The Pros and Cons of the Garmin S3 GPS Watch

Officially called the Garmin Approach S3, the Garmin S3 is a wearable golf GPS device.  As such, it has some advantages over traditional handheld units, but it also makes some compromises on features.  I tested this golf GPS device during four rounds of golf.  Here’s what I learned about its pros and cons:

First, an overview of the features and advantages:

  • Unlike most golf GPS units, you wear the Garmin S3 on your wrist.  What could be more convenient?  It’s always there.  No more forgetting to bring your GPS with you when a “cart path only” rule is in place.  No more fiddling about unclipping your unit from your belt just so you can read it.  Once you put it on, you’ll never accidentally leave a Garmin S3 in your cart or golf bag.
  • It looks like a wristwatch and in fact it can be used that way.  But in GPS mode it gives you distances to layup points, three positions for the flagstick (back, front and center), and other targets.  Distances are just as accurate as with any handheld GPS device.
  • The backlit black-and-white touchscreen is sensitive but excellent (the backlighting turns off eight seconds after it’s activated, to save battery life).  The screen resolution is better than its predecessor the Garmin Approach S1.  Multiple views (Hole View, Green View, Layup/Dogleg View, Shot Measurement and Time) are available.  The interface is easy to use, although you’ll need to go through a few steps to get to the Green View display.  Almost all the functions of the Garmin S3 are accessed by using the touchscreen.
  • Multiple courses around the world (28,000 of them, and not just in the US and Canada) are preloaded and stored on the device.  No more waiting for long downloads before you can get started, and no more annual subscription or course map download fees.  You’re good to go right out of the box as soon as you charge it up.  And, because there aren’t any annual subscriptions or fees to access the course map database, the total cost of ownership is whatever you pay to buy it.  That’s not the case with all golf GPS devices.
  • You’ll be able to see the shape of the upcoming green – and you can use the touchscreen to adjust the flagstick’s location.  No more static pin locations unless that’s the way you want it.  You can also add up to five of your own targets (hazards, creeks, ponds, stands of trees and so forth) per hole.
  • You can use a Garmin S3 to easily keep your score.  No more broken-off pencil points, soggy scorecards or erasers that don’t work.  It even includes Stableford scoring.
  • Recharging the batteries is quick and easy.  It only takes about three hours and you can do it with an included USB-to-charging-clip cable or an included power adapter for use with a wall outlet.  An on-screen indicator displays the battery’s charge level.
  • At only 2.1 ounces, the Garmin S3 won’t weigh down your arm, during your swing or otherwise.
  • As with many other golf GPS devices, you’ll be able to measure your shots.

Now, some of the drawbacks of the Garmin S3 and its compromises:

  • The touchscreen is nice, but the graphics are limited.  Yes, you can add hazards and other targets, but none come pre-loaded.  I don’t understand this because Garmin’s course mapping database definitely includes pre-mapped targets and other features.  I know this is true because I use a handheld Garmin Approach G3 golf GPS myself.
  • Several competing units, including the Callaway uPro mx+ (a handheld), offer an online site where you can save and then go back and review your past scores and statistics.  No such thing with the Garmin S3.
  • With an MSRP of $249.99, it’s not the cheapest golf GPS out there (fortunately, its high initial price is counterbalanced by the lack of an annual subscription or download fee).  You’re definitely paying for the convenience of a wearable GPS – other units have features that this one doesn’t.
  • The battery life is a little limited.  A charge-up will get you around the course once, but probably not a second time.  My Garmin Approach G3 is good for at least two full rounds, and sometimes a third.
  • If it’s been a while since you purchased your unit, there may be a course update available.  In fact, you’ll probably want to check online for updates two or three times a year.  It’s a free download, but you’ll first need to download an updater application from Garmin’s website.  The app is free too, so this isn’t really a problem – just an inconvenient extra step.

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