Garmin Approach S1 Watch
OVERALL RATING: 91. GRADE: A-. With the Approach S1, Garmin has leveraged their background in making watches and combined it with their golf GPS expertise. But whether Garmin will be able to win over consumers where others have failed (some will recall the Finnish Suunto G9) remains to be seen.
The Approach S1 covers just the basics: distances to the near, middle and far points on the green relative to the player’s position, all available at the twist of the wrist. The Approach S1 lacks hazard distances, course images, and any ability to track stats or record scores. It can, however, measure shot distances, and provides basic watch functionality.
As with its big siblings the Garmin Approach G3 and Approach G5, the S1 comes with over 16,500 preloaded courses in North America. While it doesn’t require an annual subscription, at $250 retail, the Garmin Approach S1 approaches and even surpasses the cost of a number of full-featured golf GPS devices with color screens and statistics capability. While it may seem like an incremental difference from devices clipped to your bag or belt, we were truly surprised by how much more convenient it is to have the GPS information right on your wrist.
- Access to information with a twist of the wrist
- Excellent course coverage
- No fees to access course database
- Distance information limited to near, center and far points on the green
- Battery life on the short side…for a watch. Just don’t forget to recharge after every couple of rounds!
- Finicky charging clip
Retail price: $179.99
Three year total cost: $179.99
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The retail price was reduced from its original $249.99 with the introduction of the Garmin Approach S2
The Good: The Garmin Approach S1 merely requires charging the included rechargeable battery before hitting the course. This is done through a cable that is clipped to the device, as opposed to using a more common USB or mini-USB plug. With courses pre-loaded, no downloads are necessary to get started.
The Bad: Users are limited to downloading maps for one region only (either the United States or Canada “and the Coastal US” for our North American device). The charging clip can be extremely finicky, so before walking away, make absolutely sure you actually see the battery charge symbol on the screen when you attach the clip, and make sure that it continues to appears on the screen. More than once we thought we had hooked up the charging clip properly (it feels like it is clipped in fine), only to return hours later to find that the S1 wasn’t charging. And if you happen to lose the clip, remember you’re locked in to re-purchasing the proprietary Garmin cable, as opposed to grabbing a generic mini-USB cable as you can with other GPS devices. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a mini-USB plug in the next revision.
- 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 (“WebUpdater”) from Garmin’s web site.
- Time Required for Setup. Charging the battery takes around 3 hours, and the Approach S1 will indicate a full charge on its screen when it’s ready to go (it won’t provide the percent charged during the process, however).
What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach S1 comes with:
- Cable (USB-to-charging clip)
- Power Adapter
- Owner’s Manual
- WebUpdater (for future course updates). While an update using the WebUpdater software isn’t required before hitting the course, players will want to periodically check for additional course updates using the software. When the Garmin Approach S1 is connected to the computer via the USB-to-clip cable, the WebUpdater will automatically recognize the device, look for updated software and/or course information and sync it to the device. We checked for an update prior to our initial use and found one available. The process went extremely smoothly, and the S1 had the updated software within minutes. Well done!
Critical Golf Test: The Garmin Approach S1 benefits from leveraging Garmin’s existing course database. The course coverage is excellent, although we’ve come to expect that from devices that offer only basic distance information.
Manufacturer’s Claims: Garmin claims to have 16,600 courses in the United States in its database, which currently places the Approach S1 about average in our course coverage comparison test for the region. Like the other devices in the Approach series, however, the Garmin Approach S1 is a region-specific device (we purchased the North American version, a Canadian version is also available). So if you are looking use the same device in the US and on the Old Course, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
EASE OF USE
The Good: Garmin has created a very easy to use device – something that other companies often fail to achieve even with devices with similarly limited feature sets. Garmin has made it simple to access and navigate menus, depress buttons, and manually move through holes if necessary. And most importantly, the information you are seeking is available with a simple twist of the wrist. The Approach S1′s performance doesn’t suffer due to its small size – the S1 acquires satellites and updates distance just as quickly as the other golf GPS devices we’ve tested.
The Bad: Not quite as comfortable as a standard watch due to its thickness, but easily tolerable through the course of a round. There is no way to access the rechargeable battery – it is not accessible to owners (without attempting to remove the case).
- Buttons. The Garmin Approach S1 has four buttons: a backlight/power button, up and down buttons for scrolling through menus/holes, and an OK/menu button for selecting options and accessing the menu.
- Screen. The black and white screen is easy to view under both cloudy and sunny skies. The screen viewing area is 1 square inch, not surprisingly making it the one of the smallest golf GPS screens available. There is a backlight available for the screen, which will remain on for approximately 8 seconds after activation. There is no ability to modify the default time the screen remains backlit.
- Form Factor. Wonder Twin powers activate! Form of….a watch! The device has a smooth black rubber exterior, and weighs in at a mere 1.8 ounces, making it the lightest device in our test. It’s slightly thicker than an average watch, and though it didn’t cause any issues during our swing, it’s occasionally noticeable such as when digging deep into your pockets for more tees. The watch-style design provides the great advantage of quick access to distance readings – there are no delays while you remove a device from a carrying case or your pocket before each shot, or worries about whether it’s going to come unclipped from your push cart. The rubber exterior of the body and wrist strap appears well-made and durable, and the wrist strap can be adjusted in small increments to insure the appropriate fit.
- Starting a Round. From the time view (hey, it IS a watch), users start a round through accessing the menu, and then selecting the desired course from a scrollable list (surprisingly, the watch displays enough text to easily identify the course). Ten courses are listed in order of proximity to current location. Once a course is selected, the device will default to the hole closest to your position – handy for a back nine or shotgun start.
- Battery Life. Battery life is relatively short when the GPS functionality is running continuously – we have found in the range of 6 to 8 hours. The device will go into Power Save mode after a certain period of inactivity, after which the time and date are displayed, but not GPS information. Pressing the OK button will restart the GPS. The S1 never went into Power Save mode during our testing, and we weren’t able to complete two rounds without needing to recharge the Approach S1. If the device is used simply as a watch it will run for an estimated 3 weeks.
For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.
COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING
The Good: The Garmin Approach S1 only provides three distances for each hole. However, unlike the relatively simple IZZO SWAMI and Bushnell neo+, the Approach S1 provides distances to near, center and far points on the green relative to the player’s position, as opposed to fixed front, center and back green points, a feature we much appreciate.
The Bad: The Approach S1 only provides mapping of the near, center and far points on the green. Nothing more. While there are players that only care about this limited information, some of our editors would prefer to have hazard information available, particularly when playing new or unfamiliar courses.
- Views. The Garmin Approach S1 provides a primary “hole view,” which displays distance information for each hole, and secondary screens with distance measurement and time.
- Hole view – This screen displays the hole number, par, and distances to the near and far (in slightly smaller text at the top and bottom of the screen) points and center of the green (the largest text in the middle of the screen). All of which is simple to read at a glance.
- Measurement view – Shows only the measurement of either a particular shot or the total distance walked, depending on what is selected from the menu button. Users can toggle between these views and the Hole view while continuing to measure distances. Neither shot distances nor total distance walked are saved for later viewing or analysis.
- Time view – Uh, it shows the time of day. It is a watch, after all! The S1 shows the time (hours, minutes, seconds, and AM/PM) and the date (month and day). The S1 also has the ability to set an alarm – useful to ensure that you don’t lose track of time at the 19th hole.
- Hole Information. The hole number and par (indicated by the number of “dots” shown on screen) are always visible on the “hole view” screen. Hole handicap is not available.
- Custom Mapping. Users cannot add custom points to the course maps, nor can they modify any existing map data.
Suggestion Box: We wonder whether it would be possible to add hazard information to the Garmin Approach S1, though with such limited screen space this might be a challenge. Perhaps users could scroll through screens where hazard distances are available (much like scrolling through golf courses)? Something to consider…
The Good: The Garmin Approach S1 is a very basic device. The intention isn’t to provide a barrage of features in a watch ala Inspector Gadget, but rather the bare bones. It is waterproof, and though not intended to be used while swimming, can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. So go ahead and reach into that nasty blue-dyed pond…there are golf balls in there free for the takin’! Ooooh, is that a Pro V1 next to that turtle? While doing this, however, take a moment to consider what “reclaimed water” is.
The Bad: With this level of simplicity, there may be features that you wish were available, such as scoring. Didn’t the Finnish Suunto G9 offer more? Then again, using a failed device as a measuring stick probably isn’t the best idea.
- Shot Tracking. The S1 can measure the distance of a shot, though this data cannot be saved. There is also a built-in odometer, so with some basic conversion (how many calories do we burn per mile when carrying our bag anyways?), you can figure out if you gained or lost weight net of the hot dog and fries you devoured at the turn.
- Score and Statistics. We will keep this short and sweet: not available.
- Auto-advance. The Garmin Approach S1 will automatically transition when you move to the next hole – users do not have an option to disable this feature. You can, however, return to previous holes (or advance) if you, for example, slice your ball onto the tee box of the next hole (and the watches advances to the next hole). Not that we have ever done that. We are just saying that we heard about someone who is an editor of an unbiased golf equipment review site who slices a lot and tested this watch, and was able to easily return to the correct hole through the intuitive S1 buttons.
- Course Storage. Though small and light, users won’t suffer from limited course availability. With storage for all courses in the Garmin database available on the S1, you don’t have to worry about remembering to load the appropriate course before heading off to play.
- Preferences. The Garmin Approach S1 has a limited set of adjustable preferences: measurement unit (yards vs. meters), language, tones. And as a watch, users can of course modify time and time format (though there is also the option to have the time automatically set by the watch as it acquires satellites).
Suggestion Box: Even with the relatively small screen size, adding the ability to track your score would be a nice plus.
For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.
Our tests found the Garmin Approach S1 to be as accurate as other dedicated golf GPS devices, consistently providing readings within 3-5 yards of the actual distance. We have only experienced one case where a distance was more than 4 yards off from a marked sprinkler head, and that was by 7 yards. Stacked head to head against the Garmin Approach G3 and G5, yardages varied only up to 4 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 continues to be shown throughout the hole, however, which gave us confidence in the accuracy of the readings.
Retail Price: Garmin has reduced the Garmin Approach S1 retail price to $179.99 with the introduction of the Garmin Approach S2, and now is one of the less expensive golf GPS watches on the market and cost competitive across all devices.
Fees for Access to Course Database: As with the rest of the Approach series, the Approach S1 does not charge fees for access their course database.
Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no cost for access to the course database, the three-year total cost of ownership for the Garmin Approach S1 is a reasonable $179.99. This makes the Approach S1 one of the lowest priced golf GPS devices over three years, and about average for devices providing limited distance information.
Value: The Garmin Approach S1 is one of the least expensive golf GPS devices. It doesn’t feature full color screens with hole maps nor does it have distances to hazards, but the convenience of having basic green distance information right on your wrist can’t be beat. As testers of a ridiculous number of GPS devices, we’re pretty tough customers, but the simplicity and ease of use of the S1 has won us over.