Do You Need ‘Smart’ Swim Goggles?

Do You Need ‘Smart’ Swim Goggles?
Photo: Beth Skwarecki

There was a time, before smartwatches, when I briefly got really into swimming. I learned to read the pace clock at the pool at my local Y, and I would count strokes in my head to keep tabs on whether I was using good, efficient form. I brought my workouts to the pool on index cards inside ziploc baggies.

So I felt like I was rocketed into the future when FORM Swim sent me a pair of their tech-enabled goggles to try out. They retail for around $US200 ($270) and have been around for a few years, but thanks to a new update, they can now guide you through workouts, not just track what you are already doing.

What the FORM Smart Swim Goggles can do

The goggles’ main feature is that they have a screen built into the lens on one eye. This screen can tell you your time for each lap, how far you’ve swum, or other metrics like heart rate, if you have a compatible tracker.

The side with the screen has a big chunk of tech hanging off the side, but it’s lightweight and I didn’t even notice it when it was on. You can wear the goggles with the screen on the right or the left, as you choose. When I set up FORM’s app to connect to my Apple Watch, it recommended wearing the screen and the watch on the same side that I turn my head to breathe. I breathe on both sides, every third stroke, but I wear my watch on the left. So I chose to wear my goggles with the screen on the left as well.

I was first confused, and then impressed, by the goggles’ lap tracking. I was used to 25m pools, but hadn’t seen one in a while, so when I showed up to a new-to-me pool, I didn’t realise it was actually twice as big as I was used to. (The laps seemed really long, but I thought I must just be getting tired because I was so out of practice.) The goggles correctly credited me with 50 meters every time I swam a length of the pool.

Afterward, I noticed that it also tracked my strokes accurately. It knew how many strokes I took to get from one end of the pool to another, and it knew how long each length took. My jaw dropped when I realised it had figured out I did some of the laps breaststroke instead of freestyle, and it even detected the times I got tired and switched to backstroke in the middle of the lap. The goggles collect tons of data, including your speed for each lap, and it can even export everything to a spreadsheet for you or your coach to analyse later.

The screen in my eye was easy enough to glance at when I wanted to, and easy enough to ignore otherwise. I swam in outdoor pools on sunny days, so visibility wasn’t great. I checked the screen when I was resting at the end of the pool, often by putting my hand over the lens to improve the contrast. I couldn’t easily see it while I was swimming, but that may have just been because of the lighting.

The goggles fit well, another surprise for me since I usually have a hard time finding goggles that are small enough and often go with kids’ sized goggles instead. My husband, who has a normal sized face, tried them on and also thought they fit well. The goggles also come with a bunch of differently sized and shaped nose bridge pieces.

Using FORM’s guided workouts

OK, tracking is great, but what about these new workouts? (You need a $US20 ($27)/month subscription to use them, but the tracking features don’t require a subscription.)

You choose workouts through the app before you swim, and send them to your goggles. You can save up to five workouts that way, and choose which one you’d like to do when you’re in the pool.

You can search through the workouts by length, and there’s a little overview of each that describes their intensity, distance, and duration. Some involve kickboard lengths or technique drills, and you can watch a video in the app of any drills you’re not familiar with.

I chose a short “Splish Splash” workout, which consisted of 100 meters of any stroke I would like, followed by 4×50 meters of easy freestyle on 45 seconds rest. If I were a serious swimmer, this would be a warmup. I’m not, so it was a nice, if short, workout in itself.

The screen did its job nicely, telling me in abbreviated terms what to do (“50 FR” means 50 meters freestyle, as the app explains). It also encouraged me with chipper messages like “Last lap!” which, by that point, I really appreciated.

Screenshot: Beth Skwarecki,Screenshot: FORM Swim Screenshot: Beth Skwarecki,Screenshot: FORM Swim

How useful are they?

I asked around and scoured swimming forums to see what people were saying about FORM’s goggles. The consensus among competitive swimmers seemed to be that they weren’t any kind of a game changer; one suggested that if you want to spend $US200 ($270) to improve your swimming, a better bet might be to keep tracking your laps the old fashioned way and spend your money on other gear like a better swimsuit or a set of paddles and fins. (They also wouldn’t be allowed during competition, since most organisations have a rule against timing technology that already applies to smartwatches.)

There were a few complaints about the goggles themselves from competitive swimmers, who said that the extra bulk on one side of the goggles sometimes caused them to flip up as they did somersault-style flip turns and pushed off the wall. I also heard some concerns about how long the anti-fog coating would last. (FORM has care tips to prolong the coating’s life, and suggests applying a coating of soap if it needs to be refreshed.)

That said, they are cool, and plenty of swimmers like the convenience of having their metrics in their goggles. The guided workouts haven’t been out for very long, but I’ve only heard good things from the swimmers who have tried them.

So are the goggles worth it? If you swim often and you want guided workouts or extensive data to analyse after the swim, yes. If not, consider whether you can get what you need from a watch or low-tech techniques.

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