USMS Swim Bag: Swim Gadgets

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2. FiniS SwimSenSe
($170) finisinc.com
The Swimsense is the bulkiest of the three brands
tested. Although it would not make a great wristwatch for many people, it has a larger screen with
more data configurations than the PoolMates.
Finis’s online interface, Swimsense Bridge, allows for easy upgrades. When the unit is docked, you can search for and install
firmware updates. Testers accidentally discovered several great features that were not in the printed version of the manual. One is the
ability to configure the Swimsense through the Bridge, rather than
on the watch itself (the method described in the manual). Swimmers
can enter personal user data, pool data, and even set up five custom
screens for the data they want displayed when they’re swimming.
Another nice surprise not found in the manual was iiM, or
interval inference mode, in which the watch senses when you’re
stopped on the wall and pauses itself. Testers who had tried the
PoolMates and the Garmin Swim, and had to hit a button every
time they stopped on the wall, loved the iiM feature. The Swimsense screen reverses to light text on dark background when the
watch is in pause mode, another great feature that makes it easy to
tell at a glance that you’re recording when you need to be.
The Swimsense was able to detect the four major strokes in
most testers better than the Garmin Swim, although it occasionally
dropped laps on certain strokes. One tester noticed dropped laps
whenever she swam backstroke.
Once data is uploaded to the web and into a training log the
presentation is excellent, with nice-looking graphs and an interactive slider displaying the details of the workout. Finis also allows
editing of the stroke type in the rare event that it guesses wrong
during the swim, but testers could not find a way to add dropped
laps, as in the case of the missing backstroke laps. (That tester’s
400 IMs showed up as a 375 IMs). Testers appreciated the “Tip”
and “Help” trays on the right side of the window that explained
common problems and how to solve them.
The Swimsense does not support multiple users as the PoolMate
Pro does, and it will only record 14 sessions, compared to the 100 of
PoolMate Pro. Testers who preferred this device were OK with this
because the unit needs to be docked for charging anyway, since it
doesn’t have a removable battery, so data was uploaded and analyzed
during charging sessions.
3. Garmin Swim
($150) garmin.com/swim
Garmin is known for its multisport gadgets; the
Garmin Swim is its first pool-only device. Slim and
attractive, although a little large for smaller wrists,
the Garmin Swim can be worn as a wristwatch. Like the PoolMates,
the Garmin does not need to be charged because it operates on a
battery—one that can be easily replaced by the user—rather than
recharged. Like the Finis Swimsense, the Garmin Swim has a webbased interface and can receive firmware updates.
The Garmin Swim is, by far, the easiest of the three devices to
read and use. The large face and bold numbers are easier to see,
and testers found the functions and button controls more intuitive
than the others. A single training screen can be customized so you
see the data you want during the workout, which satisfied most
testers, although some preferred Finis’s five customizable screens.
The Garmin Swim detected all four strokes with reasonable accuracy, although not quite as well as the Swimsense. One tester
reported that the Garmin Swim was never able to distinguish her
butterfly from her freestyle. However, none of the testers reported
any dropped laps with the Garmin Swim, so it was more accurate
than the Swimsense and the PoolMate on that front.
Like the Finis Swimsense, the Garmin Swim has the option of inverting the display during pause mode, for easy verification that the device
is recording or has paused recording. However, the Garmin lacks the
Swimsense’s ability to detect when you’ve stopped at the wall and automatically go into pause mode—a feature that was sorely missed after
getting spoiled by not having to push a button when stopped on the
wall and before starting again when using the Swimsense.
Garmin’s data upload is done via a USB stick that communicates with
the watch. Once signed into a Garmin account, workouts are stored
and displayed with excellent interactive graphs and charts. Editing of
the workouts is possible, but not everything can be edited: Missing laps
can be added (except that Garmin didn’t drop any), but stroke type cannot be changed if it guesses incorrectly (as in the misidentified butterfly).
Garmin Swim does not support multiple users.
GPS Devices
4. FiniS Hydro tracker GPS
($130) finisinc.com
Built for the open water swimmer who also may
want to use it for cycling and running, (a neoprene
armband is included) this device is simple, does only
one thing—GPS—but does it well. Finis’s software package, Streamline Bridge, was easy to install and configure.
The HydroTracker needs to be charged before use (there is a battery
indicator in the bridge software). This device is particularly sensitive to
heavy-use USB ports, and to any interference between the device and its
four-pin dock. Several testers reported that the device lost contact with
its dock, even when it sat motionless on a flat surface. This generated
annoying improper-disconnect messages on their Macs.
There are only two buttons: power and start/stop. There are
four indicator lights: power, GPS, recording, and paused. Although the process to start recording is simple, it needs to be attended to prior to strapping it on the back of the head.
Swim Bag: Swim Gadgets
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The indicator lights are extremely difficult to see in bright light.
After a post-swim trip to breakfast was recorded on one test day,
instead of the actual swim, testers decided it is best to mount the
device on the goggle strap (but not put the goggles on), then hold
it under cupped hands or a towel in order to see the indicator
lights and ensure the satellite signal is found and the recording
light is on before the swim. Then put on the goggles and swim.
Once the swimming starts, the device is easy to forget. It is
comfortable, secure, and never a distraction. You can’t stop during
the swim and analyze anything as with the Magellan or other GPS
devices, which some testers found refreshing.
Once uploaded, the swim courses and the maps (Google) that appear in the Streamline Training Log are fantastic. In addition to their
distance, duration, speed, and pace, testers loved the ability to see an
animation of their swims. The device is extremely accurate, showing
even slight changes in course. When one group got out and walked
along the beach to avoid some fishermen, the line clearly showed
on the map that they were at the water’s edge and not in the water.
While walking along the beach, a tester stopped and walked back a
few feet to talk to a fisherman and even that short diversion showed
up on the map. Testers also loved being able to email the map link
to members of their swim groups so everyone could see the swim
for that day. In one instance, a swim of about 4 miles showed up as
16,000 miles when it was uploaded, but an email to support resolved
the issue and the file was corrected.
The Finis HydroTracker GPS is perfect for open water swimmers curious about the places and distances they swim. To use it
for cycling and running, the sampling rate can be changed via the
software when it is docked. The neoprene armband is somewhat
inelegant compared to wrist-mounted devices. Multisport athletes
will likely prefer the Magellan or another brand.
5. maGellan SwitcH and SwitcH UP
($280-$350) magellangps.com
Magellan has crammed a whole lot of functionality into its devices. The main difference between the
Switch and the Switch Up is the ability to remove
the Switch Up from its wristband and dock it on a bicycle mount
(included). The Switch Up also includes a temperature gauge. The
units charge in a USB dock, but an AC adaptor plug is included.
The units securely adhere to the dock with a satisfying click—testers
preferred this to Finis’s four-pin docking system.
The Magellans do not have accelerometers, so they cannot
be used to record lap swimming. However, many customizable
activity profiles allow the creative user to record just about anything. The Magellan Switch and Switch Up were fairly easy to
configure and Magellan has a nice online interface with tons of
data, similar to Garmin’s.
A complete test of the Magellan devices’ capabilities goes beyond the scope of this review. Our testers focused on its application for swimming, knowing that many of our members who are
also triathletes have an interest in these multifunctional computers. Multisport athletes will want to check out other, more detailed, reviews, such as DCRainmaker’s blog at dcrainmaker.com.
As a GPS device for Open Water Swimming
Although the Switch and Switch Up are designed to be worn on the
wrist, this creates a problem for the GPS function, as the signal is lost
every time your arm goes underwater. It will still track your course, but
there is an annoying indicator buzz each time you gain or lose the signal (every stroke). With the Switch Up, this can be resolved by placing
the unit inside the swim cap instead of using the wrist mount, but that
takes away the advantage of being able to stop and look at the device
during the swim, which some testers liked to do. If immediately moving
on to a bike or a run session, the Switch Up can be removed from the
swim cap and snapped into the wrist or bike mount.
Testers found that the courses tracked were not always accurate.
In one instance, a straight line across the top of a residential area
appeared during a swim. This added to the total mileage on a swim,
throwing off the accuracy. In addition, the maps used by Magellan
are inaccurate for the geographic area where our testers live—no
one recognized the place names.
For anyone who trains in multiple disciplines and loves gadgets,
the Magellan is an amazing tool. See Heart Rate Monitors for
more information.
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Heart Rate Monitors
Swimmers use heart rate monitors primarily for one of two reasons: Because they’re under the care of a cardiologist who recommends a monitor for safety reasons, or because they want to target
a certain heart rate to improve fitness level. Depending on what’s
needed in the way of analysis, there are many choices. We looked
at Finis’s AquaPulse, designed specifically for swimmers, and two
brands—Magellan and Polar—that are popular with multisport
athletes. There are many others on the market.
6. FiniS aqUaPUlSe
($120) finisinc.com
As with their GPS unit, Finis has created a
simple, single-function device for swimmers. The
AquaPulse clips to the ear lobe—there is no chest
strap. Testers who have worn chest straps in the past loved the ear
mount. One tester could not wear it comfortably, but all others
didn’t notice it at all or only noticed it for a few laps and then forgot about it. Earrings need to be removed.
The AquaPulse has only one function: it tells you what your
heart rate is while you are swimming. You configure how often
you want this information: every 10, 20, 30, or 45 seconds; or every 1, 2, or 5 minutes.
The AquaPulse uses the same bone conduction technology as Finis’s
SwiMP3 player to deliver the sound through the jawbone. Testers did
not have difficulty hearing the announcements except when swimming
hard sprints. That is easily overcome by pressing one of the buttons to
hear the last recorded heart rate whenever you miss one.
The ear clip has an infrared sensor in it that detects blood-flow
through the earlobe. When compared with the Polar and Magellan
HR monitors, and the very low-tech old-fashioned way—with a
finger to the wrist—the AquaPulse was accurate every time.
One of our testers, a cardiologist, preferred the AquaPulse to
the chest strap models for several reasons: The chest straps are
difficult to keep on when swimming, and he felt that some of his
patients would appreciate not looking like cardiac patients at the
pool. The earlobe attachment is low profile and just as accurate.
Because of the wide design, this device does not fit very easily
into some USB ports, so Finis thoughtfully includes an extension
cord, which makes charging it a snap. And that is all it does in the
computer: just charges. At present, the device does not upload any
data, although that is planned in the future.
7. maGellan SwitcH and SwitcH UP
($280-$350) magellangps.com
As stated in the GPS review, these devices were
only tested for their functionality for swimming,
please see the other recommended links for more
extensive reviews of these complex training computers.
As a Heart Rate Monitor for Swimming
When the device is turned on, it immediately searches for the
heart rate monitor on the chest strap. Nearly all testers experienced some difficulty getting it into the right spot for a reading.
Women were able to keep it in place a little better due to their
suits, but men complained frequently of the strap being pushed
down when leaving the wall.
If testers managed to find the right spot and not push off the
wall too quickly, they did enjoy seeing their heart rate data between swim sets. Actual, average and max heart rates, are all
displayed on a single screen. Magellan’s light text on dark background was easier to read between sets than Polar’s dark on light,
although both have backlights.
Once data was uploaded to Magellan’s customizable training
website, the data was displayed attractively with a wealth of information. Interactive charts allow one to pinpoint heart rate at exact
points during the workout.
8. Polar rcX5
($350) polarusa.com
The Polar RCX5 is another complex training
computer for which there are detailed reviews
elsewhere. Again, we recommend DCRainmaker’s
blog. We tested only the heart rate monitor, although this device
can pair with separate, optional GPS, stride, speed, and cadence
sensors to make it a high-functioning, full-service training partner
for the serious multisport athlete.
The RCX5 is the most attractive of the wristwatch-type devices we tested (shiny red) and is slim and comfortable to wear. The
chest strap presented problems similar to those of the Magellan
chest strap, but it did seem to keep a connection a little better. The reality is that most swimmers will struggle with a chest
strap. However, for those who are willing to wear something else
to keep it in place (a tri singlet for men) and who want a ton of
other functions and ancillary device options, the RCX5 would be
an excellent choice.
Workout information is uploaded via a USB stick and once
uploaded to a customized training log on Polar’s site, the data
available is displayed beautifully with many options available to
analyze heart rate.—Laura HameL
Swim Bag: Swim Gadgets
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