Hands-on: FORM Swim Goggles with Smart Display

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Today, FORM Athletica announced their first product, the smart-display enabled FORM Swim Goggles. It’s of course at this juncture that you’re asking yourself: Who TF is FORM Athletica? And what the Helsinki is a smart-display enabled swim goggle?

Thankfully for me (and you), both of these are easy to explain. FORM Athletica is basically RECON Instruments reborn. You’ll remember Recon back a few years ago, where they made skiing goggles with a little heads-up display in them. They were awesome, I loved them. Had metrics like speed, distance, vert, and even friends – all overlaid inside your goggles. Awesome.

Then they branched out and made the RECON Jet. While based on the same underlying tech as the ski goggles, they ran into limitations of just being to big for their time. Battery and related technology meant that you looked like a cyborg. So while functionally quite good, practically speaking they were hard to wear in public.

Roughly around that point Intel stepped in and bought Recon Instruments. And Intel did what Intel does best to their acquisitions: Destroys them from the inside out. It took less than two years before we found their carcass alongside that of Basis (another Intel acquisition, remember them?). After which former Recon employees snuck out the emergency exit doors and started FORM Athletica. And now we’ve got ourselves a tiny and far more focused product in the FORM Swim Goggle.

Oh, before we go further – note, this is not a review. Mostly because the product isn’t shipping yet (not till August 7th) and thus I don’t have final software/etc to write a proper review on (though I believe this is final production hardware). Also, because like some companies (including Fitbit & Apple), FORM has placed a non-review embargo on this until a specific date. So, not a review, just a first look. There’s no other restrictions on what I can or can’t say, except I can’t use the ‘R’ word. Which is fine, I wasn’t going to use it anyway. And, if you know me – I’m gonna say whatever the heck I want anyway.

The Hardware:

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I suspect that if you were to arrive to the pool blurry-eyed at the usual hideous swimmers hour of 5AM, you’d probably not notice your already present lane partner is wearing a FORM Swim Goggle. Which is to say that while it’s obvious sitting on a table, it’s not so obvious once you’re in the pool. Especially if you’re not on the persons right side.  First up is the box it comes in. Here’s a pretty shot or two of that:

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Inside you’ll find a handy-dandy carrying case. Smartly, it’s got holes at the bottom for draining water out. So even if you stash the wet goggles in the case and then toss them in your stank-ass swim bag with all sorts of other sketchy things, it’ll at least drain properly.

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Also in that case is a pile of additional goggle nose bridges, which when I met with the company a few months back pointed out is super important to a successful fit – and thus usage, or the goggles. I wouldn’t disagree.

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Also, there’s a charging cable. It just magnetically connects to the side of the unit.

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Speaking of that unit, as you’ve noticed, it mostly looks like a normal swim goggle, except with a thang hanging off the right side. While that thang looks bigger on a table, it looks pretty normal in the pool.

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Of course it’s within that little pod that the unit contains the battery, Bluetooth communications bits, and computational stuffs. It’s a heck of a lot smaller than the days of Recon Jet, but it also has to do a lot less. No GPS for example. Speaking of which, this is an pool swimming device only. No GPS here, and no outdoor openwater support (outdoor pools are fine though, and in fact, all of my swimming with it has actually been in outdoor pools).

But the real magic is the display itself. If looked from the front of the unit you’ll see the right eye lens is essentially broken into three pieces.

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In reality, what you’re seeing is the middle piece where the display is projected onto the interior or the lens.

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Taking photos of such lens is tricky (and always look horrific), but, here’s a quick go of it:

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It actually works pretty well, and is easy enough to see inside and out (even in super bright sun). But more on that in a second. Oh, and lastly, like normal goggles you can adjust the strap in case your head is abnormally large or small.

Going for a swim:

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I suppose before we go swimming we need to get it paired up to the smartphone app. In my case that’s iOS, but they’ve also got Android. It’s here that you can update the firmware of the unit as well, all wirelessly.

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Once that’s done you’ve got a few display configuration options, which are divided up into the two swim modes that the unit supports: Lap swimming and interval swimming. In lap swimming you’ll just swim, and it’ll keep track of it including pauses. Whereas in interval mode it figures out your intervals and then offers set details as you pause at the wall. Practically speaking the main difference is that for intervals it’ll create actual sets afterwards in the app, whereas it won’t for regular lap swimming.

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Speaking of which, when it comes to display metrics, things are super minimal here. You’ve got a number of data field options, but only a single data page while swimming (with two metrics), and then one that triggers when you turn, and one that’s a rest screen.  Note it works fine for either flip/tumble turns or open turns (non-flip).

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I somewhat disagree here on this minimalism. Ultimately there’s no logical reason why I couldn’t have an extra data page in case I wanted different metrics for my warm-up versus my sets. After all, I’d just be able to press the button and change to that other data page. But that’s not the way it works here, Burger King this is not.  You can see the selectable metrics here:

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Ok, with all that set, we’re off to the pool.

Now unfortunately, I can’t show you an actual pool. Because my main pool here in Amsterdam doesn’t permit any photography at the pool facility (and is super strict about it). And then yesterday I went to a secondary pool with the singular purpose of taking pretty pool photos…only to have that pool closed unexpectedly for some issue (after I spent 30 minutes getting there…sigh).

So, you’re going to have to deal with some indoor shots. But first, a pretty pool shot from San Diego when I first tried out the goggles but didn’t take photos of the actual unit itself.

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Feel better about the pool pictures? No? Me either. But at least it was pretty.

So you’ll power up the unit by holding the front button down, and then it’ll simply ask you what you want to do. If you need to change the pool size, you can do so easily. Otherwise, it’s just a case of picking either lap or interval swimming.  Next, you’ll pretty to start swimming and off you go. Do ensure you wait till you’re in the pool before pressing ‘start’. I know this sounds obvious but I screwed up on my first swim as I wasn’t super sure yet and ended up counting an extra two laps getting to the pool (which was the only time it ever miscounted).

Here’s a couple shots of the display looking at the water in front of the DCR Studio. Just so you can get a picture of how crisp it really is. The funky stuff on the outside is due to me sticking my cell phone camera in there and it reflecting around.

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After that, off you swim! Here’s a proper underwater snippet from their teaser video, since I don’t have a good way to capture the display underwater accurately (I usually use my cell phone for this). In any case, their photo:

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From a clarity standpoint, the above reproduction is accurate. It’s pretty darn close to what you see.

From a visibility standpoint I had no issues with it outdoors either, and getting used to the display wasn’t hard either. All that was fine from a tech perspective. My only complaints are that you lose your peripheral vision with this goggle design. I believe it’s the specific taper of the goggle that causes this, but personally I always find it entertaining to watch the other swimming peoples during my workouts. Either to study technique/style, or just as an exercise in people watching. That’s not really possible here until you take a breath and your head turns so you’re looking straight out the front of the lens.

Again, looking at the side of the unit from the bottom you can see why: It totally blocks the side view:

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The second minor issue I’ve had with the goggle is air bubbles off the front of the lens that ‘catch’ in front of the display. FORM says nobody else has seen/reported this, so I presume it must just be my horrific swimming style. Fair enough.

As for getting used to the goggle overall – I agree with them it takes a swim or so to get used to things, but that’s honestly not much different than getting used to a swim watch and how to carefully flick your wrist during a flip turn so you can view the split as you glide off the wall.

With all that stuff noted – you just swim, and it keeps track of everything. It’s as simple as that, and to it’s credit, against three different watches (Garmin FR945, Garmin MARQ, and COROS Vertix), it was the only unit to perfectly nail all my swims against those watches. I’ve had other perfect swims with those watches, but in these particular swims up against the FORM goggle, only FORM produced the exact number of laps correctly.

Which is a good time to go back to the app, where you’ll see your completed swim details:

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The app also has social elements, so if you’ve got friends on the platform you can follow them (and they can follow you), and then you can see their swims within the app, including all the stats. Basically, just like Strava, if Strava actually cared about swimming.

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Which means you can then look at their stats and marvel at how much faster they are. Also, it lets you, my dear DCR Reader, see finished swim pages with more variety in the workouts:

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Lastly, the app is set to integrate with other platforms such as TrainingPeaks, though it’s not yet enabled in the beta. Also, at this point there’s no structured workouts in it, such as those supported on Garmin swim watches whereby you can download a specific workout and the watch will guide you through it.

Wrap-Up:

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In many ways, the FORM Swim Goggles do exactly what they say they’re going to do – and do so better than watches that I’ve tested head to head with it. In every scenario, the FORM Swim Goggle nailed the distances and splits, whereas the watches I used sometimes missed a lap or doubled up on one. Not every swim, but every once in a while.  The effort that FORM Athletica has put into nailing their swim detection algorithm is clearly visible, and for the most part, that same focus is also visible on the hardware as well.

The unit’s smart display is clear, though not overwhelmingly visible. Meaning, it’s good, but not fantastic. Like the difference between a bowl of just chocolate ice cream, versus one that also has whipped cream, cherries and sprinkled M&M’s atop.  Both are good, but one is clearly better. Of course, I’m not aware of any swim goggle product that’s any better either, so this is the best today’s technology has to offer.

Ultimately though, it’s not the technology that will be FORM Athletica’s biggest challenge. Like I said, they largely nail that.

Instead, it’ll be the price. Competitive swimmers are notoriously finicky and frugal when it comes to sports technology, with there being a long line of failed swim technology companies. Many competitive swimmers refuse to wear a watch, and while this isn’t a watch, it is a (tiny) change to their hydrodynamic norm. And many competitive swimmers don’t see any need for anything more than a wall pace clock.  So asking them to spend $200 on a device will be really tough. And of course, asking non-frequent swimmers to spend that much cash won’t happen either (they’ll likely be fine with numerous watch options at much lower price points).

Still, I’m impressed with the ability for the device to do exactly what it says it’s going to do – even if the price isn’t where I think it ought to be ($125, in case you were curious). I’ve tried numerous swimming goggles that have tried to be sports tech devices in terms of navigation – mostly openwater – and this is by far the easiest to use and the best app/connectivity.

Again, the company will ship August 7th (no crowdfunded messiness here, just straight-up shipping). Given how detail-oriented the company has been over the last three or so months with respect to dates with me, and given I’ve got what I believe is a final production unit, I don’t expect any issues with them hitting that date.

With that – thanks for reading!