Garmin Approach G12 review: $150 GPS range finder helps you improve your game play

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Earlier this year Garmin announced three new devices focused on the game of golf. For the past couple of weeks, I have been hitting the links with the Garmin Approach G12 attached to my slacks and golf bag.

Golf is a popular activity that serves as a competitive sport, business meeting space, social gathering place, and relaxing outdoor activity for millions of people. There is a large market for golf gear and I've been very pleased with the Garmin CT10 club sensors and a connected watch or another device as I play for pleasure and to escape work for a few hours.

Also: Garmin MARQ Golfer review: Virtual caddie contained in a luxurious and powerful GPS sports watch

While I've only been golfing for a couple of years, I am getting better at understanding the game and how my clubs can best be used to achieve success and improvement. So far I have only used various Garmin watches to monitor my game play so that is one reason I was interested in testing out another form factor. The Approach G12 is considered a GPS golf range finder and at $150 it provides an affordable, yet powerful, option for golfers.

Specifications

  • Display: 0.9 inch (23mm) 176x176-pixel resolution sunlight readable monochrome display
  • Water resistance: IPX7
  • Connectivity and sensors: Bluetooth, GPS
  • Storage: Preloaded with 42,000 courses worldwide
  • Battery: 30 hours with GPS enabled and tracking your gameplay
  • Dimensions: 45.8 x 51.3 x 12.4mm and 25.1 grams

The Garmin Approach G12 is designed for outdoor use on golf courses so it makes perfect sense that a highly visible monochrome display is used on the device. It is also great to see support for the Approach CT10 club sensors so that you can continue to build your database of club performance for analysis after the round of golf.

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Hardware

The Garmin Approach G12 looks like a Garmin watch without lugs. While there are no lugs, there is a raised centerpiece that serves as the lanyard attachment point on the device. It also has four buttons, rather than the five buttons found on typical Garmin watches.

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There is a lot of bezel on the Garmin Approach G12 with the 0.9-inch square monochrome display at the center. The company name, product name and model, and four icons/words for the buttons are all shown on the bezel around the display.

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The top left button moves up lists while the bottom left moves down. Pressing and holding the top left button will also present you with the option to turn off the range finder. The top right button is the OK button to select items on the display and the bottom right button is the back button.

A metal clip is found on the back of the device so that you can clip the Approach G12 to your belt, pocket, or golf bag. The typical standard four pin Garmin port is present for charging up the Approach G12.

The Approach G12 is very light at just 25.1 grams and you won't even notice it attached to your belt or pocket. Some people are bothered by having a watch on their wrist while golfing so the Approach G12 is a great option to replicate an experience as we see with the Approach S40.

Also: Garmin Approach S62 announced: Bigger display and virtual caddie help improve your golf game

Device software

The Garmin Approach G12 is a GPS range finder that is used just for the game of golf. There are more expensive Garmin GPS sports watches that support all of these same golf functions, along with other sports and activities.

If you have the Approach G12 turned on while not playing golf, it shows the battery status, time, and date. If you press the up or down buttons on the left then the sunrise and sunset times will appear in place of the date. This is handy since these two times are important to golfers for scheduling gameplay and getting tee times.

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Press the top right, OK, button to initate a game of golf. On this first display you are also given the option to press the down button to view various settings for golf, phone, system, and about. Golf settings include background color, scoring toggle, stat tracking toggle, penalites, big numbers, golf distance units, and club sensors.

After you setup your preferences and paired your smartphone, press to start a game of golf. The Approach G12 GPS will be activated and then look for courses in your vicinity. Select your course and respond to the questions about keeping score and what color tee you are driving from. There are more than 41,000 courses around the world preloaded on the G12 so your local courses should be on the device. Since I often golf by myself to practice my game, I prefer to use Garmin devices that keep score. I find they are very accurate at keeping score, more so than even myself trying to remember how many shots I took.

The Approach G12 will show you the hole number, shots for par, and distance from the tee to the hole. Scroll up or down to view the big numbers view to the front and back of the green, 100/150/200 yard layup distances, and other information. You can also use the green view feature to see the green's true shape and even drag and drop the pin if the location is different on the day you are golfing.

Pressing the OK button while playing a hole provides you with options to change the hole, move the flag, measure the shot, view the scorecard, view sunrise/sunset, change the golf settings, or end the round. At the end of a hole, the Approach G12 will show you the score for that hole with the ability to use the up and down arrows to adjust if a shot was not captured by the device.

Smartphone software and website

Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS and Android and it is a powerful and capable application that closely matches the Connect website experience.

In addition to the Garmin Connect app, you need the Garmin Golf application on your iPhone or Android smartphone to pair the Garmin Approach G12. You can choose courses and start a new round of golf right from the application on your phone.

The Garmin Golf app contains a leaderboard, scorecards, performance stats, course stats, club performance, and more. The more you play, the more meaningful the data will be as it captures trends and helps you define your performance. I enjoyed browsing through the scorecards where course maps show every shot in a very accurate manner.

Course experiences

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The Garmin Approach G12 is a nice accessory that is affordable and automatically captures your gameplay. It is very light and small so it doesn't get in the way of your game at all, but still provides some key information as you walk the course. You can also have the display flipped upside down so that you can keep the G12 mounted on your belt and view the numbers without removing it. This is a thoughtful small touch that helps you stay focused on the game.

I am not a very experienced golfer so I appreciate the virtual caddie functionality offered by other Garmin watches with golf support so this is one function I really missed while I was golfing with the G12. The virtual caddie feature will factor in wind speed and direction to then recommend a club based on the distance you typically swing with that club. The Approach G12 does not support the virtual caddie functionality. I also miss the pinpointer feature that shows you the direction of the pin when you are in a location where you cannot visually spot the pin.

After shooting a few rounds with the Approach G12, it was great to see if recorded the GPS track of my hits well, has a very visible display with large numbers (those of us over 50 are starting to lose the edge), and kept accurate score of my rounds. I loved how unobtrusive it was and was satisfied with the connectivity to my phones.

I also tested it on a few holes without connecting to my club sensors and while it doesn't track club performance data, it still provides accurate distances, green views, and all of the other functions. The Garmin Approach G12 is an affordable portable range finder for those who don't want to wear a watch or have a watch that does a lot more than golf.