The Garmin Approach S6 is the best golf GPS watch we’ve tested to date, combining overhead hole maps with a touchscreen to determine the distance to any point on the golf course…and it’s all available on your wrist. When we first heard about the overhead maps, we had doubts – how can you implement that level of functionality on the limited screen space of a watch? Garmin has devised an elegant solution using automatic zoom. At the tee box, the S6 automatically zooms on the area on the hole map that corresponds to your typical driving distance (which you input into the watch when you set it up). So if you’ve told the watch that you drive the ball 250 yards, it will zoom in to the area 250 yards down the fairway to show you what’s around your typical landing area. More about that below, but it really is a nifty way to provide the most relevant information to you when you need it – and there’s always the option to zoom back out and pick another area.
Garmin also provides an excellent set of features, including full scoring and statistics tracking (with the ability to sync the S6 to your Garmin Connect account and view aggregated data across all saved rounds), shot measurement, Bluetooth pairing to your phone to enable notifications to your watch, an odometer, and “PinPointer”, which is supposed to tell you the direction of the pin if you are taking a blind shot. But wait, there’s more! The Garmin S6 also has a “SwingStrength” feature to measure (you guessed it) your swing strength and tempo and a “TempoTraining” feature to work on achieving the optimal tempo for your swing. There are varying levels of success with which these features are executed, but at the very least they make the Garmin S6 fun to play with.
We won’t lie to you – the $399.99 price tag is steep. And there are some areas for improvement, like having hazard distances available in list form, and not just through using the touchscreen. But we’re willing to overlook those issues because we’ve fallen for the Garmin Approach S6, and fallen hard. In our opinion, the S6 truly sets the standard among the golf GPS watches currently on the market.
- Overhead hole maps – on a watch!
- Loads of statistical analysis available through synching to Garmin Connect
- Strong course coverage
- Handicap scoring
- Can’t see scorecard or statistics on the device (but can sync and view them on a mobile app or web page)
- No list of distances to hazards – you must use the overhead hole map
- Really nice charging clip into which you snap the watch, enabling a nice snug connection every time. It may seem silly to highlight this, but on a surprising number of watches it’s difficult to tell whether the charging clip is connected or not.
- No wall charger is provided, so the only way to charge the S6 is by plugging the USB cable into your computer.
- The setup process for the GARMIN GOLF WATCH S6 was extremely simple and well designed. On the watch, you select a language (English, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, or Swedish) and unit of measurement (yards or meters), then enter your typical driver distance (which determines where the hole map will be zoomed when you’re standing on the tee box) and whether you’re right or left handed (which is relevant to the SwingStrength and TempoTraining features). After that, the watch directs you to the Garmin web site to download the Garmin Express program to your PC/Mac. Once you’ve done that and launched Garmin Express, you can create a Garmin Connect account online (to keep track of your scores and statistics), and the program will tell you if you need to update the course maps and/or software. You can then elect whether to perform any updates and sync the watch. The entire process took less than 10 minutes, and the instructions are complete enough that there was never any stress about whether things were being done correctly. If you need to download a new set of maps (usually if you’re changing geographical zones), it takes about 15 additional minutes. As a nice touch, Garmin lets you know that it is safe to walk away from that process so long as you don’t disconnect the device.
- Once you’ve gone through the setup process, just charge up the battery and you’re good to go.
- The only way you can sync the S6 to get software updates and course map updates is through the Garmin Express software on your PC/Mac. You can sync your saved rounds to your Garmin Connect account through either Garmin Express or by downloading the Garmin Connect mobile app and pairing the S6 to your mobile phone via Bluetooth. If you download the mobile app and log in to your Garmin Connect account, the app will guide you through simple steps to pair the S6 to your phone. From that point on, any scores that you save on the S6 will automatically be uploaded to your Garmin Connect account through the app.
- One problem with the automatic uploading of your scores is that the S6 doesn’t differentiate between an actual round or when you’re just playing around with the S6 and looking at courses – it will just upload the score whenever you end a round. You can fix this by deleting the round, which you can do from your Garmin Connect account on the web. We couldn’t find a way to delete a round from the Garmin Connect mobile app.
- Once the S6 is paired to your phone via Bluetooth, the S6 will display notifications of incoming calls, text messages (showing you the message itself), calendar reminders (displaying the name of the event), and any other notifications that you receive on your phone (i.e. events in your iPhone’s Passbook). The S6 can also provide an audible chime when you receive a notification, but your playing partners would probably prefer if you turned that feature off.
- But of course it’s never all rainbows and unicorns. During one attempted sync of the S6 to a Mac, the Garmin Express software wouldn’t connect with the S6. After futzing around for about 15 minutes, including connecting and disconnecting the USB cable, rebooting the Mac, and having Garmin Express “forget” the device, we finally landed upon the idea of turning off the S6 and turning it back on (and then rebooting the Mac). Lo and behold, that did the trick. This was our one area of frustration in the setup/syncing process.
EASE OF USE
- The Garmin Approach S6 has a screen diameter of 1 inch, which provides a viewing area of about 0.8 square inches – very typical for a watch GPS device. It’s about the size of an average watch, allowing you to avoid the “that’s a big honkin’ watch” reaction evoked by many of the S6’s competitors.
- The S6 weighs about 1.6 ounces (as tested), which is lighter than the previous generation S1 and S3 and makes the S6 the lightest golf GPS watch we have tested. The rubber and plastic body is available in either black/white (with a black body and a band that is black on the exterior and white on the interior), black/orange (with a black body and a band that is black on the exterior and orange on the interior), or white/black (with a white body and a band that is white on the exterior and black on the interior).
- Navigating through the features of the Garmin Approach S6 relies upon the use of a combination of the touchscreen and the four physical buttons – you cannot solely utilize one or the other. As a result, the user interface is more of a learned process than an intuitive one.
- Garmin markets up to 8 hours of battery life while using GPS. We had no troubles making it through a slow round on a public course, and since 8 hours of juice is unlikely to make it through two rounds (definitely not on a muni on a Sunday), we didn’t bother testing exactly how far it would go in a second round. Garmin claims up to 4 months of battery life if you use the S6 as a watch only, and 15 hours if you use it as a watch with Bluetooth notifications turned on.