The number of golf GPS devices and the number of apps for smartphones is growing quickly. It is very difficult to keep track as developers try to carve out their niche in the market. As a golfer who is looking for one of these devices, you can be overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you.
First, should you buy a standalone unit like a SkyCaddie or a Callaway? Now, sure there is no way that a $ 10 app for the iPhone can match all the features of a SkyCaddie, any more than Ford Fiesta can match all the features of a BMW. But people do drive around in inexpensive compact cars and they do get everywhere they need to go (without the luxury of course).
So, if you want a golf GPS device that costs less than a round of golf, but one that can still get you safely around the course, you might consider a smartphone app rather than much more expensive standalone device. Here are some of the pros and cons of using a smartphone app.
The price . There is really no comparison here. If you already own a smartphone, then the cost of a good GPS app can be less than one tenth of the cost of a standard unit.
Free trial. You can download many of these apps for free and try them out with no obligation to buy. This is a reliably hassle-free way of testing the waters to see what the various apps have to offer.
Touchscreen . Many phones like the iPhone or the BlackBerry Storm have touchscreens. Smartphone golf apps often display an aerial view of the course and the golfer can pinpoint any spot on the course to get instant feedback. This is a feature that some of the more expensive models lack. SkyCaddie, GolfLogix, and Sureshot, for instance, do not have touchscreens and do not have a view of the fairway at all.
No subscription or annual fees . With most golf GPS apps, you can usually download all the courses you need or you can use software to map your own courses for free. For some of the top brands subscriptions and annual fees alone can cost much more than a smartphone app.
Accuracy of GPS . There is debate about whether or not the GPS chip in smartphones is accurate enough for golf. The iPhone claims its GPS is accurate to within 1-7 yards. But the maximum error of 7 yards is still a long way from the 1-3 yards of SkyCaddie or the sub-meter accuracy of Sureshot.
Accuracy and number of mapped courses. You may have to settle for fewer available course maps. Usually with phone apps you will not get professionally mapped courses: there are no armies of mappers (ala SkyCaddie) walking courses to mark all the key spots with pinpoint precision. More likely you will have to set up for self-mapped courses or courses mapped by your fellow software users (mostly from Google Earth). How accurate these maps are is debatable.
Battery life. Golf GPS apps can be a huge drain on cellphone batteries. You may find yourself just barely able to finish a round with a fully charged battery. The standalone devices, on the other hand, have batteries that can last for several rounds of golf.
There may be no clear decision to make here: it will probably come down to personal choice (and economics).