Golf Reviews

Review: “Swami 1500” Golf GPS by Izzo

  • July 17, 2009

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: “I never win anything.” Well, I don’t–until a couple of weeks ago. I was on Twitter and happened to see a “re-tweet” about a short-term contest being run by the fine folks at Rankmark: sign up for their discussion forum in the next hour and have a chance to win a “Swami 1500” golf GPS from Izzo. Well, I trotted on over, signed up, and got lucky!

Haven’t heard of Rankmark? They’re world-famous for their in-depth hands-on reviews and tests of golf clubs. They cover all perspectives, even those of the high handicapper (like moi) and their articles are outstanding. You really should go check them out at and see all they have to offer.

So, having learned of my good fortune, I realized I’d not heard of this particular GPS receiver. A quick Google later I was at Izzo’s web site reading about my catch. One of the first things I was interested in was what courses they support. Unlike some of you in more golf-friendly environs, most of our local courses are mom & pop operations you’d not hear of if you lived more than a few miles away–hardly the stuff that gets the Sky Caddy folks out here doing their thing with their magic backpacks. That being said, I was pleased to note that nearly all the courses I checked actually popped up on their web site (more on this later). Cool! Looking at the unit description and photos, it was clearly a no-frills unit designed to get the job done without being too pricey. Nice size, too!

The Swami is pretty small

The Swami is pretty small

The package arrived after only a couple of days, and I wasted no time getting down to business. Inside the box was a nice assortment of goodies: a quick start guide and software CD, the unit itself along with a belt clip (that I’d never consider using but a nice touch nevertheless), a USB cable (very nice, some low-end gadgets make you purchase this as an extra) and even an AC adapter (also nice in a budget unit).

The Swami comes with a nice assortment of stuff

The Swami comes with a nice assortment of stuff

First thing I tried was turning the unit on. Hmm, nothing happened. I decided either the battery needed charging or the unit needed activating. Either way it was time to (gasp) read the directions and install the software. Here’s where (if you haven’t already learned from their web site) you find out that the unit comes with a small catch: a $35/year subscription fee. I had no problem with that, it’s about what all the various GPS products out there charge. What do you get for your $35? The unit holds up to ten courses at a time. The subscription allows you unlimited downloads of courses in Izzo’s database, so you can mix and match any ten courses you want at any given time. If ten courses is all you’ll ever want? Just don’t renew your subscription; the ten courses already downloaded when it expires remain at your disposal for the life of the unit.

Now it was time to install the software. I learned the CD merely installs a loader app, and my computer phoned home to Izzo for the actual software. Something to note if you have net only part time. The installation went without a hitch, but right after that came the quirky part of the process. Apparently the Swami manager application gets really unhappy if the unit is already plugged into a USB port when it’s started. I came to this conclusion after a couple of failed attempts resulting in having to kill the stalled app in Task Manager. Start the application first, then plug in the Swami: check. So long as I kept to that order all went well.

With the application running and the unit plugged in, it came to life with a “CHG” display and the software display changed to an empty course list. Time to get to work! Here is where I learned something odd about the Izzo course database: not all entries are created equal. Just being in the database did not necessarily mean it had actually been mapped yet, and among all those courses I checked on the web site only a couple were “done” and ready to download. Hmm. I saw their stated 5-10 working day turnaround for getting courses mapped, noted that it was Wednesday and I planned to use it the following Tuesday, and figured I’d better start requesting! I put in for about half a dozen local courses I knew I’d play this season, and added another that was so obscure it wasn’t even in their database at all.

Here is where I sing the praises of the Izzo support staff: by Friday evening they had already mapped half of my requests! They stated “business days” in their help file, but would you believe I got another notification that Saturday? These guys were serious! By contrast I also have the GreenfinderGPS application for my BlackBerry and, after they mapped the first course I requested post haste as a special favor, I have yet to hear back about my other requests and it’s been over a month. By Monday evening every single request I put in with Izzo had been completed. I can’t say enough good things about that!

Game time finally arrived, and I took my new Swami out to play. The unit is small enough to fit easily in a front pants pocket, but mine are always already full with other golfing necessities and my car key (after losing one from my golf bag’s pocket and spending nearly $200 to get the smart key fob replaced I always carry it on me). I quickly realized it would fit perfectly under the scorecard holder of my Clicgear push cart:

It's small enough to fit under a scorecard strap

It's small enough to fit under a scorecard strap

When I powered up the unit a small timer appeared, and within a few seconds it had acquired the course we were on and set the display to hole 1. Thus armed, I spent a lot of time on the first course both comparing it against “known” distances and against what my BlackBerry GPS was reading. I’m pleased to report the Swami passed all tests accurately.

There are two possible negatives, both related to the fact this is a no-frills solution. First, you only get distances to the front, center and back of the green; there are no hazards listed. This might be a show-stopper for some, but I was fine with that. What hazards? Only the target matters. Heh. The second potential issue is you have to set the hole number manually whereas a lot of units (including my BlackBerry’s software) are “smart” enough to set themselves to the next hole automatically. Small fry, sez I: it was trivially easy to push the arrow key to set the next hole as I left each green. A really big plus? The Swami read off the distances instantly, no “settling down” period after you come to a stop like is necessary for my BlackBerry’s application. I also notice on the BlackBerry there’s some back-and-forth drift, a yard or two, even after it’s settled down. No such issue with the Swami: the distance reading stayed rock steady.

For golf cart use I just ended up putting the Swami in one of the drink holders. You can buy an assortment of accessories from Izzo, including some nice hardware for sticking it to a golf cart, but my solution worked just fine and most of the time I could just park the cart near the ball and read the nice, large display from where it was sitting.

Another argument in favor of using a dedicated unit like the Swami? Water resistance. Smartphones are notoriously unhappy about getting wet, and as often as it rains around here that’s a huge consideration. The Swami appears to be nicely watertight–I wouldn’t want to drop one into a water hazard, but I expect it’d resist moderate rainfall with no problems. The buttons are all rubberized and sealed. I’d still put it in a pocket until the rain let up, but some smartphones get upset even in a bathroom with shower steam!

From the literature about the Swami it seems some people might be concerned about battery life. I’m here to say I’ve taken it through both 9 and 18 hole rounds and the battery display hardly moved at all. I make a point of plugging it into a USB port on my computer when I get home after a round and leaving it there overnight: done.

My conclusion? I love my Swami. Even though my BlackBerry app has more features (like hazards and ball distance marking) I feel the Swami is easier to use, steadier, and overall does everything I want a golf GPS to do without hassle–not to mention the outstanding response times for mapping new courses. If the GreenfinderGPS guys ever see this, they can take note that if I can’t use their product on a number of the courses I play, what use is it in general? When subscription renewal time comes around I know which one is going to get me to open my wallet again. If you’re thinking about getting a dedicated golf GPS and don’t want to drop the big bucks for something like a Sky Caddy, I think you’d really like Izzo’s offering.

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