Heads up – Garmin Vivoactive 4 Sale! There’s a pretty solid deal on the Garmin Vivoactive 4 (which includes music/Spotify offline support) right now for $239, which is about $60 lower than the lowest price I’ve seen it, and $110 below official MSRP. I don’t expect this sale to last long, and I also don’t see it as a sign of anything replacing the unit (Garmin just announced the Venu SQ last week, and that’s when they typically announce new Vivo series watches – so I suspect that’s it for this year).
Yes, for real: The Garmin Swim is back, baby. Over 7 years later and Garmin has finally incremented to the second edition in their swimmers-only watch. And, it’s basically exactly what you’d expect in a swimming first watch from Garmin in 2019. Unlike the previous edition, this one now supports openwater swimming with GPS, while also recording/displaying your heart rate in real-time via the optical HR sensor on the back. It has all the activity/sleep/stress/life tracking stuff you’ll find in any other Garmin watch. And it can even track your run, ride, or gym workout.
But more than that – it’s actually got new swim-specific features not seen on any other Garmin device to date. This includes auto-rest for intervals, Critical Swim Speed tracking (kinda like FTP, but for swimmers), real-time pacing alerts, and new improvements to structured workouts that can also be executed on the watch. It sounds like those features are set to be added to some existing 2019 Garmin watches as well, but no timeframes yet.
About the only downside compared to the OG Garmin Swim watch? It costs $100 more. Now it’s $249 versus the original $149 that the Swim 1 came out at. Also, the original Swim 1 just used a coin-cell battery that lasted forever in your swim bag (like, many many months). Whereas this new one is more akin to a typical connected smartwatch that you’ll need to recharge every week depending on usage (official claim is 7 days smartwatch mode, 13 hours GPS-on mode, and 72 hours of pool swimming time with optical HR).
Oh, and finally, as always, I use devices like wilderness trails – leave nothing behind. These are media loaner units that go back to Garmin shortly. You can help support the site here by checking out the links at the end of the post. Doing so makes you awesome.
The Basics (Non-Swim Stuff):
If you’re familiar with Garmin wearables then honestly you can skip this section. In this chunk I’m going to outline all the general bits of the Garmin Swim 2 watch, from the activity tracking to sleep tracking, heart rate stuffs and more. All the basics, but nothing touching on swimming specifically. That’s all the remaining sections.
To begin, you’ve got the watch face. You can mix and match from a slate of pre-installed watch faces, or thousands more from Garmin Connect IQ (like Mario I found below). For the pre-installed ones, you can tweak the accent color, but can’t customize the individual data fields on each watch face (Garmin’s higher-end watches allow that). The default watch face includes the total swam distance that week (in kilometers, no matter your settings), as well as your steps for the day. But other watch faces also include your current heart rate as well.
If you press up or down, you’ll iterate through the widget roll. These include bits like weather, steps, 24×7 heart rate, stress, body battery, and your last swim details (including dedicated pages for openwater versus pool swims). You can customize which of these pages are shown or not shown, and most of them allow you to open them for further details. Here’s a quick gallery of the different pages:
Some of the icons are pretty darn subtle. For example, two wave lines below a swimmer means ‘pool swim’ versus three lines means ‘openwater swim’, specifically on the weekly total pages. You can configure if you want your week to start on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.
The watch will track your steps and general wandering around activity using the accelerometer (it also has GPS too, but that’s for workouts specifically). You can see your step totals on most of the watch faces, but also on the steps widget, which you can then dive into for more details:
Or, you can crack open the Garmin Connect Mobile smartphone app, which shows all your step data in numerous slice and diceable ways:
Note that the Garmin Swim 2 doesn’t have a barometric altimeter in it, and thus doesn’t track stairs climbed.
On the back you’ll have found that blinking green light, that’s the optical heart rate sensor – the same one found in the Garmin Forerunner 45 watches. It tracks your heart rate 24×7 as well as during workouts.
You can see your heart rate on some of the watch faces, but also there’s a four-hour graph as well in the widgets. And atop that you can look at your resting heart rate tracking, which is probably the most useful portion of it.
Like steps and everything else on your watch, this is transferred to Garmin Connect and you can do longer term analytics there as well:
Next on the activity tracking front is the non-active bits: Sleep. The watch will track your sleep automatically each night, no button presses required. I find it pretty solid on the exact wake/sleep times. In fact, with a two week old newborn in the house, I’m impressed with how well it’s handling that. Check out these graphs:
Note that like most companies, Garmin still doesn’t track naps. So those just disappear like a fart in the wind, no credit for them. And let me tell you, I could use some extra sleeping credit these last few weeks.
Last but not least on the general features front is the smartphone notifications. These will show from any app that you’ve configured your phone for notifications on. So this includes anything from phone calls to text messages, and apps like Twitter or even Candy Crush. You can configure whether or not to display these, as well as whether or not to display them in a workout. When a notification comes in, you can either cancel/clear it immediately, or you can open it up to get more information:
There’s no method however to reply to a text message (at least on iOS, due to Apple restrictions), so it’s more of a confirmation thing than anything else. Still, it’s easy and simple. You can silence these at night using either the do not disturb function on your phone or on the watch itself. Your choice.
Pool Swimming Details:
We’re gonna jump straight into the pool on this one. Though, technically the unit does support five sports in total: Pool Swim, Open Water Swim, Run, Bike, and Cardio (Indoor). Note that if you want walking/hiking, you can just use running, there’s no practical difference in terms of data fields or anything.
To start a pool swim, you’ll press the upper right button, and by default the first selection will be pool swim:
Press it again and you’ll be on the waiting screen where you can see your current pool length, heart rate status, time, and then selection of options.
If you press down to options you’ve got a pile of things: Workouts, data screen configuration, alerts, pool size, stroke detection, countdown start, and auto rest. I’ll explain them all one after another.
First up is workouts. This is where you can launch custom workouts created on Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile and then downloaded to your watch. Garmin says they’ve made some tweaks timed to the launch of the Swim 2 that add additional features, specifically that you can now enable more than two steps in a repeat block, and that you can also enable nested repeat blocks.
Here’s how that looks on Garmin Connect, creating a structured workout:
On the watch, there’s actually a single custom workout already, which is the CSS Test. I’ll talk more about that later, but technically speaking that’s just a custom workout they’ve pre-loaded. I’d love to see them pre-load a few more workouts, akin to what they do on the Vivo series for a handful of workouts pre-loaded.
Next back in the options is the data screen customization. This works like any other Garmin watch and allows you to customize data pages and add some as well. In total, you can have five customizable data pages, plus a ‘Drill Log’ page, a ‘Heart Rate Zone’ page, and the ‘Time/Date’ page. Each custom page can have up to three data metrics on it.
Here’s a listing of all the data metrics you can use within your data fields above:
Timer Fields: Timer, Swim Time, Interval Time, Elapsed Time Distance Fields: Distance, Interval Distance Pace Fields: Average Pace (whole workout), Interval Pace, Last Length Pace Heart Rate Fields: Heart Rate (current), Average HR (whole workout), HR Zone, Aerobic Training Effect, Anaerobic Training Effect, HR %Max, % Heart Rate Reserve, Avg. HR %Max, Avg. %HRR, Int Avg HR, Int Avg %HRR, Int Avg %Max, Int Max HR, Int Max %HR, Int Max. %Max, Time in Zone Stroke Fields: Interval Stroke Type, Last Length Stroke Type, Last Length Strokes, Average Strokes per Length, Interval Strokes per Length Length Fields: Lengths, Interval Lengths Swolf Fields: Average Swolf, Interval Swolf, Last Length Swolf Rest Fields: Rest Timer, Repeat On Other Fields: Calories, Time of Day, Intervals
Phew, got all that? Yes, it was as much fun to type-up as it was for you to read.
Also for lack of anywhere else to stick it – the unit can only connect to HR sensors. It cannot connect to running footpods, cycling sensors, or any other type of sensors. Just heart rate sensors.
Next, there’s alerts. You can create alerts for time, distance, or pacing. With pacing being the most notable/important new one here. The way it works is that it’s kinda akin to something like the FINIS Tempo trainer in that it’ll vibrate/chirp your wrist each time you should be hitting the wall for the pace you specify:
So if you set a given pace – say 1:30/100m, then it’ll do the math based on your pool size and remind you each 18 seconds, which ideally lines up to when you hit the wall. It will both buzz and well as make this bird in a blender chirping sound.
You can adjust these pacing alerts on the fly in the pool by holding the up button, and you can also mute them as well – again, all mid-workout.
Next, there’s pool size. This one is easy, and it’s where you set your pool size. There’s a few quick access sizes: 25 meters, 25 yards, 50 meters, 33 1/3 meters, 33 1/3 yards, and then Custom. Custom allows you to set from 14m to 150m, or 15y to 150y.
After that, there’s ‘Stroke Detection’. By default this is on, but if you’re like me (a lowly triathlete who only swims freestyle), then you could consider turning it off. Which is basically like saying ‘I don’t want to hear when you’ve detected my stroke wrong because I just don’t care’. Roughly.
Following that there’s ‘Countdown Start’ (off by default), which allows you a three-second count down when you press start. Or, if you were more nefarious, a three-second head start. The point though is to allow you to press start, and then go at exactly 0 seconds. Ideal for starting from the blocks, or for those of us that just want every last millisecond of time on our splits.
And last but definitely not least (in fact, arguably the best feature) is the new Auto Rest.
This essentially is like Garmin’s Auto Pause in Running/Cycling, but for the pool. It’ll automatically create laps (sets) as you stop at the wall each time. And once you go, it’ll start the next set. There’s no button pressing at all. You could literally do your entire workout by memory from start to finish and never touch your watch, while still getting your set information. Here’s exactly that from just this morning:
The way it works is that in the pool you’ll see the screen on a white background indicating you’re mid-lap. But when it goes to a black background, it means you’re in rest:
And in fact, you’ll see the difference on the interval timer specific screen, because it shows the last interval time, and any repeat time as well.
In discussing this feature with Garmin, they noted that it’s not going to be for everyone. It’s mostly accurate, but not always perfectly accurate. If you’re Type-A like me and want each set timed to the second perfect, you’ll probably want to stick to buttons. Garmin says that both intervals and rest durations (times) could be off “occasionally” by as much as 5-10 seconds. Further, if you’re doing shorter rest durations (Garmin says under 15 seconds), they wouldn’t recommend it there either. Finally, you can’t use this in conjunction with any structured/custom workouts – those require manual button pressing.
As for my actual experience with it – it’s consistently within 2-3 seconds for me. And there’s technically two elements to that. First is the real-time display and when exactly it switches from swim to rest screen. I find that lagged about 3-4 seconds in almost every case. However, as soon as it switches modes, it actually goes back and ‘credits’ you back those seconds. You’ll see that in real-time. So if you finished the lap in 36 seconds, but it kept counting till 41 on the screen until it switched to rest, then it’ll almost always show the actual interval time as 36-37 seconds in my testing. Said differently: It works out.
I had exactly one lap in all of my pool swimming where it went beyond that 2-4 second period and took about 10-12 seconds to realize it was in rest mode, but it still went back and retroactively got the actual split within a few seconds. Woot!
Ok, with all those features explained, let’s head back to the main screen and press start:
Once you do that you should start swimming, and with that, you’ll start seeing data on the data pages you’ve configured. Now it’s a bit tricky capturing this data at my local pools, since all but one of them outlaw cameras/phones. And the one that does allow cameras? It has lighting to match an underground rave. Seriously, it’s hideously useless for product photography. Tomorrow’s destination will be better.
Unlike running or cycling, there’s very little interaction you’re going to have with the watch once you’ve started swimming. I find the best time to see the watch is a very slight wrist twist just after pushing off the wall on any given length, which I can easily and clearly make out the numbers on the watch. Of course, I’m lucky in that my eyesight is pretty good – but even in the disco pool it’s not an issue.
I’ve already discussed the pacing bit above, so no need to re-hash that. I’ve had good luck with swim length accuracy, and no false laps in any of my sets. Though I’ve also been absurdly lucky in my pool swims lately to only share the line with 0 or 1 other persons, which is a significant drop from the dozen+ people I’d often get in other lanes/pools. I find most of my accuracy errors come from people doing stupid @#$# in front of me, which in turn causes me to stop swimming (and fantasize about beating them up with a pull buoy).
You see, all indoor swim watches or goggles work on roughly the same premise: They use accelerometers and gyros to determine whether you’re swimming consistently, or if you’ve just turned at the wall. So if you stop to beat someone up, then to the watch, that looks like you just did a flip turn at the wall (and you’ll get extra laps). As has been the case for a decade in my reviews of swim watches, my advice is simple: Do as little non-swimming stuff as possible while swimming.
No dancing, no re-enacting the YMCA song to your buddies in between sets. And if you’ve got Auto Rest on, for the love of god don’t try picking up that Girl or Guy in the lane next to you by pretending to be a coach and flailing your arms about demonstrating proper catch and elbow placement in between sets. All of which will cause bad things to happen, no matter the device.
Just swim. Oh, and if you go to the bathroom mid-set (in the restroom, not the pool, ideally), then pause your watch. Otherwise it might think you’re swimming then too. Got it? Good.
Next, end the pool swim. When you do so you’ll be given your set summary:
In addition, if you hit any PR’s (such as fastest 100m, 500m, etc… paces), it’ll tell you that too. Otherwise, it’ll use Bluetooth Smart to quietly sync to your phone behind the scenes. Usually within a minute or two. If you’ve got it connected to any 3rd party training log platforms like TrainingPeaks, Today’s Plan, or Strava – they’ll get copies of it immediately as well.
(One minor bug I’ve seen: It seems to put roughly the last known openwater swim GPS location on Garmin Connect for your indoor pool swims. Garmin Connect Mobile doesn’t show this bug. Assuming it’s an easy thing for them to correct.)
You’ll see all your set splits, heart rate, and plenty of additional swim metrics like SWOLF and number of strokes per length. There isn’t however any way to edit anything, so in the event something is wrong (or crazy lady interrupted your swim), then it is what it is. Oh, and in case you’re curious, that single random 40m blip in the middle is correct. That was crazy lady not once in less than 30 seconds managing to be on the wrong side of the line. I had no incorrect data though on this set (or any sets for that matter). Slow data, but not incorrect data.
Finally, let’s talk CSS – or Critical Swim Speed. This is new to Garmin, though it isn’t actually Garmin-specific. You can find more details on it here. Essentially though it’s a metric to track your lactate threshold swim speed. It’s not something you do daily, but rather is designed to test every month or so. Garmin and others compare it in the same sort of ballpark as FTP would be for cyclists.
Within the Swim 2, you can execute the CSS test at any point, which is just a structured workout.
It’s got a super simple structure:
10 minute easy warm-up
400m at race pace
10 minute easy
200m at race pace
There is also a calculator on the site as well, if you just want to do this test manually:
Once you’re done you’ll receive an alert at the end of the workout that you’ve got a new CSS value (for those triathletes, it’s identical to the FTP and lactate threshold messages on your watch). Or, you can override it manually at any time:
The idea though is that you’ll trend this over time. Though at present, it’s not viewable anywhere within Garmin Connect or Garmin Connect Mobile. I’ve gotta believe that’s on the way, since there are so many other performance metrics that are trended over time already on Garmin Connect.
Openwater Swimming Details:
Next, we head outside into openwater. This is any body of water that you’re going to use GPS for – so that’d be lakes, oceans, rivers, or that crazy-ass pool in Chile that’s like 24 kilometers long. You never want to use GPS though for any normal-sized lap pool, even when it’s outside. It’s just not great for short distances like that.
As with indoor swimming, you can use the optical HR sensor on the back of the unit, or you can use an HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM chest straps. Both of those support downloading data from the chest strap to your watch after the swim set is done. It has to wait until the swim set is complete to download that data because neither ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart travel more than about 2-3cm underwater. Note that other brand straps won’t work here, because they haven’t implemented the correct ANT+ protocols to support the cached downloading bits (meaning, no, you can’t use a Polar/Suunto/anyone else strap/sensor).
What’s cool though is that (and all of this applies to pool swimming too), you can use the optical HR sensor in the watch during the swim to see your data, and then you can still download from the chest strap post-swim to get more accurate data. It’ll simply replace the optical HR swim data automatically.
In any case, to start an openwater swim you’ll head back to the sport menu and choose openwater:
There’s not many options for openwater swim, leaving you with just: Data screen configuration (basically same as indoor, except without the pool-specific fields), alerts (time/distance/stroke rate only), laps (autolap or manual), and GPS type (GPS/GPS+GLONASS/GPS+Galileo).
Otherwise, once it’s found GPS it’ll show you that, as well as your heart rate. In my experience it’ll find GPS within a few seconds if you’ve been outside recently or if you’ve synced with your phone or computer recently so it can pre-cache the satellite information.
After that, simply hit the start button and start swimming. As you’re swimming you can iterate through your data fields, and you’ll get real-time distance stats. You can pause it if you have to wait for boats to go across the channel, or you can just let it ride, like I did below.
One of the things I’ve been looking for specific here is that it doesn’t crap itself and stop recording distance randomly (usually at just a few dozen meters into the swim). It’s been an issue with recent Garmin watches until this summer when they put a bunch of resources into solving it. I’m happy to say I haven’t seen it in any of my openwater swims to date. When I asked back in August about the status of it, Garmin seemed to indicate they think they had solved it, and their employees in testing the beta firmware had gone through hundreds of swims without a single freeze (a massive accomplishment, so I was at a 50% failure rate). While I can’t prove a negative, I can at least say I’ve not yet had it happen to me on any swims.
But just as important as that is the accuracy bits. Which we’ll get to in a second. Once you’re done with your swim, you’ll press the pause button, and then press it again to stop. There’s no auto-rest functionality in open water. After which, you’ll get a summary of your swim on the watch itself:
And of course, if you’re on Garmin Connect Mobile (the smartphone app), you’ll see that there too.
From an openwater swim perspective, things are working super well for me. Arguably the best openwater swim watch I’ve ever had, even including the rock-solid Suunto Ambit 2/3 units, which was one of the most accurate GPS watches of all time. In fact, spoiler alert for the next section – I’d argue this is the most accurate openwater swim watch ever (for on-wrist usage).
GPS & Heart Rate Accuracy:
So let’s talk accuracy. There are two elements to this: Heart rate accuracy, and GPS accuracy. For heart rate recording, you’ve got two options: The first is to use the internal optical HR sensor, and the second is to use a Garmin HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM chest strap. For the purposes of this conversation, we’re just focused on the optical HR sensor accuracy. Chest straps are a pretty well understood thing, and Garmin’s chest strap has been around years.
When it comes to swimming HR in general, I don’t actually find it super useful. The reason is that swimming HR tends to lag significantly compared to running or cycling HR. It’s just not ideal for pacing shorter intervals in the pool (HR is rarely good for super short pacing in any sport, but especially swimming). It is good however for pacing longer intervals. Next, there’s the aspect of optical heart rate while swimming. Every company from Polar to Suunto to Garmin and probably even Apple, if you get them drunk enough, will tell you that measuring optical HR underwater is at best an iffy proposition. It depends heavily on the light not reflecting/refracting in the wrong direction and is super variable human to human. In other words, put it in the camp of: It may work great for me, but suck for you. Or vice versa.
Got all that? Good. Let’s take a look at a few swims then. First is an openwater swim. For this swim I had the Apple Watch Series 5 on my right wrist, the Garmin Swim 2 on my left wrist, a Polar OH-1 Plus under my wetsuit, and then a Wahoo TICKR-X chest strap also under my wetsuit. Lots of data (except that the TICKR-X is currently shooting blanks, so no data there). Here’s what that all looked like:
So…yeah. I have no idea. I’d say the Garmin Swim 2 is the most stable out of all of them (it was a non-stop swim at relatively even pace), but that doesn’t make it correct.
How about another swim. Here’s this morning’s swim comparing a Polar Vantage M to the Garmin Swim 2, both optical HR sensors (sorry, no chest strap, forgot that):
Well hey there! At least those two agree. And, I’d say they’re fairly close. You do however see though that there’s a few of the intervals that the Polar Vantage M fails to catch initially, namely the shorter 100m ones. The Garmin Swim 2 easily catches all of those. In fact, it missed none of them. Though, it did appear to briefly spike at the beginning, which probably wasn’t real (around the 50-second marker).
Well, that’s not terribly conclusive either. So let’s go back to openwater from last week. Apple Watch on one wrist, Garmin Swim 2 on the other. Polar OH-1 Plus again, and Wahoo TICKR-X again. Oh, wait – what’s that? The Apple Watch actually didn’t record a single HR value the entire time? Ok…umm…what about the TICKR-X? Oh, that too also didn’t capture any values in the exported file? Sigh. Fine, here’s the Polar OH-1 Plus vs the Garmin Swim 2:
So what you see here is that while things are a bit jaggy, they’re actually not that far apart if you were talking general effort. The Polar OH1 appears to lag slightly behind the Swim 2 from a responsiveness standpoint (such as after those breaks), but otherwise it’s in the same rough ballpark. Kinda, sorta.
Look, I’d put things in the mostly plausible camps. The HR’s from the Swim 2 seem to be about right with my efforts, but with some variability between all the data sources, I can’t really get any agreement on which one is actually correct.
So let’s go to something much simpler: GPS data. It doesn’t lie, and is super easy to analyze. Let’s start with yesterday’s openwater swim. For this I’ve got the Polar Vantage M (I selected that since it’s the closest openwater swim capable GPS watch price-wise) on one wrist, the Garmin Swim 2 on the other, and then a Garmin FR935 attached to a swim buoy behind me as the reference track (it’s above the water in running mode recording at 1-second intervals – the well-accepted practice on how to create reference tracks). Here’s that data set:
The swim track of the Garmin Swim 2 can be a bit hard to see, being the constant wobbles and misdirection of the Polar Vantage M’s swim track. So let’s get rid of that for a second as it’s not even close.
Woah – much easier to see now. But let’s zoom in a bunch and look at a few key points. Overall this is exactly where I swam, it’s super close (also, you can click on the set link above to zoom in too).
But in particular, there are some well anchored marine traffic channel markers that I right up next to, and it’s super impressive how close this gets. Both the reference track and the Swim 2 got the correct side of the buoy – very very close.
On the next buoy, I went around the outside of it (without stopping). The reference track catches that correctly, but not the Swim 2. Keep in mind, almost no other GPS units would actually pass this test in openwater swim mode:
Here’s adding back in the Polar Vantage M to demonstrate that:
It’s a super-super good GPS track. Really accurate. Here’s the total distances between the three units. You’ll see the reference track and Swim 2 are a mere 30 meters apart after some 1,700m.
Next, let’s look at another set. This time swapping out the Polar Vantage M for the Apple Watch Series 5. Previously I’d have said that was the reigning king for openwater swim GPS accuracy. But, as you can see – that’s no longer the case. Here’s the data set:
Now, the Apple Watch didn’t make any major mistakes, and overall it’s very good. But you can see as I started off on the first crossing of the channel, it wasn’t spot-on:
It’s hard to see in teal, but it basically cuts across in the wrong spot, and then does a weird loop-de-loop on the other side. The Swim 2 and FR945 reference track are near identical.
If we go down a ways till when I cross back over again, you’ll see a small quirk. I had to wait here a few seconds for a ship to pass through. It looks like I drifted very slightly, which both the reference track and Apple Watch Series 5 picked up. We’re only talking a few meters extra, but the Swim 2 appeared to smooth that out.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake when I made my next turn you see the Apple Watch cut the corner a little bit again, whereas the Swim 2 handled it nicely.
On the last buoy, I went to the left of it. Here it shows me going through it on the Swim 2, and to the right of it on the others. Of course, it’s totally possible the buoy has moved slightly. Either way, pretty darn accurate.
And finally, one last one for fun. Same set of devices as before, just a different route. Here’s that data set:
There’s a bit of funkiness in the lower right corner up there, so we’ll come back to that in a second. But, first off, here’s crossing the channel, with everything on the correct sides of the buoy, and also the correct side of the piers at the top of the image. You’ll notice some squiggles again, that’s from another ship passing that I had to wait briefly for. But all the units held their position nicely.
At the other turn, we see no corner-cutting from the Swim 2, though very slight corner-cutting from the Apple Watch:
Interestingly, once across the channel, we see the singular error in all my openwater swims – a brief errant loop-de-loop shown on the Swim 2 track. I had paused here to take photos/video, and so my arm was below the water a bit (which is no different than anyone else treading water waiting for a swim buddy). It appeared to cause some minor confusion for the GPS.
Finally, there’s the extremely rare reference track failure. For whatever reason, the watch went all squirrely in this corner near the dock (which I’ve drawn in, in blue). But the Swim 2 and Apple watch were fine. And yes, I did go back and forth there. I was closing in on 1-mile and didn’t want to end the swim at .97 miles. Obviously one can’t do that.
Ok, enough maps.
I think it’s super clear, and for anyone that’s looked at openwater swim tracks over the years you’ll be thinking the same thing: Damn, that’s really really really good. As I said before, I’ve previously found the Apple Watch 3/4/5 openwater swim tracks to be industry leading. But with the Swim 2, they’ve lost that title. Not by a ton, but lost it nonetheless. The Garmin Swim 2 is the new king of openwater GPS swim accuracy. Sure, it’s a niche title, but I’d rather be the king of something, than nothing at all.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
If we just step back and look at the name of the watch itself, it basically had one job: Not screw up swimming. Or, as the internet would say: “You had one job.” And thankfully, it appears that it nails that single job. As I said above, it’s easily producing the most accurate openwater swim tracks out there, period. And for heart rate accuracy, it’s definitely well into the ‘plausible’ camp, if not the most accurate wrist-based optical HR sensor for swimming (again, perhaps not the pinnacle of fancy titles, but hey, it fits).
There are some very minor quirky bugs that need to be worked out. Things like the GPS position showing up in pool swims after the fact online on Garmin Connect, or some minor user interface quirks in the menus that just need flushing out. None of it impacting actual day to day use, just things that are more stuff I’d notice and I suspect others wouldn’t.
Price-wise it feels perhaps a touch bit high, especially with the $250 price point. I think it would have sold extremely well at $199, maybe even $219 – but $249 might be tougher for the average swimmer. On the flip side, it’s accurate – so there’s that. Also, it’s still a running and cycling watch, and a daily activity tracker. So again, there’s that too. Time will tell of course on pricing. And since it was 7 years since the last version, Garmin has plenty of time to decide by 2026 whether they’ll do a Swim 3 if the pricing is right.
With that – thanks for reading!
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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.
I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories. Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide. You can read more about the details here. By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, since this item is more than $49, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.
For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pickup the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too! With Wiggle new customers get 10GBP (or equivalent in other currencies) off their first order for anything over 50GBP by using code [Currently Disabled] at check-out after clicking the links below.
And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.
This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
This is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
This is the pinnacle of Garmin chest straps, and includes dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, Swimming support, Running Dynamics, as well as back-fill of HR/Steps/Intensity Minutes/Calories if not wearing the watch in certain sports.
Seriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.
Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.
You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.
I travel a fair bit, both for work and for fun. Here’s a bunch of random trip reports and daily trip-logs that I’ve put together and posted. I’ve sorted it all by world geography, in an attempt to make it easy to figure out where I’ve been.
The most common question I receive outside of the “what’s the best GPS watch for me” variant, are photography-esq based. So in efforts to combat the amount of emails I need to sort through on a daily basis, I’ve complied this “My Photography Gear” post for your curious minds! It’s a nice break from the day to day sports-tech talk, and I hope you get something out of it!
Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2019 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s 2018 Gear Guide too.