While my pool time has been severely restricted lately with all the international travel, I did get a short opportunity to jump into the pool with the Swimsense while up in Newfoundland. For those not familiar, Swimsense is like having a Garmin fitness watch…but in the pool. It counts laps, sets, strokes and splits while you ping back and forth between the walls. But, the real meat of the watch is your ability to then download all that data to the online site and training log.
But before we get into the data pieces, let’s take a look at the key parts that make up the system. First, we have the unit itself, along with the charger:
The charger uses a simple and standard USB cable to download your data from the watch via the cradle to your computer – identical to a cable used for a digital camera or USB hard drive.
The watch itself is actually fairly slim, albeit a bit wider than I would have expected. But it’s roughly in line with other fitness watches out there, albeit not quite as small as some of the other lap counters out there. Below compared to the Garmin FR210.
You may be asking yourself what makes this lap counter different than some of the others that have been around for a while. Well, the biggest and more critical differentiator is Swimsense’s ability to download workouts. Without this, it would in many ways be just another lap counter. You’re also able to update firmware on the watch as they make improvements (they’ve already released one update in just the past few weeks). And in the future, they plan to offer an AppStore like concept which would allow downloadable apps onto the watch (no, not Angry Birds, but swim specific stuff like workouts and the like).
As for swimming with it (yes, you know, the activity you’re supposed to do during the winter), I found it pretty dead simple. The user interface is in line with any easy to use watch (something that’s actually somewhat rare in the swim counter world). I normally swim with a small wrist-watch, so the concept of having a watch on my wrist doesn’t bother me (despite being sacrilege to true swimmers).
While the watch is generally easy to read underwater – it’s not super-easy to read the distance during the wall push-off. Some watches I have I can read the time during the push off with a slight twist of my wrist, but this one required more wrist twisting. Not a huge deal, but worth mentioning.
Also worth mentioning is that the watch easily adapts to smaller wrists as well, such as The Girl’s:
Swimsense can track everything from length swam to the strokes you’ve taken per length. And, best of all you can create sets or laps, allowing you to easily analyze it all later on – just like you would with any other downloadable fitness device.
Perhaps one of my favorite features is that when you’ve got the unit ‘paused’ (such as during a rest at the wall), it reverses the screen colors (black/white). Whereas when you’re supposed to be swimming, the background goes back to being not-black. Sounds simple, but it helps you to ensure that the watch is recording.
Once you’ve finished up the swim, it’ll show overall totals on the unit. But you can also drill down within a history menu on the watch and see per-set information as well.
(Hey, no laughing at the low total – I had exactly 35 minutes before the pool closed…and that included taking all these photos and videos…plus, I forgot to press start once, so I lost some yardage there).
Software and Downloading:
After you get back to your computer, you get the Swimsense watch all snuggled up next to the cradle and get the software downloaded to your computer. It only takes a moment to install the Adobe AIR based software suite, which is compatible on multiple platforms including Windows and Mac. This is called the Swimsense Bridge and is the main conduit between your watch and the Internet.
Once installed, you’re able to go ahead and download completed workout with just the click of a button:
The watch itself holds 14 workouts, and once you download the workout to your computer and upload it to the site, it’ll clear it from the watch. Note that with the 14 workouts, you can easily accommodate 2-3 hours per workout and still be fine. Essentially, it would allow a competitive swimmer with two 2-3 hour workouts per day to go a week without downloading.
Additionally, if a firmware update is pending, it’ll go ahead and make a note of that – though you aren’t forced to download it immediately. I did though after I uploaded my workout, and the process was quick and easy – took mere seconds.
Once you’ve got the workout uploaded to the free Swimsense site, it allows you to break down the sets and workout into a million little chunks.
For example, I can drill down into a specific set (think of them like intervals) and look at my stroke rate or times per lap. Not just per set – but actually each individual lap within that set. Pretty sweet!
Below is an example of showing one full interval of 200 yards, comprised of eight lengths, which you can see are labeled along the bottom of each graph, showing you detail per length.
Going into more depth you can see below where I’m now showing just one specific lap (25y) within a set/interval. On the timeline view (upper of the two images below), you can see how I’ve select a given lap, and that corresponds to the set below (marked int-2).
While the site is great as a standalone application, I’m really looking forward to the Training Peaks integration coming in January. At that point, it’ll ensure that all my data from all three activities is being stored in a single location, making for pure data goodness.
|Function/Feature||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated July 15th, 2016 @ 7:52 amNew Window|
|Price||$130.00||$149-$199 (Features Vary)||$169 (on sale)||$150.00|
|Product Announcement Date||SEP 1, 2010||Sept 3rd, 2015||January 5th, 2015||Jun 25, 2012|
|Actual Availability/Shipping Date||Dec 2010||October 1st, 2015||March 2015||Jul 5, 2012|
|GPS Recording Functionality||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Data Transfer||USB||USB/Bluetooth Smart||USB, BLUETOOTH SMART||ANT Agent|
|Battery Life (GPS)||12 hours||Up to 11 hours (varies)||10 hours GPS on||1 Year|
|Recording Interval||1-second||1s||Smart Recording (Variable)||1-Second|
|Satellite Pre-Loading via Computer||No||3 days||Yes||N/A|
|Quick Satellite Reception||N/A||Yes||Yes||N/A|
|Ability to download custom apps to unit/device||No||No||Yes||No|
|Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Can control phone music||No||Yes|
|Has music storage and playback||Yes||No||Connectivity||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Bluetooth Legacy (pre-4.0) to Phone||No||No||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart (4.0+) to Phone Uploading||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)||No||Planned Dec 2015||Yes||No|
|Live Tracking (streaming location to website)||No||No||Yes||No|
|Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)||No||No||No||No|
|Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)||No||No||No||No||Cycling||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Designed for cycling||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Power Meter Capable||N/A||No||With some Connect IQ apps (but cannot record data)||N/A|
|Speed/Cadence Sensor Capable||N/A||Yes||Yes||N/A|
|Strava segments live on device||No||No||Running||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Designed for running||N/A||Yes||Yes||No|
|Footpod Capable (For treadmills)||N/A||No (Can use internal accelerometer)||YES (Also has INTERNAL ACCELEROMETER)||N/A|
|Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)||N/A||No||No||N/A|
|Run/Walk Mode||N/A||No||Yes||N/A||Swimming||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Designed for swimming||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Openwater swimming mode||No||No||No||No|
|Lap/Indoor Distance Tracking||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Record HR underwater||No||NO (NOT ENABLED IN SWIM MODE)||No||No|
|Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)||No||No||No||No|
|Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Drill Mode||No||No||No||Yes|
|Indoor auto-pause feature||Yes||No||No||No|
|Change pool size||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths||15y/m to 50y/m||15m-50m||17M/18Y TO 150Y/M||18y/17m to 150y/m|
|Ability to customize data fields||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can change yards to meters||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Captures per length data - indoors||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Alerts||No||Goals only||Yes||Yes||Triathlon||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Designed for triathlon||No||Sorta||No||No|
|Multisport mode||N/A||No||No||N/A||Workouts||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Create/Follow custom workouts||No||No||No||No|
|On-unit interval Feature||No||Yes||No||No|
|Training Calendar Functionality||No||No||No||No||Functions||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Virtual Partner Feature||No||Yes||No||No|
|Virtual Racer Feature||No||Yes||No||No|
|Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)||No||No||Only on Garmin Connect||No|
|Day to day watch ability||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Tidal Tables (Tide Information)||No||No||No||No|
|Jumpmaster mode (Parachuting)||No||No||No||No|
|Weather Display (live data)||No||No||Via Connect IQ app||No||Navigate||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)||N/A||No||No||N/A|
|Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)||N/A||No||No||N/A|
|Back to start||N/A||No||Yes||N/A|
|Impromptu Round Trip Route Creation||No||No||No||N/A|
|Download courses/routes from phone to unit||No||No||No||N/A||Sensors||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Optical Heart Rate Sensor internally||Yes||No|
|Heart Rate Strap Compatible||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Heart Rate Strap Capable||No||No||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Speed/Cadence Capable||N/A||No||Yes||N/A|
|ANT+ Footpod Capable||N/A||No||Yes||N/A|
|ANT+ Power Meter Capable||N/A||No||No||N/A|
|ANT+ Weight Scale Capable||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym)||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Lighting Control||No||No|
|ANT+ Bike Radar Integration||No||No|
|ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)||No||No|
|ANT+ Remote Control||No||No||Yes for Garmin VIRB||No|
|ANT+ eBike Compatibility||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX)||No|
|ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)||No|
|Shimano Di2 Shifting||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart HR Strap Capable||No||Yes||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Capable||No||Yes||no||No|
|Bluetooth Smart Footpod Capable||No||No, has internal accelerometer||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Capable||No||No||No||No|
|Temp Recording (internal sensor)||No||No||No||No|
|Temp Recording (external sensor)||No||No||Yes (Tempe)||No|
|Compatible with Firstbeat HR tools||N/A||Not yet||No||N/A||Software||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|PC Application||Swimsense Agent||MySports Connect||Garmin Express||GTC|
|Web Application||Swimsense.com||TomTom MySports||Garmin Connect||Garmin Connect|
|Phone App||None||iOS/Android||iOS/Android/Windows Phone||Garmin Fit|
|Ability to Export Settings||Yes||No||No||No||Purchase||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
|Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||N/A||Link||Link||Link|
|Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP program||Link||Link||DCRainmaker||FINIS Swimsense||TomTom Spark||Garmin Vivoactive||Garmin Swim|
Summary:Based on my brief time with the Swimsense thus far – I’m really looking forward to it becoming a mainstay in my swim bag, especially if I can get the data seamlessly flowing from me to my coach via Training Peaks – as that’s the my goal. I’m also interested in seeing how looking at cumulative data over time in areas like stroke count per lap compared to lap splits pans out for me, hopefully with the goal of improving my swim times (after all, that’s why we swim…right?).
Over the next month I’ll get more hands on experience with the trial unit sent to me, and be able to put together a full in depth review. In the meantime, feel free to use this post to ask any questions about the unit, and I’ll be happy to answer them here.