iGolf Neo Review by Professional and Recognised Golfer
Review by George Promenschenkel from the SandTrap
Can a small, low-cost GPS help your game?
Are you still pacing off yardages? How many times do you find a marker that seems inaccurate? Wouldn't you rather have a rangefinder? I know, they're expensive, but now there's one that costs less than a new fairway wood.
The iGolf Neo represents the new entry point for GPS rangefinders. At $285 (plus a $30 annual subscription), the iGolf Neo will make owning a GPS rangefinder a more likely proposition for many golfers.
I know what you're thinking, a GPS rangefinder for $150? It must be seriously limited in features. Well, as a matter of fact, this review is a bit overdue, because I've been enjoying playing golf with the iGolf Neo instead of writing about it.The debate over whether GPS or laser is the better technology wages on in forums in elsewhere (you can find my thoughts in a Trap Five article). Overall, each technology has its pros and cons and like everything else, you should go with the one that works best for you.
One drawback of both technologies (that is improving in each camp) is the size of the unit itself. The iGolf Neo is the smallest golf-specific device that I've seen to date. There are devices for running and hiking that are smaller, but those units generally don't require the same level of intelligence that a golf unit does (to follow hole-to-hole routing, for instance).
Honestly, I didn't expect that much from the Neo. At this price and size, just how well could the thing work? Surprisingly well, it turns out.
Design and Construction
The 2.5 ounce Neo is a compact but functional rangefinder. At 1.75" x 3.25" x .75", the Neo is about the size of a closed flip-style cell phone. I had no problem reading the 80 x 120 high-contrast LCD screen even in bright sunlight. For those twilight rounds, the Neo also has a backlight that you turn on and off by tapping the Power button.
All of the buttons are found close together along the Neo's lower edge and are, therefore, necessarily a tad on the small size. Still, I found them easy to use, though I wonder if moving the Power and ESC/Menu buttons to the sides or top of the device to spread functions out a little might make the Neo even more user friendly. For the most part, you'll use the Screen and Up/Down buttons the most and they are located adjacent to each other making it easy to switch between holes and get the information you need quickly.
The Neo and the entire iGolf line is manufactured by L1 Technologies, which has a substantial presence in manufacturing GPS units for other applications. iGolf is its golf-only brand.
Though the Neo is small in size, it is reasonably tough. I managed to drop mine onto the cart path from a moving cart a few times, and, aside from a few scratches, the Neo continued to work well.
Getting the Neo Ready to Play
You can use the Neo right out of the box (after charging the battery) if you want to map your own course. Chances are you'll want to download courses for the device, however, and happily there's not much to setting up the Neo. I didn't even read the directions, and everything worked out fine. You just load the iGolf Neo Sync software onto your Windows computer from the included CD, and you're ready to start downloading courses from the iGolf website.
Your computer will be the storage device for most of your courses. The Neo only holds 10 courses at a time. It also serves as the archive for any Custom Points you add to existing courses and for any courses you map yourself. If you use these functions (and you'll probably want to add at least a few Custom Points to your home course), you'll want to be sure to use the Save Course function in the iGolf Sync interface, which uploads courses from the device to the computer. Once you customize a course, you probably won't need to add additional customization, so most of the time you'll use the interface only to download new courses.
Because the course information is saved on your computer, if you plan to use the Neo on the same bunch of courses you always play, it's possible to pay the $30 per year subscription the first year, download the courses you want, and drop your subscription the following year. If, like me, you play several new courses each year, then the subscription price starts to sound fairly reasonable. Especially when you consider that many resort courses are charging $5-10 for GPS rentals these days.
Most of the courses that I play were easy to find on the website. From lower-range publics to all but the most exclusive privates, I was able to download GPS information for nearly any course in my area as well as courses when I vacationed in North Carolina. There are omissions (a C-list 9-holer near me and a new semi-private were missing), but for the most part you should be able to find the courses you play. You can establish whether your course's GPS information is available even before purchase by doing a simple search on the iGolf site. You don't have to log in until you want to actually download the information.
Once you've downloaded the course information you want to add to the Neo, you hook up the included USB cord between the Neo and your computer and hit the "Sync Courses" button on the main screen of the Sync program. You're then prompted as to which courses you want to download. From there, it's just a click to load the info onto the Neo. I experienced no problems at all with the process.
Playing Golf with the Neo
The basic functionality of the Neo is simple to use. The toughest thing to remember is that you have to advance the device manually from hole to hole using the Up and Down buttons, which is not all that tough. The screen clearly shows the hole the device thinks you're on in the upper right corner, so you can always make sure you're getting yardage to the right green.
To begin a round, just turn the Neo on by holding down the power button until the welcome screen appears. Then you just select "Play Golf" from the Main Menu, which brings up a menu of the courses you have downloaded to the device. Select the one you want to play, and you're ready to go… almost. You will want to turn the Neo on several minutes before your tee time, because it will generally take a few minutes to locate three satellites and start calculating distances. Until then, the hole information will remain blank. Make sure that the Neo has an unobstructed view of the sky, and the Neo will be displaying yardage in no time.
iGolf has crammed a good bit of functionality into the Neo. It provides Front/Back/Center readings to every green, as well as four additional yardage points. In general, downloaded courses will have two of these additional points used to mark distance to bunkers or water hazards. You can use the other two points to mark custom distances to make the Neo even more useful on your most often played courses.
Each screen in Play Mode gives you distance to the Center mark, so even if you are checking distances to bunkers (or measuring the distance of your drive) you can get the distance to the center of the green. If your course provides pin sheets that give you yardages from the center to the flag, you can get a very accurate yardage to go pin hunting. Otherwise you can make a reasonable estimate of the distance by going for the midpoint between Front and Center (or Center and Back, as the case may be) or by eyeballing how far up or back the pin is and taking your best guess.
All yardages are provided numerically. There are no diagrams of the hole. At the Neo's price, I think that's perfectly understandable and generally not necessary. However, there are two scenarios in which this does create slight issues (these are common to most GPS systems, not just the Neo).
First of all, the preset points (aside from the Front/Center/Back green yardage) are not necessarily those you (or most rational humans) would choose to map. Occasionally on a hole with a forced carry or a fairway bunker in play, the download will give you distance to the right and left greenside bunkers. Since there's no diagram of the hole, there's no feature to place a cursor on the hole to determine the distance to that point. Happily you can work around this by customizing the course.
The second issue is closely related. If you approach a green from a different direction than the "normal" course of play (or if the person who originally mapped the course lost their mind on a hole), the Front/Center/Back readings will be out of whack. On a course I play fairly often, there's a short par 5 where most golfers will have a shot at the green on their second shot. The downloaded course, however, maps the Front/Center/Back distances from the lay-up area, 90° from general direction of play. Therefore, the Front/Center/Back distances are exactly the same from the center of the fairway. It's goofy, but you still get a good idea of where the center of the green is. And, again, you can always add custom points to get around this limitation.
You'll run into the lack of lay-up/carry information more than you will find the green distances askew, but the Neo provides workarounds for both situations. Overall, the Neo gives you useful information for getting around the golf course. I played two tournament rounds with one (yes, it was legal) and a bunch of casual rounds. I found the device helpful and easy to use on the course.
Carrying the Neo
The Neo will fit in your pocket easily or even in a cell phone holster. At 2.5 oz., it's not going to weigh you down or be too uncomfortable to carry. Good thing, because the included belt clip lasted a mere round and a half, and then broke. I've heard others complain about the belt clip, as well. Basically I just wouldn't count on the plastic belt clip that comes with the Neo. If you don't want to carry it in a pocket (preferably one without divot tools and tees to avoid scratching the screen), your golf bag, or the cart, you can always order the $24.99 belt case available on the iGolf site.
For the record, you can pick up other optional equipment on the iGolf website, including: a car charger ($24.99), a storage case ($24.99), a replacement wall charger ($9.99), and a replacement belt clip ($9.99).
Over about 15 rounds this summer, that was the biggest annoyance I had with the Neo, and it wasn't exactly a big deal to me. While, I wouldn't recommend purchasing a replacement belt clip, I would recommend considering the Neo if you're looking at rangefinders and getting a bad case of sticker shock from the $300+ models. At this price and size, it's easy enough just to carry it in your pocket.
On top of the basic yardage measurements and the ability to customize maps or create your own, the Neo has a few other tricks to show off.
Want to know for sure how far you hit the ball off the tee? Just hit the OK/Shot button once to turn on the Shot Distance feature and then again to mark the point from which you want to measure. Then you simply walk or drive to your ball. The Neo keeps updating from the point you hit the OK/Shot button the second time until you press it a third time. That means you can go by your buddies' balls on the way to yours and tell them how far they hit it, and, by subtraction, how much farther past them you blasted it. The Neo continues to show yardage to the Center, so you don't have to quit the Shot Distance operation to give a friend the yardage to the green.
You can use the Map Golf Hole feature to add Custom Points or even modify existing points from a download. While on the hole you want to customize, simply press the ESC/Menu button to return to the Play menu and select Map Golf Hole. You then use the Up/Down buttons to find the yardage point you want to modify. When you select it, using OK, the device prompts you to move to the position on the course you want to mark. When there, you hit OK, again, and you've added your custom point. You can then add another, or use ESC/Menu to again return to the Play menu and select Return to Game to get back to the yardage screens.
You can map an entire course using the similar functionality of the Map Course feature. You can either modify an existing course or create an entirely new mapping with this feature. I did not map an entire course, as it didn't strike me as good use of time. If the iGolf site lists the course you need - even if it's one - I'd consider the $30 annual subscription a bargain compared to the time it would take to properly map a course. If you play a course that's not listed or you still prefer to go without downloads, this feature will allow you to map your local course(s). This process would take a few hours on the course, and you probably wouldn't be able to do it while playing without slowing down play substantially. I'd recommend mapping a course either early in the day or late in the evening or during the week when the course is relatively empty.
I like this little rangefinder a lot!
In a market that is still dominated by $300-400 GPS and laser units, the iGolf Neo is a welcome change. At half the price of most units, the Neo is a great option for anyone who has wanted to get a rangefinder but has previously balked at the price. It provides a good bit of functionality in a compact package, and would make a good primary rangefinder for most players.
The iGolf Neo is the smallest and least expensive golf-specific GPS device that I've encountered. It works great. Even if you already have a laser, you still might consider adding a Neo if you play courses with a lot of blind shots. Just pull it out of your pocket (once the belt clip breaks), and it gives you instant yardages. Any GPS has some drawbacks, just like any laser, but the convenience of getting quick, reasonably accurate distances makes it a good addition to anyone's bag.