Product Review: FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS

Graphic – InternetMore and more gadgets are coming onto the open water swimming market. Most of these are a bit gimmicky and are things that you’ll probably never use. Last Christmas, I got a present of a FINIS Hydro Tracker GPS. I’ve heard good and bad things about them (and those produced by other brands, e.g. Garmin) so have been itching to try it out since then. With the bad weather that we’ve been having this year, I didn’t get to test it out until this week. Here’s how I got on…

Wearing and operating the device: As you can see from the photograph above, the device itself is quite small (4 cm × 5 cm × 1.5 cm) and is held in place (on the back of the head) by the goggle straps. It can be a bit fiddly getting it secured to the goggle straps but a handy video explaining how to do this is provided (see below). Once in place, the device is very comfortably worn, hardly noticeable in fact, and is very simple to operate. There are only two buttons, i.e. a [POWER] button and a [PAUSE/RECORD] button. The former is held down for 3 s to turn the device on or off and the latter is held down for 2 s to start or pause data recording. You can pause and restart data recording to keep it in the same workout or power off and back on to start a new workout.

Note: There are lights on the device to indicate whether power is on or off, whether or not a GPS signal is being received and whether data recording is running or paused. You should wait for a GPS signal to be received before starting your workout (this can take a few minutes – as with all GPS devices, I suppose).

Data analysis: I originally assumed that the device produced a data trail on a Google Earth map, a total swim time and maybe an average speed – I was wrong, it produces much more than that! It does, of course, give the trail of GPS data points overlaid on a Google Earth image. These are very accurate and can produce surprising results, e.g. my tracks for swims at Sandycove Island and Knockananig Reservoir (below) show my tendency to swim to the right and need to make constant left-hand corrections to stay on course. The Sandycove track also shows that I was much further off the back of the island than I had imagined during the swim.

Images – Google Earth & FINIS

GPS data trail for a single lap of Sandycove Island (left) and a 4-lap swim in Knockananig Reservoir (right) overlaid on Google Earth images.

In addition to a map of the swim, the device also gives you the total swim time, average speed (km/h), average pace (s/100 m), splits for each km and 100 m , speed (km/h) and accumulated time at any [spatial rather than temporal] point during the swim. Elevation is also provided but this is obviously of little consequence for swimmers!

Note: All data can be converted to imperial units for our yet-to-be-converted cousins!

Graphic – FINIS

Some of the data output from my 4-lap swim in Knockananig Reservoir last night. Hovering the cursor over the bar for each split reveals the time (in mm:ss format) and the ten 100 m splits shown are for the selected km split (the 1 km split in this case).

Each workout is saved to your own personal account on the FINIS website from where you can export your workout to a number of various file formats or other training logging websites, share it on social media, e.g. Facebook or Twitter, or delete it. There are also a number of additional features on the FINIS training log such as total distance and average speed, etc., across multiple workouts.

Note on battery life: I haven’t tested exactly how long the battery lasts (though I know that it takes about 2 hours to charge). I have, however, noted that when you are not using the device you need to check carefully to make sure that it is powered off. I attempted to use the device in the River Blackwater on Monday morning but it would not turn on. I’ve since figured out that I hadn’t made sure that it was switched off properly after last using it and by such had accidentally run down the battery. I haven’t made the same mistake since! I’ll update when I figure out just how long the battery lasts.

How useful is it? Well, it depends on how much swimming you’re doing and where you’re doing it. I think that because I swim regularly at Sandycove and race there also, the data returned by the device will be very useful for me in practicing to swim a faster lap. I think that it’s also useful for measuring the exact distance and time for a new swim that is perhaps difficult to gauge from maps and charts. Of course, it’s not just for swimming that it’s useful: it comes with an armband so can be used for a multitude of activities including running, cycling, walking, skiing and many others (you can select the specific activity when analysing the workout). It retails at US$129.99 so it really depends on you as to how much value you can get out of it…

Conclusion: I always like to record my sessions. I record them, not just for the sake of it, but so that I can analyse them and see how I can improve and get more value out of the next session. This is easily done with pool sessions but much harder for open water. I think that this device makes proper workout analysis for open water possible and will help me to train better in the open water, so it gets the “thumbs up” from me!

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