Can $200 Swim Goggles Turn You into Michael Phelps?

“Another way to separate triathletes from their money!” one serious swimmer gleefully cried out on Facebook about the new FORM goggles that let you see your metrics—right in the goggle lens—while you swim.

When I put my hands on the goggles, I thought he might be right. I’m just as addicted to the pace clock as any other swimmer or triathlete, but “total overkill” was my first thought. And that was before I found out they cost $199.

For context, one of the classic goggle bestsellers, Speedo Vanquishers, costs about $17; “Swedes”—the kind without gaskets—run you about $4. Augmented reality or not, I thought the FORM pair might be the most ridiculous things I’d ever seen.

But I tried to leave my skepticism at home when I took them to my morning workout.

And I kind of saw what the big deal is about.

What makes FORM different

The fitness tracker reads out in the goggle, so you don’t have to do an awkward look at your wrist or cheat your head up to get a glimpse of the pace clock while you’re moving. You also don’t have to press a button on your watch every time you start a set (triathletes, looking at you!).

You can customize the readout via the app to show two metrics while you’re swimming, and you can choose among split time, pace per 100, stroke rate, distance, and calories. You can see all of your data when you sync the goggles when you’re done (more on that in a moment).


A few geeky details: I chose to see split time and pace per 100. The tracker doesn’t work by GPS; instead, it starts counting when you push off the walls. That means it could only tell me the pace of the 25 I had just finished. To know how fast I was moving on the lap I was currently swimming, it showed me the number of seconds elapsed since I’d pushed off the wall. Of course, at the end of the set, it reads out your pace for the whole set just fine.

Then—this is cool—it counts your intervals just like you do. So when you hit the wall at the end, the readout flips to “rest” but continues counting. If you’re doing 100s on 1:10 (I wish, but let’s go with it here), it gives you your time for the 100, then says “rest” and keeps counting. You push off on 1:10 and a fresh readout starts for the next 100.

So do you need $200 goggles?

It depends on what you want to do with them. Some pros and cons:

They’re not super low profile.

The lens is a little chunky and makes for a little drag when you push off, but they don’t feel heavy once you’re moving. And it’s one more device you have to charge (they reportedly hold a charge for about 16 hours).

You can share your swims and follow people.

As with any fitness app, you’re going to push that set a little harder if you know someone else will see it.

You can totally geek out on data.

As much as I wanted not to like these goggles, I was really impressed that the app data looked almost exactly like the swim workout I wrote out for myself that morning—it knew exactly how many sets of how many yards I did. (It just mistook my kick sets for breaststroke.)

Except it gave me much, much more than just a tally. It was all there—where I slacked in the 300, where I picked it up in the 200s, total moving time, total rest time; there’s a ton there to look at. I could see this being useful to send to a coach. But as with any data, it’s only as good as what you decide to do with it.

It’s good for pushing intervals, but probably not for pacing longer swims.

Especially for longer open-water swims, you want to really be in touch with your internal sense of pacing. And by delegating the pacing info to the goggles, I believe it’s harder to come away with a keen internal sense of what your pacing should be.

And since my main game is open-water swimming, that last point is the sticky one for me. I prefer a tempo trainer—a $35 device that goes in your cap—for that. By setting it to beep only when you should be hitting each wall, it turns a swim into more of a game about how closely your internal pace matches reality. (Never heard of a tempo trainer or college swimming put you off it? Swim Smooth coach Paul Newsome may change your mind.)

After all that

Do you need $200 swim goggles? Nobody needs them, of course. A pace clock or watch and a pair of regular goggles works just fine. But I find myself surprised to say that if you have the $200 to spare, and if they get you in the pool regularly, then why not see where they can take you?

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