SkyCaddie has marked it’s 20th anniversary by releasing the SX500 handheld GPS device, as an upgrade on the previous Touch GPS. Having been at the top of the field for a number of years, SkyCaddie has packed this latest device with some great new tech and handy features to create what they are suggesting is the most powerful and accurate device of its kind.
SkyCaddie’s USP is sending people out to manually map the course, ensuring maximum accuracy and detail and giving you as much information as possible to help determine your strategy.
What’s It All About?
The SX500 has the biggest and best quality touchscreen on the market, and comes pre-loaded with over 35,000 golf courses in Britain and Ireland.
A number of new features have been added, such as the Dynamic HoleVue and RangeVue which can help to suggest clubs based upon your average distances, and you can keep track of your scores with Digital Scoring too.
A clear focus has also been paid to the greens in the latest model, with a combination of features. The IntelliGreen Pro technology can give information and distances to tiers and major ridges on greens, so that you can avoid that dreaded moment when your ball goes from being 10ft from the pin to rolling back down off the front.
This can be combined with PinPoint technology which allows you to use daily pin locations, or select your own, for ultimate accuracy when hitting into the green.
You get a pre-paid Birdie membership for the first year, which allows you to go online and access your SkyGolf account. Here, you can go in and add rounds, edit scorecards and update your information. All good stuff if you’re serious about tracking your progress and improving.
The Game Analyzer section is particularly useful as it gives you reports on different parts of your game and shows you where you need to get better, rather than having to trawl through stats yourself.
With its 5-inch, full high-definition touch screen driven by an ultra-fast multi-core processor, the SkyCaddie SX500 is the most powerful way to measure yardage while providing the very "best view" in golf with vivid graphics and super large numbers you can trust.
Having had a couple of warmup rounds to familiarise myself with the device, I took the SX500 out on a typically grey and chilly January Tuesday in Manchester for 18 holes of golf to see if the SX500 would help me with my course management and club selection, and in turn improve my scores.
SkyCaddie SX500 GPS Review
The first time I got the SX500 out of the box, two things immediately struck me. The size and the build quality.
The device is large. Its bigger than my iPhone, thanks to a 5 inch screen, but its also about double the thickness too and it has that industrial-looking exterior which makes it perfect out on the course or in your bag, where it is likely to get knocked around at some point.
As a result of this, it did feel really sturdy too. It’s heavy, but if anything that adds to the appeal because it makes you feel like you’re holding something substantial, something worth all that money you paid.
It’s clear, too, that some serious effort has gone into the development of this. The screen is bright and crystal clear, the touchscreen is the best I’ve ever used on a device like this, and the buttons all work well. Even the camera is pretty decent, and a nice touch as a way to document your round or even plan your strategy for certain holes if you’re practicing for a big event.
The packaging too, is modern and stylish and gives you that same sense of excitement as when you unbox a shiny new smartphone for the first time.
I did find a couple of tiny niggles when I tried to use the USB cable with the SX500 to link up my account. I found that the actual catch at the bottom of the device where the USB is entered was very fiddly, as you had to hold the catch out of the way with one hand whilst inserting it. Only a small thing I know, but I think for some people it could get quite annoying.
On The Course
I have already used this device in a few rounds, including one course which I had never played before. This is where it really came into its own. On a couple of holes I was ready to whip out my driver and attempt to blast the ball as far into the distance as possible, despite the fact that I promise myself before every round that I’ll ‘play properly’.
A quick check of the SkyCaddie, however, showed me that there were bunkers or hazards right in the area where a well-hit driver would end up, with the RangeVue showing that hitting a 3 Wood or long iron wouldn’t reach the trouble and would give me a better chance of a good score.
I was also really impressed with the lock feature on the SX500 which meant that the screen was still visible, and yardages would update whilst you move, but would not move if you accidentally pressed a button whilst moving it around. This was perfect as it meant that you can quickly grab the device to look at measurements without worrying about clicking the wrong thing. The touchscreen is sensitive after all. Just one press of a button allows you to easy lock and unlock the screen at will.
One of my favourite aspects was the Dynamic HoleVue on the device, where the hole angle changes so you are looking at your approach straight on at all times. This is really useful if you’ve gone a little wayward and still want to see accurate distances to carry hazards or greenside bunkers. SkyCaddie say ‘what you see on the SX500 always matches what you see on the course’, and it certainly seems true in this case.
I ended up using the Target List screen much more than I thought I would, and I imagine it would be really useful when playing in a fourball. This was an easy and quick way to see all of the information on the hole, because I already knew the course and didn’t need to see the layout, whilst keeping up with play. One look and I had all of the information I needed to make a decision either on the tee or hitting into a green.
The Big Number View effectively works like a GPS watch or lower-tier device does, giving you the basic yardages to the front, middle and back of the green as well as general hole information. Also perfect if you want to play fast.
I also noticed that the device was good at recognising the hole you are on, and switching to the next tee once you’ve finished on the green. It was better than most devices, which can sometimes get confused and suggest that you’ve wandered 70 yards away from the green. With the SkyCaddie, if its not sure, it’ll ask you.
At one point, I cleverly and completely intentionally hit a tee shot onto the opposite fairway to check how the SX500 would perform. Usually, I would leave my bag at the edge of my own fairway, take a couple of clubs with me and guess ‘it looks about that far’ by judging from yardage markers in the distance.
More often than not, this ended up with a ridiculous misjudgement where I’d end up striping my ball only for it to end up either twenty yards short, or in a bush over the back of the green. However with the SX500 I was reliably informed it was 180 yards to the centre of the green so I managed to get a 5 iron up to the fringe and make my par.
Would I Use It?
With a trolley and placed in a holder, definitely. For important competition rounds, definitely. You really cannot beat it if you want to receive as much information as possible on every hole in order to plot your way around the course. Apart from giving you the line on the greens, the SkyCaddie can do everything that a real caddie can do.
For a quick knock with my mates on a summers evening however, maybe not. It really became a bit of a burden to carry in my pocket, and as I prefer not to use a trolley it isn’t ideal. If I just want a friendly game I don’t want to have to keep unzipping my bag and getting it out for every shot. However, since it's release SkyCaddie have addressed this issue by adding a handy bag clip to the product so you no longer have to keep it in your pocket or keep unzipping your bag each shot. This is a nice touch.
Unless I was really bothered about my score I would usually favour a rangefinder or a less detailed app for getting quick yardages to the pin or hazards from the tee. But I don’t play many competitions, and despite my desire to look like a tour pro I have no misconceptions about my abilities, so I just try and get on with it. I am thinking, however, of sticking with the SX500 permanently and giving myself more information prior to each shot, because my scores whilst using it have been pretty good.
The main point from this then is not whether I want to use it or not, because I do. It works perfectly and I’m sure it would probably help my golf over the course of the season. I think it’s more about who this SkyCaddie is aimed at, and who is going to use it.
Pretty much every golfer would see the benefit of the device if they used it properly and took advantage of its many features. For those who just want yardages to the middle of the green or to one single target, perhaps consider a GPS watch or rangefinder.
But for those who are really serious about improving their golf, or love to be on top of all the latest golf tech and have some cash to burn, then you cannot look past the SX500. It's a GPS, but the extent of all the features, including being able to set pin locations, means that you also get most of the benefits of a rangefinder instead anyway.
Put simply, it is the most comprehensive and best performing GPS device on the market. Of course that comes with a price and don’t get me wrong, it does seem a lot, but in my opinion you get what you pay for.
- Best all-round GPS I’ve ever used
- Like using a premium Android smartphone
- Lock feature is great
- Build quality and battery life also fantastic
- £379 plus membership after your first year is a lot for a GPS
- The SX500 is quite big and heavy. I imagine most golfers wouldn't want to keep it in their pocket, but the new bag clip could have solved this problem
- Micro USB was fiddly to insert