This week, almost a year after launch, FORM Swim released an upgrade to head-up display goggles to add functionality for open water swimming. I’ve been using FORM goggles in the pool (at least I was until lockdown) and you can read our review here.
In brief, FORM Goggles have a tiny computer packed with motion sensors and gyroscopes attached to one eye-piece. The computer has been “taught”, through machine learning, what motions of the goggles correspond to swimming strokes, starts and turns. Data about your pace, stroke rate and distance is then beamed to a display that appears to float in front of your eye while you swim. It’s impressive technology.
An upgrade later in 2019 allowed FORM goggles to be paired with the Polar OH1 optical heart rate monitor, which allowed swimmers to monitor their pulse in real time.
The new upgrade takes FORM a step further by allowing pairing of the goggles with a compatible GPS-enabled watch, and displaying metrics from the watch in the eye-piece. This means you can now see pace and distance, in real time, in your goggles, while you swim in open water.
We tested with a Garmin 945. Annoyingly, the test kit arrived the same weekend that Garmin was knocked out of action for several days, which stretched my patience!
Pairing the watch with the goggles took about 10 minutes (if you ignore the five days waiting for Garmin to come back online) and required downloading a piece of software to the watch. The step by step instructions were straight forward.
Incidentally, if you already have FORM goggles, you do not need to replace them, but you do need to install the latest updates for both the goggles and the phone app. Additionally, even if you don’t have a compatible smart watch, the update is worth doing as you can still use FORM goggles in open water and display time, stroke rate and, if you use the Polar OH1, heart rate.
For my first test swim, I did a 3km out and back segment of the Thames, relatively early in the morning with the sun still low in the sky. I chose the setting to control starting and stopping through my watch. The display in the goggles shows elapsed time on the top row, while the bottom row rotates between up to three different data outputs. I chose heart rate, pace and distance. The timer started immediately, with the other data coming live within a few seconds.
The Thames is a dark river. With my head in the water, the goggle display is bright and clear, the numbers appearing magically in the gloom. When looking up, or turning to breathe, they were harder to see against the sunlight. There is an option to increase the brightness of the display (I had it on low) but I liked to see the display when my head was down and not be too distracted by it when my head was up and I was sighting.
Initially, pace was suspect, jumping between around 45s per 100m to more than 4 minutes per 100m, but soon settled to between 1:30 and 1:40 per 100m, which felt about right for my effort level. It was satisfying to see the metres accumulating as I swam and also useful to see elapsed time. GPS signal was lost a couple of times but never for more than a couple of minutes. The watch + goggles combination for open water works best with frontcrawl as the watch only picks up GPS and connects with the goggles when it is out of the water.
The only issue I had was on the second half of my swim, when the display started showing an unusually high heart rate (higher than the maximum I’ve seen when running hard). However, this was most likely a problem with the optical sensor on the watch. The goggles merely display the data collected by Garmin.
From a recreational open water swimming point of view, seeing live data is fun and interesting. However, I suspect the real benefit will be for structured training sessions in open water. That will be a test for a later date.