The Ultimate Fitness Tracker? Fitbit Surge Review
Fitbit Surge Review – Is it worth it?
Today we’re going to be reviewing the Fitbit Surge by Fitbit. According to them, the Surge is a Fitness Super Watch which is 100% correct, but the question is, how smart is it?
The Surge is Fitbit’s most expensive wearable but also does the most as it provides heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, GPS tracking and basic call and text notifications. It’s a fairly comfortable device to wear and has a great battery life. In our opinion, the Surge is a highly evolved fitness device with smart watch features that feels a little slow.
For our Fitbit Surge Review, we gave the fitness tracker/smartwatch combo a score of 3.8 Eh’s out of 5. We feel that this is a better smart watch then the Pebble classic in terms of hardware and overall, provides better fitness tracking then Fitbit’s own Charge HR and Flex. Go here if you want to check out all the wearables that we’ve reviewed so far.
Also, at the end of this review, we’ve got a quick comparison between the Fitbit Charge HR and the Fibit Surge.
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Design – Looks like something Batman would use?
In terms of design, the Surge is a fairly bulky device though we didn’t find it getting into the way as much as the Pebble smartwatch did. We didn’t have any issues with the wear and tear of the Surge despite looking like it is going to be uncomfortable to wear, we were surprised at how well at sat on our wrists. We do like how the strap stays in place which is something that annoyed us about the Pebble classic smart watch.
With that being said, Fitbit recommends that you wear the Surge approximately 1 finger distance from your wrist bone to ensure a good heart-rate monitoring connection. This placement feels really awkward to us and we found that it was almost impossible for us to keep it at the optimal placement, especially if a long shirt was involved.
For fitness, Fitbit recommends 2-3 fingers which means the Surge is sitting close to the middle of your arm and if you’re doing an activity that requires lots of hand movement (like lifting) it’s going to move around a lot which gets annoying. We’ve got a tip for this issue which we’ll elaborate a bit more in the sensor section below.
In terms of the actual look, we found it to be a little too blocky, Aaron’s trainer though it looked like something Batman would wear and people on Facebook general said it looked “meh”.
Durability – Holds up well (and has a 7 Day battery!)
For durability, Fitbit claims that the Surge has 7+ day battery life. Now we were a little apprehensive at first with this claim since a low battery power warning would come on after 5-ish days but the Surge would stay powered for another 1.5 -2 days after the warning.
Charging the Surge requires a custom cord which is a little annoying because it just adds to the cable clutter. As a side note, the cable for the Surge isn’t compatible with the cable for Fitbit’s own Charge HR.
In terms of protection, the Surge is water resistant up to 5 ATM but Fitbit suggests that up don’t wear it swimming or in the shower with the primary reason of letting your skin breathe a bit and the face of the watch can withstand scratches from coins and keys.
Functionality – A great fitness tracker but barely a smartwatch
In terms of functionally, this is where the Fitbit stumbles in terms of being a smartwatch but shines as a fitness device. As we said at the beginning of the video, the Surge is a fitness device first, smart watch second.
In terms of connecting with your Fitbit Surge, Fitbit provides you with the ability to sync your Surge with a desktop so its not necessary to have your smartphone on you all the time. There is both a smartphone and web-based application so you can easily track all your fitness related information.
As a side note, the dashboards that Fitbit has created for their web and smartphone apps are quite nice. The amount of data that these things captures and displays is pretty cool but one question you have to ask yourself is…do you really need to know all this? For me, other than the initial shock that an entire day of playing wow results in absolutely no activity, I don’t find myself checking the details of everything that I do very often.
One of the biggest things that limits how useful the Fitbit surge is the lack of 3rd Party Support in terms of apps. In our minds, a big strength of the smartwatch is being able to add additional functionality via apps. Going from a Pebble to this Surge will be very noticeable because you’ll be definitely notice that tiny bits of information that 3rd party apps were displaying on the Pebble won’t be there.
In terms of handling, the Fitbit Surge is a little quirky. This is a touch-enabled device but you still have to rely on the physical buttons heavily to use the Surge. An example of this “quirky-ness” can be found on the alarms page. Our first instinct in terms of changing the recurrence of an alarm is to tap the recurrence portion of the screen. That doesn’t work as the only way to change the recurrence is by pressing the button on the other side of the display.
In terms of viewability, you can easily see the watch face in direct sunlight and the is backlit for darker viewing though you can’t just shake your wrist to activate the backlit, you need to push a button. interesting enough, there is a light sensor somewhere as the backlit doesn’t activate in direct light.
In terms of navigating the UI the Surge is adequate. Notifications are pretty basic as you only have call and text notifications which I felt was a bit limiting. You can’t really customize the watch faces much and we found that the Flare clock face was really the only one that would tell you how active you were during the day. The lack of 3rd party apps really hurt the Fitbit surge in terms of being a smart watch as you have no opportunity to turn this into a really personal device or customize it in a way that reflects who you are.
Now as part of the UI, I’m going to talk about food tracking as we’re not sure where else to put it. The Fitbit Surge does lots of great things for your physical activities but really nothing for food tracking. What you eat is an important part of your general fitness and the Surge doesn’t offer anything to make the tedious process of tracking what you eat easier. Food tracking is tedious at best with Fitbit’s app so its surprising that there is nothing on the Surge to improve that tediousness.
Alright, the last thing we’re going to be talking about specifically for the Surge are all the sensors that are on this smart watch and how accurate they are.
Heart rate monitoring is accomplished via Fitbits PurePulse Technology, which are these green blinking LED’s that measure stuff in your skin. That portion of the Fitbit Surge extends past the bottom of the watch so it will almost stay in contact with your skin which means you’ll get red sticky areas after a while. Again, Fitbit does say to take the watch off every once. Also, don’t get this watch if you’re prone to monsters in your sleep because the LED lights and the charge port make it look like an evil demon.
Now, at the beginning of the review, we said the Fitbit Surge felt a little slow and that’s because the heart rate reading seems delayed. We noticed that there is a delay between what the Surge thinks my heart rate is and what is actually happening. For example, you can finish an exercise, feel your heart rate in your head and the Surge will say its 110 (whereas your actual heart rate is closer to 150) and climb up to 130 after several seconds but it seems to miss the peak heart rate. So if you’re doing a lot of high intensity, short interval stuff, the Surge might not pick up those moments that your heart rate is really high.
Part of the problem with the clipping of peak heart rates (from our perspective) is the placement of the Surge as its always moving on your arm during exercises. Again, Fitbit recommends the Surge sits 2-3 fingers down from the wrist bone which is an odd place to keep the device but this is the optimal place for it to work. Fitbit warns about keeping the Surge too tight as it will interfere with readings so the only way that we’ve been able to keep the Surge loosely on while maintaining a 2-3 finger distance from your wristband is by wearing a wrist-sweat band.
There is a GPS receiver on this watch which is pretty crazy and it generally works. I can’t really talk about the accuracy as we’re unable to download and post-process the data but tracks generally do show up where Aaron has tried to run. Like most other trackers, it will count your steps and flights climbed as well but that feature is pretty boring so we’re not going to go into much detail.
Now to put all these sensors to use, Fitbit allows you to easily select a specific activity easily. This feature can easily be the number one reason to get the Surge over the Charge HR but once you get going on an activity, you get a summary display showing you relevant information to whatever activity that you’re doing.
The last thing I will talk about in terms of sensors on the Surge is sleep monitoring and the silent alarms. Unlike the Flex, the Surge will automatically detect if you are sleeping or not but from our experience, the silent alarms will fire at the exact time set, not when it’s the best time to wake you up. Seems odd that a device with all these sensors doesn’t have a slightly more intelligent sleep alarm.
Overall, in terms of sensors, we feel that the Surge isn’t super accurate. Steps will be logged when you’re sitting and typing, flights of stairs will be magically log and the heart rate isn’t always going to pick up your peak heart rate. How that shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people because measuring the relative change over time is going to be more useful in terms of overall fitness.
Now onto the comparison between the Surge and the Charge HR. The biggest hardware difference is that the Surge has a GPS and the Charge HR doesn’t. In terms of functionality, the biggest difference between these two wearables is all about being pro-active or reactive when it comes to your fitness. With the Surge, you can start logging your fitness results immediately whereas the Charge HR, you have to either goto your device to start logging or do it after the fact. We personally would rather start and stop our activities when rather than trying to remember at the end of the day. With these differences in mind, is the Surge worth the extra $120 dollars? I think so.
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