​Garmin Approach S40 review

Garmin's top golf watch ups the style and price – but does it make par?
Wareable is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
Garmin Approach S40
By Garmin
The Garmin Approach S40 is a top golf watch, and if you’re fastidious about your scoring and logging of shots, you can learn about your game. But unless you deem this data worth the top-end price tag, the Approach S40 doesn’t do enough. Its core features are now standard among golf devices, and to spend this much on a dedicated, single sport device is now hard to recommend.

  • Comfortable and sleek
  • Advanced shot tracking
  • Pricey
  • Usability learning curve

After focusing on budget golf watches, Garmin is heading back to the premium end of the market with its Approach S40.

The Approach S40 is designed to offer a little bit more luxury, and comes with a price tag to match. At it’s as much (in some cases) as an Apple Watch with GPS and a host of excellent golf apps.

Sitting in between the S60 and S10 golf watches, the S40 offers up a design akin to Garmin's Forerunner 645 sports watch range. It's packing features like AutoShot Game Tracking, 41,000 pre-loaded courses, Green View to let you move the pin to the day's location and more.

There are also smartwatch and fitness tracking features on board to make it useful when you're not swinging clubs out on the course.

So does this Garmin golf watch deliver the goods? And why pay more than the basic range? We’ve been putting in some time on the course to find out. Here's our full verdict.

Garmin Approach S40: Design

​Garmin Approach S40 review

If you’re asking someone to pay top dollar for a specialist wearable, you better make it look good. And the Approach S40 looks, well, pretty plain.

It's certainly nicer than the Approach S10 – but that comes in at over cheaper.

We’re not saying there’s not been a step up in quality. The bezel is metal and features a sort of tachometer of golf holes, showing 1 to 18 down from 12 o’clock to 4 o’clock, which corresponds to an on-screen dial to show which hole is being currently played. It’s very reminiscent of the Tag Heuer Connected 45 Golf Edition.

Essential reading: Best Garmin watches

Inside that bezel is a 1.2-inch colour touchscreen – it only has a resolution of 240 x 240 and it’s hardly punching out visually, although unlike an Apple Watch or Wear device, it will last a couple of rounds on a single charge.

It’s pretty light and a great fit too, and it’s much more comfortable to wear than the likes of the Approach S20 or Bushnell devices.

Unlike most Garmin running devices, the use of a touchscreen means that there are no physical buttons around the side of the device – and as such, we found it harder to use than other devices. Perhaps it’s just because we’re so used to the five-button setup – we found it a little baffling. And the lack of cues on screen for navigating the watch mean it’s a steep learning curve.

The touchscreen menus, however, are simple and large – so you don’t have to be too nimble-fingered to use the watch properly.

Garmin Approach S40: Features

​Garmin Approach S40 review

Like most golf watches there’s distances to the pin, hazards and lay ups all available from 41,000 global courses. That’s so standard now it’s hardly worth mentioning – and the fact that similar features can be found on free apps like Hole 19 means that expensive golf watches are becoming less relevant.

So what does the Garmin Approach S40 do differently? Well, not a whole lot.

There’s auto-shot detection and automatic tracking of distances – so the Approach S40 can harvest much more data about your round. If you go into the round settings you can turn on prompts to tag your shots with clubs, which if done regularly and often, can help you understand how far you hit different clubs on average.

If you apply this information, you can use it to your advantage – but we’ve never been huge fans of manual input during a round of golf, and find it can become distracting. However, if this is the kind of data you’ve been yearning for, there are no better solutions out there without buying specialist shot tracking gear like Arccos.

If you are up for spending extra, however, you can take the hassle out of logging shots manually by investing in the Garmin Approach CT10 – the company's smart club sensors, which sync to the Approach S40 to log the position of each of your shots.

​Garmin Approach S40 review

Other features include a moveable pin on the green, something Garmin has done on previous Approach watches – but now you can simply tap the green map, and then use your finger to change the pin position, which in turn tweaks the yardage. This enables you to fine tune club selection.

However, the on-screen visuals absolutely pale in comparison to what’s been found on the Tag Heuer Connected Golf Edition, and the app that's available on Apple Watch. These have 3D, high-resolution fly-bys of entire holes, which is such a game-changer when you’re not familiar with the course you’re playing. We’d love to see more of that on Garmin Approach watches, especially the ones with bigger price tags.

As with most Garmin watches now you get smart notifications, so anything that happens on your smartphone will appear on the watch.

Scoring is a big part of the Garmin Approach S40, and you can input your strokes after each hole. It’s pretty reliable, but it’s also easy to miss holes if you’re scoring elsewhere. Often when scoring on Garmin devices, we’ll miss one hole by stomping off to the next tee, and the stroke data will end up skewed. And that starts undermining the stats within the app.

Garmin Approach S40: App and ecosystem

​Garmin Approach S40 review

The Garmin Approach S40 syncs into Garmin Golf, which we’ve previously criticised for being a little bereft of data and features. However, with the auto shot tracking and some adjustments, it’s a far richer experience.

You can see all your scorecards from within the app, but when using the Approach S40 you’ll see the Club Performance tab start to populate – so long as you have the settings turned on. This will give you average and max distances, which clearly improve the more data you feed in.

Performance Stats is another tab that populates, which tracks your scores and run down shots gained, recoveries, handicaps and rankings. This is actually great data, but there are a couple of points: it doesn’t really make a difference what Garmin Approach watch you use, and also if, like us, you’re not really particular about the accuracy of on-watch scoring, then junk data will quickly render this unusable.


How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and T3.com and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

Related stories