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Bushnell 5 x 20 Golf Scope

For those who are looking for distances but don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars, there is an alternative – golf scopes. Some are going to claim foul right off the bat, as the Bushnell 5×20 Golf Scope rangefinder isn’t technically a laser rangefinder. And yes, maybe it is an unfair fight stacking it up against others in this category. But given that most players will evaluate golf scopes against laser rangefinders, let’s see if it can punch above its weight.

It is best to first examine what the Bushnell promises for the 5×20 – right there in the marketing material they tell you that the device “estimates distances to the flag from 50 to 200 yards/meters.” If you think about it, this covers most of the distance information you need. The device neither has a laser nor does it calculate distances for the player, rather the player is left to estimate distances to the flagstick on his/her own. This is done through lining up the flagstick in the display against distance lines…hey, just like the sextant on your boat.

The device is based on the assumption that the course has 8-foot flagsticks. If it doesn’t, then you are going to have to do a bit of guesswork. In addition, if the base of the flagstick where it enters the hole isn’t visible, you’ll only be able to estimate distances if the flagstick has 1-foot stripes (not all of them do), and in addition to estimating the distance within the viewfinder you’ll need to do some math on the fly.

The device is incredibly light, doesn’t require batteries, and at $25 retail is just a fraction of the cost of a laser rangefinder. But this is really only going appeal to a certain set of players (you liberal arts majors can move on to a review of a different device right about now). It can be challenging to feel comfortable with the estimated distance (yes, lasers are much easier), but if you only care about distance to flagsticks once you are within 200 yards, and accuracy within 10% is good enough, this could be a handy little device to have.

SCORE
76
GRADE
C
Ease of Use
90
Features
75
Obtaining Readings
68
Cost/Value
85

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Small and light
  • 5x magnification
  • No batteries required

Cons:

  • Device designed for flagsticks that are 8-feet in height
  • Difficult to obtain accurate distance readings
  • Can’t obtain distances to objects other than flagsticks
  • Some math may be required (Gasp! Shudder!)

Retail price: $24.95
Amazon.com Check price now


90 / B

EASE OF USE

The Bushnell 5×20 Golf Scope is incredibly small and light, just a fraction of the size and weight of standard laser rangefinders. The device is cylindrical in shape, 3-3/8″ long and 1-1/8″ in diameter, and at mere 2.2 ounces, is barely noticeable in your pocket during play (you can also use the small carrying case that comes with it) . The monocular (a fancy new vocabulary word – but you must understand the difference between the monocular and the binocular, right?) is made of aluminum and features a black rubber grip around the center of the body and an attached strap, which we found unnecessary.

Bushnell 5x20 Golf Slope Rangefinder

Click for images

The 5×20 features 5x magnification and is focus-free. Distance markings are clear within the display, but the pin won’t necessarily be, depending on the distance. The device has a rubber roll-down eyecup designed to block out extraneous light, which can be retracted for users who wear glasses. With no buttons and no batteries required, there isn’t much to cause trouble. Bushnell is even nice enough to throw in a lint-free cloth to clean the lens. How thoughtful!

When you look through the viewfinder you will see a horizontal line at the bottom of the display labeled “GREEN”, with a vertical line extending from the center of the line towards the top of the display. To either side of the vertical line above the GREEN line are horizontal distance lines. To the left of the vertical line the distances are in yards, and to the right they are in meters. Yardage lines are shown for 50, 75, 100, 150 and 200 yards.

Bushnell Pro 5x20 Golf Scope

Click to enlarge

To estimate the distance to the flagstick, you first align the horizontal line labeled “GREEN” with the base of the flagstick. Keeping your hand steady to keep that line in position at the base of the flagstick (easier said than done), you then find the horizontal distance line that lines up with the top of the flagstick. This usually means that you can be trying to look at two lines simultaneously, which can get tricky, particularly if you don’t have steady hands (if small children routinely beat you at the game of “Operation”, this is not the device for you). More than likely the top of the flagstick will fall in between a pair of horizontal distance lines, so you’ll need to estimate what the distance line would be at the top of the flagstick.

While the device is extremely straightforward in use, actually obtaining accurate readings can be quite challenging. The accuracy of your distance reading doesn’t depend on the Bushnell, but rather on how good you are at keeping your hands steady and estimating distances. Hey, caffeine and wind happen.

In addition, the horizontal distance lines shown in the display get tighter as the distance increases, so the vertical space between the 150 and 200 distance lines is much smaller than it is between the 50 and 100 distance lines (see image above). This makes estimating longer distances increasingly challenging, and is probably why the Bushnell 5×20 Golf Scope doesn’t provide distance lines at more than 200 yards.


75 /C

FEATURES

This is pretty easy…there really aren’t any features. The display has distance indicators for yards and meters, so perhaps that counts? We’ll count the lack of batteries as a feature too.


68 / D+

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Bushnell claims that the device can measure the distance to flagsticks at a range of 5 to 200 yards/meters. Keep in mind that the Bushnell 5×20 Golf Scope is designed to help with readings to 8-foot flagsticks only (flagsticks customarily range between 7 and 10 feet). Furthermore, if you need to estimate distance when the base of the flagstick isn’t visible (if there is mounding on the green or in front, for example), the flagstick needs to be striped (at 1 foot intervals) for you to be able to try to calculate distances.

Bushnell Pro 5x20 Golf Scope

Click to enlarge

Unlike laser rangefinders, which provide you with a distance reading at a push of a button, the Bushnell 5×20 will make you work for your yardage. There’s a bit of effort and time required to be comfortable with your distance estimation, and we found that devoting additional time to try to better estimate the distance didn’t necessarily ensure we were any more accurate.

Our initial experiences with the Bushnell 5×20 Scope immediately highlighted the difficulties in using the device. Our first three rounds using the device included courses with flagsticks that were 7-feet (can’t use the Scope), 7 ¼-feet (also can’t use the Scope), and 8-feet (could use the Scope). As an aside, none of the first three courses had stripes on the flagstick, which means the Scope was unable to help estimate distances in all the situations where the full flagstick wasn’t visible. Didn’t think flagsticks varied this much? Neither did we. Furthermore, one of the courses had practice areas with both 7-foot and 9-foot flagsticks.

When playing on courses with 8-foot flagsticks, we found that our readings remained within 10% of actuals, with accuracy within 5% on average. In most cases we found that we were usually “off” in the same direction. Sometimes our estimates were accurate within a yard, sometimes within 10 yards, sometimes more. In addition to the challenge of holding the Scope nice and steady, the blurriness of the flag and green at a distance, the lighting, and subtle contours can all make it difficult at times to tell if the full flagstick is visible. In short, there really is no comparison to laser rangefinders, where you point, shoot, and get a distance.

If the base of the flagstick where it enters the hole isn’t visible, then you’ll have to do some math to estimate the distance. To do this you line up the horizontal line labeled “GREEN” with the bottom of the lowest visible stripe on the flagstick, estimate the distance reading at the top of the flagstick and then bust out your math skills: multiply the number of visible stripes by the estimated distance, and then divide that number by 8. Don’t like math? Time to visit Greg Tang! But even if you are a numbers whiz, you’ll still be out of luck if the flagsticks don’t have any stripes (we actually do play at courses that have stripe-less sticks). Curses!

If you really want to get into detail, keep in mind that there is variation in the depth of holes (the USGA requires only that holes are at least 4 inches deep), and additional caps or laser reflectors on the flagstick may add inches to the overall height. What this means is that there will always be some amount of variability to build into your estimates.

So the question then is…who benefits from this device? Beginners might find the ballpark distances to be good enough. And there are always those who don’t want to spend the dollars on a device (and laser rangefinders are not cheap). Is +/- 10% close enough for you? And if it is close enough, do you mind not being able to use the device to objects other than flagsticks, or beyond 200 yards? Lastly, do you mind having to do a little math when the entire flagstick isn’t visible?

We can’t run our usual rangefinder speed test with the Bushnell 5×20 Scope as it can’t help estimate distances to any objects other than 8-foot flagsticks. As far as speed, it is as fast as you can pick up the scope, make sure you have it oriented in the correct direction so the distance markings in the display are right-side-up, and then how quickly you can get an estimate close enough for your needs. If the full flagstick isn’t visible, your speed will also depend on how quickly you count the visible stripes, and then do some multiplication and division. Ready….go!


85 / B

COST/VALUE

At $25 retail, which is a mere fraction of the retail price of laser rangefinders, the Bushnell 5×20 Scope piqued our interest enough to take a look. But price isn’t all that drives our score in this category – the real question is whether a device also provides real value at that price. The Bushnell 5×20 Golf Scope does its job, but the value is limited due to the fact that you can only determine distances to flagsticks, with the additional conditions that the flagsticks are 8-feet tall and also have stripes (if you want to get distances when the flagstick base isn’t visible).

An additional factor is the device’s dependence on how steady you can keep your hands, which is no small task in and of itself, while simultaneously estimating points between the horizontal distance lines. The inability to accurately estimate within 5 or 10% means that the Bushnell 5×20 Scope isn’t for everybody. But if it’s not accurate enough for you, you can always use it bird-spotting…


Callaway RAZR

The Callaway RAZR, manufactured by Nikon, offers some changes from its predecessor devices. The laser is 10% smaller than the prior generation, and ranks as the lightest laser in our tests (though not the smallest). The device offers the standard 6x magnification and focusing eyepiece.

Although the Callaway RAZR is marketed as providing faster readings, we didn’t notice an improvement over past Callaway laser rangefinders. We do appreciate, however, the 0.1 yard incremental readings all the way to a maximum of 600 yards. Keep in mind that the level of accuracy is more than likely +/- 1 yard (though not specified by Callaway). The device has a waterproof shell, and comes with a protective pouch to protect the lens and carabiner to clip the device to your bag. The laser will fire for 8 seconds when activated and provide continuous distance readings, the last of which remains displayed for 8 additional seconds after the laser is done firing.

The Callaway RAZR has First Target Priority mode (the equivalent of Bushnell’s PinSeeker or Leupold’s PinHunter), which is always on and is intended to pick up the nearest target in your line of sight. Why do we say “intended”? Because we found the RAZR to be one of the least sensitive among the laser rangefinders we have tested at picking out pins at near and far distances alike, necessitating firing only at the flag or, if visible, the base of the flagstick at the hole. The RAZR is slightly below average in cost across laser rangefinders that do not provide slope-adjusted distance information, but the slight discount isn’t enough to make us recommend this device.

SCORE
82
GRADE
B-
Ease of Use
90
Features
85
Obtaining Readings
80
Cost/Value
83

Pros:

  • Compact and light
  • Displays to 1/10th of a yard
  • Targets different objects in succession for 8 seconds

Cons:

  • First Target Priority mode simply doesn’t work well enough
  • Available backlight not noticeable
  • Relatively high cost versus performance

Retail price: $349.95
Availability: Discontinued (may still be found on Amazon). Replaced by the Nikon COOLSHOT.
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90 / A-

EASE OF USE

The Callaway RAZR is a vertically-held laser rangefinder, with a grey, red and black elastomer (rubber) body, textured at the front half, with the body size and material easy to grip. It’s marketed as “shock resistant”, and although we didn’t perform any drop tests off of a moving cart on to concrete, the RAZR appears durable, and we’ll take their word for it.

Callaway has reduced the size of the RAZR from their prior generation rangefinder by 10%, down to 4.4″ x 1.6″ x 2.8″, making it the smallest in the Callaway lineup, but only average within the entire laser rangefinder field. The RAZR is, however, the lightest device in our tests, weighing in at 6.3 ounces on its own, or 8.5 ounces with the protective pouch and carabiner.

The protective sleeve provides a snug fit around the RAZR to both protect and hold the device, and has a built-in magnet to keep the attached cover closed. The pouch is a bit too snug for our tastes, making it difficult to slide the laser in or out with just one hand, though the tradeoff is that when the RAZR is in the pouch, it isn’t going to fall out. In addition to attaching the pouch to a bag or cart with the included carabiner, you can also use the belt loop on the pouch, or the clip that can attach directly to the laser and then to the carabiner, avoiding the need for the pouch. We never used the device without the pouch, as that leaves you with no protection for the device, and also requires that you take the time to unclip and reclip the device with each use. But you can’t say Callway doesn’t give you options!

Callaway RAZR Laser Rangefinder

Click for more images

The RAZR LCD display features clear 6x magnification with a slight green tint, both standard on rangefinders these days, and a focusing diopter through an easy-to-turn eyepiece. To use the RAZR laser rangefinder, just firmly press the power button to turn it on, then press it again to begin firing the laser.

The LCD display shows the aiming crosshairs and distance reading in black. The crosshair is made up of 4 horizontal and vertical lines, with an opening at the center for aiming; an additional 4 lines forming an “X” around the center will blink while the laser is firing and the user pans across targets. The distance is continuously shown above the crosshair and updates at a steady rate as new distances are acquired. Although there is First Target Priority on the RAZR, the device will not stop updating distances when a target is acquired, but rather allows users to move between targets. We would prefer that the distances be displayed a bit closer to the crosshairs and be repositioned below the crosshairs, as the continuous updating of distances can lead you to frequently darting your eyes back and forth between the crosshairs and the distance display. The battery indicator is shown in the lower right corner of the display.

There are two buttons on the Callaway RAZR, both located on the top of the device. A power/laser button is used to turn on the device and fire the laser. The mode button, located nearer the lens, is used to adjust between displaying distances in meters or yards. Users can’t adjust the style of the aiming crosshairs.

The Callaway RAZR uses one 3-volt CR2 battery that inserts through a twist cap below the viewfinder.

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


85 / B

FEATURES

The Callaway RAZR features one always on-mode, First Target Priority. This mode will try to find whatever target is closest to the user, not just flagsticks, and is intended to ignore larger objects behind the target. In practice, the functionality was extremely disappointing and we struggled repeatedly with First Target Priority, finding that the RAZR rapidly lost the ability to target pins at any reasonable distance (even under 100 yards), and that we needed to target the flag or green at the base of the flagstick in order to reliably get distance readings. That may be the best practice regardless, but it is clear that the sensitivity of the First Target Priority mode is far behind other devices. The only good news is that the laser is always fired for 8 seconds and users don’t need to hold down the fire button, so you can stick with that pin and make quadruplely sure you get the right reading. Once the laser is done firing, the distance will display for an additional 8 seconds.

The RAZR shows distances down to 0.1 yards for all distances shown. Don’t take this to mean that it has +/- 0.1 level of accuracy, most likely the device is +/- 1 yard, though Callaway doesn’t make any statements in this regard.

A firm short press (under 2 seconds) of the mode button will turn on backlighting, intended to help in low lighting conditions such as at dusk. The backlight brings a red tint to the display, which makes a slight difference in some lighting conditions, and none in others. The backlight is a temporary feature, and turns off once the laser is done firing and displaying the distance. That means when you get to your next shot and want the distance, or if you decide to shoot again from your same position, you’ll have to turn the backlight on all over again instead of keeping it on as a default setting. Bummer.

As we are fair-weather players, we can’t comment on the device’s capabilities in the rain, though the RAZR is waterproof (nitrogen filled and sealed with O-ringers). Just remember not to expect lasers to provide readings in either downpours or fog.

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


80 / B-

OBTAINING DISTANCE READINGS

Callaway markets a range of up to 600 yards to most objects under optimal conditions. This doesn’t match the longest distances of some lasers, though it is certainly long enough for us.

Ease of Locking on a Target:
We found that even with Callaway’s First Target Priority Mode always on, the RAZR struggled to pick up pins and clearly didn’t have the sensitivity of competing devices. We started to have issues picking up the pin under yards, and it became nearly impossible at 200 yards. Our advice if you purchase the RAZR? Always aim for the flag or base of the flagstick.

Speed Test:
PinSeeker-Only Mode
As above, the Callaway RAZR is always in First Target Priority Mode. The RAZR is marketed as being quick to provide distances, and we found it was average among the competition in our laser rangefinder speed test.


83 / B-

COST/VALUE

The Callaway RAZR laser rangefinder retails for $349.95, slightly below the average price for laser rangefinders without slope adjusted distance capability. In this range it does have direct (and stiff) competition from multiple Bushnell and Leupold devices (less so the Laser Link Red Hot) at roughly same price point. The device is small and light, the basic feature set is fine, but the performance at picking up the pin was far below the competition.


Laser Link Switch

Released in 2012, the Laser Link Switch combines the ease of use of the Laser Link QuickShot with the greater versatility of the Laser Link Red Hot at the flip of a switch. Laser Link is the sole company that provides the easy pistol-like shape that allows users to target objects while holding away from your face. The cost places it above average, and the lack of magnification may leave players looking for more. But if you’re a fan of the form factor, and primarily target flagsticks with reflective prisms but would like the option to obtain distances to other objects on occasion, you may wish to take a look.

Retail price: $399.00
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Bag Boy T-2000

The Bag Boy T-2000 features a pivoting front handle, which is designed to bring an element of innovation to an otherwise pretty standard soft-cover golf travel case. While the pivoting handle nominally reduces the strain on your arm as you pull the bag, it didn’t strike us as a monumental difference, and the handle actually makes it more difficult to make sharp course corrections or to pull up on the bag to stand it up. And as we found out, it already doesn’t stand up very well on its own.

An additional concern was that other than an excellent external pocket designed for a pair of golf shoes, there isn’t much storage space within the bag once a set of clubs is stowed inside. We were able to put in a couple of rolled-up sweaters (we’re suckers for buying logo gear wherever we travel), but not much else.

We usually celebrate the fact that Bag Boy is more open to experimenting with new ideas than other manufacturers, but this one didn’t really click with us. Couple that with a price that, while it is the lowest among the bags we’ve tested, is still pretty pricey for what performs like an ordinary 2-wheeled travel bag. Total this all up and we found ourselves being happy with, but not particularly excited about, the T-2000.

As an aside, is someone in product marketing at Bag Boy a fan of the old Wilson T-2000 tennis racquets (go Jimmy Connors!) or of Terminator 2 (the Cyberdyne Systems Series 1000 Terminator was referred to as the T-1000…and was better known for being liquid metal)?

SCORE
85
GRADE
B
Design/Construction
86
Travel Impressions
85
Value
85

Retail price: $189.95
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86 / B

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

The Bag Boy T-2000 is made of 1680d nylon. Those of you who are not fabric experts may wonder if this is good or bad. Your friends at Critical Golf are here to help. The “d” is an abbreviation for the Denier count, which measures the fineness of a fabric. The Denier count is simply the mass (in grams) of 9,000 meters of the fabric. In practice, rather than actually hauling out 9,000 meters of fabric (which is about 5.6 miles), they use 900 meters and multiply by 10. A higher Denier count implies a denser weave, which would translate to greater durability. 1680d is toward the upper half of the scale among what you would find in luggage – high-end models tend to be in the 1800d-2500d range.

Bag Boy T-2000 Golf Travel Bag

Click to enlarge

Bag Boy has positioned a hard PVC-molded plastic back at the bottom rear of the T-2000 to provide protection and stability, but at only about 19 inches long, it’s much shorter than the backing found in competing products such as the Club Glove Last Bag (which is approximately 28 inches long). In addition to the obvious fact that there is less protection for the bottom of the bag, the shorter backing means that the bag doesn’t stand up very well on its own – so you’ll have to lay it down if you need to use both of your hands for something else (like digging out your ID when you’re checking in at the airport).

Bag Boy T-2000 Golf Travel Bag

Click to enlarge

While Bag Boy provides a decent amount of padding at the top of the T-2000 to protect the heads of your clubs, there is no padding on the bottom two-thirds of the bag. Dual two-way zippers run the length of the bag, providing easy access to the contents.

The design of the Bag Boy T-2000 also includes:

  • five handles: the pivoting grip at the top of the bag, another fixed strap at the top of the bag, a lifting strap in the middle of the bag, two straps that Velcro together and form a handle at the middle, and one handle at the base of the bag that is helpful for lifting the bag into and out of vehicles
  • an oversize shoe/accessory pocket on the spine
  • two additional garment pockets – one on each side
  • a plastic window to hold a business card or other ID tag
  • an adjustable internal strap to secure your golf bag
  • two in-line skate wheels
  • three color options, each of which comes with black trim: silver, red and blue

For additional support within the T-2000, the Bag Boy Backbone telescoping arm is available at a retail price of $24.95. Made of lightweight aluminum, the Backbone is spring-loaded and extends to keep the bag from collapsing inward when the American Tourister gorilla (or your friendly baggage handler) throws it against a wall.


85 / B

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS

We tested the Bag Boy T-2000 with a standard golf carry bag. The T-2000 weighed in at 8.5 pounds, about two pounds lighter than the Club Glove Last Bag, which is the next lightest golf travel bag we have tested. In theory, this means that you can stow extra stuff inside the bag without running afoul of the 50-pound weight restriction imposed by the airlines.

The challenge is that there is very little additional interior space for clothing once the golf carry bag is in place, in large part because the Bag Boy T-2000 has a uniform mostly-rectangular shape (unlike the Club Glove Last Bag). Unless your trip is literally overnight, you will need to bring another bag for your clothes and toiletries.

Kudos to Bag Boy for the oversized pocket on the spine, which was great for stowing away a pair of golf shoes. We were less enthusiastic about the additional exterior garment pockets. They are flush with the surface of the bag, and thus don’t provide excess capacity – if the inside of the bag is already full, you can’t slip much of anything into the garment pockets.

Bag Boy T-2000 Golf Travel Bag

Click for images

The pivoting handle seemed like an interesting concept, but in practice, it didn’t hold up as a real differentiator. One the one hand, the rotation of the handle does reduce the strain on your forearm and wrist as you pull the T-2000 along. On the other hand, pulling up on the pivoting handle to try to stand the bag upright was a real challenge, as the resulting pivot made the T-2000 tend to careen in a direction other than up (a suggestion would be some method of locking the handle in place). Sharp changes in direction were also made more difficult, as we had to use exaggerated motions to overcome the compensation from the pivoting handle.

The in-line skate wheels rolled nicely, but after having experienced the glories of four-wheeled golf travel bags, we found it difficult to transition back to a standard two-wheeler.

As mentioned above, the short length of the plastic backing means that the T-2000 is difficult to stand on end (vertically). The benefit of the short plastic backing, however, is that the bag is more compact when it is folded up for storage in between trips.


85 / B

COST/VALUE

At a retail price of $189.95, the Bag Boy T-2000 is the least expensive travel bag in our tests. Outside of the pivoting handle, however, there isn’t much to differentiate it from the run-of-the-mill product, and we didn’t see much added benefit from the handle.

Retail price: $189.95
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Swingbyte

Swingbyte is a member of the new category of mobile golf swing analysis tools that provide a wealth of information for users to diagnose their game via mobile devices or desktop computers. The Swingbyte device attaches to the club shaft just below the grip, connects and provides real-time data via Bluetooth to the free Swingbyte app on a smartphone or tablet, and uploads the information to a free Swingbyte account in the cloud. Users can then view swing plane and club graphics and an assortment of data on the position of the club both at address and at impact, club head speed, and swing tempo.

Some will be drawn to the Swingbyte, thinking it is the Holy Grail of swing analysis tools for amateur range-rats…a device that can provide the same information as a $20,000 TrackMan at a fraction of the price. And if you think this, you will need to do a reality check. Pronto. We had trouble off the bat with our registration, login and syncing efforts across devices. And once we made it through these initial steps and hit the range, we found that the Swingbyte simply wouldn’t stay in place on the club shaft. And yes, we tried it with the additional adhesive mounting tabs provided by the company. These issues, combined with a software interface that needs improvements, made for a less than enjoyable experience.

Back at home and ready to analyze our sessions on the computer, we found ourselves struggling to sort through the data. The data calculated by Swingbyte was noticeably different from what was captured in performance and fitting center sessions with more advanced swing analysis tools, and some of the Swingbyte data about things that we could see, such as shot path, was incorrect. If you are looking for a tool to provide the most accurate swing data, you are looking in the wrong place. What Swingbyte is useful for is tracking relative changes over time as opposed to providing specific swing numbers.

The good news for Swingbyte is that a lot of their issues can be fixed through future software updates. The Swingbyte hardware, however, is likely to need a redesign. We understand the pressures in getting a new product to market, but it’s clear this device was released before it was ready. We aren’t going to count this company out, but we would recommend waiting until the next iteration before making a Swingbyte purchase.

SCORE
78
GRADE
C+
Setup
82
Hardware/Software Quality
70
Teaching Value
80
Fun
75
Cost/Value
80

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive, with no recurring fees
  • A mobile swing analysis tool to use at the range or home? Sounds great!

Cons:

  • Swingbyte hardware won’t stay secured on club shaft
  • Login and device syncing bugs
  • An interface, both mobile and desktop, that needs improvement

Retail price: $149.00
Availability: Discontinued. Replaced by the Swingbyte 2


82 / B-

SETUP

The Swingbyte comes packaged with 2 rubber attachment straps, a short USB cable for charging, and 2 adhesive tabs (a change from earlier packaging – more on that below). A light on the back of the Swingbyte will indicate whether it is charging (through plugging a USB cable into a computer or AC adapter), and reaching a full charge takes approximately 4 hours. The device powers on and off via a switch on its side, and two lights on the front of the Swingbyte indicate whether it is turned on (green) and whether Bluetooth is active (blue). Plugging the device into your computer only recharges the device as opposed to syncing any data, which is done through a smart phone or tablet with a cellular or WiFi connection.

Users download the Swingbyte app to their mobile device, and then register for a free account. Information required includes not just general registration (name and email), but also age, weight, height, and wrist-to-ground measurement, all of which presumably help Swingbyte calculate swing information.

Swingbyte Mobile Golf Swing Analysis Tool

Tutorial

Once registration is complete, the Swingbyte app will offer a tutorial on how to get started using the device – there is no manual in the box or on the Swingbyte website. To start you’ll want to input details about your clubs and their specifications. If you don’t know your club specs (lie, loft and length), the good news is that Swingbyte will provide default information. The bad news is that it might not be accurate. As an example, a Mizuno MP-64 7-iron has a lie of 61.5 degrees, whereas Swingbyte will default your Mizuno (or any) 7-iron to 63.375 degrees. There is no choice for model of the club, nor is there any option to enter shaft information other than the basic shaft type (senior, women’s, regular, stiff, or extra stiff). So does the lack of precision have a demonstrable negative impact on the analysis provided by Swingbyte? That’s not perfectly clear to us (hey, we aren’t physics professors!), but given the attention paid to these little details at our numerous club fittings with major manufacturers, it makes us wonder.

The next step is attaching the Swingbyte to the club with one of the included rubber attachment straps. You’ll need to first attach the included adhesive tabs to your club (more on this below). Aligning the Swingbyte just below your grip and even with the leading edge of your club can take a bit of work, and the level of precision will in turn impact the accuracy of the data you receive. Once the Swingbyte is attached to your club, you simply power it on, make sure it is connected to your mobile device, and then start swinging.

The registration and syncing experience was disappointing, with one issue being difficulty with the syncing of our accounts. After creating an account at home, we arrived at the range to find that our information hadn’t synced to our mobile device even though we could successfully log in to the app with the email and password we has just set up. We tried this process repeatedly, creating multiple accounts, and eventually had to enlist the help of the Swingbyte (very responsive) support team. Other issues included having duplicate clubs listed in our account due to the syncing issues. We would’ve thought that at some point the app would point out that we had multiple 6-irons in your bag, for example, and prompt us to delete one. And even if we did want multiple 6-irons, we should be able to label them differently.

The hardware setup, while easier, left us wondering just how accurately we had attached our Swingbyte. For the sticklers out there, no, we don’t think you will ever get perfect alignment of your Swingbyte (indeed, online the company claims by eyeballing you will be able to get within 1 to 2 degrees of accuracy). The question then raised is, how accurate will the data be? A key thing to remember is that Swingbyte can only provide relative swing information changes over time. They don’t claim to provide the accuracy of high-priced Doppler radar devices, and you shouldn’t expect it.


70 / C-

HARDWARE/SOFTWARE QUALITY

At just 0.83 ounces (including the strap and adhesive tabs), the device is extremely light. It is durable enough during regular use, even when it was dropped from grip level, but if you happen to step on the device on the range it will quickly go to pieces. The rubber cover to the USB port came off the device on our first range session and was nearly lost, and was gone for good on the second session, likely having popped off when we first pulled it out of our pocket. Oh well, no matter.

Swingbyte Mobile Golf Swing Analysis Tool

Argh! Click for images

Unfortunately, the rubber strap just doesn’t do enough to keep the Swingbyte snugly in place against the shaft through impact (see images at right), even when we used the adhesive tabs, and we believe that a redesign will be required if the device is going to be successful. On very clean shots the Swingbyte will probably stay put or only shift slightly at contact, but anything else (thin, off the toe…even just a bit) can cause the Swingbyte to move radically on the shaft and require a readjustment. And presumably if you are seeking swing help from this advice, you probably hit your fair share of mishits. This problem clearly has come to the attention of Swingbyte, as they now include the aforementioned adhesive mounting tabs (early purchasers didn’t get the benefit of these). Two adhesive tabs are included in the box, but if you want more than two you’ll have to pay, which doesn’t seem quite right to us – more should be included with the device.

In cases where the Swingbyte moved by a significant amount during a swing, will accurate data be captured for that particular swing? We believe so, as all data that they provide is captured prior to or at impact. So should you then recalibrate the device after you put it back into its proper place? Our advice is yes. Recalibrating should keep the data more consistent and allow you to more accurately see progress over time, but we fully understand the temptation to just slide the Swingbyte back as close to the previous position as you can and then keep on swinging. Recalibration requires going through a couple of menus, and if you do this every time the Swingbyte moves, you are going to be on the range for Vijay-like periods of time. We found that even on well-struck shots the device moved at least a fraction. Whether it was enough to impact the data we simply can’t tell, but we tried to avoid adjustments as long as the device stayed in approximately the same location.

The software interface is functional, though it could still use a lot of work on the mobile device navigation (the app also decided to freeze on us on occasion) and on the analysis tools available via the Swingbyte website. We found it easier to use a tablet at the range than a smart phone, as the data presented on the smart phone was cramped and selecting buttons was difficult. The good news is, of course, that issues like that can be fixed with later software updates.

So just how accurate is Swingbyte?
Some players will look at the Swingbyte and think “at last, an inexpensive TrackMan!” If you’re one of those folks, please stop now. We aren’t saying that the device can’t help players in their training, but don’t expect the level of accuracy of a device that incorporates Doppler radar. The Swingbyte is a device that is measuring its position in space, and then based on additional information provided by the user, makes a number of assumptions to calculate the data it provides. To be more accurate, the app would need to also know the specifics of the shaft, club head and grip, and of course the ball. And this all assumes that you attached the device to the shaft accurately to begin with.

So what does it mean for Swingbyte? Well, it means that the information will never be as accurate as some will want, but the device can still provide good enough data for what many need. The best use of the Swingbyte is to track relative changes over time.

In comparing Swingbyte to the data we received from professional fitting sessions, we found that the Swingbyte registered higher club head speed and club loft at impact, and a lower attack angle. Without having a TrackMan monitoring your swing at the same time you use the Swingbyte, it would be difficult to know for certain where the numbers go wrong. The exception is in shot swing, where it was clear there were errors. The Swingbyte data across a number of sessions indicated that we rarely hit a fade or slice – and while we wish that were true, it simply wasn’t the case. And when you know for a fact that this calculated piece of information isn’t correct, it makes you wonder what else is incorrect.

We found the swing speed and tempo to be the most accurate among the data that the Swingbyte provides. Swingbyte doesn’t comment on accuracy of many pieces of data it provides, but does note that it “is usually within a couple of miles per hour of club head speed measurements on other devices. What is most important is that Swingbyte is internally accurate.” And this is the clear takeaway from this device – what you should focus on is the relative change between your swings and trends over time and not the numbers themselves.


80 / B-

TEACHING VALUE

Swingbyte does provide a tremendous amount of information, as mentioned above. Making sense of it and being able to translate that into improving your swing, however, is another matter. Keep in mind, Swingbyte isn’t measuring the ball speed or its flight, and it doesn’t know your body position.

Swingbyte Data

Click for more images

The Swingbyte provides the following information for each swing:

  • graphic and video of your swing plane and club (multiple angles available),
  • information on the club at address (loft, lie and shaft lean),
  • information on the club at impact (face to address, face to path, path in/out, lie, loft, attack, and shaft lean), and
  • club head speed and swing temp (ratio start to top : top to impact).

Based on the above, Swingbyte provides teaching tips within the app. However, some shots that we considered so ugly that only a mother could love, the Swingbyte apparently decided to love too – noting that the relation of the backswing arc or downswing arc “matches [their] observations of the best players on the world.” Hard to believe after watching the ball go sailing over the boundary fence at the range, but so it is. Swingbyte’s training benefits will undoubtedly vary by player, but it may help diagnose some issues for some players. While providing training information useful to every player isn’t realistic, we hope that Swingbyte adds more swing analysis tips and analysis tools. Of course we will always be big believers in the value of lessons from PGA instructors.

Swingbyte Analytics

Click for charts

Users can also try to make sense of the barrage of data on their own. While you can see a summary of data on your mobile device and quickly scroll through historical shots, back home on the Swingbyte website we were disappointed not to have access to this same information, where it would be far more useful to digest on a larger screen. It offers a variety of different charts, but with no ability to easily compare swings, it left us wanting far more. In order to compare swing data across shots or filter different swings, you’ll have to export the data to an Excel file (what the-?!). Oh, and in exporting the data you’ll lose the “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” vote you gave the swing. Arrgh! Swingbyte really needs to focus on refining their tools for users. Such as creating one that allows players to compare the swings marked “thumbs-up” to those marked “thumbs-down” to see what data the good shots have in common versus the bad shots. Was your tempo different? Swing speed? Club path? And why does the Swingbyte portal focus so much on charts with data we don’t care about (do we really care about our Swingbyte Speed Rank or Daily Swing numbers?)?

Overall we found the user interface to be poor, from the requirement to select a club in order to see any swing data (even if you only have one club in your bag), to poor access to swing data (it won’t show you anything in the ‘Swings’ section until you select a specific date (c’mon!)), to charts that just aren’t useful. More minor points include incorrect times attributed to each swing (no, we weren’t practicing at 12:45AM).


75 / C

FUN

Practicing can be painful enough that you don’t want to tack on anything that will make it any less enjoyable. We enjoy poring through data, so we didn’t have an issue with that component of the Swingbyte experience, but the movement of the device, combined with a somewhat disappointing app interface to capture and analyze data at the range, really took us out of our rhythm. We ultimately found using the Swingbyte to be rather laborious, with an inordinate amount of our time spent worrying about whether the device was still attached correctly to the club shaft (and you will have to check). .

If you have success in using the device, or at least stick with it, the Swingbyte device itself will provide up to 4 hours of continuous swing capture. This is, however, in excess of the power capabilities of our iPhone (4S) – the data transfer burned through 50% of our iPhone battery life in a session of about 60 swings.


80 / B-

COST / VALUE

A reasonable $149 retail price puts the device within reach of amateurs. Additional adhesive tabs, which you will require if you want to use the Swingbyte on more than 2 clubs, may cost a little extra (the company provided us with four tabs at no cost upon request; our purchase came before any were included in the box). There are no required additional fees beyond the purchase of the unit itself, which is great. Even better, multiple users can use the same Swingbyte with their own accounts, so your significant other, kids, or friends can use the device as well.

Players who prefer smaller sets of information may wish to consider more focused alternatives in this price range, such as those that only capture swing speed and tempo (such as the Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radar with Tempo Timer; retail $149.95 from Amazon ).

We weren’t expecting a TrackMan or FlightScope experience, but even so, with all the issues that we experienced, it would be difficult to call this a value. The price point, however, is at the right spot, so we hope that Swingbyte can work through the kinks.

Editor’s note: This review was for Swingbyte hardware, software and services available as of January 2013