Monday, March 9, 2020

The best swim watch 2020: what you should be wearing in the pool

Fitness trackers and smartwatches may now be household items, but there are very few dedicated swimming trackers on the market. That said, swim tracking is alive and well in wearables in 2020 - you just need to know where to find it.

While there aren’t many trackers that only record swimming sessions, swim tracking is built into activity bands and smartwatches as one of their many features. In fact, that’s the case of all the products on this list.

Every one will record your swim data, but the different designs and prices are down to how much else a product can do and what material it’s made of. While the Moov Now is very cheap it doesn’t even have a screen - but once you add one the price creeps up.

Which swim tracker is best for you depends on your budget and needs. The Apple Watch 5 is our current top pick, but swim tracking is just one of the few things it does incredibly well - hence the price.

If you have an Android phone then anything but the Apple Watch will do for you. Prices in this list range from £50 / $60 / AU$79 all the way up to £450 / $500 / AU$700, so there’s a swim tracker that’s right for everyone.  

Best swim watch: Apple Watch 5

With each generation, the Apple Watch becomes a more serious fitness device. Along with its updated heart rate skills, the combination of Apple Watch 5 and watchOS 6 has improved swimming smarts. 

Built for both pool and open water swimming like the Apple Watch 4, the Watch 5 boasts auto stroke detection, automatic sets and detailed splits that you can filter for 25m, 50m and 100m all in the Workout app.

You can also use third party swim tracking apps if you feel like you're not getting enough from Apple's offering. We like the fact it has a handy little feature to eject water from the speaker, just turn the Digital Crown and it'll deliver a burst of sound.

The addition of an always-on display is also good to see. It’s a great swimming all-rounder, but we think there are better options for more serious swimmers who hit the pool daily. 

Read the full Apple Watch 5 review.

Samsung Galaxy Watch

The Samsung Galaxy Watch is a great all-round fitness tracker and swimming is one of the activities it can track thanks to the fact it's water sealed and has a 5 ATM rating.

You can customize the information within the swim tracking screen, including your target, what data you want to display as you swim, pool length (25m is the default) and guide frequency. 

Like a lot of similar smartwatches, it disables touch sensitivity so you need to use the buttons on the side to control it as your swim. And, like the Apple Watch 4, you can press the button to reactivate the touchscreen and a little sound plays to clear out the speaker. 

Once you're done swimming the data is fairly detailed, you can see your fastest length, duration, calories, pace, heart rate and more, all assuming you've set the right pool length. 

It may not be as advanced as some trackers built solely for swim tracking, but for casual swimmers it's a solid option.

Read the full Samsung Galaxy Watch review.

Best swim watch: Fitbit Versa 2

The Fitbit Versa 2 is full of fitness features and allows you to track them in a really intuitive and straightforward way. 

Thanks to 5ATM waterproofing, the Versa 2 can track your swimming and displays the lengths and meters swam alongside the time taken.

It accurately tracks your laps in a pool, recognizing in real-time when you’ve reached the other side and kicked off to start your next lap.

What really took us by surprise was that the Versa 2 was able to offer clear and concise on-screen information with its brightly-lit display under the water. 

Although the data it collected from our swims wasn't really detailed, it presented more than enough data for casual swimmers and you can dig deeper by opening up the Fitbit app. Just bear in mind there’s no GPS, so you can’t track your route if open-water swimming. 

Read the full Fitbit Versa 2 review

This triathlon watch combines dedicated pool smarts with overall training and performance features that make it the top choice for competitive amateur swim-bike-run athletes.

The watch comes with built-in activity profiles for pool and open water swimming, and you can also create your own workouts, or download sessions via Garmin Connect - plus check out your SWOLF score -  AKA your swim efficiency. 

In the water, the Forerunner 935 automatically detects stroke type as well as lengths, distance, pace and stroke count. There are also time and distance alerts, a handy countdown start, advanced rest timers and open-water swim metrics.

One thing we really loved, mainly because the other trackers failed to offer it, was the option to input drills manually. This means you can also log all the hard work you do that’s not based on stroke alone, for example kick and single-arm drills.

Once your sessions are done, the Training Status feature helps you spot if you’re undertraining or overdoing it by evaluating your recent exercise history and performance indicators, making this fantastic for monitoring training, performance and recovery.

There’s no heart rate from the wrist in the water but you can pair the Forerunner 935 with a HRM-Tri or HRM-Swim heart rate monitor for added insights. 

Read the hands on Garmin Forerunner 935 review

If you only use swimming as part of a general fitness regime, knocking out a few lengths each visit, then the Fitbit Ionic's simple, easy-to-use interface and length, distance and pace tracking should prove more than sufficient for your tracking needs.

Like many of the all-round fitness trackers there’s no way to input drills – so a length of kick won’t register, for example – and because there’s no automatic stroke detection, changing stroke in the middle of a length can lead to data registering incorrectly.

The swim tracking function is self-explanatory; pick 'exercise' from the apps, swipe to swim (yes, swiping worked surprisingly well in the water) and go.

There’s a settings button where you can easily input the length of the pool for tracking, and the fact that the screen stays off unless you’ve set a cue – showing you distance, laps and time every 100m for example – is beneficial, as a flashing screen entering your eye line when you’re doing your best Phelps impression can prove distracting.

You can also set the tracker to automatically recognize different exercises, including swimming, so if you do forget to press go you’re sorted. The tracking itself, however, is where the Ionic swam into trouble. Despite inputting the pool length as 25m, we got readings of 8 lengths as 100m and 22 lengths as 450m instead of 550m.

Fitbit say that some inaccuracies may come from shorter swims, stopping to rest in the middle of the pool and stopping for more than 60 seconds at the end of a length, so they recommend you should be able to swim between 6-12 lengths without stopping to track your swims – so it’s probably not suitable for those just starting out.

Read the full Fitbit Ionic review

Like many of the other devices on this list, the Moov Now does much more than just keep tabs on your pool workouts.

The small, super lightweight tracker fits into a comfortable soft, silicone strap that you wear on your wrist and uses on-board sensors to track laps, distance, time, speed, swimming style and stroke count.

We really loved that Moov breaks session data down to individual lengths where you can see how many strokes you pulled, how long it took, your turn times, any breaks or pauses you made, and what stroke you were swimming.

With attention to detail like this, the Moov Now comes close to being one of the most capable products on the list; however there are some significant drawbacks.

Firstly, you have to start your session from your phone. In most cases this means doing it in changing rooms where you can leave your smartphone safe and dry back in your locker. 

We were often left wondering if it was actually tracking at all, but this aside the results are pretty good for the price.

Read the full Moov Now review


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