Review: Oregon Scientific Swim Watch

Last summer I bought a swim watch. In preparing for a SwimP3.

Back then there were two swim watches on the market - Swimovate’s Oregon Scientific swim watch. I don’t remember why I chose the Oregon Scientific - they were both priced at $99.99 - but that’s what I did.

I ended up not using the watch much, for a few reasons:

But the main reason I stopped using the watch was: I had a vague sense that it was under-counting my laps and over-counting my strokes. For example, say I did a 30-minute moderate steady-state swim. I’d glance up at the pace clock mid-swim and see that I was holding around 1:12’s. But then when I finished the swim the total yardage counted would indicate a pace of 1:16’s. Or, when I knew I was hitting 14 strokes/lap the watch would say I averaged 16 strokes/lap.

The reason I had only a “vague sense” about this is that the watch only shows the total time and total stroke count for a particular swim. You can’t see your split times or how many strokes you took on a particular lap. If it did, I would have been able to go back, review my splits, and see whether (a) I really was going 1:16’s, or (b) the watch missed a lap or two. Instead, I was left with the frustrating feeling that “I think I swam 2500, but the watch says I only did 2350.”

(The Swimsense, you may be interested to know, provides split times and stroke counts for each length of a swim.)

In any case, I recently dusted off the watch and brought it to the pool for a proper test, to see if my suspicions held any water.

The test consisted of a set of 6×500 at a moderate pace, with about a minute rest between each. I did #1 without equipment, #2 with a buoy, #3 with a buoy and paddles, and repeated that pattern for 4-6. I counted my strokes on each length, and (obviously) made sure I did 20 lengths each time.

Note: I define “strokes” as the number of times a hand (left or right) enters the water out front.

Here are the results:

**#** **activity** **laps (watch)** **strokes (watch)** **laps (actual)** **strokes (actual)** **time**
1 swim 10 280 10 280 6:05
2 buoy 9 302 10 281 5:59
3 buoy+paddles 9 314 10 260 5:39
4 swim 10 290 10 281 6:01
5 buoy 10 324 10 280 5:58
6 buoy+paddles 9 310 10 260 5:41

On the first 500 I took exactly 14 strokes per length and - surprise! - the Oregon Scientific counted both laps and strokes perfectly. The next 5×500? Not so much.

On three of the swims the watch under-counted my laps (9 instead of 10) - confirming my “vague sense” from last summer. On each of the final five swims, the watch over-counted my strokes, sometimes significantly. On #6 the watch over-counted by 50 strokes (while counting only 9 laps!). D’oh!

Incredulous that the watch could fail so badly, I consulted Uncle Google to see about others’ experiences. There were few reports about the Oregon Scientific watch (only two on SwimOutlet), but in reading reviews of the Poolmate, some suggested that the watch gets confused if there’s not enough of a pause between your turn and your first stroke off the wall (i.e., if you don’t “glide” long enough).

It’s possible this may have occurred when I swam with a buoy, as the buoy tends to make you pop up right away. On the other hand, the watch still over-counted on swim #4 (no equipment) by 10 strokes.

So, I conducted a second test of 2×500, both without equipment, focusing on gliding off each wall and hitting exactly 14 strokes per length.

Here are the results:

**#** **activity** **laps (watch)** **strokes (watch)** **laps (actual)** **strokes (actual)** **time**
1 swim 10 300 10 280 6:03
2 swim 10 318 10 280 6:00

This time, the watch got the lap count right but - again - over-counted my strokes. Of greater concern, the watch didn’t over-count strokes in a consistent way. Remember, I took exactly 14 strokes per length (280 total) on each of these swims. If the watch had counted 300 strokes both times, then I could establish that the watch over-counts by 1 stroke per length - and use that adjustment for future swims.

I’m not sure there’s much else to say at this point. If the watch cannot reliably perform its most basic functions (counting laps and strokes), what’s the use?

But there were some additional issues that, even if the watch counted reliably, would render this product “not quite ready for prime time”:

To be fair, there’s one nice feature of the Oregon Scientific watch, compared to the Poolmate and Swimsense: You can replace the battery!

Full Disclosure: I purchased the watch with my own funds.

Posted 22 February 2011 in: product reviews Tags: gear , Swimsense