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 six 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 six most promising fitness tracker candidates, tested them together, tested them on their own - and this is what we found.
Misfit Speedo Shine 2 - 6th place
Feature-packed the Misfit Speedo Shine is not, and it's not quite the pool performer we'd hoped it would be.
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 and it didn't always successfully track lengths.
Wareable verdict: Misfit Speedo Shine 2 in-depth review
That said, there's no real in-swim information beyond the flashing light to let you know it's actually working. A bigger problem though is the temperamental way of getting a tracked session started. It requires a succession of taps on the disc-shaped sensor but it's not always clear if it's worked, and we've got out of the pool to find out it hasn't tracked properly.
It's the same experience inside the Misfit app as its predecessor. There's nothing in the way of analysing the swim metrics, but it does contribute to your daily fitness total. You can adjust some swim settings like turning on auto lap counting, choosing pool length and turning on a new countdown timer.
Ultimately though, it's pretty underwhelming experience on the whole and if you're looking for a basic swim tracker, there are definitely better options to consider instead.
Sink or Swim: Sink
Moov Now - 5th place
The Moov Now is definitely one of those better options. Our Sports Wearable of the Year promises some fairly in-depth analysis for such an unassuming device, but doesn't have the sensors/software harmony to back it up.
Wareable verdict: Moov Now review
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 always reliable. It dropped four 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.
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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.
Waterproof rating: 3ATM (30m), pool swim tracking only
Sink or Swim: Bob
Fitbit Flex 2 - 4th place
Like the Shine 2 and the Moov, the Flex 2 is all about keeping things basic. Apart from a set of LED lights glowing through the super slim band from the removable sensor, it's about jumping in the pool or into the open water and letting the Fitbit do its work.
Wareable verdict: Fitbit Flex 2 hands review
Swim metrics have more in common with the Shine 2 using Fitbit's SmartTrack tech to automatically know when you've started swimming, recording duration, laps and the four main swimming strokes. Swimming continuously for a least 10 minutes will ensure it works as it should and give it enough time recognise strokes. Make sure you adjust pool length from the Fitbit app as well.
Logged swimming sessions contribute to your daily fitness goals and you can see a breakdown of your data, but that's really your lot. As far as accuracy is concerned, it rarely let us down and was at most a couple of lengths out, but only on a couple of occasions.
It's much more discreet to wear in the pool than the Moov Now and the Speedo Shine 2, and with the combination of Fitbit's easy-to-use app is our favourite of the affordable swim trackers we've tested.
Waterproof rating: 5 ATM (50m), pool and open water tracking
Sink or Swim: Swim
TomTom Spark 3 - Bronze medal
It's the light end of TomTom's wearable fitness devices but the TomTom Spark 3 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.
Wareable verdict: TomTom Spark 3 in-depth review
What's excellent, though, is that they're not just the numbers and analysis 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 along your session you are with extra buzzes should you surpass your expectations.
The only thing that irked us in the water is that it's not as quick to pick up on turns as the Garmin which often means late notice when it comes to changing your training effort, stroke type of even when it's 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 one of the best devices here. It looks and feels solid, it's easy 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 and Vivoactive HR promises more 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.
Waterproof rating: 4 ATM (40m), pool swim tracking only
Sink or Swim: Swim
Apple Watch Series 2 - Silver medal
For Apple's first stab at swim tracking, it does a really good job on the whole and just misses out on the top spot. It's the best looking of the devices in the test and we'd be happy to wear it 24/7.
Wareable verdict: Apple Watch Series 2 in-depth review
It's comfortable to wear in the pool as well once you've coupled it with a nice sporty, water-friendly strap and it has the nicest, most vibrant screen of the bunch for viewing data in the pool. While the screen is locked during a swim a raising of you wrist will wake it up to quickly glance at your performance in real time.
Getting up and running (ahem, swimming) is really straightforward as well. Swipe across to the Workout app, pick pool or open swimming, select the correct pool size and after the screen is locked you're ready to swim.
It'll deliver information on distance covered, lengths, average pace and can even distinguish stroke style. You'll be able to see a tidy summary of your workout, which is shared into the Activity iPhone app.
As far as data accuracy is concerned, we were pretty happy with results whether it was picking up distance, lengths and average pace metrics. Where it slightly disappoints is when it's time to review the workout. Data is saved to Apple's Activity app where information is easy to digest but you're out of luck if you're hoping for more advanced metrics. Fortunately, there's now a bunch of third-party swimming apps to pull your data through to.
Overall, you've done good Apple. Very good.
Waterproof rating: 5 ATM (50m), pool and open water swim tracking
Sink or Swim: Swim
Garmin Vivoactive HR- Gold medal
The user interface and user experience feels a bit budget and the post-swim analysis could learn a little from Moov now, but the Garmin Vivoactive HR just pips the Series 2 at the finish. It's cheaper, 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 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 something like the Spark 3 or the Series 2 and 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 HR 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.
Waterproof rating: 5 ATM (50m), pool swim tracking only
Sink or Swim: Swim
If you take your swimming seriously then the Garmin Vivoactive HR and the Apple Watch Series 2 will serve you best. They offer the best performance in the pool and out of it. Garmin's swim tracking skills and Connect software are a winning combination and while Apple's own Activity app is a little more basic in comparison, the third-party swimming app support certainly makes up for its shortcomings.
For the casual swimmer, we'd suggest the Flex 2 or the Moov Now. While both make it difficult to really keep track of progress in the pool, they do offer a solid all-round performance in terms of accuracy and letting it get on with its business while you put in the lengths. Moov offers more advanced swimming metrics, but don't discount the Flex 2. Swim tracking is basic but largely reliable while Fitbit's app is a little more user-friendly for tracking beginners as well.
The Spark 3 is one of the best swim trackers we've used for accuracy, despite swimming not being its primary feature. It's just a shame that the app is a bit of a mess. As for the Misfit Speedo Shine 2, well, there are definitely some issues to address here and we think it's one to steer clear from for now.
Got any questions about our big swim test? Let us know in the comments section below.
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