Photo: Beth Skwarecki
There was a time, before smartwatches, when I really got into swimming for a moment. I learned to read the pool pace clock at my local Y, and I counted the beats in my head to see if I was using good, efficient form. I brought my workouts to the pool on index cards in Ziploc bags.
So I felt like I was shot into the future when FORM swimming sent me a pair of their tech-enabled glasses to try out. They cost around $ 200 and have been around for a few years, but thanks to a new update, they can now walk you through the workouts rather than just keep track of what you’re already doing.
What the FORM Smart Swim Goggles can do
The main feature of the goggles is that they have a screen on one eye that is built into the lens. This screen can show you your time for each lap, how far you swam, or other metrics like heart rate if you have a compatible tracker.
There’s a large piece of tech hanging from the side of the screen, but it’s light and I didn’t even notice it when it was on. You can wear the glasses with the screen on the right or left as you wish. When I set up the FORM app to connect to my Apple Watch, it was recommended that I wear the screen and watch on the same side that I turn my head to breathe. I breathe on both sides, every third beat, but I wear my watch on my left. So I decided to wear my glasses with the screen on the left as well.
I was confused at first and then impressed with the lap tracking of the glasses. I was used to 25 meter pools but hadn’t seen one in a long time. So when I popped up to a new pool, I didn’t know that it was actually twice as big as I was used to. (The laps felt really long to me, but I thought I was getting tired because I was so out of practice.) The glasses wrote me 50 meters correctly every time I swam a length of the pool.
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After that, I noticed that it was also tracking my strokes closely. It knew how many puffs it took me to get from one end of the pool to the other, and it knew how long each length was. My jaw dropped when I realized I’d done a few laps of breaststroke instead of freestyle, and it even recognized when I got tired and switched to backstroke in the middle of the lap. The glasses collect tons of data, including your speed for each lap, and can even export everything to a spreadsheet for you or your trainer to analyze later.
The screen in my eye was light enough to peek at when I wanted to and light enough to ignore otherwise. I swam in outdoor pools on sunny days so visibility wasn’t great. I checked the screen as I rested at the end of the pool, often putting my hand over the lens to improve contrast. I couldn’t see it easily while swimming, but maybe that was just because of the lighting.
The glasses fit well, another surprise for me as I usually struggle to find glasses that are small enough and that often go with children’s glasses instead. My husband, who has a normal sized face, tried them on and thought they fit well. The glasses also come with a number of different sized and shaped nose bridge pieces.
Use FORM’s guided workouts
Okay, tracking is great, but what about these new workouts? (You need a $ 20 / month subscription to use them, but the tracking features don’t require a subscription.)
You select workouts via the app before you swim and send them to your glasses. This way you can save up to five workouts and choose which ones to do in the pool.
You can browse the workouts by length, and there is a small summary of each, describing their intensity, distance, and duration. Some involve kickboard lengths or technique exercises, and you can watch a video on the app of any exercises that you are not familiar with.
I chose a short “Splish Splash” workout that consisted of 100 yards of any shot, followed by 4×50 yards of easy freestyle with a 45 second rest. If I were a serious swimmer this would be a warm up. It’s not me, so it was a nice, if short, workout in itself.
The screen did its job well and told 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 I really appreciated at the time.
Screenshot: Beth Skwarecki, FORM Swim
How useful are they?
I asked around and scoured swimming forums to see what people were saying about FORM swimming goggles. The consensus among competitive swimmers seemed to be that they weren’t some kind of game changer; One suggested that if you want to spend $ 200 improving your swimming, a better bet could be following your laps the old-fashioned way and spending your money on other gear like a better swimsuit or a pair of paddles and fins to spend. (They would also not be allowed during the competition as most companies have a rule against timekeeping technology that already applies to smartwatches.)
There have been some complaints about the goggles themselves from competitive swimmers, who said the extra bulk on one side of the goggles sometimes caused them to flip up and be knocked off the wall on somersault-like flip turns. I also heard some concerns about how long the anti-fog coating would last. (FORM has maintenance tips to extend the life of the coating, and suggests applying a layer of soap if it needs to be freshened up.)
Even so, they’re cool, and many swimmers like the convenience of having their readings in their goggles. The guided workouts haven’t been around for long, but I’ve heard only good things from the swimmers who have tried them.
So are the glasses worth it? If you swim often and want guided workouts or extensive post-swim analysis data, yes. If not, consider getting what you need with a watch or with low-tech techniques.