Review: Garmin Swim

Build, Battery Life and Swim Tracking

As the name suggests, the Garmin Swim is a fitness watch aimed at swimmers. Plenty of smartwatches and fitness bands include swim tracking, but this is one of the few that’s dedicated for swimmers.

There’s no step counting or sleep tracking here, it’s all about the pool, and as such, Garmin is strokes ahead of the competition.

It costs £129.99 from the Garmin shop – though you can find it for as little as £87 online – which puts it at the more affordable end of the watch market. But is it any good? Let’s dive in and find out.

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Screen, Build and Battery Life

Garmin Swim

As you can see, it’s not the most stylish watch around (though there are far uglier timepieces). It’s more functional than high-fashion, but we don’t mind that at all. It might look out of place if you’re wearing a suit, but pair it with a t-shirt and jeans and you’ll look suitably active and outdoorsy.

Despite feeling a bit plasticky, it’s comfortable to wear, and light enough so you won’t notice it while you’re swimming. It doesn’t feel any heavier than the band with your locker key on the other wrist.

While not a touchscreen, the display is nice and big and – most importantly – clearly legible. When you’re not swimming, it shows the time in numbers large enough to be read at a glance. Below that is the distance you’ve swum this week. While it might seem a small addition, it’s a real motivator – if you’ve been slacking off, you’ll be reminded of the fact whenever you check the time. And if you’ve been super active, you can show everyone the proof.

Garmin Swim

By default, the screen switches off if the watch hasn’t moved for a minute. To wake it, just move your wrist. It’s a neat idea and helps preserve battery life.

Not that that’s an issue. The Swim takes a standard watch battery, so should last months before needing it replaced.

Swim Tracking

To start tracking your swimming, you press the blue button with the swimming icon. It’s a little stubborn, but that means you won’t press it accidentally. In fact, during our tests, we accidentally smacked the watch into the plastic lane dividers a few times, and it didn’t react or break. Kudos.

The Swim lets out a shrill beep to let you know it’s recording, then you set off. It tracks all manner of stats including total time, total time spent swimming, distance covered, number of lengths, time per 1100m, strokes per length, SWOLF (time for one length plus number of strokes for that length; the lower your SWOLF, the more efficient your stroke), strokes per minute and calories burned.

So it’s pretty comprehensive.

Garmin Swim Review

And generally it’s very accurate. A few times it said we’d swum more or fewer lengths than we counted, but not by many. One time, it said we’d swum 38 when we swore we’d done 40. Similarly, it counted 64 a couple of times when we thought we’d swum 60. It could well be our counting was out. But even if not, it’s pretty accurate.

This is helped by the fact you can tell it how long the pool is. It’s usable in pools longer than 17m – we tried it in 20m, 25m and 30.5m pools, and it gave accurate readings every time. You can even enter a custom length, though only to the metre (we entered 31m for the 30.5m pool and it worked fine).

You can pause the timer whenever you want, then press the same button to carry on your session. It calls these ‘intervals’, and presumably they’re handy for interval training. We found it useful for stopping for a breather, or picking our nose clip off the bottom of the pool after it came off for the fifth time.

It even detects the type of stroke you’re doing for each interval, which is very useful. If you want to see how your butterfly is progressing in hard numbers, you can. Sadly it doesn’t break down your lengths by stroke if you don’t separate the session up into intervals. It’s not essential, but it would stop you stopping and starting.

Garmin Swim

We can think of some more improvements. For starters, an outdoor mode would be handy for triathletes in training, or anyone keen on wild swimming. It also doesn’t track any other kind of activity. During our time with it, we walked an hour and a half each way across London during the Tube strike. It would be nice to include that to build up a more overall picture of how active we are.

It would also be nice to set a goal of say, 50 lengths, and have the watch vibrate when you reach it. That way you could forget about counting altogether, and focus purely on technique.

Software, Other Features and Verdict

App: Syncing, Tracking and Usefulness

The Swim holds data for about 30 swims. After that, it starts deleting them, so you’ll want to backup.

Syncing is a doddle. Install Garmin’s software on your computer, then plug in the Ant USB and pair the watch wirelessly (just follow the on-screen prompts and select Yes on the watch when asked to pair). Then you set up a Garmin Connect account, and you can view all your data through a web browser.

Garmin Swim Web App

Once you’re set up, syncing only takes about 30 seconds – just plug in the Ant USB, and as long as the watch is nearby, it does it automatically.

Garmin Connect is a little overwhelming. Everything is cleanly laid out, with a neat dashboard showing all manner of graphs. It’s just that there’s so much of it.

On the side menu, the first option alone includes 15 sub-sections, including activities, calendar, calories in/out, connections, courses, devices, gear etc. You can view your data on all kinds of graphs – by week, month, six months and year – and within those you can plot your average pace, total calories burned, average SWOLF, and so on.

It’s an impressive amount of data, but we’re not sure how useful it is. It’s a problem with most fitness trackers at the moment – instead of just gathering as much data as possible, it’d be nice to see them present it in a more useful, relevant way. It’d be good if you could customise the layout. Then, if you were only interested in losing weight, or getting faster, you could have that as the main element, and hide – or lose – everything else.

Garmin Swim Mobile App

While there is a Garmin Connect mobile app, the Swim doesn’t have Bluetooth, so can’t connect to your phone. You have to upload your data to your computer before you can view it on your mobile. The mobile app is pared back compared to the desktop, but that actually makes it more enjoyable to use. It gives you your main stats front and centre, a few graphs and that’s it.

Other features

If you want to get more serious, you can customise the training page on the watch to show only the stats you want (distance covered and total lengths, for example). That’s maybe handy if you want to get right to one stat straight away, but we were quite happy scrolling through the prescribed list after each session. You can enter your weight too, though we didn’t see any obvious benefit for doing so.

It being a watch, it also has an alarm and stopwatch. And a backlight of sorts – press the top right button and it inverts the screen, so the numbers are white on black, making them visible in the dark. You can also invert the screen for the training pages while you swim, though this is really a matter of personal preference.

Garmin Swim


We were really impressed with the accuracy of the Garmin Swim, it records plenty of data and it’s easy to use.

Just like most fitness watches, it’s not the most stylish, and it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t track any other activities.

We also found the desktop app to be confusing with the sheer amount of data available.

There’s certainly room for improvement, but for serious swimmers? This is the only device worth owning.