Something most golfers will agree on is that one of the most challenging parts of the game is when you don’t how far your ball is away from the hole – or where you have no visibility of it. Although there are often markers in place as a guide, it really is of benefit to have the help of a rangefinder to eliminate guesswork.
The SkyCaddie SX400 is a golf GPS rangefinder designed to give you just that precision. In this review, I’ve put the SX400 through its paces by fully testing it over a number of rounds at multiple golf courses.
First impressions of the SkyCaddie SX400
If you’ve never used a rangefinder before, it can take a little bit of getting used to. However, once into the swing of things and using it on every hole, I found that I became familiar with the SX400 pretty quickly.
It’s a bit lighter than the original SX500 model which is a good thing when you’re lugging something around the course all day. Compared with other GPS golf devices, it also has a very good battery life which saves hassle.
Although they recommend that you charge it between every game you play, I managed to get a full day’s use of it and still had 70% battery left, so you really shouldn’t worry if you leave it in the bag and forget to re-charge every time.
The screen layout is very simple to read and you really are spoilt for choice in terms of the many views of the hole that you can get using the SX400. The map itself automatically rotates so that whichever angle you come in from, and everything on the visual side is clear and crisp.
What’s in the box
- The SkyCaddie SX400 handheld unit
- SX400 Quick Start Guide
- Warranty and License agreement
Getting started: Charging the SX400
In order to charge the SX400 unit, you need to use the specific C-type USB cable that is included in the box, and they recommend that you charge the unite after every round that you play. That needs to become a habit.
When the SX400 is switched off and connected to the wall charger, the screen shows how much battery life is left. You can press the power button to check that it is charging if the screen goes blank. If the unit is switched on and charging, you see a lightning bolt battery charging symbol at the top right of the screen.
Operating the SX400
On the right-hand side of the unit, there is the main power button that needs to be pressed and held until you see the screen turn on. The same button is used to lock and unlock the device.
Once it’s fired up, to access the main menu, look for the symbol with three horizontal lines (there is one at the bottom of the screen and one at the top-left, too). At the bottom-left, there is a pencil and paper icon which is the digital scorecard. To go back to a previous screen, press the < button.
Pressing the Menu icon brings up options including settings and help.
Whenever I have used it, the screen has been really bright all of the time, so the device works well whether you’re in direct sunlight (for example, when looking at it while in the middle of a fairway) or if you’re somewhere in the shade.
The other nice thing that I’ve come to notice is that it has all of the touch gestures you have come to expect from your phone. For example, you can double-tap to move in, and pinch in and pinch out in order to get several different views of the hole.
The device goes into a kind of sleep mode when you need it to. The screen dims automatically when you’re not using it so that it doesn’t just drain the battery.
Features of the SkyCaddie SX400
According to SkyCaddie, they use “patented Intelligreen technology” which is what allows you to see the exact shape of the green with updated distances from your true angle of approach. Apart from that, the main features to note are:
- Dynamic Holevue: In plain English, this term means that you can rotate the fairway on the screen in order to see it from your actual position. Useful for seeing what lies in your path
- Ground Verification of Course Maps: SkyGolf, the company behind the SX400, has gone to the lengths of professionally surveying every hole of each golf course in order to ensure accuracy. It’s claimed to be accurate to within 1 yard
- Water Resistance: You’d rather hope that this wasn’t needed to be mentioned as a feature, but at least you know that it’s OK to use in the rain!
- Digital Scorecard: A feature that I have had a go with and think that I could get used to. Being able to record your scores on a digital device rather than with a fiddly pencil and paper has some benefits
Using the SX400 on the golf course
The SX400 came into its own on a recent round on a (quite hilly) local course. I had hit a nice tee shot on the eighth and the ball very kindly landed right in the middle of the fairway.
After walking to it and looking up from the ball’s position towards the direction of the green, I had absolutely no visibility of the green or even the flag thanks to a large mound obscuring the view. All that was available was a marker in the middle of the fairway and my own guesswork.
In this situation, those of you who have used one before will know that a laser rangefinder isn’t going to help you one bit because there is nothing to aim for. It was the perfect situation to consult the SX400 and put it to the test. The information that was instantly available to help me was:
- Yardage to the front of the green
- Yardage to the back of the green
- Yardage to the pin
- A visual of the pin position
- Yardage from the pin to the left, right, back and front of the green
That was probably more than enough to make a plan for the attack of the hole. However, there is an additional feature that can be used to go that one step further when there is a bit of wind around. I didn’t need it on this occasion because it was a relatively still day with no breeze to mention.
For example, consider if you need to allow for some wind that is coming from the right to left. The SX400 has a touch screen that allows you to ‘virtually’ place where you would like the ball to be aimed. By moving the crosshairs on the SX400 touch screen to the right with your finger or thumb (to allow for the breeze), you will see an altered shot yardage based on that direction.
Here’s a video of a very similar situation to the one that I’ve just explained above showing the SkyCaddie being used on West Lothian Golf Club in Scotland:
Where the SX400 really comes into its own is when you want to play some new courses to get a bit of variety after playing at the same club course that you belong to for however many years. You know how it goes; it’s great to know the course but having played it a lot but sometimes you just desire to see other places.
Inevitably, when you take to each unfamiliar course, a laser rangefinder (if you happen to have one) isn’t always the best way to measure the distances, especially when you sometimes find yourself in an awkward spot or on a hole that you’ve never seen before and where the layout is a little bit deceptive.
You might be not exactly sure what you should be doing with your ball in every situation and a laser isn’t going tell you a whole lot when I need to know how the hole works with regard to ridges and where there are hazards, bunkers etc and where you should put it on the green.
Because of the fact that there’s just a lot that you don’t know when playing on a new course, I think that every serious golfer would really benefit from having a GPS unit like a SkyCaddie.
SX400 vs SX500 Skycaddie comparison
Many of you will be familiar with the existing SkyCaddie SX500 which came out before the SX400. So, what are the differences?
In short, the SX400 has a 4-inch screen vs a 5-inch screen on the SX500, so it’s more compact in nature. This slightly slimmed-down version has an appearance more like that of a smartphone. Apart from that, there is no difference at all in terms of functionality whatsoever.
The other main difference is the price. Although it is newer and does all of the same things as the SX500, the SX400 is also cheaper. So, by choosing it you get a slightly less bulky device to carry around the golf course and more money in your pocket.
Connectivity and Updating
Having consulted with long-time owners of Sky Caddie units, perhaps one of the things that you could have knocked them for in the past has been that you’ve had to update the unit over USB or some other corded means and that could be annoying for some people.
A friend of mine who is a long-standing SkyCaddie user (SX500 older model) stands by it and has used it for probably the best part of a decade without any kind of complaint about it. However, when he upgraded to a Chromebook from his old PC he couldn’t update it any more. The only solution was that he had to go to his old computer and keep it running specifically for the purpose of updating his SkyCaddie!
The good news is that with the SX 400, it can update over Wi-Fi so you no longer have to connect your SkyCaddy unit to another device to update it. It just does it on the unit itself which is exactly what a modern device should do. The process has therefore now been made nice and simple.
It does recharge with a USB plug so it’s just like how you charge your phone – by connecting it to a socket in the wall just like you would your mobile phone.
Where can I buy a SkyCaddie SX400?
You can order these units online from Amazon – (Direct link to the product here) or at local golf courses. I was already signed up to Prime with the free delivery, so it made sense to get one via there rather than make a special trip to get it from a golf shop.
By arming me with all of the distance and obstacle related information that I could need and in any situation, this little device has helped me to improve the scores in my golf game. It’s smaller and lighter than its predecessor and this lack of bulk makes it that bit easier to fit in a standard pocket or carry around in a golf bag.
If you are thinking about choosing the SX500 over the SX400, then the only possible compelling reason would be that you prefer something with a bigger screen. The SX400 is, therefore, my preferred option.
Is the SX400 worth it?
It’s a fairly hefty investment considering what it provides you with, but in my case (as someone who plays at least one game per week) something that can save two to three strokes per round is worth that easily – which is about the benefit that I’m getting from it. That’s not based on actual data research, but I have noticed that my scores have been consistently lower since using it.
Even though this is not a cheap unit, it should be one that lasts a long time. If my friend’s old SkyCaddie is any kind of indication, ten years or so on, it still does everything it’s supposed to do. The big difference is that this newer SX 400 is far superior.
There is also a membership component to Sky Caddie. It’s $60 for a year which gives you the most up-to-date stuff for every golf course in the world. If you are a travelling golfer or someone who moves around fairly frequently or just likes to check out far-flung places, it’s going to be important to have that up-to-date information there on the device. You may think that it’s not worth it if you only play the same course all the time.
For an occasional player, buying the SX400 it’s probably something that you’d ponder a little more. If one thing is for certain, information is power on the golf course.
SkyCaddie SX400 Review,