Where We Need To Begin…

(Written By: GolfSpy Dave) I need to start this review with something that Callaway would likely rather I not bring up again.  Some of you may remember from about a year ago that the last incarnation of the Callaway upro mx GPS unit had some technical issues.  We're not talking minor issues, like how I sometimes forget good nutrition and eat an apple fritter.  Mmmmmm.  Instead, the issues with the previous upro mx were a trifle more severe.  More like getting an apple stuck in your windpipe.  That stuck apple would probably prove fatal, just like the serious issues with the upro mx.  The problems with the unit were so serious that Callaway recalled them, issuing refund checks to those who returned the second-generation units.  You can see the original MGS forum post HERE.

So you see, when Callaway released the upro mx+ earlier this year, it was more than just a release of the latest generation of the unit.  Due to the face-plant of the previous unit, this upro not only had to be good, but it had to make people forget about what happened with the previous upro.  That’s a pretty tall order for any product, but especially for a product in a category (dedicated GPS) that already faces potentially fatal competition from the smart phone/app market.  Get your game face on upro mx+.  You’ve got a battle ahead.

AESTHETICS & DESIGN

Aesthetically, this is a slick looking unit.  The overall size is right around palm-sized.  You can see in the photos how the size compares to my “old school” iPhone 4S (pictured below).  The material on the back of the unit is a nice feeling plastic-rubber compound (plubber?).  The unit stays put in your palm as you access the three buttons and touch screen.  It is likely better suited to right hand operation as the two side buttons are located where the right thumb naturally rests.  The lower scroll button on the face is also within easy reach of the thumb.  Ergonomics are good.  The unit has an attractive look to it.  Overall, it has a feeling of quality, something that I appreciate in my expensive purchases.

The only real gripe I have about the design is the a-bit-too-small size of the touch screen buttons.  Obviously the screen size fits the unit size, that’s not the issue.  The screen size issue comes up more in the performance of the unit on the course.  Some of the small buttons on the touch screen are just a bit small to hit easily.  I would almost like to see another pair of hardware buttons on the left side of the unit that could be dedicated to some of the features associated with the touch screen buttons.

AESTHETICS & STYLE SCORE = 18/20

PERFORMANCE

So what do you need your GPS to do for you on the course?  These are the first things that came to my mind:

  • Give accurate yardages to multiple important targets (front, middle, back, traps, doglegs, & etc.)
  • Be fast
  • Have a strong enough battery
  • Have data for all of the courses I play.
  • Keep my score and play statistics
  • Be easy to use.
  • Have something extra to separate it from my iPhone or laser rangefinder

1.  Give accurate yardages

This has to be the first order of business.  The whole point of using a rangefinder of any kind is to know the correct yardage to your target. Without this, your unit is worthless.  You might as well just listen to your technophobic playing partner who bases all of his yardages on sprinklers and squirrel spoor.  I want a number I can trust so that I know what club to hit.  My game is inaccurate enough without faulty numbers. <end rant, sorry>

After all of that, I am happy to say that the numbers provided by the upro mx+ are excellent.  As always, I check the GPS yardages provided with direct laser measurement.  Distances were never far off, and the variation between laser and upro mx+ would have always still resulted with me selecting the same club.  In addition to being accurate, the upro mx+ provides distances to front/middle/back of green, bunkers, doglegs, and other course features.  Some of these you can shoot with a laser, others not so much.

2.  Be Fast

On the course, the unit is very fast.  It wakes from sleep mode quickly, needing only the touch of a single button.  A quick press of the mode button on the side will swap the display between the BasicMode, GoMode, and ProMode.  BasicMode and GoMode are the options come standard with the unit.  (If you want to upgrade to ProMode it will cost you a premium of $29.99 for 25 ProMode downloads, or $49.99 for unlimited ProMode downloads.) In general, operations on the course move along at an acceptable pace.  The unit quickly switches to the next hole as you move from green to tee.  Out on the hole, the ranges update quickly when you walk up to your ball.  You can get yardage and select your club long before you are put on the clock for slow play.  Navigation to the various features, like the video fly-over feature requires a bit of directional sense, but is not too confusing once you have done it a few times.

The only speed knock on the unit is that it takes a good bit of time to get set with the satellites when you first turn it on.  If you press the “Play Golf” button on the touch screen, you will have to navigate manually to the course you are playing, starting with the country you are in.  The unit is basically blind and lost at this point.  Once connected to the satellites though, the upro mx+ knows where you are and has already likely figured out where you are playing.  I found that I powered it up right when I drove into the course parking lot that it was more than ready to rock by the time I reached the first tee.

3.  Have a strong enough battery

No sweat here. There is plenty of juice in this unit when fully charged.  Though I have not played 36 consecutive holes with the upro mx+, I do not doubt Callaway’s claim that it would make it.  Lots of battery life after 18 holes.  Charging is easy via an included USB cable.  You can either charge from a computer, or using the enclosed USB to wall outlet adapter.  The receptor for the charging cord on the unit is a bit irritating to access though.  First it is covered by a sort-of rotating rubber “door” that I kept thinking I was going to tear off whenever I opened it.  The receptor is a bit off to the edge of the now open compartment, sitting a bit deep inside.  It wasn’t impossibly difficult to get the plug in, just more so than your average cell phone charger and thus worth mentioning.

4.  Have data for all of the courses I play.

Right off the bat you get access to 25,000 courses worldwide.  As I mentioned previously, if you want the ProMode features, it will cost you a bit of coin.  The upro mx+ has data for every course that I have ever played.  There may be some out there that are not included in the course library, but I can’t imagine there are very many.  Also, because the foundation of the unit is satellite imagery, I bet there is a way to get a course added should it be missing.

5.  Keep my score and my play statistics.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was not initially able to figure out how to keep my score on the upro mx+.  When I first received the unit, I read somewhere that you entered the scorecard mode by turning the unit 90° to its side.  I figured out how to set up my account, and get a round going, but entering hole-by-hole scores seemed frustrating and impossible.  I mentioned this issue in an email to my contact at Callaway, and the next morning, a tech support rep from Callaway gave me a call to help out.

Short story was “you’re doing it wrong”.  Once the support rep walked me through the actual process, and not the one that I had somehow come up with, scorekeeping was easy.  You just press a symbol on the touch screen to get to a screen where you push (+) or (-) buttons to enter strokes and putts, clicking boxes below to record fairways hit and GIR’s.  Once you plug the unit into a computer, the unit will upload the data to the uxplore online database for you to peruse and identify your scoring trends.

I think that Callaway’s uxplore website definitely adds to the usefulness and value of the unit.  One of the main advantages to keeping track of your score digitally is that you can also seamlessly track your play statistics from round to round.  Once you sync your upro mx+ with the uxplore site, you can track your scores from round to round, your putts per round, greens hit, and fairways hit.  All of this information can definitely help you to improve your game, but I think that the data set collected by the upro mx+ is a bit incomplete.  I have been tracking my play for a few years now using an app on my phone.  In addition to the data that the upro mx+ collects, I have been able to record club selections, miss direction off of the tee, sand shots, and penalty shots.  I feel that the app that I have been using has given me a more complete view of my play than that provided by the upro mx+.  I would assume that Callaway could upgrade the software in the upro mx+ to collect more data in the future versions.

Callaway’s uxplore site does have some interesting features that I have not encountered before.  You can see what the upro mx+ “community” scores are for the courses that you play.  It was interesting to see how my play compared to others.  One of the best features on the uxplore site is the “Start Exploring” feature.  You can sit at your computer and figure out how to play the different holes on your course using the virtual rangefinder.  I know that a lot of amateur golfers (myself included) waste shots through mismanaged holes.  With this feature, you can work out a better play strategy before you ever hit the course.  You can also use this feature to check out the holes on courses that you wish you could play.  There is a very expensive country club right by my house that I have never played.  With the uxplore site, I was able to have a bit of a virtual round there, including the flyover videos of the holes.  Should I ever get the invite, I’m ready!

6.  Be easy to use

Overall, the upro mx+ is quite easy to use.  I was able to get the software up and running on the computer without issue.  Syncing requires you to hook up the upro mx+ to a USB connection and press one button.  Course searching and downloading is also very straightforward, though downloading the ProMode courses will take a minute or two.  On the course, operation is also very easy.  As mentioned before, you should wait for the unit to find the satellites before hitting the “Play Golf” button.  That way your course is shown without having to go hunting for it.  Rangefinding is easy, especially if you are using the basic features of the unit.  In BasicMode, you can see front/middle/back and with a flick of the touch screen, you can see hazard and other distances.  Finding some of the other features takes a bit more navigation, but not so much that you should slow down pace of play.  Especially after you have had a few rounds practicing with the unit.

My only knock on ease of use comes from the ProMode visuals.  I thought that the screen was much easier to see and use in the BasicMode and GoMode settings.  The ProMode was just not bright enough for me to see without tipping and tilting for the correct angle.  This was also true for the hole flyover feature.  I think that this feature is very cool, and helpful if you are playing a course for the first time.  Outside of that though, I can’t see wanting to check the flyover all that often except because it is cool.  Like ProMode, the flyover was a bit tough to see under all light conditions.  The screen is designed to be the brightest in direct sunlight, meaning that you may have to turn around a bit to get the best image.  In BasicMode and GoMode, this turning for the best light is not necessary.  Most of the time, I just left it in GoMode and it gave me everything that I needed on the course.

7.  Have something extra to separate it from my iPhone or laser rangefinder

The upro mx+ has a very useful AnyPoint feature that you can access in ProMode.  With AnyPoint, you can get the yardage at any point on the hole.  You just press the reticule symbol on the bottom of the touch screen and then touch the screen.  Coupled with this is the ability to plan how to play a hole, a huge boon to the average golfer.  With AnyPoint running, you can select lay-up targets based upon how far this shot will be and how long will the next shot be.  Course management can help one shoot better scores as much as knowing distances.  I remember being the golfer who always hit 3W as the second shot on par 5’s.  Most of the time, the 280 yards left after the tee shot would have been better played going 6i/AW instead of 3W/delicate 50-yard pitch.  The upro mx+ makes seeing the possible shot combinations easy and should help one to see that there are lots of ways to cover the yardages.

So what else separates the upro mx+ from the other rangefinders in the market? I think that the dedicated GPS market is a tenuous one.  The laser vs. GPS argument has gone on for a while.  Any GPS will likely give you yardages that you can’t really measure with the laser.  Every hole has things to measure that may be out of your line of sight or too flat to bounce back the laser (bunkers for example).  The laser, of course, gives you a direct measurement to target.  Your play needs will push you in either the laser or GPS direction.  I don’t think that the laser is really a threat to the dedicated GPS rangefinder.  That threat comes from the smart phone.  Does a golfer need a piece of GPS hardware when his or her phone does the same thing?  Does the upro mx+ give you something that a GPS phone app does not?

Well, the obvious advantage comes if you don’t own a smart phone or you don’t want to take the phone out on the course with you.  Hole flyovers are cool, and the scorekeeping/statistics are beneficial, but many apps have similar capabilities.  Maybe I am missing something, but I see the features of the upro mx+ paralleling the best golf GPS apps that are out there, but not surpassing them.  The phone app is a legitimate threat to the whole GPS industry.

PERFORMANCE SCORE: 50/60

VALUE

I think that it is only really fair to look at the value of the upro mx+ vs. the other GPS units in the marketplace.  The upro mx+ costs $198.00 on the Callaway site with the ProMode upgrade coming in at up to an additional $49.99.  Even at the $249 price point, the upro mx+ comes in well below the price of the majority of other GPS units on the market.  Go do a quick search at Golfsmith to see what I mean.  If Callaway would include the ProMode courses in the $198 package, they would have the GPS with the most punch for price.

Most of the units priced around $200 don’t come close to the features of the upro mx+.  If you want to argue value vs. the “free” GPS app that you have on your phone, you are welcome to do so.  However, I would suggest that you remember that your smart phone was likely not free and that you are paying a monthly charge for the phone and data.  Since you are already paying these costs, the app cost is cheaper.  If you are comparing the total purchase price of the phone to the GPS unit though, I think it is fair to say that this is not a $200 vs. free argument.  Yes, I know, your phone does other stuff too.  Ignoring the apps, the upro mx+ is very competitively priced in the GPS market, even if that market as a whole is seriously threatened by the smart phone app.

VALUE SCORE: 20/20

IN CONCLUSION

Callaway has definitely rebounded from their issues with the previous upro mx.  The upro mx+ is a solid GPS unit with a good batch of features that could possibly be “great” with a bit of software expansion.  If you are in the market for a dedicated GPS unit, the upro mx+ is definitely one that you should check out.  Its price is very competitive and the unit also comes with Callaway’s fantastic customer support.  To a potential buyer, I would say that you should forget what happened with the old unit, the upro mx+ has definitely shaken off the stigma of its predecessor and would be a fine addition to your bag.

TOTAL SCORE: 88/100