Fitness trackers have been on the march and now they've taken to the pool. In their quest to be the best, these wearables are adding more and more sports to their Olympic repertoire with just counting steps and the odd jog now oh-so-yesterday.
One of the big questions we're often asked here at Wareable is, "Which tracker should I take in the pool?" and the answer is never easy. Firstly, few fitness trackers are actually waterproof, and even fewer have a range of features more interesting than a basic stopwatch.
Essential reading: The best fitness trackers
That's why we've rounded up these five options for budding swimmers and put them through their paces. Yes, there are better dedicated swimming devices – the Garmin Swim being an obvious choice – but this is the test for the casual swimmer, looking for an all-round fitness device where swimming is a key element.
Running, cycling and pumping iron add challenges of their own but one of the really tricky disciplines to deliver on is swim tracking. Optical heart rate monitors become useless and those GPS satellites can't see you going up and down the lanes of an indoor pool.
We picked the five most promising fitness tracker candidates, tested them together, tested them on their own and this is what we found.
Polar A360 - 5th place
We've already told you that we don't think much of the Polar A360 in the full review and there's only more criticism to thrown on the pile when it comes to its swimming credentials which are by far and away the least among this group.
It's an unfortunate blend of the worst bits of the Moov Now and the Shine Speedo; that is that it's both inaccurate and feature light. In fact, it's so feature light that it doesn't even keep a count of how many lengths you've done.
All it will do is tell you how long you've been in the pool and what your heart rate has been with the caveat that its heart rate measures - like everyone else's - are not accurate in the water. So, its subsequent fat burn calculations should be taken with a fistful of salt.
Perhaps its worst crime, though, is that the touchscreen - again, like all touchscreens - doesn't work very well in water, so it's the least usable of this list too. Ultimately, swimming is only a very small feature of this fitness tracker but, if you are looking for such a device to take for your regular dip, then this is one best avoided.
Sink or Swim: Sink
Moov Now - 4th place
Nice idea but not good enough; the Moov Now promises some fairly in-depth analysis for such an unassuming device but doesn't have the sensors/software harmony to back it up.
It breaks down the performance of your swim to individual lengths telling you how many strokes you pulled, how long it took, your turn times - which we love - any breaks or pauses you made and what style you were paddling and when. With all that then comes an analysis of your pace and efficiency plus the inevitable dubious measure of calories burned.
The trouble is that it's not reliable. It dropped 4 lengths of a quick 22 we swam which all the other devices had no problems picking up. You can even see which ones they were on the in-app breakdown where the odd 25m reads to have taken over 60 seconds and comes annotated with a double question mark.
So, at least the device itself knows that something's fishy. There's also too much inconsistency in the strokes per length count and that, we suspect, is what's at the heart of the matter. It's just not got a clear enough idea of where it is and what you're doing at any given moment.
We're also not a massive fans of the way you have to initiate each session from your phone five or ten minutes before and leave it burning up battery in your locker in the mean time either. And there's no way to know that the Moov is actually recording what you're doing while you're in the pool. It never failed us there but it's not a doubt you want in the back of your mind when you should be concentrating on your game.
Sink or Swim: Bob
Misfit Speedo Shine - Bronze medal
Feature packed, the Misfit Speedo Shine ain't; but it works with barely a length missed and is one to be trusted when going for a dip. It tells you how many lengths you've done, how many metres that is and then comes up with a point score which automatically tallies into your daily total of walking, running, cycling and all the rest. The estimated calorie burn isn't anything to set your watch by though.
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That said, there's no real in-swim information beyond the flashing light to let you know it's actually working. In other words, yes, the Shine Speedo is a solid swim tracker and, yes, it's a really effective way of factoring exercise into your daily fitness but it doesn't give you any space to grow and that's a little strange given that Speedo's behind it.
All of the others on the list give you much more in the way of features and that's about more than just playing. We get the feeling that we'd soon get bored of the Shine given than it gives no feedback on our swimming style, stats or technique.
It's a good all-rounder if swimming is not necessarily an important activity in your week but, if getting in the pool is a regular for you, you might be better off with something offering richer analysis.
Sink or Swim: Swim
TomTom Spark - Silver medal
It's the light end of TomTom's wearable fitness devices but the TomTom Spark is still considerably more watch than some of the other bands on this list. So, the big expectation is that it's going to be more feature-packed than most of the rest and that's absolutely true.
What's excellent, though, is that they're not just the numbers and analyses of semi-professional interest. What you find on your wrist is a highly flexible system for measuring, recording and alerting you to whatever interests you most about your daily dip.
You can break down your swim into various sets and sessions of differing effort levels and you'll get a buzz each time you need to switch stroke or power. We also loved the Goal mode which offers an excellent in-pool view of how far your session you are along with extra buzzes should you surpass your expectations.
The only thing that irked in the water is that it's not as quick to pick up on turns as the Garmin which often meant late notice when it came to changing your training effort, stroke type of even when it was time to stop. Having to rethink your length 5m into it is not ideal.
To be fair, that's actually a minor issue and, in the pool, the Spark is the device we like best. It looks and feels solid, it's good to use and the flexibility of the feature set makes for a great companion in the water. It keeps you motivated and perhaps that's the most important point of all.
The post-swim analysis is what lets it down, though. It's not very groundbreaking - the Moov Now promises more, even if it doesn't actually manage to deliver - and that's the part that TomTom needs to work on. There's a little too much focus on pace and speed where it's generally more about efficiency, turns and technique for the casual swimmer. Still, well worth your money here.
Sink or Swim: Swim
Garmin Vivoactive - Gold medal
The user interface and user experience feels a bit budget and the post-swim analysis could learn a little from Moov but the Garmin Vivoactive just pips the TomTom Spark at the finish. It's a tiny bit quicker to clock what's going on and there's enough info to sift through afterwards to help you enjoy that post-exercise glow.
Essential reading: Essential Garmin Connect IQ guide
What really tips the balance, though, is that it's better at dealing with ad-hoc swim plans because there's a better choice of on-screen information with the likes of distance, time, stroke, SWOLF, temperature, pace, speed and any kind of measurement you'd care to mention available to choose from.
You still get the alerts to buzz you when you hit certain midway markers and focusing on one kind of training doesn't get in the way of any other kind.
All the same, we must add that it's not quite as motivating as the Spark and despite costing more, you feel like you're getting a wearable of lower quality. It's just that it happens to be a bit better at recording and analysing your swims.
Physically, it's quite a decent piece of kit with a certain utility aesthetic charm but one can't help the feeling that, if the Vivoactive has seen far, it's because it's had the benefit of the shoulders of other Garmin giants. Take a bow Garmin Swim and the Forerunner range.
Sink or Swim: Swim
Both the Garmin Vivoactive and TomTom Spark are really good choices for the regular swimmer looking to add trips to the pool into their quantified lives. Both trackers offer plenty besides too. Objectively, the Garmin is better but, on a personal note, I can't help feeling that the Spark is the one that suits my needs best. So, do have a think about what it is you want and how you swim before you make your choice.
The Shine Speedo is worth a go but we fully expect the Moov Now and others to leave it in their wake once accuracy issues are sorted in the Misfit's competitors. As for the Polar A360, well, there's a lot of work to be done there. Swimming looks to have been something of an afterthought for our fifth place device - and not a very well thought out afterthought at that.
Got any questions about our big swim test? Let us know in the comments section below.