Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Garmin Approach S42

The Approach S42 is Garmin's latest mid-range GPS golf watch. It follows on from the Garmin Approach S40, bringing it up to speed with all the latest tech to keep it in line with the flagship Approach S62.

The competition from smartwatches like the Apple Watch 6 and the Galaxy Watch 3, which can be equipped with golfing apps, is helping to push specialists like Garmin forward – hence this device, which really crams in the features.

You don't get Google’s Wear OS or Apple’s watchOS, and all the extra apps those watches offer, but if you want a dedicated golf GPS watch and you don't want to spend top-end money, this could be the watch for you.

With 15 hours battery life in GPS mode, a 1.2-inch color touchscreen display and over 42,000 golf courses logged on your wrist, the Approach S42 definitely justifies its price tag. You also get Garmin's step-counting smarts as well, so it doubles as a fitness track both on and off the course.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

Unlike a smartwatch with a golfing app, the Approach S42 is built specifically for the course. The screen, for example, is built with a bright sunny day in mind. That means a clear colour display which can be read even in direct sunlight.

Battery life is another stand out feature here. You can expect fast drain on most watches with constant GPS use, but since the Approach S42 is specifically tracking your steps and shots, Garmin has been able to eke out 15 hours on a single charge, which should be more than enough for a day's play.

Garmin Approach S42 release date and price

  • Out now in the US, UK and Australia
  • Priced at $299.99 / £269.99 / AU$449

The Garmin Approach S42 launched in the UK, US and Australia in March 2021, and is available from the company direct with a shipping time of between one and three days.

The pricing, at time of publishing, is £269.99/$299.99/AU$449. As is typical with these types of watches you can expect the price to drop when a new model launches.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

We'd also expect that price to drop during annual sales, so for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, for example, you may snap this up at a great price.

Out of season you may also find yourself better off as deals crop up when the weather gets less golf friendly. It's not a guarantee but if you're looking to save a bit and aren't in a rush to get this right away, you might want to wait and see how the price changes.

Garmin Approach S42 design

  • 1.2-inch color touchscreen display
  • Metal bezel and lightweight design
  • Quick release interchangeable bands

The Garmin Approach S42 is an undeniably good looking golf GPS watch. In fact, it's a great looking watch full stop.

The newer display style does away with a lot of the bezel for the most display in the smallest form factor. As a result the S42 offers a 1.2-inch colour touchscreen display with a 240 x 240 pixel resolution. That means great detail, which is useful when you're looking to adjust the tee on the green with your finger and every little movement counts for a yard.

The transflective memory-in-pixel, or MIP, display means this is clearly visible even in sunlight. While that's a great feature, it's the fact this remains that clear yet doesn't do so at the expense of battery life that's really clever. With GPS enabled, it pays to save power on the screen.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

The watch case measures 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm, and there are two different strap sizes to choose from. The small/medium strap is good for wrist circumferences between 106mm and 176mm, and comes in silver/white or rose gold/light sand.

The larger 'one size' strap is good for wrists measuring 125-202mm in circumference, and comes in black/gunmetal only.

The strap that comes with the watch is a comfortable silicone unit with easily adjustable sizing, but it's interchangeable so you can change up style for on and off the course, or to suit your look that day.

The watch is water rated to five meters, so you don't need to worry about falling in the water features, and (more realistically) you can play in the rain without giving it a thought.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

Onboard sensors include GPS, gyroscope and accelerometer, all of which are used to track your steps but also to automatically count your shots as you play (more on that shortly).

The Approach S42 uses Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone, and works with both iOS and Android using the Garmin Golf app. That means you not only get a wealth of features in the app but you can have smartphone notifications for texts, calls, calendar, weather and more all on the watch without needing to reach for your phone.

The watch comes pre-loaded with over 42,000 courses, meaning you just need to get there and the GPS will offer up the local options so you can confirm where you are, which tee you're playing off, and then get started right away.

The watch is also compatible with other Garmin products like the Approach Z82 laser range finder, allowing you to pull in data clearly to use with your app.

Tracking and features

  • AutoShot detection
  • Step counting
  • Shot distances

Using the Garmin Approach S42 is super simple. Get onto the course and tap the big red side button to select start a round. This will then quickly acquire GPS and offer you a list of potential courses you might be at. Unless they're overlapping you'll find the course you're on top of the list. Tap to select and then pick the tee you're playing off to get started. It's that simple to use.

The menus couldn't be easier to navigate. Unlike some of Garmin's other watches, which has lots of tracking and can take some tracking through, this is refined and built to get going after a single button and screen tap. Anything more complex you might want to personalise can be done in app super easily.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

The watch will then track your game automatically. Using a combination of movement and GPS sensors, the watch will know when you've taken a shot and can track the distance as you go. That means, technically, you don't even need to look at the watch. It'll just keep score and update as you move to the next hole.

This AutoShot, as it's called, works best when worn on the lead wrist and only works for fairway shots as they have such big movements. Putts are not tracked in this way and chip shots rarely work accurately. But this is more for seeing how far you have to walk to from your tee off and it works surprisingly well.

In reality there can be the odd glitch here where you need to adjust data using the touchscreen, making sure you have the correct stroke count listed. This is rare and more for very small shots, like putts, which might not be detected. We're not saying this is a deal-breaker, just something we hope Garmin will work on in future generations.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

A really useful feature is the ability to look over the hole ahead, this shows features on the hole like water and bunkers, listed in order as you tap up and down through the menu. This lists your distance to that feature and even allows you to see how long you need to hit your shot to make an ideal layup.

Play a shot and then you can use the Green View screen on the app to see where the pin is placed and adjust as needed. This is great on the Approach S42 as you can move it around using the touchscreen for really accurate placement. It also means you can work out the distances across the green so your shot is perfectly informed.

The key here is that the GPS is super accurate, able to pinpoint you as you move. As such you don't need to worry about adjustments much, making it a breeze to use. While this can, potentially vary, in areas near buildings or tall trees, we didn't have any issues with GPS on the course or while acquiring satellites, which was done very quickly.

Garmin Approach S42

(Image credit: Future)

The watch has quick menus that you can access by simply swiping up. These screens include your step count and calories burned and, very usefully, a sunset and sunrise readout with at a glance edging colors to show how close you are to either. As standard you also have calendar, messages, your scorecard and weather all one screens in this swipe through.

One feature that's lacking here, but is found on the Approach S62, is Garmin Pay. You may already have contactless payment on your phone so the lack of this on the watch isn't a massive issue. We'd like it, to pay for that drink at the end of a round, but in reality it's more of a novelty feature that we can live without.

Sleep tracking is a feature that is on this watch. If you're wearing this to bed, which you can as it's that comfortable, it'll track your sleep. This is based on when you set regular sleep times, so it won't track naps. It's not a dedicated sleep tracker so don't expect the accuracy of one of these, but it does the job well enough and gives you the various levels of sleep too. We liked the Garmin app layout which is colourful and clear at a glance for longer term analysis. Basically, this doubles as a health tracker for steps and sleep, so you don't need another wearable – adding to the value of that price.

Garmin Golf App

  • Notifications sent to your wrist
  • Clear layout of history in the app

The Garmin Golf app is a dedicated app made purely for the Garmin golf tech. As such it's layout is clear and minimal with an easy to use interface. This allows you to see the game you're playing, with clear hole maps, but is also good for checking over your game history afterwards.

Garmin Golf app

(Image credit: Future)

After game use is most likely but that doesn't stop this app working in the background as you play. Pop your phone away in your golf bag and you won't need to touch it again as the watch tracks your game but also notifies you of phone calls, messages and more. These can be adjusted as you need so you're only notified with what you need and not prestered to the point of distraction. A great way to let go of the world and focus on your game without being totally cut off.

Garmin Approach

(Image credit: Future)

The Garmin Golf app allows you to pair clubs with smart sensors for deeper metrics but also lets you participate in leaderboards. This is a great way to keep even your solo game competitive with others in your group, without having to actually be playing together.

Battery

  • 10 days standby
  • 15 hours of GPS

The battery life of the Garmin Approach S42 is impressive. When you consider this is tracking GPs location, very accurately, shot based motion tracking and pulling in data from a connected phone – and all in a very compact package – this is great.

You get 10 days of standby time, making this a useful day to day watch with smart movement tracking and notifications. Then when you land on the course you're good for a solid 10 hours of use. Of course this varies based on how you play but on average you can expect about that length of time.

Garmin Approach

(Image credit: Future)

A 10 hour GPS tracking time means you can get a full 18 holes in without worrying about battery, even if you are using the watch a lot, checking notifications and have it on full brightness.

When it comes to charging there is a dedicated cable but this plugs into USB so can be charged off a laptop, mobile battery or wall plug easily.

Android and iPhone compatibility

  • Garmin Golf works across platforms

The Garmin Golf app is available for both iOS and Android devices. It pairs using Bluetooth so is low on battery consumption for both devices and once paired will auto connect for each use.

Garmin Approach

(Image credit: Future)

As is often the way with Bluetooth you'll likely find it works best with iPhone, since they all have the same hardware. Android devices use different Bluetooth hardware so, depending on the phone you have, there can be the odd connectivity glitch. But, worst case, you simply disconnect and re-pair. 

Data transfers were fast and pulling in weather, calendar and notification data was near instant.

The Garmin Approach S42 is the company's mid range golf watch with GPS yet it offers some very premium specs and features. This represents decades of work in this field and is a very well distilled example of that tech in a compact, efficient and easy to use device which does its job very well.

The key here is that everything works automatically, meaning you can focus on your game while this takes the work of tracking out of it for you. Extra data helps empower your game to make sure every shot is well informed. The only downside is that it's one less excuse when you play a poor game.

Who’s it for?

The Approach S42 is for anyone that enjoys golf. While it's going to serve regular players best, it'll be a useful addition to even beginners who can see a course clearer and play an informed game. 

In that way this is also ideal for anyone that plays different courses. This helps them to have some foresight of what the holes are like ahead, so they can play their best game without any blind spots.

Should I buy it?

If you want a powerful and automated golf tracker that also offers smartphone notifications, step tracking and a premium build quality, this is ideal. 

You could go for the cheaper S12, if that touchscreen isn't an essential for you. Or, if you want to go top-end, then the flagship S62 might be more for you. More on that below.

Competition

The major competition comes from the same brand. Garmin is leading the way here. That said, for Apple Watch and Wear OS users, an app based alternative might be enough to save some money but still get smart tracking on the device already in use.

Garmin Approach S62

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Approach S62

The Garmin Approach S62 is the company's top-end golf watch. This offers a virtual caddie that takes in data like wind speed and direction too as well as smart contactless payments, bloody oxygen with pulse and other sports tracking – all with a longer battery life.

This lasts for 14 days in standby and manages 20 hours in GPS mode all while offering a slightly larger 1.3-inch display. So this is a larger watch in general, which isn't for everyone so that's worth keeping in mind.

Hole 19

(Image credit: Stat Track Technologies Lda.)

Hole 19 + Apple Watch / Wear OS

Hole 19 is a free app, available on both Apple Watch and Wear OS devices which helps to track your game. This won't automatically track shots, and it requires a phone to offer hole maps, but it's a step up from pencil and paper to digitise your game.

This uses GPS to track distances off the tee and to the pin, without the need for a phone. But for strokes, putts and fairway shots you'll need to input that manually. This then syncs to the connected phone so you can analyse your game afterwards.

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