While golf watches used to be designed to function as golfing accessories and nothing else, Garmin has taken a different tack with its recent golf wearables. Like the Approach S20, which we reviewed earlier this year, the Approach X40 is designed to be as useful away from the golf course as it is on the first tee.
Aside from being a golf GPS watch, the Approach X40 is part running watch, part smartwatch and a full time golf watch. It's also a top quality fitness tracker, offering much the same functionality as Wareable's Fitness Tracker of the Year the Garmin Vivosmart HR+.
Essential reading: Best GPS golf watches
We've taken a lot of time testing and writing this review because we experienced some unusual teething problems, relating to some off distances. But we're pleased to say that these have been overcome, so read on for our definitive and exhaustive Garmin Approach X40 review.
Garmin Approach X40: Design
The Approach X40 pretty much breaks new ground for golf devices. Sure, there have been a couple of "golf bands" on the market already, but the X40 is a reimagined Vivosmart HR+, which means all its smarts are packed into a standard fitness tracker design.
The screen obviously suffers, and it uses a thin 128 x 128 touch-enabled panel, much like its sister device. With so much golf-focused information on offer, you'd fear the small screen would render the X40 unusable, but far from it. Information is readily available and readable. The only complaint is that touchscreen inputs are fiddly, especially when inputting scores.
The band itself is nice and thin, and while there's a little bulk in the design, it's really comfortable to wear. It's not exclusively designed for female golfers, but its appearance and design will certainly be a hit among women looking for strong golf features.
Underneath is a heart rate monitor that keeps tabs on your pulse 24/7, as well as during workouts. Garmin isn't holding back; the Approach X40 doesn't eschew many features.
Garmin Approach X40: Features
We're going to be examining these features in detail as the review progresses, but here's a run-down of what the Approach X40 does.
Information on 30,000 courses comes built in and the band will display distances to the front, middle and back of each green. It also measures distances to hazards – which are all mapped out on a dedicated screen – and it will also display details on lay-ups and dog-legs.
Staying with golf, there are also a bunch of extra features. There's a shot measure, which is great for working out how far you slammed that drive down the fairway, and the X40 plays nicely with the Garmin TruSwing shot analyser, which means you can look at the plentiful raw numbers from your swing on your wrist – a nice integration
Away from golf, the Garmin is also a great fitness tracker.
The band apes the feature set of the Vivosmart HR+ to include steps, sleep, resting heart rate data from the last four hours are all displayed on the device.
Like the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ you also can use the GPS to track runs and cycles accurately. And the heart rate sensor comes into play here, adding biometric data to your runs, and enabling you to get better analysis of your sessions. Don't get us wrong, it's hardly a top-line Garmin running watch, but for those who like to keep fit away from the golf course, it's a great addition.
What you essentially have is our fitness tracker of the year, upgraded for golf. It's a potent mix of features, and it certainly looks a winner on paper.
Smartwatch-style notifications are also handled with aplomb, and they're every bit as good as other new Garmin devices, such as the Vivoactive HR and Vivosmart HR. Unlike Fitbit, which restrict notifications to calls, SMS and calendar reminders, you get any push notification sent to your phone displayed on the wrist, making it a worthy competitor to the likes of the Apple Watch Series 2 or Android Wear.
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Garmin Approach X40: Golf features
Our early teething problems concerned distances, and we spent a few rounds getting junk information from the Approach X40. A few rounds on some local courses returned obviously incorrect distances based on what was displayed on the tee boxes, and caused us to pause the review to investigate more rigourously. However, the problem seemed to solve itself and we've tested on around eight courses since and experienced no further distance issues.
The primary purpose of the Approach X40 is to provide distances to hazards, dog-legs and, of course, the green. The main screen of the X40 shows distances to the front, middle and back of the putting surface, and pressing the main button reveals an option to check hazards.
Pressing the hazard option shows the closest danger with yardages (or metres if you choose) and you can scroll from bunker to bunker to water trap by swiping the touchscreen.
Another option is a green view, which enables you to cycle through pin positions on the green, before selecting a specific pin position. That focuses the yardages shown on-screen to a specific number (rather than vague front, middle or back). It works well, but it's something we personally never used, mostly because executing a shot to a more exact yardage than front/middle/back is slightly beyond our ability.
Delving into the option menu again also offers the option to track the distance of a shot. Belt one down the fairway and then hit the option menu > Measure. Start tracking and walk to your ball, and the distance travelled will be shown.
Garmin Approach X40: Shot tracking
As well as merely offering distances to the pin, the X40 also offers scoring and shot-tracking features too.
Before starting a round the X40 will ask you if you'd like to keep score. The scorecard flashes up when you start a new hole, offering you the chance to add how many shots were taken on the previous one. It's simple stuff and pretty effective. Garmin's scorecards have never really got under our skin as a way of scoring our rounds – we prefer Hole 19 and its social features. But however you choose to track your round – be it a good old scorecard or an app – we found it to be an easy way of guarding yourself against scoring fails, and worth keeping turned on.
The downside is that things do get a little convoluted when you're prompted for extra metrics. As well as asking for data such as number of putts and location of your drive (on fairway or missing left/right) to bolster data, Garmin takes things even further and you can tag shots with particular clubs on the watch itself. It should be noted that this feature is turned off by default.
The advanced data certainly bolsters the amount of post-round data to enjoy, but we also found it fiddly and frustrating to use. There's no vibration alert to prompt you to record your club selection, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Unlike the TomTom Golfer 2 it makes shot tracking subtle and much less over-bearing, but it also meant the only shots we registered tended to be tee shots (prompted when checking resulting fairway distance) and approach chips, which were prompted on the next tee.
The X40 will suggest the club you might have used based on yardage, and then you can scroll through to the correct device, which is a faff on the small screen. Taking a 4 hybrid off the tee also lead to around five swipes down from a driver. Doing this on the next tee box, while also inputting score, putts and drive position was, in short, a right pain in the backside, and not something we'd recommend.
Garmin Approach X40: The app
Rounds are collated in the Garmin Connect app, which as we've often remarked upon for running and cycling, is brilliantly detailed yet crushingly complex. And when it comes to golf, the user experience is even more opaque.
Once your round is completed and your device has synced with the Garmin Connect app, you can see your round appear in the calendar. But this will only be the fitness data from your round, showing steps, heart rate and calories burned. For golf stats, you have to head to Garmin Connect on the web.
Here you can get breakdowns of your round, and there is some cool data. Each round will show fairways hit, average putts and greens in regulation. What's more, when you play the same course often, Garmin will keep track of your best performances for every hole, and offer your dream round score.
However, the web-only interface and lack of informative data make it less useful than, say, Hole 19 which makes lifetime stats and performance over the last five rounds a key part of its offering. In short, Garmin Connect is currently far from a killer app for golfers, and there are a lot of improvements to be made before it gets there.
Garmin Approach X40: Fitness and sports
One of the biggest differences between the Approach X40 and the rest of Garmin's golf stable is the addition of sports tracking. Given that the golf watches use GPS, preventing users from running or cycling with their watch has always felt a bit stingy, as all the building blocks are in place. Luckily the X40 embraces other sports.
The Approach X40 does its best Garmin Vivosmart HR+ impression, and comes with full activity tracking features – steps, sleep, 24/7 heart rate – and modes for open workouts.
Tap the menu button and then choose the workout button – you can then choose GPS or non-GPS tracked sessions. There aren't dedicated modes for running or cycling, but GPS mode will work out your pace, distance and time and heart rate, and the sport type can be adjusted later. Indoor mode will just work on estimated distances, while monitoring your bpm.
It's the basics of any Garmin, and as you'd expect, competently implemented. Accuracy of runs was spot on and given that it's using the same Elevate HR tech as the Vivosmart HR range, similarly accurate. Elevate isn't the best HR tech we've seen, but across long, steady runs its data is perfectly serviceable.
Run and cycle data is imported into Garmin Connect, just as it would be from any of the company's Forerunner watches, so while the data points are basic, you're not getting a lesser experience. The same could be said for the Vivoactive HR, which offers dedicated running and cycling modes alongside golf. But its golf metrics and stats are leagues below the Approach X40, and for hardcore golfers who enjoy a leisurely run, cycle or gym session, this is a perfect partner.
- Great form factor
- Complete golf features
- Sports and activity modes
- Fiddly data input for scoring
- App needs work
- Battery life could be better