Review: Finis SwiMP3 – designed for swimmers!

Memorial Day has come and gone, which means that aside from an abundance of family cookouts, many swimming pools have officially opened their doors for the summer swimming season. I love swimming, and I enjoy swimming laps for exercise. Unfortunately, it’s mind numbingly boring to swim back and forth. I’ve long wanted a waterproof MP3 player to liven up my swimming. Enter the Finis SwiMP3.

The short version: this waterproof bone conduction MP3 player does what it claims to do: plays audio while you’re swimming! There’s no fuss loading media on the unit, and the self-contained system makes for a mostly simple user experience.

The long version: I’d never experienced bone conduction audio before, so I was a bit skeptical that these things would work. Most of my concerns were pretty quickly alleviated, though. The headphones — for lack of a better word — are well built. They clip onto your goggles or mask, and rest comfortably on your cheekbones. They were neither too big nor too small for my face. The USB connector is on a small dongle on the cable that connects the headphones together. It sports a snug plastic cap to protect the connector from water while you’re swimming.

The SwiMP3 comes with its own media manager software, but you don’t need to use it: when connected to a computer the SwiMP3 shows up as any other removable hard drive. Just copy MP3 files to it, and you’re done!

The internal battery will charge while the SwiMP3 is connected to your USB port. It’ll take about 3 hours to get a full charge, which should provide about 8 hours of playback. If you’re swimming for more than 8 hours, you may have other things to worry about than these things running out of charge.

When you turn the SwiMP3 on, you don’t hear much. You can put the headphones next to your ear and you’ll hear that it’s playing sound, but it’ll be too quiet and tinny to really enjoy. Placing the headphones on your cheekbones when you’re out of the water doesn’t do anything. But put your head into some water, and you can immediately hear your songs. My first test of the SwiMP3 was to stick my head into a full bathtub, just to see whether they worked. I was simultaneously pleased by the fact that I didn’t short out an expensive electronic gadget, and impressed that I was hearing music under water. The audio quality was perfectly acceptable to me; but if you’re a real audiophile you might feel differently.

I next took the SwiMP3 to a real pool, and did a few laps. I was somewhat disappointed, as I felt that the music volume was lower than I would have liked. I’m pretty sure I had the volume up all the way, but the splashing from my freestyle strokes was enough to overpower the audio. My gasping for breath as I swam didn’t help much, either. I could probably listen to music while swimming, but the volume was sufficiently low as to rule out listening to any kind of audio book or podcast.

The headphones stayed on, and perfectly in place, throughout my swim. I had worried that they’d bounce or jiggle during a vigorous swim, but no such problems occurred!

I let Marty, my SCUBA instructor try the SwiMP3 and he was absolutely delighted with them. He tried them with freestyle, breast, and butterfly strokes and was equally satisfied with the product in all three tests. He found the volume to be perfectly acceptable. Maybe I’m just deaf. He also commented on how comfortable the headphones were, and how well they stayed in place.

Marty and I shared one complaint about the SwiMP3, though: the buttons are damned small:

Small buttons!

Small buttons!

They’re not unusably small, but they do take some real getting used to. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to quickly change songs in the middle of a lap. More likely you’ll need to pause your swim so you can press the buttons, at least until you get really really comfortable using the SwiMP3. Marty said that the buttons were sufficiently small as to keep him from using the SwiMP3 during a SCUBA dive: it would take too much time, effort, and concentration to fiddle with the buttons that he wouldn’t feel comfortable using it on a dive.

The bottom line: If you’re a dedicated swimmer, the SwiMP3 may be the waterproof media player you’ve been looking for! If you can, try before you buy to make sure the volume is suitable for your needs.