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When it comes to distance measuring devices in golf, you are really spoilt for choice. Currently, there are a number of laser rangefinders, handheld GPS devices, GPS watches and even apps that can tell you the distance to the flag and much much more. This comparison focuses on two of the best golf watches in the affordable sector - the Garmin Approach S12 and the Bushnell iON Edge GPS Watch.
Both brands are famous for producing some of the best golf GPS' and best golf laser rangefinders, but both are also familiar with producing some great watches that can be used, not just on the golf course, but also off it.
Garmin is one of the largest technological companies in the world, with the brand producing hundreds and hundreds of gadgets designed to improve your golf. One of its entry-level watches is the Approach S12, a watch that gives a premium performance and won't break the bank. Bushnell may be known for making laser rangefinders, but it also knows a thing or two about making GPS watches, with its iON Edge earning a spot in Golf Monthly's Editor's Choice awards for 2022.
Both are similarly priced but which one is going to benefit your game more? We tested them side by side on the golf course to find out.
Garmin Approach S12 vs Bushnell iON Edge GPS Watch: Read Our Head To Head Verdict
Neither will set the world alight with their looks, but both provide a simple, easy-to-digest viewing experience. Starting with the Garmin Apprach S12, it features a 2.3cm face and three strap options. What we did like, aside from the basic look, is how the middle distance was displayed larger than the others, which made it easy to glance at. What's more, it is incredibly lightweight and the strap is very sleek. This meant that when we swung the club, it didn't interfere or move around. In fact, we barely noticed we were wearing it.
Bushnell's iON Edge is ever so slightly larger than the Garmin S12, 0.4cm to be exact, but it is still smaller than the many premium watches on the market that offer more detail. It's the same with the styling; although it may not look premium, it was still a decent-looking addition to our wrist that wasn’t overly bulky or heavy. Additionally, due to its sleek and soft feel, it didn’t interfere with our swing or cause any discomfort.
Ease Of Use
Arguably, the most important aspect of any golf watch is how easy it is to use. There's nothing more frustrating than waiting on the first hole and not being able to link up your watch to the correct course and tee. Thankfully, the Garmin S12 doesn't have such issues, with the watch ranked amongst one of the best Garmin watches on the market. At the start, we didn't have problems locating the course on arrival, with the correct yardages appearing on the screen within a minute or two of beginning the setup.
The only area where the watch suffered was with the lack of touch screen functionality. To scroll through the different yardage information on each hole, you need to press the buttons on the side of the watch. Although it is simple, we initially found it more fiddly than when using touchscreen watches. It also takes a little getting used to, to know which button to press as you search for different information or settings.
The Bushnell was also easy to set up. There is one button on the side, which we correctly figured would boot it up. From there, one swipe to the right gives you the option to begin your satellite search for the correct course.
The iON does feature a touch screen layout, something which should be easier to use than the Garmin's buttons on the side. However, we found it to be a tad unresponsive, while at the same time being annoyingly sensitive to a misplaced finger. If you're able to master this temperamental aspect though, it is a very good performer for the price.
Both watches provide the basics when it comes to features, with the pair showing the standard front, middle and back yardages, as well as the ability to pinpoint the flag on the green for more accurate distance. What's more, both also display yardages to layup areas and hazards, a useful feature when tackling a new golf course. Both are also able to measure shots and keep your score.
The Garmin has a Big-Numbers mode which, coupled with the sunlight-readable dial, is great for those whose eyesight maybe isn’t what it once was. Although the Bushnell's battery life is only a respectable 15 hours versus the S12's 30 hours and comes pre-loaded with 38,000 courses versus the Garmin's 42,000. But we liked having the ability to move the pin position on the green for a more precise distance and you have the ability to input scores and some basic stats, such as fairways and greens hit. Buying the ION Edge also gives you access to Bushnell's excellent GPS app, which provides 3D hole flyovers and the ability to add in stats about your play, enhancing the value for money.
These may not rank amongst the best golf shot apps and devices, but they will give you the tools you need to improve your scores through better strategy decisions and club selections.
Both models have been designed with golf in mind. However, the Bushnell doesn't really offer the off-course features of the S12, which means the Garmin is arguably a more versatile option.
With the Garmin, you can download Garmin Connect Mobile to the watch. This means that you can keep track of your steps, calories burnt and even the route of your run. You can also download Garmin Golf, with the ability to set up leagues with your friends, as well as keeping track of your shots on your phone - extremely useful.
Bushnell on the other hand doesn't give you this option, with the watch specifically designed for golf and golf only. Despite it telling the time, the styling is such that you probably wouldn't want to wear it off the course whereas the Garmin gives you more reasons to, including the more modern screen and overall look and feel.
These models are priced around the same point, with both being aimed at the person who don't want to spend upwards of $250-$300 on a distance-measuring device.
There is certainly a lot to like about both. The iON watch from Bushnell is designed for those who want to solely focus on their golf, at a price that won't break the bank. However, if you are perhaps a bit more tech savvy, e.g. you use your phone often, then the Garmin is going to be more useful in your life. Both however offer superb value for money and will provide you the basics you need on the course for a very reasonable price.
Which One Should You Choose
Choose the Garmin Approach S12 if…
- You are looking for an affordable watch that can be used on and off the course
- You want a modern, streamlined design
- You like to track your play via your smartphone
Choose the Bushnell iON Edge if...
- You are after a watch that will give you accurate yardages
- You are looking for a simple, no nonsense display
- You're not bothered about off-course features
Joel has worked in the golf industry for over 12 years covering both instruction and more recently equipment. He now oversees all product content here at Golf Monthly, managing a team of talented and passionate writers and presenters in delivering the most thorough and accurate reviews, buying advice, comparisons and deals to help the reader find exactly what they are looking for. So whether it's the latest driver, irons, putter or laser rangefinder, Joel has his finger on the pulse keeping up to date with the latest releases in golf. He is also responsible for all content on irons and golf tech, including distance measuring devices and launch monitors.
During these enjoyable years he has had some money-can't-buy experiences, like interviewing Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy one-on-one and covering the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
One of his career highlights came when covering the 2012 Masters he got to play the sacred Augusta National course on the Monday after the tournament concluded, shooting a respectable 87 with just one par and four birdies. To date, his best ever round of golf is a 5-under 67 back in 2011. He currently plays his golf at Burghley Park Golf Club in Stamford, Lincs, with a handicap index of 4.7.
Joel's current What's In The Bag?
Driver: TaylorMade SIM2, 9°
Fairway wood: Titleist TSi3, 15°
Hybrid: Titleist TSi2, 18°
Irons: TaylorMade P770, 4-PW
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM8, 50°, 54° and 58°
Putter: Evnroll ER2V
Ball: 2021 Titleist Pro V1x
- Matt Cradock Freelance Staff Writer
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