Swim

Reviewed: FORM Open Water Swimming

FORM finally hits the open water with a heads-up display swim goggle that connects via a compatible smartwatch to give important stats like pace, distance, and more.

Recently, FORM Swim released a software update for open-water swimming, which allows the heads-up display swim goggles to show metrics received by a compatible smart watch from Garmin or Apple. While FORM’s goggles are some of the most promising tech swimming has seen in a long time, their open water performance is a nice feature that unfortunately lacks some of the AI and sensor integration that makes them such an incredible training tool in the pool.

In my initial review of the FORM Goggles I said they solved “two major problems: accuracy of performance data and the ability to view it while swimming.” In open water, only the latter problem is solved. The FORM AI and onboard sensor are extremely accurate and well programmed for recording metrics in the pool, but these sensors do little for the new “Open Water Swim Mode.”

FORM Open Water Swimming

The Modes

The Form Goggles have two open-water modes: “Goggles Only” and “Paired with GPS Watch.” The difference may seem subtle, but in reality presents a tradeoff between metrics and accuracy. Pairing with a GPS watch turns the goggles into a display for the watch. Through the goggles you can see a timer above a rotating display of heart rate, distance, and current pace. The workout is recorded on the watch, and the goggle sensors are not used at all in this mode. That means the super accurate stroke and automatic interval timing that earned high praise for FORM goggles in the pool aren’t available for open-water swims.

With “Goggle Only” mode, the onboard sensors are used to measure stroke count, and a Polar OH1 heart rate sensor can be paired to measure heart rate. Distance and pace, however, are not available. In this mode, the workout is recorded on the FORM goggles, which allows upload directly to the FORM website, where swim metrics are well designed for swim-specific workout analysis. The downside is that without GPS those metrics are extremely limited.

The tradeoff isn’t just between seeing distance versus stroke rate, however. Wrist-based heart rate is notoriously inaccurate in the water. In my own tests there was more than a 40 bpm difference between my heart rate taken manually and the heart rate measured by my Garmin Forerunner 945 while swimming. The goggle-strap mounted OH1, however, was spot on every time.

FORM Open Water Swimming Stress Test

I tested these  following a similar protocol to the 2020 Open-Water Goggle Roundup from earlier this year and was able to evaluate visual clarity, range of vision, glare reduction, and fit—along with the smart-goggle tech.

It was overcast on the beach in Venice, California during my test. Still, even on the brightest display setting I could barely read the display with my head above water. With my head down, however, it was bright and clear. Swimming with a display in one eye had more of an effect on my sighting than I expected. I kept finding myself turning sharply to the side with the display, potentially because with my head down I was staring at the screen the whole time. It was a great way to avoid thinking about sharks, but it turned my normal straight path into a squiggle. I expect this will self-correct after some practice.

The high-quality materials did a moderate job of resisting fog, even on a pair of goggles that have been used consistently for a full year. With a little spit to clear out the lenses I had no problem keeping them clear. As open-water goggles, the lenses feel small, and the visual field is limited by the computer on one side. Clarity while swimming was good, but glare reduction was surprisingly poor given my positive experience using them in an outdoor pool. 

Finally, the fit was good, but I did have to tighten the straps compared to the pool. The first wave I jumped through knocked the goggles right off my eyes. While I think it is a low risk, I recommend wearing a swim cap over the goggle straps to secure them from being lost if they’re knocked off, unless you want to go on a $200 treasure hunt underwater

Conclusion

FORM makes an incredible pair of goggles for pool swimming that can literally change the way you train. The open-water mode is a feature I will use because I have the goggles, but would not alone justify a $200 price tag.

$200, formswim.com