The popularity of the personal navigation device has spawned a host of related sport-related GPS devices, from hiking products like the Garmin Oregon 550t and Magellan Explorist 710, to running watches like the Nike SportWatch. But not every activity can be enhanced by GPS technology, in particular because it doesn't work inside buildings. One such activity is swimming, which will mostly be performed indoors, unless you're lucky enough to live in a country with far better weather than we have in the UK. For swimming, different technologies will be required to track your performance, and this is where the Garmin Swim comes in.
Garmin Swim Design
The Garmin Swim isn't the company's only aquatically-oriented sports watch. However, whilst swim tracking features are also built into the flagship Garmin Forerunner 910XT, this is the only model which focuses purely on this area of water based activity. The system uses an accelerometer combined with knowledge about strokes and your pool size to track your progress and keep count of how many lengths you have swum. The device looks like a fairly ordinary digital watch, although the design is sleek and streamlined, and the watch itself is less chunky than some of Garmin's other sport watches. The Garmin Swim is bristling with buttons, some of which perform different functions depending on context, but these merely add to its functional appeal. It's water resistant to 50m, which should be enough for most public pools.
Garmin Swim Features
When you first turn the Garmin Swim on, as with any watch you have set the time, which is a relatively intuitive process. But you will also need to configure further settings when you go for your first swim. First, you will need to tell the Swim device whether you are doing lengths of 25 or 50 metres, or 25 yards. Alternatively you can set your swim laps to a custom length in metres or yards anywhere between 20 and 100 units, if you happening to be using non-standard pool. However, it won't be able to cope with 12.5m half-length pools, which do exist in some health clubs. This preset is then stored until you change the lap settings by going back into the menu. You also need to input your weight.
Once this is all set, you only need to hit start like any regular timer, and begin your exercise, pressing the pause button when you take a breather or change stroke, and stop when you have finished. Even then, you can choose to resume the session, as well as saving or deleting it.
Without requiring any other setup, the Garmin Swim will record how many lengths you have swum in each interval, as well as your strokes and the "SWOLF", which is the time per length plus the number of strokes it took. The Garmin Swim is actually designed to detect the stroke you are using automatically. Being attached to your wrist, it can use its accelerometer to discern between the noticeably different arm movements for breast stroke, freestyle, butterfly and backstroke.
We found it was pretty effective in this respect, and always managed to work out the strokes correctly. It also detects the push-off at the beginning of a length, and uses this to count the distance. We found this was a little less reliable than the stroke detection. It is explained in the quick start guide, but we would have to underline that you need to swim pretty consistently, with a strong push and relatively uniform stroke, to get faultless length detection results.