How Much Device Do You Really Need?

Choosing a watch-based, or simple small voice GPS can be a daunting task? Do you need 25,000 Pre-loaded courses or should you go for a unit that offers 30,000? Are you willing to pay a bit more to get distances to hazards or are you content to know yardages to the front, back, and middle of the green? Do you want to use your GPS to keep score?

For such a small device, there sure is a lot to consider.

While the technology is similar, the differences are significant enough that you could find a compelling reason to choose one device over another (or several others).

We’re diving into the nuts and bolts of what matters in a GPS to help you determine which is the right unit for you. By the way…25,000 or 30,000 pre-loaded courses…it really doesn’t matter.


Constant Evolution

GPS technology has advanced rapidly over the last few years. We expect that trend is going to continue in a HUGE way over the next several years as an assortment of technologies are combined to enhance your on-course experience.

We’re not there yet. So for now, let’s focus on a few of the key features found in most watch and clip-on golf GPS units.

The most important things to consider in a GPS watch or voice unit are:

1. Distance to the green (Front, Center, Back)
2. Distances to Hazards
3. Ease of use
4. Battery life



Every golf GPS is going to tell you green distances and everything we reviewed for this guide offers plenty of battery life. Some do run a bit longer than others, but each device in this test will get you easily through one round, even if you play at Kevin Na’s pace

All of these devices give you basic distances (front, middle, and back) too. More feature-rich models will give you distances to one or more hazards. Everything else (like a built in scorecard, for example) is a bonus. Whether those bonuses are worth the extra bucks is basically an individual decision.

Me, I’m a features guy. The more the better, but be aware, extra features don’t always improve the user experience.

Our Top Devices

Garmin S4

For those looking to be on the cutting edge of tech with all the goodies, you’ll want to pick up the Garmin Approach S4. It offers a touch screen, iPhone bluetooth connectivity, and score tracking. Add to that its exceptional ease of use that lets you take it out of the box and straight onto the first tee, and quite frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this.

esnFor those who will be satisfied with a basic feature set coupled with with great battery life and extreme precision, ESN’s newest release – the Titanium – WR72 Alpha fits the bill. An added bonus that may or may not matter to you, the WR72 Alpha even offers a standard interchangeable 20mm watch band.

Golf Buddy VoiceDo you always play the same course every day of the year? Do you already know what club to hit off the tee, and just want to know your distances to the green? If you’re looking for that and a few fun tech features then you’ll love the simplicity of the Golf Buddy VoiceYes, they have released an updated version, but for many, the upgrade to the “+” may not be worth the extra money. The two devices are near equals, but we won’t hold it against you go for the Golf Buddy Voice+.

We could stop writing right now and walk away confident that you would be happy with any of the above suggestions, but you’re an MGS reader, we know you want to know more. Read on to find out where the rest of the devices placed and see if a specific feature set might lead you in another direction.

Watch and Voice GPS Feature Comparison (click to enlarge)

GPS SpreadSheet

The Breakdown

For grading, features need to be functional. The feature set should include the basics, and those should be intuitive and easy to use. Features that doesn’t work, or that don’t serve any practical purpose bring the grade down.

Battery life is on a scale of 12 hours as that is the max available in our lineup.

Ease of use is exactly as it sounds. Open the box, walk to the first tee; can you immediately start using the device? If not, does a simple read get you 100% of the way there?

A Closer Look at Our Top 3


  • Good – This watch led the pack by levering technology to it’s fullest. The S4 offers bluetooth connectivity for texts, call alerts and emails. The unit is incredibly simple to use. The touch screen makes sense (touch firmly) and all of the features are useful, simple to navigate. The Garmin Approach S4 offers everything you could reasonably expect or want in a watch GPS.
  • Bad – While we love the touch screen, it takes a bit of a firm touch. The white wrist band does soil easily, but so do white shirts right? We wish there were pre-loaded hazards.
  • Notes – If you want the best tech available today, this is hands down the unit for you. We were able to open the box, charge the unit, and use 90% of the features on the course without ever reading the manual.


  • Good – All of the basics are perfectly executed.
  • Bad – Lacks the ability to keep track of score/strokes
  • Notes – This unit received the most attention for it’s looks – i.e.: “I’d wear that as a normal watch. This no fuss GPS gets the job done and does so elegantly.


  • Good – Offers the basics done right. Voice or no voice, the choice is yours.
  • Bad – Accidental touching can have the unit speaking when you’d prefer it keep it’s electronic yap shut.
  • Notes – Some will question why not the Voice+ here, but for a basics unit, this does enough and the Voice+ doesn’t do enough more.


The Rest of the Field




Which Device is Right for You?

Boiling down to the basics is the first step when shopping for a Golf GPS device. When shopping for smaller GPS devices you need to decide if you care about distances to hazards. You do? Congratulation, you’ve just cut the field in half.

From there, decide if you want a watch, a clip-on, or one that can be worn either way (We found wearing the watch to be ideal as distances are almost literally always at hand).

Our top three this year from Garmin, ESN and Golf Buddy break separate themselves from the pack because of their easy to use features that deliver on what they promise. While this year’s crop is unquestionably the best to date, there’s tremendous room for advancement in the category, and we’re expecting bigger and better things in the future.