The best swim watch 2019: what you should be wearing in the pool
Running and cycle tracking tech has grown incredibly over the past five years with GPS watches, form-fixing sensors and power meters expanding the universe of performance insights for us try-hard weekend warriors.
Even amateur soccer is now catered for with GPS monitors now available for casual players. For swimmers, though, it’s been a different story. It’s taken a while for people who like a bit of pool time to feel as much love as their land-loving fellow fitness types.
Brands like Fitbit, Apple and Samsung are racing to upgrade sports watches and fitness trackers with new waterproof designs and swim tracking tech built in.
While there still aren’t many dedicated swim trackers, the best all-round fitness trackers now offer automatic stroke detection, accurate lap and distance tracking in the pool and open water, and some even offer fairly accurate heart rate monitoring in the water.
But prices range from well under $100 / £100 to over $500 / £500, so we’ve tested the leading products on the market to find the best swimming watch for every budget.
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.
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.
Like many of the other devices on this list, the Moov Now does much more than just keep tabs on your pool workouts. As such, we’d describe this as a capable all-round fitness tracker with skills that carry into the water – justifying it as our top fitness tracker of 2017.
The small, super lightweight tracker fits into a comfortable soft, silicone strap that you wear on your wrist and uses on-board sensors to tracks laps, distance, time, speed, swimming style and stroke count.
We really loved that Moov broke our 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.
A bit annoying and made worse by the lack of screen on the Now itself, which means you can’t see what’s going on while you’re swimming.
We were often left wondering if it was actually tracking at all. It also struggled a little with accuracy, dropping laps and miscounting strokes per length.
But then look at the price tag, for £50 / $60 / AU$79 and with a battery life that lets you log more than 200 workouts, you get a lot of bang for your buck and if you’re an occasional swimmer as part of a wider fitness regime then this is hard to beat.
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.
While some of the other devices on this list cater for general fitness, the Garmin Forerunner 935 is as serious as multi-sport devices come.
A bit like combining the features of a Fenix 5 with the looks of a Forerunner 635, 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.
You get your SWOLF score by adding together your strokes per length, and the time it took to complete the length. e.g. 25m length at 30 seconds in 20 strokes is a SWOLF score of 50.
The lower your SWOLF the more efficient you are. Why is this important? Well for a start it lets you compare your performance for swims in different size pools more easily.
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. However, we did find it missed tracking the odd length here and there.
Once your sessions are done, the new 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.
You can also sync data wirelessly via your smartphone to Garmin Connect and then into the Speedo On web platform for added Strava-like competition, community, training tips and advice.
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.
The fact that the app shows your swim in terms of your overall daily fitness goals is also a nice touch.
If, however, you’re a competitive swimmer or take your pool time seriously then you’ll find Fitbit’s first smartwatch somewhat on the basic side. The same can be said of the newer Fitbit Versa as well.
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 watch is easy to wear in the water and the sheer number of spacing holes on the strap mean it stays put even on smaller wrists.
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 (which we probably did when trying to work out why the 100m cue we’d set didn’t go off after four lengths).
For these reasons, 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.