Review: Fitbit Surge – Fitbit’s foray into serious running watch territory

Fitbit Surge

Fitbit Surge
7

Design

6/10

    Ease of use

    8/10

      Use of information

      8/10

        Motivation

        6/10

          Pros

          • Always on display
          • GPS tracking
          • Accurate real-time heart rate monitoring

          Cons

          • Outdated look
          • Lack of meaningful analysis of data
          • Does not integrate with Apple Health
          • Pricey

          The Fibit Surge was released in early 2015. The Fitbit website refers to it as the ‘ultimate fitness superwatch’. This device is the most powerful Fitbit with GPS tracking, real time workout statistics and a heart rate monitor. But its stepped up specs and touchscreen LCD make it bigger in size and price. Plus, it is now in competition with more serious running watches such as Polar and Garmin.

          We have reviewed the Fitbit Charge and the Fitbit Charge HR in one of our earlier articles, and have highly recommended the Fitbit Charge HR as excellent value for money. The Charge HR should appeal to someone wanting more advanced activity tracking statistics than a Fitbit Flex or Charge user. The Charge HR is only $30 more than the Fitbit Charge, and offers both continuous heart-rate monitoring and a better-designed strap and buckle. Spending that extra $30 to purchase the Charge HR is in our opinion definitely worth the added expense.

          But is the Fitbit Surge worth a further additional $100 price tag?

          Design
          Ease of use
          Use of information
          Motivation
          Overview

          View technical specs


          Design

          The Fitbit Surge is not quite as beautiful as some smart watches, nor is it subtle like some activity trackers. Its screen has a monochrome OLED display. It is noticeably larger than the Fitbit HR and upgrades to a touchscreen. This backlit, always-on interface allows you to keep tabs on your steps, miles, active minutes and heart rate on a black-and-white, 1.25-inch screen.

          The display doesn’t fit very much information, but at least there is no need to cycle through the statistics by pressing a single, tiny button as is the case with the Fitbit HR. While the functionality is more advanced, the square look and monochrome display looks very outdated and is not in any way fashionable.

          Fitbit Surge review

          The Surge is available in three colours, from a plain black, to bolder blue or tangerine options. Thereare also three sizes, comprising small, large and extra large.

          All Fitbits have a MEMS 3-axis accelerometer that measure motion patterns to determine your steps taken, distance travelled, active minutes, and calories burned. The Fitbit Surge also features an altimeter that measures floors climbed, to push you to climb those stairs instead of taking the lift. Every 10ft elevation you walk or climb is counted as one flight of stairs. Plus there is GPS tracking and music control – something that is not included in other Fitbits.

          Fitbit Surge is waterproof up to 5ATM or a depth of 50 meters. However, the company says that while “it is rain and splash proof and can stand up to the sweatiest workout”, owners should remove the device before showering or swimming.

          The battery level of the Fitbit lasts anywhere between 4 and 7 days – depending on instensity of use – but if you find yourself using the GPS function, you will find that the battery level decreases quite rapidly.

          Fitbit Surge review


          Ease of use

          The Charge is very user friendly – once you have done the initial set-up – strap it on and you are ready to go. The Fitbit Surge offers plenty of features: GPS tracking, continuous heart-rate monitoring, basic smartphone notifications and music control are all present.

          You can look at the results on your mobile phone app, the internet – or by clicking on the buttons on the tracker. The Fitbit Surge activity tracker wristband offers a lot of real-time fitness statistics right there on your wrist. A swipe left on the touchscreen from the homescreen will display your daily statistics, with each additional swipe presenting the next stat, whether that be steps taken, heart rate, distance travelled, calories burned or floors climbed.

          Unlike pre 2015 Fitbit devices, you don’t have to tell it you’re planning on snoozing, and sleep mode will kick in from your movements and heart rate data. Definitely a welcome improvement.

          There are two right-hand buttons which act as selectors. The lower one dives into the various menues for more options, starts or pauses a selected exercise. The top one will finish an exercies, close the summary of a completed exercies and allow you to read notifications that come through to the watch. If you track workouts by pressing and holding Fitbit’s button to start and stop the watch, you will get workout summaries showing your heart rate and time spent in each zone for that activity.

          Fitbit Surge review


          Use of information

          The Fitbit Surge records all the usual statistics that you would expect such as steps taken, distance travelled, calories burned, stairs climbed, active minutes, caller ID and sleep. However, as mentioned, the Surge goes a step further than other Fitbits by including GPS mapping, a completely new sensor to the Fitbit family. The Surge’s satelite tracking works without your phone, a feature that is not currently available in the Apple Watch.

          Fitbit’s proprietary PurePulse optical heart-rate technology uses safe LED lights on the underside of the wristband to detect blood volume and capillary-size changes under pressure. When your heart beats, your capillaries expand and contract based on blood volume changes. When compared to trackers with no heart rate monitor and those which only measure heart rate on demand, the ones that continuosly measure provide a much more accurate calorie burn figure. Knowing your heart rate means the wearable knows the intensity of the exercise.

          Fitbit Surge review

          PurePulse allows users to track workout intensity and calorie burn with algorithms that provide insight through interactive charts and graphs on the app and Fitbit dashboard. The watch display tells you if you’re in one of three heart-rate zones. These zones can help you optimize your workout by targeting different training intensities, and are calculated based on a percentage of your estimated maximum heart rate.

          Fitbit calculates your max heart rate with the common formula of 220 minus your age. When you’re “out of zone” – that is below 50 percent of your maximum heart rate – your heart rate may still be elevated but not enough to be considered exercise. Instead of using the three default zones you can create a custom heart-rate zone on your computer’s Fitbit dashboard.

          The Fitbit also measures your resting heart rate. This is traditionally done just before waking up and before you start moving around. The app graphs your resting heart rate so you can see how it changes from day to day, week to week and month to month. You can also examine your daily heart rate graph and see how long you spent in the three zones. For us, the resting heart rate results seemed a bit on the high side when compared to other heart rate monitors we’ve tried.

          Sleep tracking seems relatively simplistic, bordering on the pointless. The graph shows a blue block, which is your sleep duration. The total time is listed in the app, along with the day’s stats. The block isn’t coloured to designate deep or light sleep as with other sleep trackers, but there are lines that mark when you toss or turn. On the plus side, sleep tracking is automatic, so there is no need to press a button to activate the sleep mode.

          The mobile app remains a well-designed, easy to navigate tool for looking at your data, monitoring your fitness progress, and also tracking your food intake and water consumption. Any metric can be tapped to show historical data, and weekly totals. That’s especially useful for ‘active minutes’ which is the amount of time spent in the day with your heart rate elevated. Upping this total means you’re getting fitter.


          Motivation

          The Fitbit Surge is comfortable to wear. It offers a wide selection of data to provide added motivation to help you with your fitness goals.

          The app is well designed and easy to use. However, we feel that more could have been done by Fitbit to provide users with meaningfull analysis of its sleep tracking and heart rate data. Also, the 80s look of the device takes away from the enjoyment of using the device.


          Overview

          The verdict

          We have awarded Fitbit Surge with 3 stars, 1 less star than the 4 stars we gave to Fitbit HR. The added benefits of GPS tracking and a larger display, simply did not outweigh the negatives – and steep increase in price. Fitbit Surge tries to do too many things, but ultimately it falls short in many ways compared to the competition.

          On a positive note, the Surge marks Fitbit’s first foray into serious running watch territory. While it is not the fastest or most accurate GPS in the world, it does get the job done. Also, the real-time heart rate monitoring gives fairly accurate results and the automatic sleep function is a plus.

          On the negative side, the Surge is not as accurate as the top-tier fitness sports watches, and while the outdated bulky display was fine for tracking fitness activities, it is not really attractive for a night out or for use in the workplace. Additionally, we should bear in mind that none of the Fitbit trackers integrate with Apple Health, so your fitness data from the Fitbit app can’t be imported into the Health app. And as mentioned, we find the lack of meaningful analysis of heart rate data or sleep data a bit of a let down.

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          Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch
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          The Surge basically tries to fill the void between a fitness tracker and dedicated sports watch. Ultimately however, customers may be better off choosing the Fitbit HR for basic fitness tracking. If however you are looking for a serious running watch, complete with GPS and heart rate monitoring, there are many options out there with more advanced tracking facilities and a similar price-tag.

          View technical specs

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