The Bad: Pre-marked distances are not viewable while the user is using the touchscreen to determine a custom distance. While targeting a desired point your finger may block the view of the cross-hair and distance. Two words of advice to Garmin Approach G3 purchasers: rechargeable batteries. We kept getting a warning screen that the battery power was “too low for full backlight”, even when the battery meter was showing between 1/2 and 3/4 of a charge remaining.

Garmin Approach G3 Golf GPS Device

Click for more images

Details:

  • Buttons. The Garmin Approach G3 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 G3’s screen size is about 20% smaller than the G5, but we didn’t notice any difference in usability.
  • Touchscreen Sensitivity. We had a bit more of a problem with the touchscreen of the Garmin Approach G3 than we did with the G5 – on occasion, we had to push a button multiple times before it would activate. This is more of a minor annoyance than a tragic flaw. We note that we still had the occasional issue with the device accidentally advancing to new screens or new holes when jostled around in a pocket. You can solve this by clicking on the power button to move to the “standby” screen, but that then necessitates hitting a button when you want to get back to the display of the hole.
  • Form Factor. The device comes in at 5.35 ounces, making the G3 one of the heavier GPS devices we tested. The length and width of the Garmin Approach G3 are actually quite compact. Unfortunately, it’s a thick little sucker – while its length and width are comparable to a Callaway uPro, it is basically twice as thick.
  • Starting a Round. After powering up the G3, 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 – if you are playing just the back nine or in a shotgun start, you have to manually press the “>>” button multiple times to advance to the relevant starting hole.
  • Battery Life. Battery life is relatively short, though we were able to make it through two rounds before the batteries died. The device does automatically reduce the brightness of the screen after one minute of inactivity to conserve battery life . One really annoying glitch – when the G3 batteries are near the threshold charge level for triggering a warning screen that battery power is insufficient for full backlighting, the device seems to frequently change its mind about whether there actually is sufficient power or not…and thus, it will re-display the warning screen 2 seconds after it just showed it to you and then again…and again. Once the charge level drops comfortably below that threshold, the problem seems to go away.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


94 / 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, 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: Fairly random as to when distances to hazards are displayed – distances to points may appear and then disappear as you approach them, or may only appear once you are so close to them that the distance is irrelevant.

Garmin Approach G3 Golf GPS Device

Click for more views

Details:

  • Views. The Garmin Approach G3 provides two main views – a “hole view” that shows an overhead illustration of the hole, and a “green view” focused on the green and surrounding area.
    • 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 – ranging from the entire hole when users are on the tee box, to just the green and surroundings. The user can also manually zoom by 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). When targeting a point with the cross-hair, the cross-hair and distance to the targeted point will most likely be blocked by your finger. However, when you lift your finger from the screen both the cross-hair and distance will still be displayed (until you select “Done”).

      The distance displayed at the top of the screen is to the center of the green or wherever the user has placed the flagstick within the “green view”, below. When you select a point the distance will be updated to be the total distance from your current location to the selected point plus the distance from that point to the flagstick. The distance at the top of the screen is not, as it is with some golf GPS devices, either the distance to the targeted point or the distance as the crow flies to the center of the green.

      Garmin has pre-marked the distances to some hazards and targets, but in hole view it is sometimes difficult to determine what point the distance refers – whether the distance displayed is the distance to reach a bunker or the distance 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 more of them? The graphics of the hazards are nicely detailed, though there are some minor issues, as bunkers were often shown as overlapping in graphics when in reality they had gaps of approximately 5 feet between them. The view of the hole and green will continue to rotate based on the player’s position to the green, which is a nice feature.
      The hole view always displays the hole number and par.

    • Green view – Shows the shape of the green, and allows the user to touch any point on the green to indicate the flagstick position. Once the user modifies the flagstick position it will keep this position for the hole, so if the user returns to the hole view the distances will be relative to this updated flagstick location. This view also shows the distance from the user to distances on and around the green (the view will not continue to rotate based on player position once the user has moved to green view). One of the most thoughtful features of Garmin’s devices is that their green views show enough of the surrounding area (bunkers, et al) that users can easily determine where they are relative to the green. 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 often isn’t clear if the “bottom” reading is the point on the green closest to the user, or to the tee box. Furthermore, 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. Our last comment, which parallels those regarding 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 visible on the “hole view” screen. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping. Garmin Approach G3 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 information 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. The benefit of this is that the image is much brighter than a satellite photo. But it does leave some doubt as to whether every relevant hazard is displayed – particularly trees. Garmin lists some courses as showing “tree cover”, but we would like to see this become standard on their course maps.
  • 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 either to hazards or to clear hazards from the tee box were not provided, and some pre-marked distances only appeared long after the information was useful (in one case once we were within 20 yards of the point).
  • Finally, while we liked the flexibility in the green view to move the flagstick to any point on the green (and receive distances to that repositioned flagstick), we sometimes found ourselves pulling out the G3 and finding that while it was jostled about in our pocket, it had bumbled along into the green view and repositioned the flagstick. When that happened, we couldn’t find any way to restore the flagstick to the default position in the center of the green (other than by exiting the round, which will erase all of your scores). We were left needing to manually nudge it back to the center of the green on our own.

92 / A-

FEATURES

The Good: A solid grouping of useful features that are executed well. Plus it’s waterproof!

The Bad: There is no ability to record statistics, nor can the user modify any settings during the course of their round.

Garmin Approach G3 Golf GPS Device

Click for more images

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The Garmin Approach G3 has a simple 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. Also, 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. Note that users cannot indicate which clubs were used for a given shot, which some devices allow so they can calculate average club distances.
  • Score and Statistics. Again, the Garmin Approach G3 succeeds in presenting a basic 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. The device allows the user to enter names (which are also easy to type in with the touchscreen) to track the scoring of everyone in the foursome. The scoring screen will show each player’s current score relative to par, and the user can touch the name of a player to scroll through their scorecard. The Garmin Approach G3 will always save your scorecard from your last round of golf – when you start a new round it replaces the previous scorecard.
    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. Unfortunately, the device does not track statistics for fairways hit, greens hit in regulation, or putts.
  • 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. All courses come pre-loaded on the Approach G3, so users never have to worry about whether they’ve loaded the correct courses on to the device before leaving the house.
  • Preferences. The Garmin Approach G3 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 the round – the user otherwise must quit the current round, which will erase any scores that were recorded during play.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


93 / A-

ACCURACY

We tested the Garmin Approach G3 on a variety of courses and found the accuracy readings to be within 3-4 yards of sprinkler head markings and our laser readings. This was a bit better than we experienced with the G5, but we suspect that we just had lousy satellite reception on the days we were testing the G5, since we presume that the two devices share exactly the same course maps and GPS chipset. One thing we liked is that the G3 continues to provide distance readings no matter how close the user is to the target, unlike some competing devices.


92 / A-

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: At a retail price of $269.99, the Garmin Approach G3 comes in below the typical price point for competitive devices with hole views, such as the GolfBuddy series, SkyCaddie SGX, and Golf Guru 4.

Fees for Access to Course Database: An additional bonus for the G3 is that there are no fees for access to Garmin’s course database.

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 Garmin Approach G3 is $269.99 (the cost of the device itself), which makes it one of the least expensive devices featuring full hole graphics in our cost comparison of golf GPS devices.

Value: The Garmin Approach G3 gets a strong value rating, delivering the wealth of features that we loved in its big brother, the Approach G5, but for $80 less. Our definition of “value” is getting the most for your money – with the G3, you get a premium golf GPS device with a rich feature set at an attractive price, and with no fees for access to the course database. Go to the head of the class!


SkyCaddie SGX

[Editor’s Note: The review below has been revised to reflect our impressions of SkyCaddie’s 2011 software update for the SGX.]

The SkyCaddie SGX is the latest offering from SkyCaddie, which still reigns as the best-known GPS company in the game. The SGX includes new features such as a digital scorecard, statistics tracking, overhead hole maps with the ability to select a point and receive distances both to that point and from that point to the green (HoleVue), and detailed green maps with contours and false fronts (Intelligreen Pro). But the availability of HoleVue and Intelligreen Pro is sparse (see our golf course coverage test for details), and the syncing process is abysmal. And let’s not forget the top-end price tag for the unit and a steep yearly subscription fee to access the course database.

Our conclusion – the SGX is a nice unit that provides SkyCaddie with something that is competitive with the top devices. The problem is that it doesn’t surpass those other devices, which makes the premium pricing difficult to swallow.

SCORE
85
GRADE
B
Setup/Syncing
75
Course Availability
59
Ease of Use
80
Course Details
94
Features
90
Accuracy
90
Cost/Value
82

Pros:

  • Bright and easy to read color screen
  • Full graphic hole views and unmatched green detail (when HoleVue and Intelligreen Pro are available)
  • Large number of user customizable settings

Cons:

  • Highest 3-year total cost in our test
  • Course coverage still evolving
  • Syncing process is awful
  • Interface still needs additional polish

Retail price: $349.95
Three year total cost: $499.80
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the SkyCaddie TOUCH
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now


75 / C

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: Detailed step-by-step instructions make setup straightforward.

The Bad: The SGX took longer than any other device tested to set up, largely due to required software updates and the SGX freezing on us during the initial update attempt. An update of the software was required once during initial setup, then again two weeks later with the release of yet another software update. We had issues with connecting the SGX nearly every time we attempt to sync the device, though this is usually fixed by trying the “sync” button multiple times and/or unplugging and plugging the SGX back in again.

CaddieSync Error Messages

Click for errors

We revisited the SGX after their latest 2011 software release of a new software update. Unfortunately, what resulted was a comical 30 minutes that included a failure by the CaddieSync app update the software during the initial attempt, a crash when we attempted to reinstall the software update as instructed, and then multiple pages of errors when we attempted to open CaddieSync. We had the pleasure of uninstalling and re-installing the application, powering on and off the SGX, and then on the third try had success with the software upgrade. Just when we thought we were out of the woods, the CaddieSync app crashed again, requiring one more attempt before a successful sync. Needless to say, if you like a smooth syncing process, this just isn’t the device for you (and with the number of devices available today with all courses included out of the box, you have the option to select a device that doesn’t even require syncing).

Details:

  • Required steps. Setting up the SkyCaddie SGX is similar to many other devices we tested, and involves:
    • registering on their web site to create an account;
    • choosing and purchasing a membership plan (ranging in price from $29.95 to $59.95);
    • installing course management software (CaddieSync) on your computer;
    • searching for and selecting the courses you want to load to the SkyCaddie and adding them to your “Favorites” list; and
    • connecting the SkyCaddie to the computer via a USB cable and “syncing” the courses to the device.
  • Time required for setup. The initial setup process took about 40 minutes in total. This included the time to create an account online and select a membership plan, download and install the course management software, a required software update (30 minutes alone, and not an enjoyable experience), and loading courses.

What’s in the Box: The SkyCaddie SGX comes with:

  • USB cable
  • Wall charger
  • Belt clip
  • LCD protectors
  • Quick Start Guide
  • LCD polishing cloth

Required Downloads: :


59 / F

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: The low rating/grade for the SkyCaddie SGX is based upon the current lack of courses for which HoleVue and Intelligreen Pro are available – the SGX scored near the bottom of our golf course coverage test, which doesn’t seem like enough progress from our initial score of 42% in 2010. We do note that the SGX provided 98% coverage for standard distance information. We believe, however, that the appropriate comparison point, given the premium price that purchasers will pay, is the course coverage for the device’s top feature set. We are disappointed in this continued low course coverage score, and if you are considering purchasing the SGX, we would recommend doing a careful check on whether the courses you plan to play have HoleVue and IntelliGreen Pro available through the SkyCaddie website.

Manufacturer’s Claims: SkyCaddie claims to have nearly 30,000 courses available in its course database, placing it among the top devices tested. This number refers, however, to coverage of standard distance information – SkyCaddie doesn’t break out for HoleVue and IntelliGreen Pro coverage.


80 / B-

EASE OF USE

The Good: The device has an exceptional display that shows well even in bright sunlight.

The Bad: The SkyCaddie SGX, at 5.5 ounces (as tested), tied with its sister device, the SG5, as one of the heavier devices in our test. We wish that SkyCaddie had incorporated a touchscreen display to keep up with the competition. The interface was confusing at times, with situations where you expect to be able to use one of the softkeys on the device, but instead need to use the joystick to select an option. There is no ability to zoom out one level when in hole view – users need to zoom in all the way to the green, then zoom out to the highest level of zoom and start again. In addition, we not only experienced the above-mentioned errors in the CaddieSync process, but also had the pleasure of frozen screens during play and an error message that required restarting the device and losing our recorded scores in the middle of a round. Awful, just awful.

Error

Details:

  • Buttons. The device features a joystick (which can also be pressed down to select menu items), two soft keys, and buttons for power, mark shot, menu, course information, and hole selection. The joystick works particularly well for pinpointing targets, though it would benefit from being slightly harder to depress, so users don’t accidentally push the joystick when attempting to nudge it left/right or up/down.
  • Screen. The SkyCaddie SGX has a high resolution 3” screen that is clear and easily visible even in bright sunlight.
  • Form Factor. The SkyCaddie SGX weighed 5.5 ounces as tested, making it one of the heaviest devices we tested.
  • Starting a Round. To begin a round, users can scroll through the list of courses they have loaded onto the device, or choose from a selection of “Preloaded Courses ” that SkyCaddie loads on the device at the factory (which are displayed based on proximity to the player’s location). Note, however, that the “Preloaded Course” maps only contain basic distances to the front, center and back of the green, and do NOT include HoleVue, Intelligreen Pro, or even the distances to bunkers, creeks and other hazards. After selecting the course, the user selects the hole on which to start the round. Users can easily resume a round if they exit the course during play.

94 / A

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: New overhead hole views (HoleVue) provide a solid amount of detail, including the mapping of trees. The green rotates based on player position, and is a very accurate representation of the shape.

The Bad: For some courses where IntelliGreen Pro was available, we found contours and false fronts mapped for only some of the holes. Whether this was an oversight, or whether SkyCaddie didn’t think that the contours were significant enough to map, isn’t clear. In addition, the start of some holes were cropped and not visible upon initial viewing of the hole and not accessible via scrolling.

Hole View

Click for views

Details:

  • Views. There are four different views available – a hole view, a target listing view, a “safe route” view, and a green view. Users can cycle quickly among the target views, and the Skycaddie SGX allows users to customize the rotation and remove any views they don’t utilize. Each view shows battery level, signal strength and the current time.
    • Full hole view (“HoleVue”, available on select courses) – HoleVue shows a graphic of the hole, including trees, hazards, and even cart paths, and the distance to the green. A cursor is automatically placed in the center of the screen, and the user may use the joystick to move the cursor and select any point on the hole. The distance to that targeted point is then displayed, as well as the distance from that point to the green. There are generally three levels of zoom available in HoleVue (click on the image to the right to see a picture of HoleVue).
    • Green view (“IntelliGreen”; “IntelliGreen Pro” available on select courses) – Displays the true shape of the green, and will rotate to match the angle of the player’s approach. Distances to the front and back of the green from the player’s position are displayed, along with the distance to the target crosshair, which can be moved with the joystick to match the flagstick location. “IntelliGreen Pro”, available on select courses, takes all of the functionality of IntelliGreen and adds major tiers, contours, false fronts and mounds. The target crosshair in IntelliGreen Pro will also indicate the distance from the selected point to each side (front, back, left and right) of the green (for a picture of IntelliGreen Pro, click on the image above and advance to the second photo). The SGX will default to IntelliGreen Pro if it is available for the course.
    • Target list view – Displays a list of distances to hazards, carries and layups. Up to five distances can be shown at a time (we don’t know why the SGX will often display fewer than 5 target distances when selecting this view on a hole when 5 or more are actually available, requiring users to immediately scroll to see relevant points) and the user may scroll through the distances or let the SGX automatically update the list. The distance to the center of the green from the target selected is shown, along with a graphic indicating the target.
    • Safe route (“QuickVue”, available on Advanced courses only) – Shows the route SkyCaddie has determined is the “safest” route of play, in a 3-D view, when HoleVue is not available. To our information junkie review staff, this just seemed to be a really dumbed down set of information, so we generally scrolled right past it (for a picture of QuickVue, click on the image above and advance to the third photo).
  • Hole Information. The hole number, par and hole handicap are all shown at the top of the view screens.
  • Custom Mapping. There is no ability to map custom points with the SkyCaddie SGX.

Suggestion Box: Full hole views should allow users to zoom in and out as they desire, but the SGX forces you to rotate through all of the zoom levels in progression, zooming all the way down to the green view before you can cycle back around to the highest level of zoom. This may result from the fact that the SGX’s user interface is overwhelmed as it is, and would have problems accommodating another function.


90 / A-

FEATURES

The Good: The SkyCaddie SGX provides most of the general features you would expect to have in a golf GPS device, as well as a wide array of user-adjustable settings.

The Bad: We would prefer to see statistics from the current round during play. It would also be nice to be able to track sand and penalty strokes (not that we ever have those!).

Scoring

Click for images

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. Users can easily mark their shots to measure distances.
  • Scores and Statistics. Users can now track score, putts and fairways hit. There is no option to record penalties or sand shots, two other statistics options found on a number of other devices. There are indicators that those may be in the works, since ClubSG (the online software to which users must sync their scores and statistics) allows you to display penalty strokes and bunker shots on your statistics graphs…even though the SGX doesn’t yet allow you to enter them. Users can also see their fairways hit and GIR, along with scoring and putting averages.
    After entering the score for the hole, players see a round summary that displays where they stand relative to par, total score and total putts.
    Users can only view their score on the SGX. In order to view statistics, users need to sync their SGX with their CaddieSync software, which then will update their (free) “ClubSG” account online. ClubSG aggregates scores and key stats, and lets users share information and connect with other players. The SGX can only store up to 10 rounds before the user must sync with the computer to offload the scores and statistics data. This limitation is a bit odd, in our view, particularly in this day and age of inexpensive memory.
  • Auto-Advance. Users can choose between automatic or manual advancing between holes.
  • Preferences. The SkyCaddie provides a wealth of user settings for the SGX, including whether to show targets first, whether the front or the center of the green is the green reference distance, the distance at which the device will automatically switch to the green view, the distance at which the device will no longer show a target, power save functions (auto power off and backlight) and which views to display.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.


90 / A-

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.

Mapping Accuracy: We tested the SkyCaddie SGX on a variety of courses and had limited problems with the accuracy of the course mapping. As distance readings are available at any distance from a target or the green, we were able to develop confidence in the SkyCaddie SGX’s accuracy. We did find some key targets missing from holes, such as bunkering (added approximately a year ago), and trees in fairways that are in play (that are decades old). SkyCaddie’s advertising emphasizes that they work with local golf course professionals to be notified when a layout has changed, and that they physically walk each course to create the mapping, so it’s difficult to overlook these errors, especially given the steep annual subscription fee for access to the course database.


82 / B-

COST/VALUE
Retail Price: With the release of the SkyCaddie SGXw, the SkyCaddie SGX now retails for $349.95, in the upper half for golf GPS devices tested.

Fees for Access to Course Database: SkyCaddie owners must choose one of three membership plans to access the course database, which are priced at $29.95/year for unlimited courses in one state, $49.95/year for unlimited courses in the United States, and $59.95/year for unlimited courses worldwide.

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: At $499.80, the SkyCaddie SGX falls at the upper end in our test of the three-year total golf GPS cost, which makes assumptions on the number of new courses a user will want to access each year.

Value: While the SkyCaddie SGX incorporates some features which users will find appealing, the lack of polish in the interface, no touchscreen ability, the poor course coverage, and buggy desktop software make this device difficult to wholeheartedly recommend at a cost of approximately $500 for 3 years.

Updated (course coverage): March 2013


Leupold GX-3

OVERALL RATING: 93. GRADE: A-. The GX-3 brings several changes and improvements to the Leupold line of golf laser rangefinders. The solid aluminum body of the GX-3 makes a bit of a fashion statement, and an all-new red OLED display makes distance and other information readable against the darkest of backgrounds. The new body and display are the primary differences between the GX-3/GX-4 and the GX-1/GX-2 (with the GX-2/GX-4 providing additional slope-adjusted distance information), The GX-3 packs all of the latest Leupold technology into a lightweight and portable package that is one of the smallest on the market.

We do note that we had slightly greater difficulty locking on to targets with the GX-3/GX-4 series than with Leupold’s GX-1/GX-2 – perhaps as a result of the new OLED display technology, although we can’t be certain of the cause. Nonetheless, we love the GX-3’s performance, design, display and size, and even though it carries a higher price tag than some of its competitors, we still place it among the top devices in our rankings.

SCORE
93
GRADE
A
Ease of Use
94
Features
94
Obtaining Readings
94
Cost/Value
90

Retail price: $400
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold GX-3i


94 / A

EASE OF USE

The GX-3 continues Leupold’s tradition of pleasingly compact rangefinders. It is the smallest rangefinder in the Leupold lineup, just a hair taller than the GX-1/GX-2 though not as long or as wide. The aluminum body adds some weight, but the GX-3 is still one of the lightest laser rangefinders we’ve tested. The included carry case has a slot through which a belt or strap can be threaded, but we miss the simple clip that came with the GX-1. The case has a magnetic latch to close, which we prefer to the string that you have to loop over a latch to close the GX-1/GX-2.

The vertically-oriented device is extremely easy to hold – the aluminum body is trimmed with rubber to provide a solid grip. The Leupold GX-3 form factor and design is virtually the same as the GX-4, with the difference being that players can swap the GX-4 chrome faceplate (that provides only line-of-sight distances) for the “Smart Key” bright yellow faceplate, which enables slope-adjusted distance readings and club recommendations.

Click image for views

The 6x magnification of the Leupold devices is the second highest magnification of the rangefinders we have tested, behind the Bushnell 1600 Tournament Edition (which provides a whopping 7x magnification). The user focuses the display by twisting the eyepiece – we found the Leupold GX-3 to be slightly more difficult to focus with a single hand than some competing devices.

Like most laser rangefinders, the Leupold features two buttons, one located on the top of the device that powers the device on/off and also fires the laser, and the other located on the lower left side of the device that allows the user to change modes and modify settings. To modify settings, the mode button is initially held for one second to enter the menu, then is pressed to cycle between different functions. The power/laser button is then used to toggle between settings for a specific function. The GX-3 allows the user to select either yards versus meters as the standard unit of distance. In addition, the GX-3 provides settings for the user to turn on fog mode.

The Leupold GX-3’s “panning” mode enables the user to scan the course to obtain distances to different points by simply holding down the power/laser button. In our testing, the device smoothly refreshed the data with updated distance readings as the user panned across new targets.

We much prefer the red OLED display over standard black/dark grey rangefinder LCD displays, which can be difficult to read against dark or shadowy backgrounds. We do note that the OLED display winds up showing things with a greenish tint, which, while it became unnoticeable after awhile, is still a bit of an adjustment from the non-OLED displays that show natural colors. A nice decision by Leupold was to move the distance display distances away from the edges of the display to slightly below the crosshair, which makes the information much more readily accessible at a glance (without having to look to the edges of the viewfinder).

The Leupold GX-3 takes one CR-2 Lithium battery (good for 10,000 actuations if you are counting). A battery meter is positioned in the lower center of the viewfinder, along with an indicator of yards or meters to its right.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


94 / A

FEATURES

Click image to enlarge

The Leupold GX-3 has a “pin-locating” feature, which Leupold calls “Pinhunter” (the equivalent of “PinSeeker”, “PinPoint” or “First Target Priority” mode on competing devices), that makes it easier to determine the distance to specific targets such as flagsticks. The device automatically filters out readings from larger more “reflective” objects (like trees) in the background, and concentrates on obtaining a reading from the closer of the targets that are within the crosshairs (which should be the flagstick). In addition, Leupold uses “pin-locating” mode all of the time, including while the user is panning across multiple objects – some of the other rangefinder manufacturers force the user to switch back and forth between a panning mode and a “pin-locating” mode. The GX-3 also includes a “Fog Mode” that improves performance in fog and rain to help readings.

To make obtaining distances to flagsticks even easier, the GX-3 features “Prism Lock,” a feature that is always enabled when scanning at distances over 25 yards. When the GX-3 identifies a flagstick equipped with a reflective prism, it will “beep,” show brackets around the cursor and then freeze the display at the measured distance (curiously, it can be just a hair more difficult to lock on compared to the GX-1). We didn’t encounter any issues with unintended activation of “Prism Lock,” even when we were attempting to get readings behind and slightly to either side of the flagstick. It’s a fabulous feature – now if only more golf courses would add flagsticks with reflective prisms…

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


94 / A

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Leupold’s marketing materials state that the GX-3 is rated to accurately provide distances to flagsticks and reflective targets at up to 450/800 yards under optimal conditions, distances that should satisfy even the longest hitters. Distance readings will continue to be displayed on the OLED display for approximately 8 seconds after the firing button is released. The Leupold GX-3 will allow users to continue to fire the laser for over 2 minutes without shutting down, so go ahead and pan across as many targets as you like!

Ease of Locking on a Target:

  • At up to 175 yards, the Leupold GX-3 easily picked out flagsticks, as did most of its competitors.
  • At more than 200 yards, the Leupold GX-3 had slightly more difficulty picking up flagsticks against a challenging background, though it still performed at a very high level (80%+ of the time)> Beyond 200 yards it didn’t seem to have any additional difficulty up through 300 yards. At these longer distances, the GX-3 slightly lagged the top-performing Bushnell 1600 Tournament Edition.

Locking onto flagsticks with reflective targets/prisms is significantly easier for all rangefinders. We have not done a comparative test across all devices on reflective targets/prisms, but our on-course experience revealed that the GX-3 easily and quickly locks onto prisms at distances well in excess of 300 yards. The Prism Lock feature is great to have at your disposal, and we appreciate the “beep” to indicate that it had locked on to the flagstick.

Speed Test:

The Leupold GX-3 does not update distance readings as rapidly as the competition when panning, and is a bit slower than the GX-1. Speed was as the same as the GX-4, so users don’t gain any speed advantages by foregoing the slope adjusted distances available on the GX-4.

  • Panning Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode (since it always has panning and pin-locating available) against other devices in their “panning” modes, we found it to be the slowest of the bunch.
  • Pin-Locating Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode against other devices in their “pin-locating” modes, it finished in the middle of the pack. This makes sense, since a great advantage of having a panning mode is that it is quicker to pick up multiple targets.
  • Using Both Modes: The Leupold also finished in the middle of the pack in the speed test when other devices were allowed to use both modes together (which, in the case of other devices, required pushing the buttons to cycle between modes).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison for ease of obtaining distance readings.


90 / A-

COST/VALUE

At a retail price of $400, the Leupold GX-3 is still on the high-end of USGA approved laser rangefinders tested. Budget-conscious buyers may want to consider the GX-1, but the combination of the GX-3’s performance, the new red OLED display and that aluminum body make the GX-3 awfully tempting.

Leupold GX-4

OVERALL RATING: 90. GRADE; A-. The GX-4 brings several changes and improvements to the Leupold line of golf laser rangefinders. The solid aluminum body of the GX-4 makes a bit of a fashion statement, and an all-new red OLED display makes distance and other information readable against the darkest of backgrounds.

The new body and display are the primary differences between the GX-4/GX-3 and the earlier GX-2/GX-1 series. The Leupold GX-4 has a number of features not included in the GX-3, including slope, temperature and altitude-adjusted distances and club recommendations. The GX-4 packs all of this into a lightweight and portable package that is only slightly larger than the GX-3.

We do note that we had slightly greater difficulty locking on to targets with the GX-4/GX-3 series than with Leupold’s GX-2/GX-1. Nonetheless, we love the GX-4’s performance, design, display and size, and even though it carries a steeper price tag than the competition, we still place it among the top devices in our rankings.

SCORE
90
GRADE
A-
Ease of Use
94
Features
90
Obtaining Readings
90
Cost/Value
89

Retail price: $500
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Leupold GX-4i

Pros:

  • Sleek looks
  • New red OLED display makes yardages easily readable
  • Loaded with features

Cons:

  • Most expensive device we tested
  • Angle of approach will continue to display as negative when you are continuously panning across targets and move from a negative to positive angle


94 / A

EASE OF USE

We have always have appreciated the compact size of Leupold rangefinders, and the GX-4 is no exception. While just a hair larger than the rest of the line, it is still one of the lightest and smallest laser rangefinders tested. The included carry case has a slot through which a belt or strap can be threaded, but we miss the simple clip that came with the GX-1 and GX-2. The case has a magnetic latch (very nice) and a zippered pouch to store whichever faceplate is not in use (see below for a discussion on the GX-4’s removable faceplates).

The vertically-oriented device is extremely easy to hold – the aluminum body is trimmed with rubber to provide a solid grip. The Leupold GX-4 form factor is the virtually the same as the GX-3, with the difference that players can swap the chrome faceplate (that provides only line-of-sight distances) for the “Smart Key” bright yellow faceplate, which enables slope-adjusted distance readings and club recommendations. The bright yellow color is meant to alert others that the “Smart Key” faceplate is attached but the USGA has rejected use of the GX-4 for tournament play even when the non-slope-adjusted chrome faceplate is utilized. What seemed to be a great idea by Leupold has been nipped in the bud by the powers-that-be.

Leupold GX-4 with Smart Key on

Click image to enlarge

The 6x magnification of the Leupold devices matches the highest magnification of any rangefinder available with the exception of the Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition (which provides a whopping 7x magnification). The user focuses the display by twisting the eyepiece, though the Leupold GX-4 is slightly more difficult to focus with a single hand than some competing devices.

Like most laser rangefinders, the Leupold features two buttons, one located on the top of the device that powers the device on/off and also fires the laser, and the other located on the lower left side of the device that allows the user to change modes and modify settings. To modify settings, the mode button is initially held for one second to enter the menu, then is pressed to cycle between different functions. The power/laser button is then used to toggle between settings for a specific function. The GX-4 allows the user to select either yards versus meters as the standard unit of distance. In addition, the GX-4 provides settings for the user to turn on fog mode and/or club recommendation mode and to manually input the altitude and temperature (for slope-adjusted distance calculations).

The Leupold GX-4’s “panning” mode enables the user to scan the course to obtain distances to different points by simply holding down the power/laser button. In our testing, the device smoothly refreshed the data with updated readings as the user panned across new targets, providing updated slope-adjusted distances, line-of-sight distances, and the angle of slope.

We found the red OLED display to be a huge improvement over standard black/dark grey rangefinder LCD displays, which are difficult to read against dark or shadowy backgrounds. We do note that the OLED display winds up showing things with a greenish tint, which, while it became unnoticeable after awhile, is still a bit of an adjustment from the non-OLED displays that show natural colors. A nice decision by Leupold was to move the displayed distances away from the edges of the display to positions slightly above and below the crosshair, which makes the information more readily accessible at a glance (without having to look up, down, or to the sides of the viewfinder).

The Leupold GX-4 takes one CR-2 Lithium battery. A battery meter is positioned in the lower center of the viewfinder, along with an indicator of yards or meters to its right.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder ease of use.


90 / A-

FEATURES

Leupold GX-4 Laser Rangefinder

Click image for views

The Leupold GX-4 has a “pin-locating” feature, which Leupold calls “Pinhunter” (the equivalent of “PinSeeker”, “PinPoint” or “First Target Priority” mode on competing devices), that makes it easier to determine the distance to specific targets such as flagsticks. The device automatically filters out readings from larger more “reflective” objects (like trees) in the background, and concentrates on obtaining a reading from the closer of the targets that are within the crosshairs (which should be the flagstick). In addition, Leupold is one of only two manufacturers that uses the “pin-locating” mode all of the time, including while the user is panning across multiple objects – other devices force the user to switch back and forth between a panning mode and a “pin-locating” mode. The GX-4 also includes a “Fog Mode” that improves performance in fog and rain to screen out false readings.

To make obtaining distances to flagsticks even easier, the GX-4 features “Prism Lock,” a feature that is always enabled when scanning at distances over 25 yards. When the GX-4 identifies a flagstick equipped with a reflective prism, it will “beep,” show brackets around the cursor and then freeze the display at the measured distance (curiously, it can be just a hair more difficult to lock on compared to the GX-2). We didn’t encounter any issues with unintended activation of “Prism Lock,” even when we were attempting to get readings behind and slightly to either side of the flagstick. It’s a fabulous feature – now if only more golf courses would add flagsticks with reflective prisms…

Click image to enlarge

The GX-4, like the GX-2, features “TGR” (“True Golf Range”) functionality, which provides an automatically adjusted distance based on the slope between the user and the green, and also adjusts distance based on temperature and altitude that is manually input by the user. If desired, the unit can provide recommended clubs for each shot. When users have activated the club selector to provide recommendations, the GX-4 will display the adjusted distance along with the recommend club when the “fire” button is released.

Our reviewers liked that the display of the Leupold GX-4 continues to show adjusted distance above the crosshair (there are three styles to choose from) while in “TGR” mode, along with line-of-sight distance and the angle of slope in the bottom right. There is what we consider a significant glitch in the GX-4: if the user ever continuously pans and picks targets with below where they are standing (negative angle of approach) and then picks targets above their location (positive angle of approach), the angle shown in the display will remain negative (the absolute value of the angle continues to change and is correct, however). The unit will do this regardless of whether you start panning at a positive or negative angle of attack. If you are pointed down 9 degrees, for example, the device will show as “-9”, and then when you move to be pointed up 4 degrees, the device will show as “-4”. While you will likely always know whether you are pointed up or down, and you would be able to confirm by whether the adjusted yardage is above or below the line-of-sight distance (those numbers will be correct). As an aside, the Leupold GX-2 does NOT have this bug.

One minor quibble is that the recommended club is only displayed once the “fire” button is released, rather than while the laser is being fired. Showing the recommended club while the laser is being fired would be helpful in allowing a player to determine direction or targets based on a preferred club.

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of laser rangefinder features.


90 / A-

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Leupold’s marketing materials state that the GX-4 is rated to accurately provide distances to flagsticks and reflective targets at up to 450/800 yards under optimal conditions, distances that should satisfy even the longest hitters. Distance readings will continue to be displayed on the OLED for approximately 8 seconds after the firing button is released. The Leupold GX-4 will allow users to continue to fire the laser for well over 2 minutes without shutting down, so go ahead and pan across as many targets as you like!

Ease of Locking on a Target:

  • At up to 175 yards, the Leupold GX-4 easily picked out flagsticks, as did most of its competitors.
  • At more than 200 yards, the Leupold GX-4 had slightly more difficulty picking up flagsticks against a challenging background, though it still performed at a very high level (80%+ of the time)> Beyond 200 yards it didn’t seem to have any additional difficulty up through 300 yards. At these longer distances, the GX-4 slightly lagged the performance of the Callaway iQ and Bushnell 1600 Slope Edition.

All rangefinders have an easier time locking on to flagsticks with reflective targets/prisms. We have not done a comparative test across all devices on reflective targets/prisms, but our on-course experience revealed that the GX-4 easily and quickly locks onto prisms at distances well in excess of 300 yards. It’s a great feature to have at your disposal.

Speed Test:

The Leupold GX-4 does not update distance readings as rapidly as the competition when panning, though this is not a deal-breaker for us. Speed was as quick as the GX-3, so the additional work required to determine adjusted distances does not appear to impact the speed of the device. We also found it much quicker than the GX-2.

  • Panning Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode (since it always has panning and pin-locating available) against other devices in their “panning” modes, we found it to be the slowest of the bunch.
  • Pin-Locating Mode: When we compared the Leupold in its one mode against other devices in their “pin-locating” modes, it finished in the middle of the pack. Which makes sense, since a great advantage of having a panning mode is that it is quicker to pick up multiple targets.
  • Using Both Modes: The Leupold also finished in the middle of the pack in the speed test when other devices were allowed to use both modes together (which, in the case of other devices, required pushing the buttons to cycle between modes).

For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison for ease of obtaining distance readings.


89 / B+

COST/VALUE

At a new lower (yes, lower!) retail price point of $500, the Leupold GX-4 is still the highest priced slope-adjusted distance laser rangefinder tested. Given this cost, budget-conscious buyers may want to consider the GX-2. However, the OLED display and that aluminum body sure are alluring…