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Garmin Swim Review


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  • Nearly automatic operation - just press start and swim
  • Wireless Garmin ANT USB adapter included
  • Lots of parameters recorded, including stroke and SWORF


  • Length detection needs smooth, unbroken swimming
  • Full manual is download only
  • No tracking for pools under 20 yards long

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £129.99
  • Tracks swimming lengths in pools from 20 to 100m
  • Automatic stroke detection
  • Drill and rest timers
  • Garmin ANT USB wireless adapter
  • Upload statistics to Garmin Connect online service

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 SwimGarmin Swim watch displaying swim metrics on screen.Garmin Swim watch displaying drill timer and weekly distance.
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 SwimGarmin Swim watch displaying swim metrics on screen.
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.
Garmin SwimGarmin Swim watch displaying swim metrics on screen
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.

Garmin Swim Performance
If you’re doing a non-standard stroke or drill, there’s a drill logging facility as well, which can be invoked during a session or even in the middle of an interval. This essentially turns off the lap and stroke sensing, so you just get a timer for that portion. When you’ve finished your drill, you must enter the length you have swum manually. Despite these added input requirements, you then have a record of your drill which you can refer to later.

There is also a rest timer, where you can pause between intervals and have that recorded as a rest, with a timer onscreen showing you the duration so you can stick to a preset time for the rest. There are alarm and stopwatch facilities, too, meaning you can use the Garmin Swim like a normal digital watch even when away from the pool. However, instructions for these advanced features are only available in the full manual, which annoyingly is only available as a download, with just a quick start guide included in the box.
Garmin SwimGarmin Swim watch showing distance and time on display.
Offering further insight into your performances, the Garmin Swim allows you to scroll through your workout history on the watch itself, with enough integrated storage space present to hold about 30 sessions. The watch will tell you how long your sessions were, how much of that was spent swimming, the distance swum and how many lengths that consisted of, plus a readout of your average speed and how many calories were burned.

You can also drill down into each interval as well, to view the distance, average speed and stroke type. There is even more information available, but to get access to it you will need to use the Garmin ANT Bluetooth adapter, which is supplied in the box, to download your workouts to the Garmin Connect online service. Like the manual, the software for this only available online.

Garmin ConnectGarmin Swim analytics dashboard with swim graph and charts.

Once the USB ANT adapter is installed and you are logged into the Garmin Connect service, however, pairing the watch is essentially automatic, and you just need to use a watch menu setting to tell it to upload your latest workouts. You can then see the SWOLF, a length-by-length breakdown, and graphs showing timing, strokes and efficiency. So you can get a really good idea of how your swimming is coming along, although the watch won’t help you improve your technique, just the end results. Swim instructors don’t need to worry that they will be put out of their jobs.
Garmin SwimGarmin Swim watch displaying swim metrics on screen.
The Swim has a few small but welcome extra touches, too. The watch will go into sleep mode if it has been motionless for a minute, turning off its screen, but will come back to life again as soon as it’s moved, a handy feature that will conserve power when you’re not wearing it. You can change the battery yourself, too, rather than having to pay a jeweller. The battery used is the very common CR 2032 type. However, again, details of doing this are only included in the full manual online, although it is fairly obvious that you just need to lever the back off.

Garmin Swim Verdict
Costing a little under £130, the Garmin Swim still isn’t a no-brainer purchase, but it is cheaper than most of the Forerunner range, and takes almost all the hassle out of keeping track of your aquatic exercise regime. It’s not perfect, and getting the most accurate results does require keeping your swimming fairly uniform, without stops in the middle of lengths to adjust goggles or to change your. Once you get the hang of the few foibles, however, this is a very powerful way to analyse your swimming, and push your exercise routines further in the water.

Trusted Score

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Score in detail

  • Battery Life 9
  • Value 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Design 9
  • Usability 9

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