The first thing that strikes you about the Voice Caddie VC300 is that there is no screen… none. There have been several talking GPS rangefinders in the past, but the Voice Caddie line is the only one that comes to mind that doesn't sport at least a small LCD screen to back up the voice output.
I was not sure what to think of that. Frankly, the idea of a talking GPS has always struck me as a little gimmicky. Having a glance at a screen just seems easier than pressing a button and listening to a virtual caddie give me the yardage.
Would my predisposition against talking GPS units sour me on the VC300? Just a few trips to the course would tell.
From the box that the VC300 arrives in, to the white plastic shell that covers the electronics, this GPS unit does a great imitation of being an Apple product. And yes, I mean that as a compliment.
The Voice Caddie VC300 is a sleek, good looking piece of technology, which is good because there's no hiding it on your hat's brim.
The VC300 is shaped like an oversized, plump guitar pick. Again, I don't mean that as a bad thing. It has a soft, friendly shape that looks fantastic when you open the box. For this review, I had the white unit, which is the more appealing color to me. If you wear a lot of dark colored hats, then the black might be the better option for you.
When you attach the VC300 to your cap, it can look a tad bulky. The necessary height of the unit means that it is not exactly going to blend into the visor of your cap. It's a noticeable lump to others in your foursome, but the wearer will not see it at all. As long as you mount it toward the rear of the brim, you won't see the VC300 when you play.
A reasonable solution is to only wear light colored hats with the white unit or dark colors with the black. It will still be noticeable to others, but not as much.
I typically play 18 Saturday morning and 18 Sunday morning during the summer months. To test the battery, on two occasions I tried to play on back-to-back days with the VC300 without charging it in between. Both times I got a low battery warning while playing the 15th hole of the second round, and one week the unit shut down in the 18th fairway and the other it died just as I was about to walk onto the 18th green.
Now, both weeks I had been using the shot distance feature quite a bit, and I was not vigilant in shutting down the unit after the initial round. So I suspect it's possible to get 36 holes out of the battery if you played straight through or turned it on right before and off immediately after the rounds, but those last few holes may be played in the shadow of impending shutdown.
Happily, the VC300 charges from USB and pretty quickly. In my experience it took about two hours to go from essentially dead to a full charge. An LED glows red while the unit is charging, and switches to green when the unit is fully charged.
In my experience, the VC300 gives accurate readings for the front, middle, and back of the green. I use a GPS during most rounds and for most shots. My logic is that to score my best I need to shoot at the middle of the green and a GPS gives me the fastest, easiest number to accomplish that.
The VC300 acquitted itself well in this regard. During one round, my partner's brand-name laser was giving somewhat squirrelly numbers. We compared to the VC300 and were able to ascertain fairly quickly that his laser needed a battery change. In comparison, the VC300 appears to give accurate yardages right up until it shuts itself off. I did not have a single occasion of an obviously out of whack yardage with the VC300 (except when it reset to the wrong hole).
When GPS was first used in golf, some course mappers were better than others and you would sometimes get questionable front and back yardages. These days, the technology is far better and the greens seem to be much more accurately mapped.
Compared with both my GPS watch and the readings from a friend's GPS watch, the VC300 was always within two yards of the reading. Since we did not take the time to stand in the exact same position, but generally stood a few feet apart, the discrepancy in readings may have actually been totally accurate.
The most enjoyable frill provided by the VC300 is the shot distance measurement. Hold the button down from the place where you hit your shot, then do the same when you get to your ball, and the unit will tell you how far you hit it. Naturally, this is great fun for drives. Your friends won't believe that they don't routinely hit it 300. Compared with yardages from my GAME GOLF unit, the VC300 shot distance feature seemed right on.
The lack of a display definitely complicates things when it comes to ease-of-use.
To turn on the unit, you'll have to slide it at least a little off the hat brim because the power button is on the underside of the unit. Once pressed, the VC300 greets you with a lovely female voice: "Let's go. Enjoy your round with Voice Caddie. The remaining battery is XXX%." This last bit is a useful touch.
The VC300 further notifies you when it's located the golf course, which is reassuring. When you reach the first tee, the VC300 announces, "Hole #1, Par X."
Approaching tees is about the only time that the VC300 could possibly interrupt someone's swing with an ill-timed message. And that's pretty unlikely. Since you wear it on your hat, the Voice Caddie's volume is generally low enough that someone has to be right next to you to even hear it.
The VC300 suspends announcements within 15 yards of greens, so, unlike my playing partners, it won't talk while you putt.
You can get the distance to the green at any time just by clicking the Voice Caddie logo once. It will tell you the hole you're playing and the distance to the center of the green. Easy peasy.
What's that? You want the front and back yardage, too? Well for the front, just swipe your finger forward (toward the front of your hat's bill) over the touch pad (top of the unit). For the back, swipe backward (toward your head).
Sounds easy enough, but in practice the touchpad is a bit hit and miss. It doesn't seem to respond well to sunscreen, light rain, or dirt. I had several occasions, where I was swiping repeatedly and getting no info from the unit.
Happily, double-clicking the VC logo will give you front and back yardages at any time, which solves the touchpad problem. In fact, after a few rounds I pretty much abandoned the touchpad and went with the double click full time. You get the same info (and a little extra) with much less frustration.
Another annoyance that occurs a little too often happens when you get a little too close to another hole (OK, so I hit my tee shot into the wrong fairway). The VC300 is a little too eager to switch holes for you and give you the yardage to a green you are NOT playing to. This is not a big problem if you can just remember how to switch to the right hole. It's not hard, but you need to remember to press and hold the "+" and "-" buttons simultaneously for two seconds, then use "+" or "-" to get to the right hole and press the touchpad (click) once to select it. I can report that in the middle of the round, before you've played many holes with the VC300, remembering all that may not be as easy as you'd think.
The VC300 can even handle a course with alternate greens if you happen upon one (I can think of one in my area). Again, it's a pretty easy sequence of buttons to select the left or right green, but unless your home course has such a setup you'll likely encounter it so infrequently that you'll struggle to recall the sequence when you need it. For the record, you hold the "+" button down for two seconds, then use "+" and "-" to select left or right following the voice cues. It would be nice if there was enough logic there to automatically cue you to select the left or right green when presented with that rare option.
Oddly enough, holding the "-" button for two seconds lets you change between yards and meters (not exactly intuitive).
For basic functionality, the VC300 can be used right out of the box (mine arrived fully charged). But with the lack of visual indicators and feedback on how to accomplish things, you may want to put the manual on your phone or carry a cheat sheet just in case.
Voice Caddie Manager
The Voice Caddie comes ready to use and preloaded with some 30,000 golf courses worldwide. All those I tried it on were in the database. If you need to add additional courses, you can do so with the VC Manager application, which is downloadable from the Voice Caddie website for use on Mac or PC.
Once installed the VC Manager app lets you update the device's firmware and select or add courses to the device. You can also request courses to be added and send an inquiry to Voice Caddie HQ. You can also change the language that the VC300 communicates with you.
The VC300 is the top-of-the-line voice unit from Voice Caddie, but it is priced competitively with a number of entry-level GPS units on the market. The VC300 lists at $129.99, though you can find it for a little less out there. (Oddly enough, I also found an online storefront that wants $149.99, though they also offer a pink model that is not available on the Voice Caddie site itself.)
At the price, the VC300 provides very good basic functionality with few frills. The touchpad is not as useful as it could be, but you can get to the same information without it. It's reasonably easy to overcome most of the minor hiccups I encountered. Simply remembering that if the unit switches to an incorrect hole, all you have to do is hold the "+" and "-" buttons simultaneously for two seconds to cue the correction routine.
Playing with the VC300 is a breeze. You quickly learn to tap the unit on your cap to get your yardage. The volume is generally only perceptible by you, unless your playing partner is standing shoulder to shoulder with you. (Yardage does not constitute advice so there's issue there.)
All in all, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed playing golf using the VC300. After a couple holes, you get used to a woman's voice announcing the hole number and par as you reach the tee box. Getting yardage with the VC300 as easy as using a golf watch or other simple GPS device, but instead of reading the output it is announced for you. This alone could be useful for players of a certain age who struggle to read the display on their GPS or laser unit.
I'd like to see a little better battery life and perhaps some help on the more rarely used features when they arise, but the VC300 is very good at giving basic yardages into the green. If you do not often need layup or carry distances, or if you normally have to carry reading glasses to see your GPS display, the VC300 is a great solution at a reasonable price.
The VC300 can also be a great buy if, like me, you already carry a laser for layups and exact distances to the flag, but want a quick easy way to find the center of the green for the majority of your approaches.