When my mother uses an elliptical machine, she covers the screen with a towel. She says she doesn’t want to “become obsessed” with when it will end. For me, numbers are everything.
I have to count down the minutes, seconds, and fractions of a mile as I go. Obsessing over my pace and stats is how I keep my brain busy while I work out. There isn’t much opportunity to do that while swimming, which is why I leapt at the chance to try the Form Swim Goggles, which have a screen built right into them. Boy, are they fun.
The goggles automatically detect the type of stroke, stroke rate, and split times (the times for each lap in a multi-lap interval), while the see-through augmented reality (AR) display in the lens shows you any combination of these metrics you want, in real time. There are several watches on the market that can also measure all this kind of data automatically, but the novelty of not having to wait until the end of my lap or awkwardly glance at my wrist mid-stroke to get information is hard to overstate.
On top of that, their $199 price is surprisingly competitive with wrist-based trackers.
Just Keep Swimming
To start a workout, you select Swim in the Goggles’ menu, enter the length of the pool you’re in, and push off! That’s about it. You’ll notice a delay as the accelerometer and gyroscope start recording and the computer starts analyzing. After a second, the timer retroactively compensates, showing the correct time you started in your field of vision. (You can display the data in either of your eyes.)
The company used machine learning to train the computer, looking at data recorded from a large sample of swimmers of all levels. The onboard processor recognizes the accelerometer signals as backstrokes or breaststrokes, and can tell if you’re turning around or taking a rest.
I found the stroke detection to be bang-on, but the lap detection was overly sensitive. If I looked behind me to glare at the swimmer basically tickling my feet with their lane-tailgating, the goggles would sometimes split one length into two, calculating my speed to be twice as fast as it was in reality. In a crowded pool, that guy nonchalantly cruising on a kickboard who drastically changed my pace also muddied up my time and speed. Form says it has implemented post-processing to detect and correct for this automatically, though it’s tough to account for every situation.
The goggles are perfectly comfortable, with dense lenses and smooth, strong, adjustable rubber straps. They come with multiple nose bridge sizing options, too.
Having numbers float in your field of vision does somewhat impair your spatial awareness. I invaded some personal bubbles and did some lane-drifting before I swapped the display to my non-dominant eye. After wearing it for a while, you get used to switching your focus. There is, however, little to be done about the lack of peripheral vision on the side with all the tech in it.
The onboard computer is in a small black box firmly attached to the side of one lens. It’s easy to ignore while swimming, and doesn’t look too odd or out of place, though the asymmetry can’t be missed. It has a two-button control setup: the front button is held down to power on or off, and is used to select options, while the back button is used to toggle between those options. The buttons are a little difficult to press, though that may be to prevent accidental presses. The tech is waterproof up to 32 feet.
The display is fairly customizable. You can choose to display any two of the following metrics at a given time: total distance swum, length distance per stroke, length stroke rate, length stroke count, length counter, total calories, length pace per 100m, length/split time, or total time.
You can also see different information while you swim, rest, and each time you turn to do another lap. If you don’t want to see metrics the whole time you’re swimming, you can disable the swim screen, though you’ll still see numbers pop up when you turn and pause to rest. You can adjust the brightness as well, which is handy when switching between indoor and outdoor pools.
The goggles can hold a charge for 16 hours according to Form. I didn’t use them for quite that long, but the rate of battery decrease for how long I used them seems to be on track. Should you lose the unique magnetic USB charger cable, you will probably have to order a replacement from Form.
The goggles use Bluetooth sync with an Android or iOS app, which you can use to analyze data or customize the goggles’ settings. Form only supports Android 8.0 (Oreo) and up, which is unfortunate for my 4-year-old LG G4, but I was still able to pair it with the goggles outside of the app—an effective workaround.
The app looks pretty slick. Swim data can be put into a list or table, colorfully plotted by time or distance, or placed in a SWOLF (“swim golf”?) plot that calculates your efficiency using speed and distance per stroke.
The app connects to Strava, TrainingPeaks, and Garmin Connect. It also has a social aspect to it, where users follow one another, trading “likes” and comments on workouts. Every workout can be tagged with a location and have a custom label. For those who prefer their swimdata not be made available to the world, there are privacy settings for accounts or workouts.
It would be nice if you could manually edit workout entries. Being able to combine lengths in the app seems like a useful feature, especially depending on how effective their post-processing ends up being. For now, your stats are what they are. If you want a better time, try again.
As someone who loves to play with timing and pace as I exercise, I really enjoyed the Form Swim Goggles and what they offer: unfettered real-time access to my workout times and stats. It was a novel and efficient way to obsess over my numbers. For the kind of professional athletes that treat their lap times like treasure, I imagine the benefits would be even greater.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/review/form-swim-goggles