- Insightful Plays Like
- Course maps
- Improvements to scoring
- Incredible battery life
- Fiddly screen
- Virtual Caddy useless until you hone data
- Health features buried
Garmin has bossed the golf watch market in recent years, with strong options across a wide range of price points.
The Approach S70 sits right at the top of the range. A price tag of $699/£649 for a golf watch is borderline absurd, and it costs almost as much as a whole bag of irons. It's a supercharged version of the Approach S62, with an improved design and AMOLED display.
It brings way more insights and data than the Garmin Approach S42, which doesn't include any of the Virtual Caddy or Plays Like data.
And the Approach S70 is more than just a golf watch. It’s a fully-fledged Garmin smartwatch, with an AMOLED display and more than just golf tracking in the locker. It will track your health, has sports modes for running and cycling, and also displays notifications.
But how does it stack up on the course? And is it worth the colossal price tag?
We took it for a few rounds to find out.
Design and build
The Approach S70 is a unique Garmin device and isn’t just a Fenix or Epix with golf powers, as we’ve seen from the Approach S62.
It packs a 1.4-inch AMOLED display inside a 47mm case, and there's a 43mm version with a 1.2-inch AMOLED. The resolutions are up there with top Garmin devices with 425x425 and 390x390 respectively. The colours are punchy and the detail on elements such as mapping are excellent.
There are three buttons positioned on the right-hand bezel, and these were a bit of a learning curve to get used to. The main button simply summons the PLAY GOLF screen. There's a small on-screen element here that pulls up other sports modes.
The middle button button summons a settings menu. This is slightly odd as it’s something on Fenix watches that would be a long press secondary option. Having a whole button dedicated to settings seems odd.
The final button serves as a back button.
On the Approach S70, 90% of control is done via the touchscreen. Leaving this much of your functionality to a 1.4-inch (or even 1.2-inch) display feels inadvisable – and even the likes of the Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch 6 Classic have a tactile element.
This contributes to a certain fiddliness not only for on-course features but also for the whole OS.
It doesn’t feel like any Garmin that’s gone before – and not in a good way.
The Approach S70 brings every Garmin golf feature into one watch – and it’s a big departure from what we’ve seen before.
With its AMOLED display, you get a wealth of on-course data and information at your fingertips.
The main screen shows distances to the front, middle, and back as you might expect – as well as a hole map and view of the green. This is very much a supercharged version of the same visuals we saw on the Approach S62 and is brought to life by the AMOLED display.
It’s enormously helpful to see a view of the hole ahead, so you can quickly spot hazards and layups with a glance of your wrist.
You can also zoom in on the hole and view different elements. But this is one of our biggest bugbears with the S70. On older, dumber Approach watches you use the five-button control to cycle through the hole to get distances, which was quite effective.
But on the Approach S70 this is done via the touchscreen, so you can select any position on the hole and you can get an immediate distance. But it’s fiddly to use and one of the most frustrating experiences to pan and zoom through the hole.
We have pretty dainty fingers, but if you have chunky digits, we’d say this would be almost impossible.
To zoom you have to use an on-screen slider in the top right, then pan using two buttons at the bottom. It’s also not particularly smooth, so the operation just feels annoying to use.
It’s not so bad if you’re shooting for the green, but checking distance to a lay-up on a par 5 is very tricky, as much of the fairway will be cut off. We tried to use this extensively on a tricky links course and felt like we were constantly battling to position the cursor at different points on the fairway while standing on a fairway in 30mph winds and rain. In terms of implementation, it’s a double bogey for usability.
The green is permanently displayed on the Approach S70 main golf screen, and tapping on the green to get a precise distance isn’t too fiddly. It’s nice to get a rich view of the green you’re playing into, and quickly see if there are any hidden bunkers.
You can also dive into the menu and select an exact pin position and have the yardages changed automatically, which has been a staple feature of most Garmin golf watches for a few years.
If you subscribe to the paid-for Garmin Golf service, you can also see the slope and run-off of the green here, which is useful for positioning your approach.
A big part of the experience is the Virtual Caddie, which advises you on club selection based on elevation and wind, which is an expansion of the Plays Like feature we’ve seen on previous Approach golf watches.
There has to be a word of caution here. This is an augmentation of shot data from Garmin’s shot tracking. But if this data isn’t good…it’s not that useful. And that was a problem at first.
After a change of clubs, technique, and a less-than-studious application for generating these stats, the distances for our clubs in the Garmin Golf app weren’t right. What’s more, there’s no way to manually edit the expected distances of the clubs in your bag. So when the Approach S70 Virtual Caddie recommended an 8 iron, that often wasn’t correct.
But it can be easily trained. The Garmin Approach S70 will automatically detect shots, and these will be logged in the scorecard in Garmin Golf. At any point, whether during rounds or afterward, you can tag the clubs you used for any given shot, which will help Garmin build up a database of average distances with each club.
After a few rounds, that Virtual Caddy feature got pretty good. And it really started to become useful on the course. We have been quite negative about having to tag shots on the course before, and the beauty of this system is that you can do it in the clubhouse afterward. We generally remembered which club was used.
The Plays Like data provided by Approach S70 is also super useful. When you’re stood looking down onto a par 3 green, from an elevated tee, with a stiff breeze, it’s great to have some data to hone your thinking.
And that comes onto our favorite surprise feature – which was the real-time wind direction feature. No more picking up a handful of grass and chucking it into the air, to watch it inconclusively swirl to the floor. A glance at the wind feature showed direction and strength, which was super useful for when the ball gets up above the treeline.
Scoring has been, thankfully, given an overhaul, and you can now quickly summon the scorecard from the pencil icon, once you’ve moved onto the next tee and beyond. This previously would have meant a series of menus and presses to add the score, so this is a jump forward.
And the shot distance feature is also on board and will kick in automatically, or can be started from the menu screen.
The Garmin Golf app
Once the Approach S70 has been used on the course, you do get a hearty bunch of stats in Garmin Golf as well.
Here you can see those averages for all the clubs in your bag, which can be interesting when making decisions about shots to hit.
You can also see performance stats such as a handicap estimation, average scores, trends, and shots lost or gained.
You can also see stats across courses, including average scores, drive accuracy, greens in regulation, and more.
Garmin Golf has found its form after being quite sparse for several years and feels like an app that could offer the same insights as something like Arccos – with shot tracking, as well as on-course distance information.
The Approach S70 is a powerful device, with lots of Garmin features built in. And in keeping with some of our criticisms of the device, some are very easy to miss.
Body battery, HRV status, sleep tracking, and other Garmin wellness and health tracking staples are all present and accessible by swiping down on the watch. You might miss them, however, as by default the Glances for these are turned off by default. We had to dive into the Add menu to find them.
The quality of these is all in line with existing Garmin devices – and it’s a strong showing overall.
Body battery is an estimation of energy levels based on activity and sleep.
Likewise, HRV Status is an estimation of your readiness for training, again based on sleep data and heart rate variability readings. This is generally aimed at those undertaking training load – which is likely to be a smaller cohort of golfers.
Sleep tracking is strong, with sleep stages and an overall sleep score. It’s not the best in the business, but if you’re looking for a golf watch that can offer a 360 look at your wellness and health, this is about the only option out there.
Stress tracking is also on board, but this isn’t a stat we’ve ever found much value in, nor found to fluctuate much.
There are GPS-tracked workout modes for everything from running to cycling – and other profiles for swimming, yoga, and more. This is in line with Garmin’s basic sports tracking you’d find on the likes of the Vivoactive 4 or Venu 2, so it’s basic but solid.
If there’s one aspect of the Approach S70 that impressed us most, it’s battery life. A 3.5-hour round of golf knocked just 10% off the battery life. That's just incredible.
We remember Approach watches that were good for two or three rounds. The Approach S70 just keeps going – even with its full AMOLED display.
Garmin says the Approach S70 is good for 20 hours of tracking – which is easily possible based on our testing.
If you’re going to take advantage of the smartwatch features, Garmin claims 16 days of battery life. We’d also say this is easily achievable, and the Approach S70 never seemed to die.
Should you buy it?
The Garmin Approach S70 is easily the most comprehensive golf watch we’ve ever used. There’s a lot to love here. We’re skeptical of golf watches that become on-course distractions, but the light touch of Plays Like, Virtual Caddy, and wind features here make for a watch that can knock shots off your handicap.
Sadly we found the interface and reliance on a touchscreen and poorly designed OS takes away from the enjoyment.
Let's not forget, $699/£649 for a golf watch is an absurd amount of money. But if you're eyeing up a Garmin Fenix 7. Apple Watch Ultra or even Tag Heuer Connected for golf capabilities, this becomes a serious part of the conversation.
How we test