Yesterday I went to one of the adventure sports shops and bought a Garmin VivoActive HR mostly because in the price sector, it covered most of the swimming stuff and cost less than I plan to spend on a Rado. It is now affixed to my wrist and at some point this evening, I will take it for a “run” otherwise know as a “rulk” where I go out “running” but am so run unfit, I walk most of the run. This will be the way things are for a while.
I didn’t get much sleep on Friday night which, I think, is why I went and bought both a sports watch and a toaster. The Vivoactive is my second sports watch – there is a Vivosmart somewhere in storage which was used for step counting. I hated it because like a lot of sports watches it was dog ugly and in particular, it whinged at me if I didn’t move enough which was basically Monday to Friday. I spent a lot of time running up and down stairs in my then job once an hour so that I stopped feeling guilty about the vibration alerts. I don’t want to be wearing this all the time because it isn’t really about counting my steps – my phone does that anyway – but I need some serious help on the swim data front. Mostly I estimate how long I have been in a pool, and I count the lengths and hope I don’t lose count somewhere along the way. Mostly I do but the figures are “ball park” right, I have no idea exactly how long a length is taking me, and frankly, the measure that matters most to me – the one which has always mattered most to me – how long I rest between lengths is never anything more than a vague feeling of progress.
I wanted certain functionality – namely blue tooth synching to my phone – and it would be nice if it handled running as well. You can spend hundreds on a watch to do this. You can also spend a lot less. But you get less for your money. I wanted – at least – a SWOLF measure so that I could at least chart changes in how the swimming was going and from what I remember, the cheapest you could do this was with a Garmin Swim which didn’t sync to a phone. So next step up. If I were wealthy, the one I wanted was a Polar V800 – the vivoactive came second to it on several occasions, and the times the Garmin 1, the Polar had not been included in the group test. Price wise, however, the Polar was way out of my league. You could not call me a serious sports person at all. I just don’t have the time.
If I am truly honest, looking around the pool this morning, I wondered if I wasn’t a bit pathetic as well. Historically I swam 1600m back stroke, it sounded good, and it took around an hour. But it failed to meet a bunch of random goals I had over years in terms of feeling safer in the water. The Irish life guards require candidates to be able to swim 400m front crawl in 8 minutes. I knew when I last had a go at that goal that I was nowhere near it. I looked at swim watches then too; ten years ago, but they were rather less able to do much other than act as a stop watch than today’s lot are. I’m going to be honest and say I think swim watches still have a way to go – I feel running and cycling are much better served by wearable tech. But we are where we are .
So, the watch has a rectangular face which is about 3cm by 2cm. This marks it out a bit from a lot of other sports watches which have relatively round faces. The one which I bought has a black strap although I think you can get a white strap as well.
In my opinion, the watch is ugly to look at. Sure, it’s sleek, and it has a nice reasonably sized touch screen. But I’m female and I wear a Tissot women’s watch every day. For looks, this, and to be fair, almost no sports watch, competes – the prettiest is probably the Withings or Nokia as they will soon been known. The Withings do cover swimming but do not pick up SWOLF iirc and the ones which were available here didn’t pop up on group tests either. In answer to the question “Would I wear this every day?”, it’s a straight no. The watch is big and clunky. I’m not the slightest of females by any manner or means but I don’t find it sleek, stylish or elegant.
By default out of the box it has a digital display and to be frank, its brightness level was sufficiently low to make it practically unreadable. You can change the watch display to analogue which I did (eventually) but that doesn’t really change my opinion of how it compares on looks to a normal analogue automatic watch which I wear every day.
There are two buttons on the watch under the watch face. One is basically a back button, and the other, amongst other things, accesses activities for you to start tracking. The screen is a touch screen and you can scroll down through it to see things like the weather today, the number of steps you’ve stepped, your last sports workout, a summary of your daily activity and your heartrate. The watch has a heartrate monitor installed which does not work when swimming.
In terms of charging, the watch comes with a charging band which you can plug into a USB port on your computer. Personal view on that is it compares badly to the one on the Vivosmart – I struggle to get the watch out of it every time I plug it in.
Storing the data
The watch syncs its data to a Garmin Connect account. I already had one of these from when I bought the Vivosmart.
It does not currently, as far as I know, talk to Google Fit (Android girl, sorry), and to get it to talk to Runkeeper, you need to route it via Tapiriiki, which seems to be one of the standards.
According to swim.com, you can automatically sync data from your Garmin Connect account to swim.com. I have attempted to set it up and frankly, my faith is somewhat lessened when swim.com tells you you need to install a plugin which neither Chrome nor Edge will install. Although apparently it should install in Internet Explorer, it doesn’t for me, not on Windows 10. Looking at a comment about compatibility on the Garmin page for the plugin, I guess it’s years old. I am hoping it is not still necessary.
There is a comment on the Reddit swim page that it can take a few days for the connect to work which it may or may not because I eventually attempted to connect it without the plug in at all. I will update accordingly. And I will annoy Reddit Swim with questions about how to make it work because swim.com support doesn’t look like they have much feedback on that front.
What does work, however, and it works very nicely in my view, is SportTracks.mobi. SportTracks is a €€ site but there is at least 45 day free trial and currently, the annual charge is $59. I’m not sure how I came across this one but unlike the others, it has an effective automatic sync.
At the pool
I’ve currently set up the watch to be worn on my left wrist – this will probably change if I start wearing it running – because I think that information is required for the heartrate monitor. Which doesn’t matter if you are swimming as it doesn’t work while swimming.
Couple of things to note – it will track walking if you pool walk for light resistance training. But for some reason, the screen responds to water running across it when walking so you often wind up on some random screen from the front lot of apps. More than once it whinged at me that it couldn’t control any music player because the mobile device it was paired with was nowhere to hand.
That’s because it was in the dressing room in a locker. I found that vaguely annoying; on the other hand it gave me credit for 800m of water walking which I find hard to believe but I’ll take. I don’t do it often enough.
Setting up a swim is easy enough: you press the right hand button and select “Pool Swim”. This locks the screen on the pool display which is handy.
This display includes time, interval distance, total time and total distance.
To start it, you press the right hand button again. After that, if you want to pause it, you press the left hand button. I do this between intervals and it works handy enough. This gives you time per interval and elapsed time on an ongoing basis which is handy if you are under time pressure in the pool and have an idea of what you are targeting.
To restart after a rest break between intervals, you press the left hand button again.
Getting the hang of the buttons is not that hard – although if you accidentally stop an interval with the right button instead of the left button, you might as well save the session and start the next one. It might cost you a length in terms of total distance covered (at least it did for me). Going back and saying “no I want to continue this session” does not seem to be an option – it was either save or discard. 100m being worth not losing, I saved and started a new.
Statistically, I do not know how accurate the Garmin is in general although it did credit me with 50m for one length and I am not entirely sure why. It was the only error in a 24 length total, however.
Unexpectedly though, it failed to identify intervals where I was backstroking rather than freestyling. This surprised me and may be a reflection my backstroke style. As a result, my jury is out on the stroke recognition side of things. It got freestyle right but frankly, it’d get that right in 75% of cases if it just assumed everyone was freestyling.
After the swim
The sync took a little longer after the swim than I expected but I think this may have been because internet connectivity in the pool building was negligible and the connection back to Garminconnect just wasn’t that fast.
You get a reasonable summary on your mobile device. I probably would order the data differently in the summary – the key items I’d like to see up top are Total time and Moving Time. You can customise a few things in the Garmin interface so at some point, I might be able to feed that through.
You can look at the swim interval by interval as well – and it is here that I noticed that one length had been measured as 50m for some reason. Which did a lot for my average and my SWOLF at that point in time.
Linking it with other applications
I’ve had a Runkeeper account for years but I can’t see an easy way to link the Garmin swim data to it other than using a third party service which I find annoying. In theory, it is possible to set up an import for a GPS map but this isn’t very much good for pool swimming. Additionally in theory it is possible to set it up via the Runkeeper mobile device but that’s not happening for me either yet, mainly because I had to change my password to enable it on my desktop and now my mobile won’t log in even with the new password.
So I haven’t set that up. Discussions online suggest links into Google Fit are also a no-no. However, it does automatically sync with SportTracker and allegedly swim.com. I can’t comment on the latter as it isn’t working for me [yet]. However, the former works nicely both on desktop and on web and the key metrics are easier to read on SportTracker than on GarminConnect in my view.
However you can export a .fit file from Garmin Connect via your desktop to swim.com manually if you want and to be fair to them, the display is fairly user friendly. Swim.com is useful for other reasons beyond the swimming tracker so even if you couldn’t get the automatic sync working, it might be worth considering doing a manual data dump every once in a while.
Data can be dumped out to a CSV from GarminConnect as well
The watch pretty much does what I need it to do at a reasonable price point (ca €200 in Europe). It isn’t particularly pretty and in my view, is probably designed for men by default. The jury is currently out on stroke recognition but data upload is okay; the Garmin Connect application contains the data for a quick consult and review. It certainly is a useful tool in terms of identifying data that I only managed to collect approximately in the past and it provides data that I really never managed to collect manually before. From that point of view, for someone like me, an occasional, unfit, and overweight swimmer with a few goals to be sorted out, it’s a decent enough piece of kit. Jury is currently out on the interconnectivity with 3rd party sites as well but at least one works properly, there is a useful fudge for a second and the third, well check back later on that.
From the point of view of adjusting goals, I can track the rest time (and specifically the reduction of same), and length time splits (want to shorten that). In terms of number of strokes per length. I’m not terribly upset about that.
Added after the fact
Swim.com synchronisation has started although the phone app is claiming there were issues with the data upload. Looks okay in the desktop web app so far.