TESTED: FORM SMART SWIMMING GOGGLES
A serious piece of tech that will make a difference to your swimming - no matter your ability
Swimming is a sport that has largely steered clear of huge technological advances over the years. Sure, the goggles got smaller, the swimsuits bigger (there was the controversy behind Speedo’s banned polyutherane swimsuits after they helped smash a bagful of world records), and many competitive meets made the move to electronic touch pads at the end of pools to eradicate user-error with the old-fashioned stopwatch, but by and large, swimming has remained unchanged: All you need to get by is a swimming costume, a pair of goggles and a training bag of floats, flippers and hand paddles. I speak with some experience, having spent most of my youth waiting for the analogue hand of the local leisure centre’s clock to spin round and send me off for another 100m interval. Some 20+ years later, the exact same clock sits over my new local pool and if it weren’t for the unruly effect of time, age and a lack of training on a man’s waistline, I could still be wearing the same swimming kit.
Since leaving the world of competitive swimming and waterpolo, I’ve occasionally been tempted by the idea of waterproof headphones to make the lone swimming experience slightly more enjoyable, but rarely has a piece of tech piqued my interest in quite the same way as the FORM Smart Swimming Goggles - a tech-packed piece of kit that claims to be a coach, training analyser and technique adjuster.
I used to have all that in the shape of Robin, a man whose whistle struck fear into the hearts of lazy swimmers and who also gave me a proper talking to whenever I slept through a 6am pre-school training session. Can these goggles really do the same job, without the shouting?
Straight from the box, the product is impressive. They look like a regular pair of goggles, save for a relatively innocuous control box beside the right eye. Form have managed to create a piece of tech that doesn’t feel the need to show everybody that it’s from the future (take note, electric car designers…), and the control elements are small enough that they won’t encroach on your swim in any way.
The goggles come with a sturdy carry case that also holds six additional nosepieces ranging from XS to XL, with flat or arched versions to accommodate every shape of hooter.
There’s a little admin to do before taking the goggles to the pool - a QR code helps to download an app to your phone, which welcomes you with a well-designed interface offering advice on setup, as well as a raft of different workouts including kick sets, catch & pull, body position exercises, easy swims and drills.
While the workouts are great for occasional swimmers, there are pre-loaded plans, too, designed to increase your race pace over the course of three weeks in the build up to events, such as triathlons or competitive swims. As someone who dabbled in triathlons for a while, these would have been a great addition to my training plans and a welcome structure to follow. Each plan includes explainers to help understand your training, and advice on how to go about your sessions in the pool.
Once I’ve selected my plan - I go for the 'Intro to Intervals' option for my first swim as it's billed as a way to get to grips with the technology - it’s a simple task of pairing the goggles with the phone, at which point the data is downloaded and ready to use. Being able to download up to five workouts to the goggles means I can jump in the pool with access to different sessions without needing to use the app, so I can lock my phone safely away in the changing rooms.
While the goggles are generallly quite unobtrusive, the small control unit does interfere with the flow of water and as I begin my session, the right eyepiece fills with water every time I push off from the wall.
It's a simple enough fix - I find the goggles need to be slightly tighter than a normal pair - and after a few minutes of fiddling, I'm able to put the tech through its paces.
Naturally, it takes a little time to adjust to the display. Stats such as total swim time and the distance left in each interval appear as though they're floating in front of my face. It's surprisingly easy to relax my eyes and look straight through the bright green digits and after a few minutes I'm pretending it's not there during my swims, before focussing on the info I need during rest breaks.
The accuracy is surprisingly good. Even in a 25m pool, the goggles recognise the length down to the last metre and can even distinguish between a 'slow turn' and a rest break. It's a small detail, but it means I'm unable to steal even an extra second's rest while it calibrates - as soon as I hit the end of the pool, the 'rest' counter begins to tick down before sending me off for another set.
My first workout is little more than an easy swim, billed as a low intensity workout and never more than 50m intervals at moderate pace, but it's immediately clear that the structure of a Form workout pushes me harder than I do of my own accord. By the end of a 15 minute session, my heart is pumping more than it ever has during my recent visits to the pool, when I'd pootle through three times the distance.
Once I've caught my breath, I head to the changing room where the goggles connect to my phone via Bluetooth and by the time I'm dressed, the workout data is available for me to view.
There's a smorgasbord of stats to choose from, some of which are a little confusing at first glance. A rundown of the overall set also offers a FORM score, which seems to amalgamate ratings for head pitch (the angle of my head during the swim, to ensure I'm not staring at the bottom of the pool), Peak Head Roll (the amount I turn my head while breathing) and the Time-to-neutral (how quickly I return from a breath back to my natural swim position). These are all scored out of 100 and the higher the score, the better the technique.
Incredibly, the goggles perfectly switch between strokes without any user input, even recognising when I throw in a couple of breaststrokes in the middle of a freestyle length as I catch up with a swimmer in front. Breakdown on each stroke is also provided, with the total distance swum and a SWOLF score for each.
For those like me who are new to SWOLF, it's a combination of SWimming and gOLF, and combines my lap time with the number of strokes taken to complete the length. So, a 40-second, 15-stroke length gives a SWOLF score of 55. Just like in golf, the lower the score, the better, and it enables me to compete with myself and other people using the app.
It would be nice for the app to display average scores for these statistics, as taken in isolation they can be a little meaningless, but apps like Strava and Garmin have shown the huge appetite for the gamification of training sessions and as FLOW gains more members, I'm sure leaderboards will follow. In the meantime, I can upload my stats straight to Strava and utilise its social platform instead.
Who are these goggles for?
The FORM Goggles will help swimmers of any ability, from casual paddlers who want to improve their technique, through to dedicated athletes looking for a way to structure their time in the pool. But let's be honest, at an RRP of £249 plus a monthly subscription of £13 to access premium app features (the first year's subscription is included with purchase price), this is a piece of tech aimed at those who spend - or are planning to spend - some serious hours in the water each week.
The technique guides are accurate, effective and easy to understand and by my second session, I'm already swimming with a clear understanding of the alterations I need to make to my body position. In fact, I'd go as far as to say the information is provided in a way that's easier to understand than it would be from a human coach at the end of the pool.
So if you're a swimmer looking to make improvements to your technique, features like the Headcoach are invaluable tools providing not only real-time feedback, but also reams of information to pore over after your session.
At the time of writing this review, I'm yet to embark on my planned, three-week training plan, but I can already see how he structured guides would empower me to train harder, more effectively and with purpose. The Form goggles work in open water too, making them a perfect training aid for triathletes and long-distance swimmers.
The goggles help provide accountability and encouragement, too. In much the same way that Strava, Garmin and other exercise apps lay your stats out and nudge you towards another session, I find myself becoming competitive in a way that I never did previously. There's always a chance to edge that SWOLF score a little lower, and that Head Coach rating can improve.
The FORM goggles are genuinely a game-changer in the swim world. Sure, they're a pricey addition to your kit bag, but given the relatively low cost of entry to the sport as a whole, they shouldn't be written off as a piece of tech solely for elite swimmers. Amateur runners inevitably look towards a pricey pair of trainers and cyclists start to eye up an intermediate-level bike after a few miles on the road, and that's where these goggles will sit in a swimmer's kit bag hierarchy. Essential? Absolutely not. But they'll take your technique and training to a new level, no matter where you're starting out.
Quite frankly, it's about time swimming caught up with the rest of the exercise world and embraced tech in an easily accessible way. Not everyone wants to join a swim club and we don't all have a group of mates or coach on hand to push us into a more structured training regime.
FORM goggles are a perfect way to bridge that gap and whether you're a serious swimmer looking to improve between club sessions, a keen hobbyist looking to get fitter and improve their technique, or a triathlete putting in solo hours in the open water, you'll find a use for this exciting piece of tech.
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