Garmin Swim 2 review

A sports watch that’s truly fit for the water
Garmin Swim 2
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The Garmin Swim 2 is all about tracking you in the water, and be it pool or open water swimming, it's a top quality GPS swimming watch that offers plenty of data.

The first Garmin Swim was launched way back in 2012, but since then the vast majority of the company's sports watches have boasted swim tracking modes.

But the Garmin Swim offers all of the company's swim-specific metrics for pool and open water sessions found on the likes of the Fenix 6 – but for a far lower price. You can pick it up for $$249.99, which is $100 more than the first Swim – and somewhere in between the Forerunner 45 and Forerunner 245 running watches.

That also means it’s pricier than an Apple's cheapest smartwatch, the Watch Series 3, which does also offer pool and open water swim tracking for less than $200.

So what is the Swim 2 like to swim with and was Garmin right to revive it? We put it to the test to find out. Here’s our verdict – and don't forget to check out our guide to the best Garmin watch for your needs.

Garmin Swim 2: Design and comfort

Garmin Swim 2

If you can actually remember what the original Swim looked like, it packed its swim tracking features into a 44mm case with physical buttons dotted around its circular display.

It’s fair to say that things at Garmin have evolved a fair bit on the design front since then. With the Swim 2, you’re getting a smaller 42mm size watch that’s a couple of millimetres slimmer and weighs in a few grams lighter than its predecessor.

It's essentially the same design at the Forerunner 45, Garmin’s budget running watch, which we applauded for its slim and light build. There’s the same 1.4-inch transflective display delivering a 208 x 208 pixel resolution, a silicone watch band, five physical buttons and the same 5ATM waterproof rating. It’s an unashamedly sporty-looking watch and it’s certainly not going to be mistaken for something more luxurious.

You’ve got your pick of whitestone (white) and slate (black) models, so there’s nothing too adventurous happening on the colourway front. We had the white model to test and that brightly hued look certainly stands out, but not in a garish or tacky way.

Garmin Swim 2 review

Around the back is where you’ll find the four-pin charging port, which means it uses the same charging cable as pricier Garmin watches. That’s also where you’ll find its proprietary Elevate heart rate monitor, which is now fit to measure heart rate in the water.

In the water, it’s a perfectly comfortable watch to wear. The strap feels nice and it certainly doesn’t weigh heavy on the wrist in the pool and out of it.

There’s no touchscreen here, so you’re relying on the physical buttons for playing around with features, though buttons are always more favourable in the water. We’d definitely prefer a little more screen to display those metrics, which can also make some phone notifications feel a bit cramped as well. Visibility in the water is generally fine though and you shouldn’t have a problem soaking up your data.

Garmin Swim 2: Sports and fitness tracking

Garmin Swim 2 sports tracking

So the main reason you’re going to be interested in this watch is its swim monitoring. Before we get into that, we can tell you that it can also track running and cycling too. There's also a cardio mode covering anything else workout based that doesn’t require donning a pair of trunks or a swimsuit.

It also doubles as a fitness tracker offering feature staples like step counting, automatic sleep monitoring and all-day stress tracking. Our experience with these features don’t really differ all that much from what we’ve found on other Garmin watches.

Step tracking is pretty reliable while sleep monitoring can be good generally on the accuracy front but a little hit and miss at times with its reporting. There’s no pulse oximeter sensor, which has started to crop up on Garmin’s watches, so you do miss out on that extra layer of sleep data.

We’ve run and used that cardio workout mode with it, and it’s much of what you can expect from the same features on other Garmin watches. There’s GPS, Glonass and Gallileo satellite support and indoor run tracking is covered by the accelerometer motion sensor. The GPS signal pick-up is nice and snappy and serves up a very similar experience to the Forerunner 45, focusing on the core metrics.

Garmin Swim 2: Swim tracking

Garmin Swim 2 swimming stats and tracking

But let’s get back to swimming. As mentioned, we are going to focus on its abilities in the pool and will update our thoughts on how it performed for open water swimming at a later date.

In terms of features, the Swim 2 can track metrics that include length, distance, pace, stroke count and SWOLF. It can also detect stroke type, offer pace alerts, critical swim speed insights and a handy auto rest feature.

A large portion of that data can be viewed in real-time, but you'll get a better overview in the Garmin Connect app. Like most Garmin watches, it'll also play nice with Strava.

Features like the auto rest and countdown to start are small, but welcome additions as far as factoring in when you're fiddling around with your goggles at the start of a swim or need to take a breather in between your sets.

For open water swimming, it can serve up similar metrics, but features like drill logging and pace alerts are unsurprisingly built just for the pool.

To put those features into perspective in the realms of Garmin's other watches, the Forerunner 245 pretty much matches it for pool swimming, though isn’t capable of tracking open water swimming. You’d have to step up to something like the Forerunner 945 or Fenix 6 to get open water and pool swimming support.

When you compare it to what else is out there, the Apple Watch Series 3 for instance offers metrics like lap counts, distance, and can also detect stroke type and can unlock more metrics via third party apps.

Garmin has since added a lot of the features that were previously unique to the Swim 2, like advanced swim workouts and pacing alerts, to the 945 and 245 watches. But the Swim 2 remains the cheapest option to put them all to good use.

To get tracking, it’s as simple as hitting that top right physical button, selecting your swim mode and hitting that button again to get tracking.

There are some settings available to tinker with pre-swim if you want. You can pick pool size, toggle stroke detection on or off, turn on auto rests, switch on a countdown start, set up alerts and choose data screens.

Garmin Swim 2 review

There’s also a Workouts feature, which is a nice addition if you want to mix things up in your sessions. Within the Garmin Connect app you’ll need to locate the Training menu where you can create custom workouts that can then be synced to the watch.

You can additionally sync over a Training calendar, which can be quickly accessed by pressing the middle button on the left hand side of the watch.

You can also perform a critical swim speed test or CSS. This test essentially evaluates the speed you can maintain without getting tired. The value of doing the test is to give you and idea of your pace and then measure your improvement next time you retake the test.

Garmin Swim 2 data accuracy

Data tracking compared: Garmin Swim 2 (left), Form Swim Goggles (centre), Honor MagicWatch 2 (right)

Ultimately, you’re getting those core metrics serious swimmers will no doubt seek out, but also a bit extra if you want to start venturing into the realms of seeking improvements in your performance.

Speaking of those performance improvements, you’re not going to get those raft of training analytics you will find on top end Garmins. It can generate training effect insights, but that’s as far as things go on the analysis front.

From an accuracy point of view, Garmin’s swim tracking has rarely let us down in the pool in the past and it’s no different with the Swim 2.

We pit it against the Form Swim Goggles, and the swim tracking on the Honor MagicWatch 2 in mainly 25m pools and were pleased to see if pushed out similar data in real-time and in the app post-swim.

Data like distance covered and average pace and SWOLF scores were generally in line with the other two swimming wearables we tested it against.

Swim tracking on watches in general has become pretty solid and the Swim 2 can certainly be added to the list of ones that really cut it.

Garmin Swim 2: Heart rate monitoring accuracy

Garmin Swim 2 review

Garmin is promising that you can now track your heart rate underwater from its onboard sensor. If you don’t trust it, you can still pair up an external chest strap as an alternative too.

Now there does remain a bit of debate as to whether heart rate as a metric is as useful to swimming as it is to activities like running or cycling.

There is also that question of data accuracy and how something as disruptive as water on a light-based optical HR sensor can impact on the accuracy of the reading.

Garmin states the Swim 2 can deliver real-time heart rate though it also suggests using one of its HRM Swim or Tri chest strap monitors to get the best accuracy.

We decided to put the underwater heart rate monitoring skills to the test against a Polar chest strap pushing data into its Polar Beat app to see just how reliable that monitoring could be. What we found is that these two devices pushed out data with varied numbers, making it hard to get a truly accurate picture.

The data from the Swim 2 seemed to align with the effort and heart rate I know is usually representative of my usual maximum effort in the pool. It also produced consistent data, avoiding outages and obvious anomalies.

The chest strap we pitted the Garmin Swim against hardly produced accurate control data. It moved around significantly and produced problematic data.

So from this we can draw two conclusions. First, underwater HR tracking is still problematic, and if you're keen in getting spot on accurate data from the pool you will need to invest prosumer devices. Secondly, unlike running, you're not guaranteed better data by using a chest strap – so we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Garmin Swim 2 for general users.

But certainly take those heart rate readings as a guidance more than the definitive representation of your efforts in the pool.

Garmin Swim 2: Smartwatch features

Garmin Swim 2 review

As is pretty much the norm these days, you can expect this watch to work as a smartwatch. Though you’re not getting Garmin’s full complement of features here. It does work with iPhones and Android phones offering the ability to view phone notifications, weather reports and control music playing on your phone. You don’t get big features like payment support or a built-in music player.

Perhaps the most disappointing omission though is the full support for Garmin’s Connect IQ platform. Like the Forerunner 45, you can access the storefront to download watch faces, but you can’t add any apps, widgets or data fields.

While swimming-focused add-ons are not quite as abundant as they are for other sports, it would’ve been nice to open things up to developers to see whether having a dedicated swimming watch out there would change that.

As mentioned before, that small screen can make viewing some notifications at times feel a bit cramped. It’s more acceptable for checking in on the weather, but it’s clearly a basic smartwatch experience that’s okay, but could of course be so much better if those other features were present.

Garmin Swim 2: Battery life

Garmin suggests you should get a week’s worth of battery life when you’re using it in smartwatch mode, which means when you’re not tapping into those sports tracking features.

When you put the GPS to use, you’re getting 13 hours of GPS battery life while using the optical heart rate in the water tops out at a decent 72 hours.

That’s the same battery life promised by the Forerunner 45, Garmin’s cheapest running watch and like the 45, the Swim 2 lived up to those battery claims in our experience.

If you’re primarily training in the pool maybe three to five times a week, you’ll have no problem getting that week long battery life it promises.


Garmin Swim 2
By Garmin
The Garmin Swim 2 is in no uncertain terms a massive upgrade on the first Swim as far as what it’s capable of when you’re in the water. There’s more metrics, settings to play with and of course a smattering of smartwatch features to make it useful when you're not swimming. It’s the cheapest Garmin you can buy to get open water and pool swimming features though it would be even more attractive at a slightly lower price. If you can’t stomach paying for a top end Forerunner or Fenix, this is the swimming-focused Garmin watch to go for instead.

Hit
  • Easy to use
  • Plenty of swim metrics
  • Accurate tracking 
Miss
  • Basic smartwatch features
  • Doesn’t have full Connect IQ support
  • Screen a bit on the small side