Australian Review: Garmin Approach S6 Golf Watch - Precision to a tee

Australian Review: Garmin Approach S6 Golf Watch - Precision to a tee

Technically, you could call the Garmin Approach S6 Golf Watch a smart watch. It's a pretty clever device; getting a bird's eye view of a golf course on your wrist is impressive to say the least. But the Approach S6 isn't a smartwatch in the same way the LG G Watch is, and it's definitely not a fitness tracker. The Approach S6 is a gadget solely intended to enhance one's golfing experience.

As such, I was a bit apprehensive about reviewing Garmin's latest golf watch, as to be honest, 90% of my golfing experience has come from a mix Mario Golf, Microsoft Golf 1998 and putt-putt. Nonetheless, I went out on the course, embarrassed myself a little and the put Approach S6 through the paces; or more appropriately, yards.

The Approach S6 is a pretty bulky piece of tech; this isn't a fashion statement, it's not something that I can ever imagine wearing anywhere but a golf course. At the same time, that's really not a problem, because the golf course is exactly what it's designed for.

There's a software button on either side of the Approach S6's 1-inch resistive touch screen. One of these is used to show the menu, and the other to navigate back. Surrounding the watch face are four hardware buttons: one turns the device on or off, one displays scoring, one displays the map, and the last brings up the distance to current hole.

Using a resistive touch screen is a bit of a change from capacitive displays found on almost every smartphone. Making a selection requires a bit more force than on a capacitive touchscreen, and scrolling isn't anywhere as smooth. While this may feel a little clunky, a resistive touch screen has one large benefit - you can use it with gloves.

Included with the Approach S6 is a small cradle that chargers the watch via a USB connection.

The majority of my golfing experience has come from videogames; so funnily enough, the Approach S6 provided me with a lot of features that I'd become accustomed to. Overhead course maps, detailed distances and digital scorekeeping are all strangely missing when playing a "real" game of golf. By providing these, the Approach S6 blurs the line between golf and its digital counterpart. I'm just saying, it's going to be pretty special when this sort of technology gets integrated into something like Google Glass.

The most impressive thing about the Approach S6 is how damn clever it is. Aside from being able to access maps for over 30,000 different golf courses worldwide, it can pinpoint your location down to a tee (ba-dum-tsh). After finishing a hole, I was trying to find a way to tell the watch I've moved on to the next one, but neither the buttons nor menu functions provided the option to. It turns out this is because the watch is too smart for its own good and knows when you're at the start of each hole and will automatically update. What's even more impressive is that the Approach S6 will load up the par for each course, and it actually got this right 100% of the time.

The Approach S6's measuring features are pretty nifty. These include the ability to display the distance to the next hole (making club selection much easier), as well as the ability to measure your shot's distance (making bragging much easier). In addition, you can also use the Approach S6 to get the distance to anywhere on the current hole, whether it's the green, a bunker or water hazard.

The Approach S6 is also able to detect and measure your swing; this functionality is used to provide swing training. Three options are available, SwingTempo, TempoTraining and SwingStrength. SwingTempo is used to measure the relationship between your upswing and downswing, apparently 3:1 is the ideal ratio. TempoTraining uses audio tones to help time your swing. And SwingStrength tracks how much power you put into your swing.

While the Approach S6 can detect your swing and position on the course, scoring isn't automatic. Scores need to be entered manually using plus and minus buttons found in a menu revealed by hitting the "score button". Certainly better than a piece of paper!

The Approach S6's user interface feels a little bit unintuitive, in part because of the resistive touch screen. While the functionality of the four hardware and two software buttons is pretty obvious, navigating around can be a bit of challenge.

It's possible to sync the Approach S6 with the Garmin Connect app on either iOS on Android. I initially had a bit of trouble syncing with the app, and needed un-pair and re-pair the watch on my phone, but I managed to get it working eventually. While I only had time to play one game, the Garmin Connect will track your stats over multiple games and give you a picture of your overall performance. This includes individual score cards, as well average scores for specific courses.

When paired with a phone, the Approach S6 also has basic smartwatch functionality. It's possible to receive text message and phone call notifications on it, as well as event reminders. While these features are fairly basic, they'll save you from pulling your phone out on the course as much.

With GPS on, the Approach S6's battery should last for approximately 10 hours - more than enough to get through 18 holes.

Just wearing the Garmin Approach S6 Golf Watch won't make you a better golfer, but it will make you more aware. The training options it provides are pretty handy; a bit of practice with the Approach S6 definitely helped my swing.

While the functionality the Approach S6 provides is impressive, it's not a cheap purchase: the recommended retail price is AUD$499. As a (very) amateur golfer, I feel that you'd want to be playing a lot of golf for this to be worth the money; it's not an everyday wearable like a Vivofit or Fitbit.

Nonetheless, the Approach S6 is an impressive piece of hardware with some very cool features. There's a few issues with usability and syncing, but Garmin's latest golf watch offering seems like a great addition to any avid golfer's arsenal.

Cybershack Score - rating backgroundrating 3.5

Course view functionality is amazingResistive touch screen makes UI unintuitive
Replaces paper scoringOn the expensive side
Solid battery life

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