Garmin continues to add to its family of golf GPS watches with the introduction of the Approach S2. Garmin has made the curious decision to have three models with relatively slight feature differences. Unfortunately for the Approach S2, it takes the spot of the awkward middle child in the family, without the advanced features found on the S3, but priced at $70 above the S1.
Each model builds on the feature set of the previous model, starting with the entry-level S1. The S2 adds the ability to keep score on the watch and obtain distance information to layups and doglegs, but does not have the S3‘s touchscreen, ability to position the flagstick on the green for a precise distance, or ability to add custom target points.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to hold our breath and wait for future model to get statistics tracking, distances to pre-mapped hazards, or syncing of scores to an online golf portal.
The Garmin Approach S2 is a good-looking watch (although we could do without the “S2” logo emblazoned under the face in a font which may have been stolen from 80s hair band S1 and the S3 (why else would the product names have evolved in the way they did), but the launch of the S2 is concurrent with the introduction of a number of lower-priced watches with similar (though not identical) feature sets, such as the Skycaddie WATCH, the IZZO Swami Watch and the Bushnell NEO-X watch. The fact that we ultimately rated the S2 lower than the S1 isn’t a statement on the quality of the device, but rather is reflective of its pricing among an increasingly crowded and competitive field.
- Easy to use
- Excellent course coverage
- No fees to access course database
- No pre-mapped hazards and no ability to add custom points
- Relatively expensive
- No online portal
Retail price: $179.99 (down from $199.99 at launch)
Three year total cost: $179.99
Availability: No longer manufactured but still available; replaced by the Garmin Approach S3 watch
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The Good: Courses worldwide preloaded. Charging clip is easy to use (it shares the same charging clip as the S3, which is much better than the one for the S1). The entire process from download and installation of syncing software to updating course maps went perfectly.
The Bad: If we want to be picky, the time to install the courses is a bit long.
- Required Steps. Courses are preloaded on the device, so to begin play all you need to do is ensure that the battery is charged. For future course updates, you will need to download the free “CourseView Updater” application from Garmin’s web site. No registration is required.
- Time Required for Setup. Charging the battery takes up to 3 hours, and an icon will appear on screen to indicate that the device is charging. You should sync the device on occasion to ensure that you have the latest course maps – we noted that during this process, there is a slightly longer-than-usual delay before the Garmin CourseUpdater software recognizes the S2, so be a little patient. During our initial setup, the Garmin software alerted us to map updates in all three regions (North & Latin America, Europe, and Australia & New Zealand). Downloading updated maps takes a minute or two, and the installation process takes about 10 minutes.
What’s in the Box: The Garmin Approach S2 comes with:
- Cable (USB-to-charging clip)
- Getting Started Manual
- Safety and Product Information
- CourseView Updater (for firmware and course updates)
Critical Golf Test: The Garmin Approach S2 golf GPS watch uses the same map database as the rest of the Garmin Approach family of devices, with near perfect 99% coverage in our course coverage test.
Manufacturer’s Claims: The S2 watch comes preloaded with 30,000 courses worldwide, placing it above average among GPS devices tested.
EASE OF USE
The Good: The watch form factor is very useful, and navigating through the device’s screens is easy.
The Bad: When all layups/doglegs drop from view as players near the green, the watch defaults to “time view” instead of “hole view”
- Buttons. The Garmin Approach S2 has four buttons: power/backlight, up, down, and menu.
- 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.
- Form Factor. Garmin continues to make incremental changes to each Approach watch, and this is our favorite so far. The watch has a smooth rounded plastic body and comfortable rubber band. The band pivots to comfortably fit your wrist (the face of the watch and the watch band are no longer a single molded piece as is the case with the other Garmin watches), and is styled with perforations. These holes, in addition to making a fashion statement, also provide 17 different sizes to accommodate the width of your wrist. The keeper loop also has a small rubber protrusion that locks into the nearest hole.
The device is the same size as the S1 and S3 (a smidge thicker than most watches), and at 2.0 ounces (as tested), is 0.2 ounces heavier than the S1 (although Garmin lists them at the same 1.8 ounce weight) and 0.1 ounces lighter than the S3, but the weight differences are completely unnoticeable. The watch may appear slightly larger than the S1 or the S3 due to the larger bezel around the watch face. And if you are bored with the traditional black color, the S2 comes in white as well as white/purple options.
- 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. Garmin markets the S2 charge as lasting approximately 8 hours on the course and 3 weeks when used exclusively as a watch. Our experience largely confirms the former estimate – the S2 will not make it through two rounds (at the painfully long rounds at our local munis) of golf on a single charge.
For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.
COURSE DETAIL AND MAPPING
The Good: The Garmin Approach S2 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.
The Bad: Though the Approach S2 provides 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. No ability to add custom mapped targets on each hole, as you can with the Garmin Approach S3 watch.
- Views. The Garmin Approach S2 provides a primary Hole 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 pressing 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). Wait, what? You don’t see where par is indicated on the screen? It’s the small dots underneath the hole number – count them up!
- Layup/Dogleg View – While pre-mapped distances to hazards aren’t available on the S2, Garmin has added distances to layup points and doglegs. 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. Pre-mapped layup and dogleg distances are removed from this view on the hole as you come within 35-45 yards and move closer to the green.
- Measurement View – Shows the measurement of a particular shot. You can toggle between the Measurement View and the Hole View while continuing to measure distances (when you come back to Measurement View, you will have the option of continuing the measurement or starting a new one). 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.
- Hole Information. The hole number and par (as dots) are visible on the Hole View screen. Hole handicap is not available.
- Custom Mapping. Users can’t add custom points. Rats.
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 to or replacing their existing Layup/Dogleg View.
The Good: Scoring is available (although we have our quibbles about its implementation). The watch is waterproof! Go on out and play in that thunderstorm! I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite awhile…
The Bad: Still no online portal to save scores and track performance over time. Players can’t modify settings without exiting their current round.
- Shot Tracking. The S2 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. The Garmin Approach S2 enables you to track your score, but you cannot track any statistics. After you begin your round, you must press “Menu” then scroll to “Start Scoring.” If you are on the first hole, you can just press the “up” or “down” buttons to set your score, then press “menu” when you are done. The top of the screen will show the hole number, par (again indicated with those little dots), and your score for the hole, while the bottom of the screen will indicate your position relative to par for the entire round.
Once you’ve started scoring, the scoring function of the S2 will link to its auto-advance feature and automatically prompt you to enter a score after you complete each hole. It’s not perfect however, as sometimes the S2 wouldn’t automatically advance to the next hole even when standing on the tee box, requiring us to manually switch to the scoring screen. In addition, if you don’t remember to enter your score until you have started walking down the next fairway (which means you didn’t have a birdie or eagle, because those are the kinds of things you somehow always remember to record), you will need to manually go into scoring mode and go back a hole to enter your bogey.
There’s not online portal to track your scores and stats, so the closest you’ll get is when you plug the S2 into your computer and open a file stored on the watch (easy enough) to view past scorecards.
- Auto-advance. The Garmin Approach S2 will (usually) automatically advance when you move to the next hole, and there is no option to turn this feature off. You can quickly return to a prior hole or advance to the next by pressing the up or down arrow buttons.
- Course Storage. The Garmin S2 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. As it does with the S3 watch, Garmin claims that you can store an “unlimited” number of courses on the watch (curiously, the S1 is marketed as limited to holding 18,000 courses). And while the course data probably doesn’t take up that much memory, the “unlimited” claim is a bit of fluff.
- Preferences. The Garmin Approach S2 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: Garmin offers online portals for GPS devices that it offers in non-golf categories, so we hope they leverage this work and offer one to Approach owners, along the lines of those from Callaway, Motorola and SkyGolf (though note that SkyCaddie WATCH owners can’t sync their watch with the SkyCaddie portal…odd!).
For more details, check out the Critical Golf comparison of golf GPS device features.
The Garmin S2 returned distances to green points within our expected range of 4 yards, as accurate as other dedicated devices. Comparison to green front and back were compared to marked on-course points in the center of the fairway, as the watch no longer displays distances to near and far green points once the player is within 30-40 yards of the point (this varies slightly depending on the hole). The center of the green distance continues to be displayed throughout the hole, regardless of distance.
We were unable to confirm the accuracy of distances to layup points or doglegs, as these distances will no longer be displayed once the user is within 30-40 yards as well, but estimating visually they appeared to be within the same range of accuracy as green points.
Head-to-head against other Garmin devices, distances were all within the standard range of several yards of error.
Retail Price: Garmin is keeping their price points on the high side, and at $179.99 (though down from $199.99 at launch) its price is higher than the SkyCaddie WATCH, and at the level of many of the more full-featured handheld golf GPS devices.
Fees for Access to Course Database: As with other devices in the Garmin family, the Approach S2 carries no additional fees for course map updates. So take those savings to the Encore Resort in Las Vegas!
Three-Year Total Cost of Ownership: With no additional yearly fees to download the latest course information, the three-year total cost for the Garmin Approach S2 remains $179.99, still above average in overall cost over three years across all golf GPS devices.
Value: The Garmin Approach S2 is one of the most expensive golf GPS watches in our tests, and also one of the priciest GPS devices overall that lacks pre-mapped hazards. Sure you get the convenience of having information available on your wrist and a user-friendly device, but you’re paying a premium for the Garmin name and near-center-far green points. At this price we now expect a bit more – hazard information, ability to track statistics, or an online portal to track progress over time.