We live in a world where everything is available via voice. I can talk with my phone to find the nearest golf course or tell me what the weather will be like during my round. I can have my car speak directions to me in order to find the course. And thanks to devices like the Voice Caddie VC300, you can hear distances during your round, whenever you want them.
Truth be told, the VC300 is not the first, not will it be the last, talking GPS device but it is certainly unique. Roughly the size of a poker chip, it has no screen or display. To use it, players simply click or swipe the front of the pebble-looking device and wait for instructions.
Having used a lot of GPS devices in recent years, I was intrigued how a device with no display would work when you are on the course.
Preloaded with 30,000 courses, the VC300 is ready to use out of the box and will automatically detect the course and hole you are playing. With more than half of the course library outside of the US, golfers around the world shouldn't be disappointed arriving at their home club.
The device has access to more than 2,500 courses in the UK and it found the two courses I was testing it on.
How Does It Work?
That was the question I asked myself before driving to the course for my first round with the VC300. It is most certainly a device that needs some pre-game homework and a good read of the instruction booklet, included in the box.
Having read through the manual and charged the device for around two hours, I powered it on using the hidden button on the back of the device and a clear, female voice said:
"Let's go, enjoy your game with Voice Caddie. The remaining battery is 96%."
Off to the course, I stared down the fairway at my home course and gave it a try for the first time. However, it told me it had not picked up the GPS signal yet, because GPS devices require some level of signal or communication with a satellite. It does sometimes take a second to register your initial location so turn it on a few minutes before you tee off.
Voice Caddie say in the instructions to "allow approximately 2 minutes for device to locate the golf course". Whilst I certainly waited more than 2 minutes, the device did eventually locate the course on the 2nd tee.
"Hole number 2, centre, 442 yards."
And off I went.
As well giving me distances to the middle of the green, via one click on the front, the VC300 also gave me front distances by swiping right-to-left, and back distances by swiping left-to-right, much like you would view the next photo on your mobile phone or tablet.
By the end of the round, I found myself using the double-click most often, which prompted the device to tell me yardages to the front and back in one instruction:
"Hole number 15, front, 120 yards, back, 143 yards."
All the distances are measured in a straight line from wherever the device is, so you can be sure you are getting the correct distances.
Whilst the device is supposed to give yardages to holes based on the order you play them, it did get confused as to which hole I was on. My home course is a condensed layout with wayward tee shots often finding other holes and fairways. Unfortunately the first time this happened, I got a yardage to the 16th hole, when I was actually on the 2nd.
The hole can be changed manually, by using the volume buttons, but again this is a little fiddly during your round, especially without a screen to guide you.
As well as distances to the hole, the VC300 can also measure individual shots. By pressing and holding the front of the device, I was able start and stop the measurement, which prompted:
"The shot distance is 261 yards. Hole number 8, centre, 119 yards."
I doubt many people will use the distance measurement function, but it is pretty neat and is a good way to get a feel for how far you hit different clubs.
Many people are sceptical about voice GPS devices and worry they make too much noise during the round and could put off fellow golfers. I can attest that the volume coming from the same speaker on the back of the VC300 was just right. I was able to choose from seven volume settings, with the loudest one not audible beyond about 15 or 20 yards.
Whilst features and looks are always welcome in GPS devices, accuracy is the most important quality. Along with a market-leading laser rangefinder and another market-leading GPS device, I compared the VC300's yardages. For the most part, they were all very close. Both GPS devices were typically within 2 yards of each other and within 3 to 4 yards of the laser.
I tend to trust lasers the most, but the Voice Caddie's accuracy seemed good and more than ample for the everyday golfer. Plus, if you behind a tree or hitting a blind shot, a laser isn't much use.
For some reason the companies that make these small GPS devices seem to want golfers to attach them to your cap. I found this awkward, off-putting and to be honest, it didn't do much for my street-cred on the course.
I started with the device on my belt, but found that I clicked it accidentally any time I bent over to mark my ball or pick it out of the hole, prompted an unwanted yardage instruction. Having moved it to various locations on belt, I settled for my golf bag. This way, I could arrive at my ball or a tee, click the VC300 and learn what I faced before picking a club.
Whilst the clip is very strong and tight, the VC300 still got knocked off a few times so you will need to experiment with where to locate it best for you, epsecially if you carry a bag and don't wear a hat.
As for the battery, the VC300 features a rechargeable, lithium battery that can be charged using a USB connection. Power adapters and car chargers are available, but the USB port on my computer charged the device in around two hours, and Voice Caddie say it should last approximately eight hours.
From a single charge, the battery lasted logn enough for the two rounds I used it for.That is pretty good for a GPS, and will ensure it lasts the course for the avid golfer who plays 36 holes in a day.
My overall opinion is that this is a fun device, but one that ultimately favours form over function. It looks great in your hand, the yardages were accurate and I did eventually get the hang of the device, but the lack of a screen made it a little harder to use and understand that other devices I've used.
It is one of the most affordable GPS devices I've used, available for less than £100, but ultimately it is not something I would use regularly. I could see someone who plays by themselves enjoying this type of GPS, but playing in a group or competition, it wouldn't be ideal.
However, if you are tempted by talking yardage devices and don't fancy spending a lot, it may be right for you. Just be sure to read the instructions before using it...twice.