If there's one thing triathletes love, it's our gadgets. From GPS watches and heart rate monitors, to mp3 players, cycling computers, power meters, and the analytical software to manage them all, there's not a moment in your training life where you can't plug in to some kind of electronic technology. But surprisingly, there's not a whole lot of gadgetry involved in the swimming portion of our sport. Typically, the limit of high-tech swim gear is nothing more than a stopwatch. There's a void in the technology continuum - a void that Finis is starting to fill up, and it's doing so in style. We recently reviewed their novel mp3 player, and now they're unveiling something even cooler: a full-featured swimming computer watch. It's called the Swimsense Performance Monitor.
The Swimsense is to swimming what a GPS watch is to running or cycling. It counts your laps, tracks your distance and pace, counts your strokes, and even identifies your stroke type. Yeah, re-read that last bit again. This watch knows what stroke you're doing, automatically. Go from doing a 25 of freestyle straight into 50 of butterfly, without stopping, and the Swimsense doesn't skip a beat. It recognizes each stroke properly, counts your strokes for each, and records it all.
The watch relies on a few key inputs to get things right. First, you need to tell it what hand you're wearing it on. And you tell it how long your pool is - it can take any odd length from 25 to 50, in yards or meters. So it works great for all kinds of pools, but won't work in open water.
The Swimsense docks into this cradle, which connects to computer via USB and also charges the device.
The watch stores up to 14 workouts at a time, which can then all be dumped onto your computer via the Swimsense Bridge software, available for free from Finis. The program uploads your workouts to an online database, and then you can view all of your workouts from a web-based interface, meaning you can get to them from from anywhere in the world. The interface gives you a great bird's eye view of your workout, breaking it down by stroke type, interval, or at the finest level, an analysis of every individual length you swam during the workout.
The software also comes with another perk: periodic updates to the firmware of the Swimsense itself. For example, our unit was initially a little buggy with stroke recognition. But as soon as we plugged the unit into the Bridge software, it recognized that our watch needed an update, and did so automatically. The whole process took about two minutes, and then the watch was up and running smoothly. We've got to hand it to Finis for staying dedicated to the product, and really taking pride in it.
The only real drawback we've found is the limited battery life. This isn't a watch you can throw in your swim bag for weeks at a time; it just won't last that long. If you're careful, you can get a week's worth of workouts before it quits. But beware, the ON button is set like a hair trigger - the slightest brush and the unit is on. So if you throw it in your swim bag, it's likely to power itself on at some point, wasting battery life. To really make sure you've got enough juice in the thing, it's best to plug it in at least every other workout to top it off. We'd also like to see some more customization options for the workout display. The unit supports four data fields - the center one is always the total workout time, the top one is the current split time, and the bottom two can be changed, but not independently (you pick a preset pair of fields to display). Hopefully a future firmware update will offer more adjustment here. But in any event, the watch works well, and it's pretty darn cool to have this kind of technology in the swimming pool, where it's been missing for a long time. The watch doesn't come cheap, but its $199 price tag is commensurate with that of a comparable cyclometer or running watch.
Automatic lap counting is awesome, and works well
Automatic stroke type detection is just amazing, and also works flawlessly
Web interface for data is useful and robust
Limited battery life
Data fields aren't as customizable as we'd like
Very cool, very usable tool, with potential to grow via firmware updates