The Best Fitness Trackers for Swimmers
Our top picks for swim trackers include the Garmin Swim watch, Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS watch, the Moov and Swimovate Poolmate Live.
Credit: © Jeremy Lips / LiveScience.com

After testing more than a dozen waterproof fitness trackers, we recommend the Garmin Swim watch as the best overall wearable device for swimmers. If you're looking for a GPS watch that can track swimming both in the pool and in open water, we recommend the Suunto Ambit3 Sport GPS watch. But if you need a wearable device that tracks workouts in the water and on land, we recommend the Moov smart fitness coach and tracker.

For our roundup of the best wearable devices for swimmers, we tested 16 fitness trackers, GPS watches and smartwatches in the pool. We wore them while swimming laps, treading water, jogging underwater in the pool's shallow end and doing resistance exercises with a kickboard. Then, we evaluated each tracker based on its comfort, design, accuracy, user-friendliness and the value of information it provided. Here are our top picks:

 

 

Price: $149.99

Compatibility: Garmin Connect mobile app available for iOS and Android.

Features: automatic lap/stroke counter, automatic stroke type detection, swimming efficiency (SWOLF), distance, time, rest time, calories burned, pace, drill tracking, daily alarm

The Garmin Swim tracks your laps, strokes, time in the pool and much more.
The Garmin Swim tracks your laps, strokes, time in the pool and much more.
Credit: © Jeremy Lips / LiveScience.com

Multisport capability: No

[Read full review of Garmin Swim]

Design/Comfort:

The Garmin Swim is so lightweight and comfortable that I found myself leaving it on long after my workout was over. The watch is easy to read underwater, though its face is not as bright and clear as that of its closest competitor, the Swimovate PoolMate Live. And unlike the PoolMate Live, the Garmin Swim doesn't have a silent alarm that buzzes your wrist when you've completed a certain number of laps.

However, the Garmin Swim is very easy to manipulate in the water. It has a Swim Mode button, so you don't have to scroll through any menus to start recording your swim. The watch also runs on a standard coin battery that lasts for about a year, so you don't have to worry about charging it after workouts.

User-Friendliness:

The watch comes with a separate component called an ANT+ stick that plugs into the USB drive of your computer, allowing you to wirelessly upload data from your watch to Garmin's software and mobile app. Syncing the watch after a workout is simple, as is setting up the watch to match your pool size and preferences.

Unlike the PoolMate Live, the Garmin Swim lets you customize the display screens you see while swimming. This means you can choose which metrics — say, stroke count, swimming efficiency (SWOLF) and pace — the watch displays during your workout. You can even track how much time you spend doing kickboard exercises and other drills, which is another feature the PoolMate Live is missing.

Value of Information & Motivation:

If you're a serious swimmer or you're training for a triathlon, then the metrics that the Garmin Swim tracks will likely be very useful to you. The watch tracks in-depth data about every lap you swim, which you can then view on the mobile app or on a web browser. On both the app and the Connect website, you'll be able to see a summary of your workout, as well as graphs and charts that show your pace, strokes per lap and swimming efficiency (SWOLF score) over time.

However, if you're looking for a wearable device to use beyond the pool, then this watch might not be for you. It doesn't offer any way to track your activity on land, nor does it have multisport capabilities, as the PoolMate Live does.

If you want a more versatile, waterproof fitness tracker, we recommend the Moov smart fitness coach and tracker, which tracks swimming, boxing, running and walking (and will soon also track cycling). If you're looking for an all-around fitness tracker that counts steps, time spent working out and (at least some of) your activity in the pool, we recommend the Jaybird Reign or the Misfit Flash.

Accuracy:

The Garmin Swim uses internal accelerometers to count your laps, so it works by tracking changes in direction. I found that as long as I took a good push off the wall for each lap, the watch remained accurate. This was even the case when I didn't do a flip turn.

I also found the Garmin Swim to be highly accurate at identifying which stroke I was swimming. And unlike the PoolMate Live, Garmin's watch labels your stroke type for you in its software program and mobile app. So, when you look through your data, you don't have to remember which stroke you were swimming for every interval of your workout.

 

Price: $115, plus $35 for download clip

Compatibility: Not compatible with mobile operating systems.

Features: automatic lap/stroke counter, automatic stroke type detection, swimming efficiency (SWOLF), distance, time, rest time, calories burned, pace, silent alarm

Multisport capability: Yes

[Read full review of Swimovate PoolMate Live]

Design/Comfort:

The PoolMate Live is a bit too bulky to wear outside the pool.
The PoolMate Live is a bit too bulky to wear outside the pool.
Credit: © Jeremy Lips / LiveScience.com

The Swimovate PoolMate Live is a bit too bulky to be worn as an everyday timepiece, but its large face and clear sapphire screen are perfect for viewing underwater. You can also increase the contrast of this watch's LCD display, making it even brighter and easier to see while swimming. Like the Garmin Swim, the PoolMate Live uses a replaceable coin battery, so you don't have to continually charge the device.

User-Friendliness:

Setting up the PoolMate Live is simple, and the watch comes with a very thorough instruction manual that can help you through the process. But unlike all of the other wearables I tested in the pool, this swim watch doesn't have a mobile app. You have to view all of your stats in Swimovate's software, which you can download online. This is, by far, my biggest complaint about the PoolMate Live.

The best feature of this swim watch is its silent alarm, which buzzes your wrist either at a certain time of day or when you've completed a certain number of laps. As a distance swimmer, I loved using this feature rather than constantly having to check my wrist to see how many laps I had completed.

Value of Information & Motivation:

Like the Garmin Swim, the PoolMate Live provides advanced swimming metrics — such as strokes per lap and swimming efficiency score, or SWOLF — that are very useful for serious swimmers or those preparing for a race. You can see these metrics graphed out after your workout by plugging the watch into its USB connection and uploading data to your computer. Unlike Garmin Swim, the PoolMate Live is not accompanied by a mobile app.

If you aren't interested in such detailed stats about your swim, check out some of the waterproof fitness trackers we reviewed, such as the Misfit Flash and the Jaybird Reign, which track workout time and activity in the water and on land.

Accuracy:

This watch uses an accelerometer to keep track of your laps and strokes. For the most part, this method works well, but I found that if I didn't do a flip turn at the end of a lap, the PoolMate Live wouldn't register that I had started a new lap. In this sense, the watch was less accurate than the Garmin Swim. 

 

 

Price: $440 with compatible heart-rate monitor

Compatibility: Suunto Movescount mobile app, available for iOS.

The Ambit3 tracks laps and strokes and records your heart rate data, which you can view after your workout.
The Ambit3 tracks laps and strokes and records your heart rate data, which you can view after your workout.
Credit: © Jeremy Lips / LiveScience.com

Features: automatic lap/stroke counter, automatic stroke type detection, SWOLF, distance, time, rest time, calories burned, pace, heart rate, open-water swim tracking

Multisport capability: Yes

[Read full review of Suunto Ambit3 Sport]

Design/Comfort:

I tested four multisport GPS watches in the pool, and the Suunto Ambit3 was, by far, the most stylish option. The unit I tested was specifically designed for women, and it didn't look as big and bulky on my wrist as the Garmin Forerunner 920XT or the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio. It was also very comfortable to wear while swimming, and its large, round face (which has a backlight) was easy to see underwater. The heart-rate strap that comes with the watch was also very comfortable and stayed in place even when I kicked off as hard as I could from the wall.

User-Friendliness:

Like all of the GPS-enabled swim watches I tested, it took some time for me to get used to all of the functions available on the Ambit3. The watch can track running and cycling in addition to swimming, so the device has several different menu screens. It's nowhere near as easy to use as a dedicated swim watch like the Garmin Swim, for example. But once I used this watch in the pool a few times, I found it simple to navigate.

Value of Information & Motivation:

The Ambit3 is designed with serious athletes in mind. The Movescount app and online dashboard that you use with the watch do a great job of breaking down all your stats into easy-to-digest charts and graphs.

Of the four GPS watches I tested, only the Ambit3 and the Polar V800 record your heart rate while you're swimming. But don't expect to see heart-rate data displayed on the Ambit3 in real time as you swim. The heart-rate strap and the watch can't communicate through water, so you have to wait until your workout is over to view heart-rate data (and other details about your workout) online. I didn't mind this, because being able to see my heart rate during swims isn't a priority for me, but if heart-rate monitoring is an important part of your workout, this could be a deal breaker.

Accuracy:

The Ambit3 was accurate at recording how many laps I'd completed and how many strokes I took per lap. Like the Garmin Swim, the Ambit3 also did a great job of distinguishing among different types of swimming strokes. The heart-rate data collected in the pool also seemed to be accurate, corresponding neatly with the intensity of my workout.

 

 

Price: $84.74

Compatibility: Moov mobile apps, compatible with Android and iOS.

Features: automatic lap/stroke counter, distance, time, calories burned, flip turn time, pace

Multisport capability: Yes

[Read full review of Moov fitness tracker]

Design/Comfort:

The Moov is a fitness tracker and virtual coach that tracks many of the swimming metrics as a dedicated swim watch.
The Moov is a fitness tracker and virtual coach that tracks many of the swimming metrics as a dedicated swim watch.
Credit: © Jeremy Lips / LiveScience.com

The Moov has a circular face but is built more like a fitness tracker than a watch. It doesn't have a display screen, so you can't use it to tell the time or to look at your stats while swimming. This design was problematic for me, since I like to see how many laps I've completed when I'm in the pool. Despite this flaw, the Moov is the only fitness tracker that measures advanced swimming metrics, such as strokes per lap and flip turn time. Its lightweight design is also very comfortable to wear in the pool.

User-Friendliness:

The Moov is simple to set up, and the device synced quickly with my iPhone after every swim. Most of the swim trackers and GPS watches I tested had to be connected to a computer after every workout to sync data, but the Moov uses Bluetooth to sync data wirelessly to a mobile device. This meant I could see an overview of my workout on my phone as soon as I got to the locker room, which was really useful. And even though this tracker's lack of a display screen was a deal breaker for me, I found the simplicity of the device (and its accompanying app) refreshing.

Value of Information & Motivation:

Moov's swim app gives you a comprehensive overview of your workout and provides a chart that lets you compare each of your laps to the average 200-meter Olympic freestyle swim. In other words, you get to compare your pace, turn time and strokes per lap to those of an Olympic swimmer. None of the other dedicated swim trackers and apps I tested put information about a swim workout into context like this. The app also provides some "pro tips" that are meant to help you improve your form.

Accuracy:

I found the Moov to be accurate at counting my laps and strokes per lap. It did miss a few laps when I kept my turns open (for instance, when I did not do a flip turn), but all in all, it recorded my swims just as well as the more advanced (and more expensive) swim watches I tested.

In addition to our four top picks, we tested three additional GPS watches, eight fitness trackers and one waterproof smartwatch. Here's how they performed in the pool:

Jaybird Reign, about $160

Of the trackers we tested that were not dedicated solely to swimming, the Reign was the only one that automatically detects swimming workouts. In other words, you don't have to tell this tracker you're getting in the pool — it can sense when you're swimming and will label your activity as such in the app. However, the Reign doesn't record metrics such as laps completed or strokes per lap, but it does track your time in the pool and factors this in to your overall "activity goal" for the day.

Misfit Flash, $33 - $47 (depending on color)

The Flash doesn't automatically detect swimming the way the Jaybird Reign does, and it won't provide you with swimming metrics, but it does let you manually enter how much time you spend in the pool and label this activity as swimming, which is a feature that most trackers don't have. You can also track swimming in real time by pressing Record in the Misfit app before you get in the pool. [Read full review of Misfit Flash]

Polar Loop, $66, plus $54 for swim-compatible heart-rate monitor

Like most of the fitness trackers we reviewed, the Polar Loop doesn't record swimming metrics. However, it is the only tracker on our list that pairs with a heart-rate monitor that works underwater. [Read full review of Polar Loop]

Wellograph watch, $300, plus $41 for waterproof band

This fitness watch has a built-in optical heart-rate monitor (a device comprised of two LED lights, which illuminate the capillaries under your skin, allowing a sensor to measure how fast blood pumps through your body) but it can't record heart-rate data underwater. And while it's waterproof enough to take swimming, it doesn't actually track any swimming metrics. It also didn't register my activity in the pool, such as when I was jogging in the shallow end and treading water. [Read full review of Wellograph watch]

Garmin vivosmart, $136 - $170 (depending on size and color)

The vivosmart is part activity tracker, part smartwatch. And though it's waterproof, you won't be able to use the device's smart features in the water unless you leave your phone on the pool deck. This tracker also has a touch activated display that's almost impossible to manipulate underwater. (I only got the time to appear on the display once.) You can use this tracker to record how much time you spent in the pool, but you'll want to start recording before you get wet. [Read full review of Garmin vivosmart]

Garmin vivofit, $85

Like the vivosmart, the vivofit doesn't actually capture swimming metrics, such as your laps or stroke count. It is waterproof enough to wear in the pool, though. If you want to record heart-rate data on land, you can pair the vivofit with a heart-rate strap, but if you're interested in monitoring your heart rate while you swim, we recommend the Polar Loop, the Polar V800 or the Suunto Ambit3. [Read full review of Garmin vivofit]

Runtastic Orbit, $78

The Orbit won't help you track your swims, but it is waterproof and can register activity in the pool. Like many of the trackers I tested, it counted movement in the water (such as underwater aerobic exercises) toward my daily step goal. The Orbit was also accurate at detecting how many minutes I was active in the pool. [Read full review of Runtastic Orbit]

iHealth Edge, $70

The Edge is very bright and easy to see underwater. Like most trackers, it can register some of your movements in the pool and add them to your daily step count. The device will use these "steps" to estimate the distance traveled during your swimming workout. However, the Edge is not accurate in the water, nor can it track more advanced metrics, such as laps or strokes.

Withings Activité Pop, $150

The Activité Pop's swim-tracking functions are still in the works, according to Withings, but the watch currently tracks some general activity in the water. The device doesn't provide more advanced metrics, but company representatives say the Activité Pop will soon be able to track laps and strokes. At the moment, it's not known whether this information will actually be displayed on the watch itself or just in the Withings app. [Read full review of Withings Activité Pop]

Pebble Steel smartwatch, $180 (also need to purchase waterproof band)

The Pebble Steel is a smartwatch, not a fitness tracker, but you can download fitness apps onto the watch and use it to track your activity. I downloaded the swim-tracking app from Swim.com and tested it in the pool. The app did an awful job of tracking my laps (it counted only two out of 70). It did, however, allow me to time my intervals. There are other lap-counting apps, as well as a swim-pacing app, available for the Pebble.

Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS watch, $450

This cross-training GPS watch will give you all the detailed metrics you need to track every element of your swim workout. However, it retails for $450, which will likely turn off all but the most serious multisport athletes. If you're training for a triathlon, this watch will let you track swims in both the pool and in open water. However, the watch is unable to collect heart-rate data while you're swimming. [Read full review of Garmin Forerunner 920XT]

TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio GPS watch, $250

At $250, TomTom's Multi-Sport Cardio is significantly cheaper than cross-training GPS watches from Polar, Garmin and Suunto. Although this watch can track detailed swimming metrics in the pool, it doesn't track swims in open water. And unlike with our top GPS watch pick, the Suunto Ambit3, you won't be able to collect heart-rate data during swims using the Multi-Sport Cardio's built-in optical sensor.

Polar V800 GPS watch, $409 (price includes heart-rate monitor)

Like the Suunto Ambit3, the Polar V800 can be paired with a heart-rate monitor that collects data underwater. The watch records all of the major swimming metrics, including laps, strokes and swimming efficiency (or SWOLF). It also has an automatic stroke-type detection feature, but I found that this wasn't always accurate, since it sometimes logged backstroke when I actually swam breaststroke.

Garmin Vivoactive, $250 (heart rate monitor sold separately)

The Garmin Vivoactive is a GPS-enabled smartwatch that can track multiple sports, including indoor swimming. Like the Garmin Swim, the Vivoactive automatically counts laps and strokes and can be used as a stopwatch to time your intervals in the pool. However, it can't be used to track swims in open water, nor is it compatible with heart rate monitors that work underwater. It's also missing a key feature of the Garmin Swim — drill-tracking mode, which let you log the laps you swim with a kickboard or the time you spend doing other drills in the pool. [Read full review of Garmin Vivoactive]

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.