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Garmin Approach S3 Watch

The Garmin Approach S3 golf GPS watch, introduced in 2012, builds upon the earlier generation Approach S1 by adding an excellent touchscreen, higher screen resolution, an easy-to-use scoring capability (including Stableford scoring!), distances to layup points, maps of the shape of each green (with the ability to adjust the pin placement using the…wait for it…touchscreen), preloaded courses throughout the entire world (the S1 is limited to preloaded U.S. and Canadian courses), and the ability to add your own hazards/targets.

The Approach S1 was the first golf GPS watch we reviewed, and we quickly became big fans of the form factor. Having distances readily available on your wrist keeps things moving – no more digging around in pockets or unclipping a GPS from your belt. The additional functionality offered by the S3, along with the easy-to-use interface and sleek good looks, lift it even higher on our list.

So what’s not to like? Well, when we mentioned that you can add your own custom hazards and targets, you may have noticed that we didn’t reference any pre-mapped hazards and targets…because there are none. Bummer, because the high cost of Titleist Pro V1s would seem to prescribe some contemplation of whether you can actually clear that creek that cuts through the middle of the fairway. This is a shame, particularly since Garmin has pre-mapped targets in their course database today (used on their handheld Approach series). The Garmin also doesn’t offer an online golf portal from which to review saved scores and statistics as the competing Callaway upro mx+ and Motorola MOTOACTV do.

Notwithstanding these factors, the Garmin Approach S3 is one of our favorite golf GPS watch, but it comes at a cost – the highest among all golf GPS watches (at time of initial testing) and even more than some dedicated devices that include full hole graphics and more advanced functionality.

SCORE
92
GRADE
A-
Setup/Syncing
98
Course Availability
99
Ease of Use
96
Course Details
84
Features
86
Accuracy
91
Cost/Value
87
Pros:

  • Easy access to distances
  • Excellent course coverage
  • No fees to access course database

Cons:

  • No pre-mapped hazards
  • Middling battery life – with the long rounds at our public courses, it won’t make it through a second loop

Retail price: $249.99 (price reduced with release of Garmin Approach S4 Watch)
Three year total cost: $249.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Garmin Approach S4 Watch
Amazon.com: Check price now
Golfsmith: Check price now



And before we dive in, a little Garmin marketing to provide an overview:


98 / A+

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: With courses worldwide preloaded on the device, just charge and go! The charging clip is much improved over the earlier generation S1.

The Bad: We had one hiccup requiring a restart when initially updating the device software. Patience is required when plugging the S3 into the computer for an update – the Garmin software takes awhile before it recognizes the device.

Details:

  • Required Steps. The user only needs to confirm the battery is charged in order to get started. For future course updates, users will need to download an application (“CourseView Updater”) from Garmin’s web site. No registration is required – we dig it!
  • Time Required for Setup. Charging the battery takes around 3 hours, and the Approach S3 watch will indicate the charge level onscreen.

What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach S3 comes with:

  • Cable (USB-to-charging clip)
  • Power Adapter for wall outlet charging
  • Owner’s Manual

Required Downloads:

  • CourseView Updater (for firmware and course updates). You will want to periodically check for additional course updates using Garmin’s CourseUpdater software. After connecting the Garmin Approach S3 to your computer with the USB cable, expect a longer-than-usual delay, as it takes awhile before the Garmin software recognizes the device. Upon initially running CourseView Updater, we had one software update available. The update process went relatively smoothly (it required one restart), and the updated software was installed and loaded within minutes. The software then alerted us to map updates in each of the three available regions (North & Latin America, Europe, and Australia & New Zealand). We installed map updates for North & Latin America only, and the process took about 10 minutes.


99 / A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: The Garmin Approach S3 golf GPS watch uses the same map database as the rest of the Garmin Approach family of devices. The resulting coverage in our course coverage test is excellent.

Manufacturer’s Claims: The S3 watch comes preloaded with a solid 28,000 courses worldwide, placing it above average among the devices we’ve tested.


96 / A

EASE OF USE

The Good: Our readers already know our feeling on golf GPS watches – we love ’em! An incredibly useful form factor, made even better in the case of the S3 with an easy-to-use interface.

The Bad: Accessing the Green View during play is a multiple-step process.

Garmin Approach S3 GPS Watch

Click for more images

Details:

  • Buttons. The Garmin Approach S3 has three fixed (i.e. non-touchscreen) buttons: backlight/power, measure (for shot distances), and scoring. All other actions are accessed through the touchscreen, including “Back” and “Menu” buttons (indicated by three horizontal lines) that are always accessible on the left and right edges of the touchscreen.
  • Screen. The black and white screen, which is 1″ in diameter, is easy to view. The available backlight will remain on for approximately eight seconds after activation – there is no ability to modify the default time the screen remains backlit. Users can also choose between a white or black background for the screen. Touchscreen sensitivity overall was very good (most of the time the user interacts by tapping the touchscreen to scroll or select, swiping only to change holes or unlock the screen). We on occasion accidentally moved to the wrong screen when tapping the screen to toggle from Hole View to Layup/Dogleg View – the touchscreen is sensitive, and if your finger is moving vertically on the screen when you do this you may trigger the watch to change holes. In addition, though you can place the flagstick in the Green View (see below), the screen is small enough that it can be a bit challenging to accurately place, and is best done with a fingernail.
  • Form Factor. The device has a smooth black plastic and rubber exterior, and weighs in at 2.1 ounces, just a hair heavier than the S1 watch. It’s thicker than an average watch, and though noticeable it wasn’t bothersome during play. The watch is well-made and the wrist strap adjusts to fit a wide range of sizes. The S3 comes in either white with red trim or black with grey trim, and sports a sleeker look than the original S1.
  • Starting a Round. Starting a round is as simple as powering up the device (we usually kept the device powered up all of the time since it is, after all, a watch), pressing the menu button and selecting “Start Round,” and then choosing the desired course from a scrollable list. Once you are on a tee box, the device will default to the hole closest to your position.
  • Battery Life. Battery life is somewhat short when the GPS functionality is in use on the course, lasting approximately 7.5 hours. Garmin markets the S3 charge as lasting 4 weeks when used exclusively as a watch. A warning will appear when approximately 7% of the charge is remaining.

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


84 / B

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: The Garmin Approach S3 provides distances to near, center and far points of the green (“near” and “far” points being relative to player position), rather than being limited to fixed front and back points. Green graphics are a nice addition. Users can custom map up to five points on each hole.

The Bad: Though the Approach S3 adds layup and dogleg distances on par 4s and 5s, these aren’t nearly as helpful as pre-mapped hazard and other target information would be.

Garmin Approach S3 GPS Watch

Click for more images

Details:

  • Views. The Garmin Approach S3 provides a primary Hole View, a graphic Green View, a Layup/Dogleg view, and additional screens for shot distance measurement and time. Users can cycle through the Hole View, Layup/Dogleg View and Time View by simply tapping on the screen. The Green View, however, is not part of this rotation – for whatever reason, it can only be accessed by first pressing on the menu button.
    • Hole view – This screen displays the hole number, par, distances to the near and far (in slightly smaller text at the top and bottom of the screen) points on the green, and the distance to the center of the green (the largest text in the middle of the screen). Interestingly, the distance to the hole is when measured from the tee is a direct line, even in the case of a hard dogleg. Garmin’s handheld devices, such as the Approach G6, will provide longer distances to the green from the tee, assuming the user plays out to an approach point and then into the green.
    • Green view – The Green View shows a basic graphic of the shape of the green, and allows players to move the flagstick position, with the distance to this new flagstick location then replacing the “center of the green” reading on the device. The flagstick will remain in the updated location as the user moves between views. In addition, the green graphic will rotate based on player position, and always shows the near and far points as dots on the green edge (these will be the distances displayed within the Hole view). Unfortunately distances are not shown on this view – it would be extremely useful to be able to place the flagstick where desired and see the distances to near, center and far points update immediately, rather than needing to return to the main Hole view screen.
    • Layup/Dogleg view – While pre-mapped distances to hazards aren’t available on the S3, Garmin has added distances to layup points and doglegs, which appear in this view. We found the layup point distances to be of minimal value in the absence of overhead hole maps – knowing how far it is to the layup point isn’t as powerful when you can’t visualize where it is on the hole. Much more useful is the ability to save up to five custom locations on each hole (see “Custom Mapping” below), which will then appear in this view. Pre-mapped layup and dogleg distances are removed from this view as you come within 35-45 yards of them. User-mapped distances drop off once you are approximately 25 yards past them.
    • Measurement view – Shows the measurement of a particular shot. Users can toggle between the Measurement view and the Hole view while continuing to measure distances. Shot distances cannot be saved (the device will automatically reset the shot measurement once you walk to the next hole).
    • Time view – Shows the current time and date. Dots on this screen indicate that the odometer is on.
    • Menu – Pressing the Menu button brings up a variety of options, including ending a round, saving hazard/target points, checking the battery level, and so forth. Users move up and down the listing by tapping at the top or bottom of the screen.
  • Hole Information. The hole number and par are always visible on the Hole view screen. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping. Users can easily add custom points to the course maps by selecting the menu button and then scrolling to the option to save the point as a particular type of target (bunker, water, hazard, layup, etc.). Up to five custom points can be saved on each hole. Users can’t modify existing layup or dogleg points.

Suggestion Box: Garmin already has a large number of targets pre-mapped in their course database, and should leverage this by including hazard information, either in addition or to replace their existing Layup/Dogleg view.


86 / B

FEATURES

The Good: A highly responsive touchscreen makes the user interface simple. With scoring capability, green graphics, shot measurement, and the ability to place the flagstick for more precise distances, the S3 has the majority of features available on handheld devices.

The Bad: No online golf portal on which to save scores. Can’t modify settings during a round.

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. The S3 watch can measure the distance of a shot, though measurements cannot be saved. There is also a built-in odometer that automatically tracks the distance traveled during a round and the elapsed time.
  • Score and Statistics. Fixing one of the pieces missing from the Garmin S1 watch, basic scoring is available on the S3, for both stroke play and Stableford scoring. Pressing the “Score” button will display the overall score for the round relative to par (“E”, “-3”, “+45”, etc.), and the score for the hole. Entering a score is simple – the score on a hole defaults to whatever par is for the hole, and can be changed by pressing “+” or “-“ on the touchscreen. Holding down the “Score” button will display a list of scores for all holes. When the S3 is plugged in to a computer, players can view past scorecards. Curiously, if you edit a score on the watch after a round is completed, that revised data, while viewable on the watch, will not be saved to the scorecards that can be seen on a computer.
  • Auto-advance. The Garmin S3 automatically advances when you move to the next hole – you do not have an option to disable this feature. Users can easily manually return to a prior hole or advance to the next by swiping up or down on the screen, or tapping at the top or bottom of the screen.
  • Course Storage. The Garmin S3 watch stores all available courses on the device – thus there is no need to select which courses to load before heading to a new course or on a golf trip.
  • Preferences. A wide range of preferences can be adjusted on the Garmin S3, including the measurement unit (yards vs. meters), language, tones, screen background (white or black) and, of course, time and time format. The S3 does run afoul of our common complaint that you must exit your round in order to change preferences (why not have the ability to change the background screen color during play depending on whether it’s cloudy or sunny?).

Suggestion Box: We hope that Garmin steps it up and offers an online portal, along the lines as those from Callaway, Motorola and SkyGolf. These online portals offer a variety of different functionality, including the ability to review scores and statistics online, track shot locations, as well as provide course overviews, review courses in advance of play, and share/compare your scores with other players.

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


91 / A-

ACCURACY

We found the Garmin Approach S3 to be as accurate as other dedicated golf GPS devices, consistently providing readings within 3-5 yards of the actual distance to the center of green, though on occasion we did see greater variance to near and far green points versus on-course markings. We did experience one hole where the green was mis-mapped by approximately 30 yards.

The distances to the near and far green points drop off the screen when the player is within 30 yards. The distance to the center of the green (or to the flagstick, if users have moved its location on the Green View screen) continues to be shown throughout the hole.

Head-to-head against other Garmin devices, including the Garmin Approach G6 and the older Garmin Approach G5 and Garmin Approach G3, distances were generally very close if not exactly the same, with the S3 watch sometimes differing up to several yards (readings among the handheld devices were virtually always the same). The Approach S3 watch is slightly slower in updating distances; however the difference in speed is negligible enough that it is likely to be noticed only by our lunatic review staff, who hit the course with five different Garmin Approach devices for comparison testing.


87 / B

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: At $249.99 (priced reduced with the release of the Garmin Approach S4), the Garmin Approach S3 is not the most expensive golf GPS watch any longer, but carries a price beyond that of many of the top-rated handheld golf GPS devices, including the Garmin Approach G6 – hmph!

Fees for Access to Course Database: As with other devices in the Garmin Approach family, there are no additional fees for access to the course database.

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no cost for access to their course database, the three-year total cost for the Garmin Approach S3 remains $249.99. This still keeps the Approach S3 watch among the more expensive GPS devices in terms of overall cost over three years.

Value: The Garmin Approach S3 is currently the most expensive golf GPS watch in our tests, and is the highest priced GPS device that lacks full hole views. You are absolutely paying for the convenience of having information available on your wrist, as the S3 is more expensive than handheld devices that offer a greater feature set, including pre-mapped hazards and full color graphic or satellite displays. While we like the steps that Garmin has taken in adding more features to their golf GPS watch offerings, the price point does give us pause.


GolfBuddy Platinum

GolfBuddy has updated its existing product lineup of the World and World Platinum by introducing the …drumroll please…Platinum. Seriously? Who’s the product naming genius over there? Talk about mailing it in! Even more confusingly, this device shows up listed by some retailers as the Platinum II. In any event, the new Platinum purports to have an improved high-contrast screen and an improved sensitive touchscreen.

Our findings were that the screen, while arguably incrementally brighter, wasn’t markedly better. As far as the touchscreen goes, it continues to be one of the weak points of the product, often requiring multiple taps to select menus and necessitating v-e-r-y accurate touches to the screen to make sure you’ve selected the desired option. When selecting specific points on the hole or placing the flagstick, it becomes readily apparent that there is a limited “grid” of points on the screen that can be utilized.

We still generally like the GolfBuddy Platinum. The device has a straightforward user interface, good graphics, and all the basic features. The GolfBuddy Platinum comes with all courses pre-loaded and requires no subscription fees to access updates to the course database (which achieved a perfect 100 in our course coverage test!). But given the lack of improvements, it seems to be worth going with the older generation GolfBuddy World Platinum or the more compact GolfBuddy World…or waiting for the next product, which will undoubtedly be named the Platinum World.

SCORE
88
GRADE
B+
Setup/Syncing
90
Course Availability
100
Ease of Use
86
Course Details
93
Features
92
Accuracy
91
Cost/Value
86

Pros:

  • Full hole graphics
  • Exceptional course coverage
  • Good number of pre-mapped targets and ability to easily add more points
  • No additional fees

Cons:

  • Touchscreen still needs improvement in sensitivity and visibility
  • Syncing software and saving past scorecards not up to par
  • Some mapping errors and lack of key hazard pre-mapping

Retail price: $399.99
Three year total cost: $399.99
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the GolfBuddy PT4
Amazon.com: Check price now


90 / A-

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: Courses worldwide are pre-installed, and no software installation or initial downloading is required – just charge the device (which takes approximately 4 hours from a drained battery) and you’re good to go. When charging the device the display will turn on and indicate the level of charge.

The Bad: Syncing courses can take quite some time. The client software, GolfBuddy World Course Manager (inaccurately named, as it also works for the Platinum, Voice, and World Platinum) was buggy in recognizing the device, syncing, and when disconnecting device. No progress has been made to this software since earlier product releases.

Details: Though all courses come pre-loaded on the device, it still makes sense to sync the GolfBuddy World when you take it out of the box to ensure that you benefit from any courses that have been recently added and receive any updates to the company’s maps and firmware. To sync you will need to install the GolfBuddy World Course Manager software on your computer, register for a free account, and sync your Platinum via the included cable. The Course Manager software took but a minute to download and was painless to install.

We don’t like the detailed information required during the GolfBuddy registration process. I wonder how many people live with me at 123 Main Street.

Upon launch, the Course Manager will first check to make sure you have the latest version of both the Course Manager and device firmware. Firmware download and installation takes a few minutes. After checking for software and firmware updates, the Course Manager will look to see if there are course updates based on user-selected regions. An update of all golf courses in the United States took close to fifteen minutes. To speed things up, we would recommend selecting just your home state and doing your best to remember to add other courses before your next golf vacation.

What’s in the Box: The GolfBuddy Platinum comes with the following:

  • USB-to-mini-USB data cable
  • Power adaptor
  • Plastic holster/belt clip
  • GolfBuddy Platinum Quick Start Guide
  • Warranty Card

Additional downloads (not required)


100 /A+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: GolfBuddy tops our course coverage analysis with a perfect 100% coverage of our sampling of golf courses – what more can you say? Our scoring is based on the number of golf courses tested that offer full hole maps and green information.

Manufacturer’s Claims: GolfBuddy boasts of 34,500 courses available worldwide in its course database, the largest number for any golf GPS device tested. Note that this number includes any course for which GolfBuddy provides basic hole information – the company does not break out the total number of courses which have the complete detailed overhead hole maps and green maps. As a result, it may not be indicative of the number of courses for which all of the bells and whistles are available.


86 / B+

EASE OF USE

The Good: Very good battery life.

The Bad: With the Platinum we don’t see any improvements – the touchscreen isn’t as smooth as we would like, and we often weren’t able to quickly and accurately place the target cursor. Some settings, such as screen brightness, can only be modified during the satellite acquisition screen at startup. For whatever reason, you can’t view the time until you reach the tee box – so you’ll need to find another way to keep an eye on the clock while you warmup before the round.

GolfBuddy Platinum Device Views

Click for more images

Details:

  • Buttons. There are two buttons on the left side of the device: a Power button that turns the device on/off and will lock/unlock the screen, and a Menu button. On the right side is a “ProPlay” button that is used for scoring and shot tracking. The buttons all have a solid feel and are easy to depress.
  • Screen. Though the brightness is adjustable, the screen isn’t as vivid as some GPS devices. Unfortunately you can only adjust the brightness and power settings prior to starting play. Oddly enough you can adjust other less important settings during play, such as switching between yards and meters.

    For all of the GolfBuddy marketing, we continue to find the touchscreen sensitivity lacking. This is undoubtedly one of the weak points of the device. We became frustrated when trying to select on-screen buttons, both just in pinpointing a single button or when trying to accurately press one of two on-screen buttons next to each other. For example, when attempting to zoom in on the hole map, we would often find that we hadn’t accurately touched the zoom button on the screen, and had instead selected a target location on the lower right hand side of the screen. We also had difficulty when attempting to enter scores (often inadvertently selecting another player name, which results in their scorecard being displayed, as opposed to accessing the page to enter our score for a given hole), typing on the small keyboard, searching for courses, scrolling lists or selecting soft buttons.

  • GolfBuddy Platinum Golf GPS Device

    Click for larger image
  • Form Factor. We were surprised to see that with this iteration to the World Platinum, GolfBuddy hasn’t reduced the size and weight of the device (they did make it white, though). It’s still easy enough to hold and use, at 2.5″ x 4.3″ x 1.0″ and 5.5 oz with battery, but is actually a little bigger and heavier than prior GolfBuddy products. So much for following the trend of making things sleeker and lighter! In case you don’t want to carry it in your pocket, GolfBuddy Platinum comes with a belt clip.
  • Starting a Round. The GolfBuddy World acquires satellites in about three minutes, automatically recognizes the course, and waits until you arrive at the tee box before beginning the round. Users can also elect to manually search for a course by history, country, name or custom mapped courses.

Check out our comparison of golf GPS device ease of use .


93 / A-

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: The GolfBuddy Platinum provides a large number of pre-mapped targets and hazards, and it is extremely easy to add your own custom points.

The Bad: We weren’t always fans of which pre-mapped targets GolfBuddy chooses to display on the full hole view (though all targets are available at the push of a button). We would often prefer to see even more pre-mapped targets shown in hole view.

GolfBuddy Platinum

Click for views

Details:

  • Views. The GolfBuddy World Platinum provides an overhead map of the hole with player position indicated by a red dot, two “green views”, and a “target view” that is a text list of targets and distances. All views are easily accessible.
    • Overhead hole view –The GolfBuddy Platinum provides an overhead graphic of the hole, which we found to be reasonably accurate. The device will zoom in to show progressively more detailed views as the user advances closer to the green. Users are able to manually zoom (up to five different levels of zoom are available), but GolfBuddy doesn’t allow users to zoom in and then step back a level. In order to zoom out, players need to zoom all the way in first. Strange. Users can tap on any point on the hole to see the distance to that point and from that point to the green, and can drag their finger on the touchscreen to see the same data at different points.

      The hole view of the GolfBuddy Platinum also displays light-colored radiating arcs at distances of 100, 150 and 200 yards to the center of the green. We usually preferred to select points instead of using these arcs, but some might prefer these as a quick way to judge distances.

      In this view the GolfBuddy lacks the intelligence to decide when/where to show distances. For example, distances will often overlap (see example in images at right), and while the arcs will continued to be displayed as long as they are relevant, the distance for each will be cropped off the screen when the player advances – you just need to know (and trust) that the arcs are at 100, 150 and 200 yards.

    • Standard Green view – The standard green view is a detailed illustration of the the green and surrounding area, including a reasonably accurate depiction of the actual shape of the green. This view provides information on the width and depth of the green, as well as distances to the front and the back of the green. The distance to the flagstick is also shown, and users can touch different points on the green to receive updated distances to that point. The graphic of the green will rotate as the user’s position relative to the green changes.
    • GolfBuddy Platinum

      Click for larger image
    • Focused Green view – GolfBuddy has introduced a new “focused green view.” Pressing on the green icon while in the standard green view will toggle you into a view that provides exactly the same information, but highlights the green itself (in green), and the area surrounding the green in a white/washed out colors. We can’t figure out what this view adds aside from a different color palette – the green still rotates relative to player position, users can still move the flagstick location, and all the same distance information is displayed as in the standard green view (though to the right of the green instead of on top of the green graphic). A description of the focused green view doesn’t even appear in the Platinum Manual as of the time of our review, which may give some indication as to whether GolfBuddy really views it as a “feature.” See our comparison in the image at right.
    • Target view – The GolfBuddy Platinum shows distances to select targets in the overhead hole view, but also allows users to access the full list of pre-mapped target distances (identified with text such as “RtBkr2” for the second bunker on the right) at the touch of a button, which will then display for approximately five seconds before the device returns to the hole view. Tapping on any pre-mapped target on the list will add that point to the overhead hole view, highlighted in yellow. Users can keep adding targets to those displayed until they get up to six total points on the overhead hole view. Targets (unfortunately) continue to be listed well after you pass them on the hole.
  • Custom Mapping. We were able to quickly add custom points to the list of pre-mapped targets, which are retained for future rounds.

92 / A-

FEATURES

The Good: The GolfBuddy Platinum provides the basics that should be adequate for most players.

The Bad: Data junkies may find that that the set of statistics that can be tracked is still relatively basic. The portal on which to review scores and statistics could use some polish and additional functionality.

GolfBuddy Platinum Golf GPS Device

Click for scoring views

Details:

  • Score and Statistics. Players can keep score for themselves as well as for others. Statistics can only be tracked for the primary user, and the data that can be input includes fairways hit (which is asked even on par 3s…can it really be that difficult to modify the code to be smarter than this?!), putts, and sand saves. The GolfBuddy Platinum will prompt you to enter scores when you are at the green.
  • Online Portal. Players can review past rounds and statistics not only in the GolfBuddy Course Manager application on their computer, but they can also review these online by logging in at the GolfBuddy website. The portal is quite basic, nowhere near the level of portals as those offered by SkyCaddie, Callaway and Motorola in terms of fit and finish or functionality (see screenshots at right). It does let you quickly look at past scorecards and summary statistics, however. We also found bugs in the online portal (not syncing data), which might explain why GolfBuddy doesn’t reference their online portal in either their User Guide or marketing material.
  • GolfBuddy Platinum Golf GPS Device

    Click for portal views
  • Shot Tracking. Users can track the distance and location of each of their shots, which can be reviewed during or after the round. Unfortunately, there is no ability to enter the club used for a particular shot, and thus no information can be provided on club distance averages. We find it highly unlikely that players will return to review shots from past rounds on their device – a portal similar to Callaway’s uxplore is really the best way to present and review this information.
  • Auto-Advance. The GolfBuddy Platinum will automatically prompt users to advance to the next hole.
  • Preferences. The GolfBuddy Platinum allows modification of a variety of settings: unit of distance, language, time, button sound, and a variety of power management settings including screen timeout, auto-power off, and screen brightness.

90 / A-

ACCURACY

Device Accuracy: The GolfBuddy Platinum was accurate to within the standard margin of error for GPS devices we see, in the range of approximately 4 yards. Distances on holes stopped displaying at 10 yards to the nearest point of the green, at which point the device would only indicate “At Green.”

Mapping Accuracy: The illustrated maps generally accurately portray the holes and the greens, though we did find some incorrect mapping of bunkers and water hazards. We also found one hole that highlights the complexity that can occur when companies map courses based solely on satellite images. We were on a par 4 on a new course, and the GolfBuddy displayed 59 yards to the center of the green. Even with our eyesight not what it used to be ($#!@$ time in front of computer displays), we couldn’t see any green in the area. It was even a bit more challenging since the approach shot was largely blind. We guessed the green was about two hundred yards away, and sure enough a nearby sprinklerhead confirmed it at 185 yards. How could this happen? We went back and looked at a satellite map of the hole, and our guess is that the GolfBuddy mapping team was confused by a cart path that runs through the fairway, which they assumed was actually behind the green. But don’t get us started on the tomfoolery of a golf course design that puts a cart path across the fairway…arrrrrggghhh!


86 / B

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: At $399 retail, the GolfBuddy Platinum is at the high end of pricing for dedicated golf GPS devices.

Fees for Access to Course Database: The GolfBuddy Platinum does not charge any additional subscription or per course fees.

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: Even with no additional subscription or course download fees, the GolfBuddy Platinum’s three-year total cost of ownership of $399 is in the top quartile of devices.

Value: The GolfBuddy Platinum has the highest three-year total cost of ownership for any device that doesn’t have additional subscription or per course fees (devices in the SkyCaddie, Sonocaddie and Golf Guru families charge additional fees that can greatly increase their cost of ownership). The Platinum does offer exceptional course coverage and it is an easy-to-use device with a solid interface. Though we like the GolfBuddy Platinum, users may want to consider stacking this up against the older GolfBuddy World Platinum (virtually the same device, still available from some retailers) and GolfBuddy World.


Motorola MOTOACTV Watch

Motorola has entered the burgeoning golf GPS watch market by leveraging their existing MOTOACTV device, which can track fitness performance across a variety of activities, including running, walking, elliptical and cycling, and also functions as an MP3 player for your favorite tunes. And it’s so pretty and shiny!

The unit itself, while a trifle bulky, is wonderfully engineered, with an ultra-responsive touch screen, a vivid display, and easy navigation through the menus. It’s when you get to the golf-specific software of the device that things turn south.

Our first tipoff that the Golf Edition is just one of many functionalities of the device is that it comes packaged as two boxes: a Motorola MOTOACTV (16GB version) and a watch band. There is no Golf Edition manual in the box, and the Golf Edition software and courses don’t come pre-installed on the device.

The MOTOACTV provides distances to the front, center and back of the green, as well as a few hazards on each hole. The hazard information isn’t crystal clear, as there is no indication of whether the identified hazard is on the left or right side of the hole, nor do you know if the marked distance is the yardage to reach the hazard or to clear it. Perhaps even more disconcerting is that Motorola relies upon a third-party to provide its course maps – which wouldn’t be so bad (other companies, such as Bushnell, do the same), except that 99% of the courses in this third-party database are mapped entirely by users. Companies that do their own mapping (either on the ground or by satellite imagery) ostensibly utilize a quality control process to maintain consistency to their mapping – user-generated content, on the other hand, is, susceptible to user error. And indeed, user error we got – we experienced a number of wacky distance readings, some of which we traced back to blatant mistakes in the mapping (see below).

Users can track their shots, score, putts and penalties, review a subset of the information following a round on the device, and review all of the information on the MOTOACTV portal. But here the MOTOACTV is done in by a software bug – for whatever reason, the MOTOACTV often isn’t able to calculate the score and result relative to par correctly (see below), an issue that other users have experienced as well. Heck, even my 1983 Casio CFX-200 could do math.

There are no additional per course fees (and there better not be, given that users are doing the mapping for a third party for free), but at $299 retail the MOTOACTV Golf Edition is competitively priced as not only a GPS dedicated device, but also a complete fitness platform with the added benefit of the MP3 player. It’s a terrific piece of hardware, but until Motorola works out the software bugs and gets some consistency in its course database, the MOTOACTV’s performance on the golf course is a crapshoot.

SCORE
84
GRADE
B
Setup/Syncing
80
Course Availability
89
Ease of Use
95
Course Details
78
Features
92
Accuracy
83
Cost/Value
92
Pros:

  • Excellent touch screen
  • First golf watch available with hazard information
  • No fees to access course database
  • Lots of additional (non-golf) features

Cons:

  • User-created course maps leave you at the whim and mercy of the quality of their efforts
  • Hazard distances are unclear
  • Buggy software that needs a LOT of work
  • Short battery life
  • Set-up requires downloading golf application and add it to the device

Retail price: $299.99 plus $29.99 for watch strap (watch strap may be free – check for promotions)
Three year total cost: $299.99
Availability: Discontinued. No replacement product.

Note: Motorola has indicated that existing MOTOACTV 8GB owners will be able to purchase the Golf software in the future.


80 / B-

SETUP/SYNCING

The Good: The setup and syncing went reasonably well.

The Bad: Users need to download and install the golf software and course maps in order to use the MOTOACTV on the golf course – there is no taking it out of the box and heading to the course. The directions were unclear, and the golf software was only installed through trial-and-error. The Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition manual (available online) indicates that the watch comes preloaded with courses, but ours didn’t.

Details:

  • Required Steps. The “Golf Edition” is a standard Motorola MOTOACTV (16GB), plus the rights to download the MOTOACTV Golf software. The initial setup process involved installing the MotoCast software on a computer (and creating an account) and logging in to the MOTOACTV website (after creating another account). We then ran into the head-scratcher of determining how to select the Golf Edition application so we could download it. After looking for a while, we finally simply unplugged the MOTOACTV from our computer, confirmed that there was no golf software installed yet, and plugged it back in. We were then were prompted with a prompt that indicated that new software was available, although it didn’t specifically mention the Golf Edition. We went ahead and let it run the installation, and voila, the Golf Edition magically appeared on the device. The next step is to choose the state/region for which you want to download courses. If, for example, you choose “California,” then all of the California courses in the database are downloaded via Wi-Fi to the device. The initial download of the state’s courses took less than a minute, as did a subsequent update.
  • Time Required for Setup. It took approximately 40 minutes in total for full setup, including all installations, account creations, and downloading courses for one state. Users can plug the device into their computer or a power adapter with the included micro USB cable, and the battery takes around 3 hours to fully charge. There is a white indicator light on the side of the device that indicates that the device is charging.

What’s in the Box: The Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition box comes with…2 more boxes! These boxes include:

  • Motorola MOTOACTV 16GB, headphones with additional earbuds and user guide, a MOTOACTV manual (not the Golf Edition manual, however), legalese, support card, and an additional accessories list
  • Watch wrist strap, including manual

Downloads for additional features (see below):

  • MotoCast


89 / B+

COURSE AVAILABILITY

Critical Golf Test: The Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition scored reasonably well, but below average in our golf course coverage test. Coverage was in a reasonably close range across the different types of courses, but was geographically weakest in the Midwest. The MOTOACTV also doesn’t support multi-segment courses (i.e. 27 holes) currently.

Trying to determine if a particular course map is available is a bit tricky, as it isn’t available on the Motorola web site. Digging through the support forums, however, will reveal that the MOTOACTV relies on a 3rd party for course mapping and course information, with approximately 99% of courses mapped by users instead of by company employees (or Motorola, of course). With users mapping courses in different ways and with varying levels of detail, there is a resulting lack of consistency as to which hazards are mapped and the location of the points mapped (see ‘Accuracy’, below).

On the plus side, if you’re traveling somewhere and have determined that the course you’re going to play isn’t mapped, you can create a map by yourself. The big negative, however, is that after spending a lot of time reviewing both company-mapped and user-mapped devices and golf GPS applications, it’s clear to us that user-mapped courses have nowhere near the same level of consistency or accuracy as professionally-mapped courses. We would like to think otherwise, but it just isn’t the case. Check-minus, Motorola.

Furthermore, when searching for a course on the 3rd party site, you may find multiple course maps for the same course, labeled with the exact same name, so even someone who mapped the course will have to guess which version is theirs. How do you know which course will be used by the MOTOACTV (only one will be made available)? You don’t.

The point is…we aren’t big fans of user-mapped course databases. Enough said.

Manufacturer’s Claims: Motorola claims 20,000 user-mapped courses available worldwide.


95 / A

EASE OF USE

The Good: Navigation within the golf menus is straightforward, and we were impressed by the sensitivity of the touchscreen for both navigating screens and entering or selecting information. Button quality was excellent, which is actually a differentiating factor given the lousy buttons on some of the competing devices.

The Bad: The device is rather large for a watch, though the upside is the quantity of information that can be displayed and the easily readable text. During one of our test rounds we lost the satellite signal (no overhead trees or obstructions, clear day) for approximately 45 seconds – fortunately we had just played a shot so weren’t held up waiting for the signal to re-acquire.

Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

Click for larger image

Details:

  • Buttons. The Motorola MOTOACTV has five physical buttons: a power button, volume up and down buttons, a music button, and a start button (used to start, pause and end your round, as well as mark your ball location). There also is a dedicated “back” button on the lower left side of the touchscreen.
  • Screen. The Corning Gorilla Glass color screen is 1.0″ x 1.25″ in size, making it slightly larger than other golf GPS watch screens. The display is crisp and easy to view, and toggles to black and white mode when in the sunlight to make the screen more readable. The touchscreen sensitivity is excellent – we did not have any issues navigating menus or selecting on-screen buttons or numbers, and it has momentum scrolling, meaning you can flick it and watch it spin through the available choices on a list, with it eventually slowing down depending on how hard you initiated the scrolling.
  • Like the Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

    Click for larger image
  • Form Factor. The MOTOACTV watch doesn’t have as smooth of a look as the Garmin S3, but rather looks more like the angular Dick Tracy 2-Way Wrist Radio in design. While the device isn’t uncomfortable during play, it is absolutely more noticeable to wear than the Garmin watches. The device has a smooth exterior of glass and metal, and weighs in at 2.5 ounces, making it the heaviest golf GPS watch in our test (though one of the lightest GPS devices overall). On the sides of the device opposite the buttons are a micro USB port and a 3.5mm headphone outlet.

    The MOTOACTV device itself can be removed from the wrist strap and attached to a clip instead for use during workouts where users would prefer not to have a wrist strap – there but we found that on the golf course it was easiest to have the device on the wrist. The wrist strap is a bit different – in lieu of the “keeper loop” that most watches use to tuck away the end of the strap, the MOTOACTV has 2 pins at the end of the strap that are pressed into the strap to lock it down.

    The watch-style design is something your playing partners may find bizarre…they may wonder why you are double-checking the time before every shot. Reassure them that you have told your spouse that rounds average between 6 and 7 hours, so you have more than enough time for nachos and beers after the round.

  • Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

    Click for larger image
  • Starting a Round. To start a round, users can either swipe on the touchscreen to advance to the main “Workout” screen on the device (there are five home screens: settings, workout, timepiece, music and notifications) and then press the screen, or press the top “start” button to be taken to the Workout menu. From the Workout menu the player selects “Golf” to begin. The user then selects “New Round,” chooses the course from a list of the nearest courses that the GPS locates (covering approximately a 5-6 mile radius), and then presses the “Start” button (users can also quickly override the default 18 holes and elect to play just the front or back 9). If you are in a shotgun tournament and need to begin at a hole other than the 1st, simply swipe on the screen to scroll to the appropriate hole.
  • Battery Life. Battery life is on the short side, draining approximately 80%+ of a single charge during play (our test rounds at local public courses ran 5+ hours). To maximize battery life, users can vary the amount of time before the screen goes into “sleep” mode from 15 seconds to 30 minutes (for some reason the default goes back to 15 seconds at the start of each round) and adjust the screen brightness, but don’t expect to be able to make it through two rounds in any event. The MOTOACTV allows the user to select whether data is refreshed every 1, 2 or 3 seconds, but this won’t impact the speed of updating distance readings, but rather determines how often data (position, etc.) is captured by the watch. Pressing the power button will turn the screen on/off (holding the power button will turn the device on/off) to conserve battery life, but since you’re only going to make it through one round on a charge anyway, we recommend leaving the display on during the round to maximize your speed of play. When the screen goes to “sleep,” the device still keeps the GPS on, so there is no need to wait for satellites to be re-acquired after “waking” the screen.

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


78 / C+]

COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING

The Good: The MOTOACTV Golf Edition provides not only distances to the front, center and back of the green, but also hazard information.

The Bad:The MOTOACTV Golf Edition only provides mapping of the front, center and back points on the green from the center of the fairway when approaching, as opposed to the near and far points on the green relative to player position. Hazard distances continue to be displayed on the screen after the player has passed them, creating both clutter and, depending on position, confusion. There is no indication of position of the hazard to differentiate them (i.e. left or right fairway bunker). Hazards don’t indicate if the distances are to reach the hazard or to clear it.

Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

Click for images

Details:

  • Views.
    • Hole Summary View – The default view on the MOTOACTV Golf Edition is the Hole Summary view, a scrollable listing of each hole. The Hole Summary view shows different types of information for any given hole, depending on what actions have been taken with respect to that hole. At the beginning of the round, the Hole Summary view has Hole 1 “opened” to the Green View (see image to the right). All of the other holes have not yet been started, so all that is displayed for each of them is the hole number and the par, along with an instruction to “tap to start.” Once a score has been entered for a hole, the hole has been “ended,” and the next hole has been “started,” the Hole Summary view will shift to showing scoring information for the completed hole. The scoring information will always include the number of shots taken to reach the green, the number of putts, and the penalty shots on the hole. In addition, the device will show the score for the hole – if the user selects “Par” in the settings menu for “Score Preferences,” the MOTOACTV will show what the score for the hole was relative to par (i.e. -1, or E, or +1), along with the typical scorecard marking (e.g. the number will be circled once for a birdie), while if the user selects “Stroke Play,” the MOTOACTV merely shows the numerical score for the hole (i.e. 3, 4 or 5…or the dreaded snowman 8).
    • Green View – Once a hole has been “started,” the Green view is displayed , and includes the hole number, number of shots (if tracking), and distances to the front, center (in the largest font) and back of the green. The total round score is also shown (as a total score or relative to par). The par of the hole is not shown. The top of the Green View displays the time, an indication of whether satellites have been acquired, and the remaining % of battery life.
    • Hazard View – With a left-right swipe across the Green View screen the user can move between the Green and Hazard Views. Hazard View shows the distance to a list of mapped hazards, such as water, fairway and greenside bunkers, trees, and other mapped “Targets,” although it is often unclear what these are and why they were selected. Are they desirable layup points? Or hazards to avoid? Who knows? As with the Green View, the top of the Hazard View displays the time, an indication of whether satellites have been acquired, and the remaining % of battery life.
  • Hole Information. The hole number is displayed both at the start of the hole, and on the Green View screen. Hole handicap is not available.
  • Custom Mapping. Users have the ability to create custom course maps online through a pretty simple tool that uses satellite images. Mapped courses will not be immediately available, however, as you’ll need to wait for Motorola to make them available for download to the MOTOACTV (the MOTOACTV forum includes the complaints of one early user who has already waited for several weeks for his course to appear).


92 / A-

FEATURES

The Good: The Motorola MOTOACTV has the basics for golf – scoring, including putts and penalties, as well as shot tracking. You can track where you took each shot on the course, which is then displayed on a satellite map. The MOTOACTV portal provides easy access to past rounds. There are a barrage of workout tracking features beyond just golf GPS. And an MP3 player!

The Bad: Some additional statistics tracking would be nice, including the ability to log sand saves or other shot information (such as fairways hit and GIR), capture distances for each club and calculate club averages, and auto-hole advance.

Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

Click for images

Details:

  • Shot Tracking. Users can track the location of each shot, along with the club used (the MOTOACTV will provide a suggestion of which club to use if the player has entered distance information, though we didn’t find this useful, since if you already know how far you hit your clubs, and the device tells you the distance, why would you need the device to tell you which club to hit?), but the MOTOACTV doesn’t add the shot information into a set of data that will track your club averages over time.

    Users can view their round online (see ‘MOTOACTV Online Portal’, below), blow-by-blow, after the round, though shot distances will not be displayed on the satellite view – odd indeed.
    When tracking shot distances, the number of locations marked (such as start and end of a shot) will then be fed into the “shots to the green” number on the scoring screen (see Score and Statistics, below). One of the software bugs we found was when entering average club distances – some clubs would not provide distance options above 80 yards.

  • Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

    Click for images
  • Score and Statistics. Users have the ability to enter scoring information in a few different ways – by tracking all shots up to the green on the MOTOACTV (which will then display that total), and then adding putts and penalty strokes, or by providing putts for the hole, then penalty strokes and total score. Scores are entered by pressing a button on the touchscreen in the Green View. After entering the score, the MOTOACTV prompts you to “End Hole,” which is a prerequisite before it will add the score for that hole to its running tally for the round (whether of total score or of score relative to par). We found the “End Hole” process to be frustratingly buggy – the MOTOACTV would seemingly randomly decide whether or not to acknowledge that we pressed the button, requiring us to go through the process multiple times before it would accept the request.

    The hole-by-hole score isn’t viewable in a summary scorecard during the round – instead, the user needs to scroll up and down to view the score of the prior holes. After a round is completed, a scorecard is available to display the hole, par and score per hole, along with total score and score relative to par. There is no way to edit scoring information after ending the round, and past rounds cannot be deleted from the portal.

    In keeping with the “workout” aspect of the device, it will also show your total time, distance, and estimated steps and calories. Heck, the MOTOACTV will even save the weather if you entered it. Putts and penalty strokes information will only be accessible via the MOTOACTV portal once you have finished a round.

    Another software bug we repeatedly encountered was the MOTOACTV’s inability to do simple math in calculating total score and score relative to par. It had the right score for each hole and it had the right par for the hole, but something was askew. For example, on a test round, the MOTOACTV correctly reported the scores to tally a 46 on the front (lame) and a 37 on the back (woo hoo!), but added them together to somehow total 77 (for the mathematically challenged, it should have been an 83) and reported a +10 for the round (on the par 72 course, it should have been +11). Go figure. See the photo to the right for an illustration of the MOTOACTV’s “new math.”

  • Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

    Click for images
  • Auto-advance. The Motorola MOTOACTV is one of the few devices that won’t auto-advance to the next hole. After finishing a hole, users swipe on the touchscreen to scroll to the next hole from the Green View or after entering a score.
  • Wi-Fi Capability. The Golf Edition can wirelessly sync with the MOTOACTV online portal (see below). Users download and update course maps wirelessly as well (note that the MOTOACTV’s Wi-Fi won’t work if a web-based login is required to register for the network, as is usually the case in a hotel or airport). Not all syncing went off without a hitch, but it worked the majority of the time.
  • The MOTOACTV Platform. The Golf Edition isn’t a stand-alone golf GPS device, but rather is an application that sits on top of Motorola’s MOTOACTV platform. If anything, users can think of the Golf Edition as just one small piece of the overall functionality of the device. Users can track a variety of workouts, including cycling, walking, jogging, elliptical, and step machines, and the MOTOACTV will track the GPS route (with map), miles or steps taken, time, elevation, calories burned…and all of this can be done while listening to music that is synced to the device.
  • Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition
  • MOTOACTV Online Portal. The device smoothly syncs wirelessly with an online MOTOACTV account, which is available for free (take note, competitors!). This portal provides information on past rounds (as well as other types of workouts). The portal also enables users to keep journal notes to better track their progress. And after that one glorious round, you can easily share the details on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Course Storage. The Motorola MOTOACTV should be able to load all 20,000 courses available worldwide. We say “should” since to load the 20,000 courses available in their database the user will need to individually select each country and state and download them separately.
  • Preferences. The Motorola MOTOACTV has a number of “display preferences” that are applicable to golf – this includes measurement units (yards v meters), language, and time and date. There are a number of additional settings that can be adjusted that apply to the rest of the platform, includes fitness zones (heart rate, pace, etc.), sharing information (Facebook and Twitter), maps (browse or download more), and general device management.

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


83/ B-

ACCURACY

We found the Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition to be as accurate as other golf GPS devices, consistently providing readings within 3-5 yards of the actual distance to the front, center and back of the green.

The hazard information isn’t as accurate as the green information; in many cases the distance to a hazard (say, a fairway bunker) is based on an arbitrary point within the hazard instead of to the front edge of the hazard. This is exactly the type of issue you run into with a database that relies upon users to map courses by themselves with no quality control review by the company.

Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition

Click for images

Even worse were blatant errors in the course mapping, such as that seen in the images on the right. The first photo shows what we saw on the device – somehow, the distance to the front of the green is farther than the distance to the middle of the green. We went to the 3rd party site, looked at the course map, and voila – the person who mapped the course juxtaposed the two points (see the second photo). Not to worry, loyal readers – we went in and fixed the error. You are welcome.

The MOTOACTV has the ability to list two full screens of hazards, but we rarely encountered more than one or two hazards marked on a hole. Again, this isn’t something that Motorola can fix…unless they take over control of the course mapping process.

The distances to all points mapped continue to remain on the hazard screen throughout the hole.


92 / A-

COST/VALUE

Retail Price: The Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition has a retail price of $299.99, placing it about average among golf GPS retail prices.

Fees for Access to Course Database: Following the trend in the industry, Motorola does not charge fees to access a course database or receive course updates for the MOTOACTV.

Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no additional costs for access to the course database or course updates, the three-year total cost of ownership for the Motorola MOTOACTV is a reasonable $299.99, putting in in the middle of the pack in our comparison of overall device cost . In addition, there are no costs to be a member of the MOTOCAST online portal to track your golf scores (or workouts).

Value: What drives the value of the Motorola MOTOACTV Golf Edition is not only the form factor and the MOTOCAST portal, but also the additional functionality that the MOTOACTV platform provides. The main category of buyers will likely be those drawn to the additional functionality. As a pure golf GPS device, it carries a high price relative to competing devices that provide full hole graphics and extensive course information. The software bugginess also kept us from being able to give the MOTOACTV a higher value grade (the Golf Edition software still feels as if it is in beta); we hope that subsequent software updates will alleviate this concern.

Existing Motorola MOTOACTV (16GB) owners will be able to download the Golf Edition software (the Golf Edition is essentially an application running on the MOTOACTV platform) at no additional cost. For owners of the 8GB MOTOACTV, Motorola has indicated that an option to purchase the Golf Edition software will be available in the future, which certainly would provide an appealing option to existing owners that are looking for an entry into the golf GPS market.

Updated (course coverage): March 2013


Bag Boy TriSwivel

Countering the trend toward 4-wheeled carts, Bag Boy shows a new twist on the old three-wheeler, introducing its TriSwivel push cart with a pivoting front wheel. Bag Boy claims that the new front wheel “makes the cart feel like it has power steering,” and for once, we actually agree with the marketing literature. You don’t realize how often you need to pop up the front wheel of a traditional push cart as you traipse through a round until you don’t have to do it anymore. The TriSwivel is an absolute dream to push around the course, particularly on cart paths and fairways.

The TriSwivel is also easy to unfold, has some smart ergonomic design elements, and provides reasonable storage space. It’s a bit blocky when it’s folded up (about the size of a Clicgear 3.5+), can get a little squirrely when you push it off of a curb (you can mitigate this if you remember to lock the front wheel, as we describe below, but let’s face it, we’re lazy and can’t be bothered to flick that simple switch), and costs a whole lotta simoleons (now there’s a word that’s gone out of fashion – like moolah, loot and dough). But oh how sweet it is to cruise through the round without popping the front wheel up. The pivoting front wheel on the TriSwivel is like having four wheels on your suitcase – you don’t know you need it until you try it…and then you find you can’t live without it.

SCORE
94
GRADE
A
Size/Weight
84
Ease of Set-Up
92
On Course Impressions
95
Storage/Accessories
91
Style
85
Value
91

Pros:

  • Pivoting front wheel significantly reduces the effort required to push the cart around
  • Adjustable Velcro straps available to firmly secure the bag at the top and the bottom
  • Smooth rolling wheels

Cons:

  • Cha-ching! One of the most expensive carts we’ve tested
  • Somewhat bulky when folded up
  • Terrible instruction manual

Retail price: $269.95
Availability: No longer available, replaced by the Bag Boy Triswivel II, which is essentially the same as the original version
Amazon.com: Check price now


84 / B

SIZE/WEIGHT

At 19 pounds (as tested), the Bag Boy TriSwivel is one of the heftier push carts tested (compare this to the lightest cart, the Tour Trek Tahoe, at 10.5 lbs., and the heaviest cart, the Sun Mountain Speed Cart V2, at 20 lbs.). The TriSwivel isn’t overly long or wide when it’s folded – it’s more akin to the ClicGear 3.5+ in being a bit of a block. Those with small trunks are going to have to get creative in fitting both the TriSwivel and a set of clubs, and anyone without an SUV or minivan (no, please don’t admit it if you actually have a minivan – we’d rather keep our illusions about our reader base) isn’t going to have much luck fitting TWO sets of clubs and two TriSwivels without taking up some of the back seat.


92 / A-

EASE OF SET-UP

The first thing to note about setting up the Bag Boy TriSwivel is that some assembly is required. The second thing is that whomever wrote the instruction manual is, shall we say, a big picture guy. By that we mean that there are some important things that the manual fails to mention. For example, the manual tells you that you need to insert each of the rear wheels into a little hole until they click and lock into place. What the manual fails to tell you is that when shipped, the axle of each rear wheel has a little rubber cover on it that you need to take OFF before you pop it into the hole. We kept staring at the wheel axle, and although we’re not engineering majors, even WE could see that it was far too large to fit into the receptacle (in the immortal words of Michael Scott from The Office – “that’s what she said”). Finally it occurred to us to try and yank the rubber part off (they’re on pretty tight, so we were definitely worried that they weren’t supposed to come off, and whether we were actually just breaking it), and doing so exposed the actual axle, now small enough to fit.

In addition, the instructions for installing the lower bag strap only mention installing the end of one strap – as it turns out, the overall strap is composed of two parts, and so you need to install one strap on each side. The orientation of the straps upon installation isn’t clarified in the instructions either. We found the best way to learn how to install the lower straps was to copy the way the upper straps (which come pre-installed) are situated.

The whole process took about 30 minutes to complete – which is disappointing, since if the instructions had just been well written, it would’ve taken no more than 5 minutes.

In any event, once we got the thing put together, the unfolding process for the TriSwivel was a piece of cake. All that is required are five easy steps – pull on the upper bracket to extend the cart, pivot the front wheel down into place, unlock the handle, pivot the handle to the desired spot, and re-lock the handle. Velcro straps at the top and bottom provide extra security in holding the golf bag in place (although we found that you don’t need to use them at all).


95 / A

ON COURSE IMPRESSIONS

  • Where the Bag Boy TriSwivel really sets itself apart is how effortless it is to push it around the course. The pivoting front wheel makes minor course corrections as easy as walking in the direction you want to go – you don’t need to pop a wheelie (or several wheelies). When you first start using the TriSwivel, you may have a tendency to oversteer, but within a few holes, you’ll find that the cart maneuvers so easily that you can push it with one hand most of the time. There is a button near the handle that enables you to lock the front wheel so it is pointing straight ahead – this is handy if you are going straight up or down a hill. The wheels rolled easily, and the adjustability of the handle (see below) made the cart comfortable for users of all heights. The minor caveat is that when you are hopping down off of a curb, the cart gets a little squirrely. It never tipped over during our tests, but did make us nervous. This can be avoided if you just push the button to lock the front wheel.
  • The brake lever is positioned to the left side of the push handle. We’re not sure if Bag Boy was listening to our previous reviews (more likely, it was their focus groups), but the TriSwivel brake is more intuitive in that you just pull it forward to engage the brake (in the Bag Boy Automatic and the Bag Boy Quad, pulling the lever forward releases the brakes, which didn’t make much sense to us). In addition, a nice design element is that there are red stripes on the lever so when it’s pulled forward, you immediately see the red and make the connection that the brake is engaged. Those of you who have used other carts and can never remember whether the brake is engaged when the lever is forward or back will appreciate the clever thinking by the good folks at Bag Boy.
  • The TriSwivel features Bag Boy’s traditional brake mechanism – there are twelve gear notches around the wheel and the brake is a pin that inserts into the nearest notch to stop the wheel from rolling. Because there are so many notches, the brake is extremely easy to engage – you don’t need to nudge the cart forward or backward in order to get the brake to “click” in. While the Bag Boy Automatic and the Bag Boy Quad only have a brake on one of the rear wheels, activating the brake on the TriSwivel inserts pins into each of the rear wheels at the same time – presumably to stop the cart from turning downhill when parked on a side hill.
  • The tires are made of solid foam, so there is no danger of winding up with a flat.
  • The handle is great in that it pivots up or down to fit the height of the user, which made an appreciable difference in comfort. Bag Boy markets it as “unlimited” adjustability – in truth the handle seems to have a limited number of gear teeth into which it will lock, but there are at least 100 of those teeth, which should satisfy almost any user. We’ll just write off the “unlimited” description as poetic license.

91 / A-

STORAGE/ACCESSORIES

The storage and accessories available on the Bag Boy Quad include:

  • a reasonably sized valuables tray with a magnetic lid. The tray is was able to fit our “test case” of 2 golf balls, a GPS device (we even succeeded with the fairly “husky” Skycaddie SGXw!), an iPhone, a set of keys, and a wallet. There are little bungee ties in the tray, and it took us awhile to figure out that they’re there to hold down golf balls and keep them from rattling while you schlep around the course – nice touch!
  • a large zippered storage pouch which is about the size of a shoe bag – and yes, we were able to fit a pair of golf shoes in the bag. The down side is that the storage pouch is attached to the rear frame of the TriSwivel, underneath the handle, so it isn’t readily accessible during play. In addition, there are no dividers within the pouch, so if you put in a hodgepodge of stuff, there’s no way to really organize it.
  • a metal clip attached to the lid of the valuables tray that is designed to hold down a scorecard and secure a pencil. BagBoy describes this as their “deluxe” scorecard and pencil holder, and while it secured the scorecard just fine, it wasn’t very good at holding pencils, as they just kept sliding out. Which makes one wonder how bad the “standard” scorecard and pencil holder is…
  • an umbrella mount that holds an umbrella upright to provide you with shelter when it’s raining. The design of the Bag Boy Quad requires the user to first unscrew a “nut” from the bottom of the holder, then pass the holder through the mount, then tighten the “nut” to secure the holder. We’re not huge fans of the way this was engineered, as other designs allow the user to just screw a holder directly into the cart. Not a big deal when it’s sunny, but the extra time might make a difference to you when a rain shower suddenly hits.
  • a big boy-sized cup/bottle holder, which didn’t have any problems holding larger bottles
  • six holes for storing extra tees

85 / B

STYLE

We still haven’t developed an appreciation for Bag Boy’s “Scion-esque” 3-spoke wheels, and the TriSwivel looks a bit more upright than other carts, so you’re probably not going to draw any appreciative looks for its styling. It’s available in four different colors – black, white, silver, and red.


91 / A-

VALUE

The Bag Boy TriSwivel’s retail price of $269.95 places it as the most expensive golf push cart we tested. But on the plus side, the pivoting front wheel is a revelation, and the TriSwivel shows improvement over previous Bag Boy entries in storage and other features. It may cost a bit more than the others, but your back, shoulders and arms will appreciate the extra expense.