Reviews

Fitbit Surge – User Review

March 5, 2015

Though officially announced at the end of 2014, it wasn’t until early 2015 that we got to see the trio of new Fitbit trackers. Fitbit has traditionally released about a tracker a year. Announcing and releasing 3 in a short span of a few months is either indicative of a booming wearable tech market or that its competitors are creeping up. Either way, the consumers are spoilt for choice. Fitbit Surge is the latest tracker from Fitbit.

Significantly bigger than all its predecessors and the only tracker from the Fitbit line to feature a built-in GPS and message notifications, the Fitbit Surge is marketed as a fitness super watch. Let’s take a look.

LOOK AND FEEL

fitbit-surge-featureThe monochrome LCD screen is the main focus point of the Fitbit Surge. The display is big, crisp, polished yet attract finger smudges as easy as hot knife cuts butter. It is also the biggest Fitbit tracker I’ve worn to date.fitbit-surge-lapThe display was clearly visible under bright sunlight and the backlit light makes viewing in the night a breeze.  The Fitbit Surge also features an always-on display.fitbit-surge-buttons-left-and-rightThere are a total of 3 physical buttons on the Fitbit Surge on top of the touch enabled displayed so it might take a while to get used to. Put simply,the biggest button on the left of the watch accesses the main functions, the swipe and touch interface scrolls through the menu, the bottom right button activates the selected functions and the top right button is essentially a “stop” button.fitbit-surge-main-menusThere are a total of 4 main menus that opens up to even more sub-menus depending on how the user has customised the various functions.fitbit-surge-run-screenFor example the “Run” main menu expands to show 3 types of runs; Free run, Treadmill run and Lap run. Of the 3 types of runs, only treadmill run does not utilise the tracker’s GPS for obvious reasons.fitbit-surge-lightsThe back of the tracker houses the LEDs with data processed by Fitbit’s very own PurePulse technology that can be set to “off”, “on” or “auto”. Heart rate data is captured at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5 second intervals all other times

The charging of the tracker unit is done through a proprietary cable that ends off as a USB plug. Charging from flat to full takes about more than an hour and the tracker lasted about 5-6 days per charge during the 2 weeks of review.fitbit-surge-watch-buckle-and-textureThe strap utilises a standard watch strap buckle system. Now because the tracker is housed within the strap, you’ll be stuck with what you purchased so decide way beforehand if it’s going to be black or blue.

Other than the surface of the strap which is textured somewhat, the band is smooth on the inside.fitbit-surge-faceWatch face is customisable. Users have a choice between digital, digital with date and also analog. It’s not an extensive choice like what the Pebble smart watch offers but it’s still better than nothing. If it’s of any interest, I went for the date option.fitbit-surge-on-hand-viewBecause of the flat profile, the Fitbit Surge wears like a thick wrist strap. The tracker is comfortable to wear or daily use, including to sleep.

FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION

GPS

Perhaps what differentiates the Fitbit Surge from both the Fitbit Charge and Fitbit Charge HR, besides size, is the presence of a GPS unit.

The presence of the GPS also allows the user to go for long runs without being tethered to a smart phone. I’ve been relying on my smartphone and a heart rate monitor whenever I go for my runs so I thought this is a nice change.fitbit-surge-GPS-signalThe GPS connection signal was fast and connected with no hassle. Users can also activate the “Quick Start” function to commence exercising while the GPS signal connection establishes in the back ground. I think Fitbit understands how waiting around dampens the sudden inspiration to run.fitbit-surge-workout-dashboardFor ease of comparison, I did 5 rounds on a 400m standard track at a local stadium. The yardstick for comparison was a Polar Beat (paid version) app running on a LG Nexus 5. Distance was accurately determined to be 2km on both Fitbit Surge and Polar Beat app.fitbit-surge-workout-extrasData provided by Fitbit Surge also includes split timing, heart rate (HR) zones and curve, and a simple graph of calories burned.fitbit-surge-GPS-workout-screenThe GPS also came in handy during hikes and walks when I would start the GPS instead of tethering it to my smart phone and draining the battery of both devices.fitbit-surge-GPS-hike-screenIn workout mode with GPS connected, I can swipe through the display screen to see various stats like:

  • Pace
  • HR
  • Current time
  • Calories burned
  • Step count for current workout
  • Time lapsed

Interface was intuitive and if I had to pick, it was the availability and access to too much information that nearly took the fun out of a simple workout.fitbit-surge-lap-in-dark

fitbit-surge-lap-reviewIn lap running, the user can manually record laps with a press of the button. The Fitbit Surge tracker will present a nice summary of the lap timings at the end of the workout.

Heart rate monitoring

I’ve had a decent amount of accuracy with HR monitoring using the Fitbit Charge HR and was very keen to put the Fitbit Surge through the same test.

The Fitbit Surge was compared with a Polar H7 chest worn HRM connected to Polar Beat (paid version) app running on a LG Nexus 5. These are the HR curve as tracked by Fitbit Surge and Polar.fitbit-surge-vs-Polar-H7Now because my HR trend graph on the Fitbit website looked too narrow, I had to increase the height of the graph using Photoshop to make for ease of comparison. Rest assured the data wasn’t doctored.

As with all wrist worn HRMs, the Fitbit Surge was strapped tightly so there’s minimal movement or ambient light which may affect the HR readings. I was doing a slow warm up followed by an increase in speed before stopping.

The 2 HR charts looked somewhat similar with the exception of the unexplained drop towards the end of the test experienced by Fitbit Surge.

Exercise Shortcuts

fitbit-surge-exercises-and-extrasA new feature allows  Fitbit Surge users to select from a list of pre-set exercises when they embark on their exercise, presumably for more accurate tracking of activities.fitbit-surge-different-types-of-workoutsOnce the exercise shortcuts are selected, confirmed and synced, it will appear on the Fitbit Surge when users can select and activate at the press of a button.

Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

HR-fitbit-surgeThe Fitbit Surge also tracks resting HR which may be a useful indication of cardiovascular fitness over time if you’re embarking on a cardiovascular based training programme.

It’s thoughtful of Fitbit to provide information and advice on the implications of RHR and also the most appropriate time for measurement.

Auto Sleep

fitbit-surge-autosleepSleep tracking and waking is automatic and accurate in terms of duration. I’m always looking forward to the RHR when I wake up. Over time, this is a feature that I really appreciate. There’s also an ambient light sensor

Caller ID and message notifications

fitbit-surge-caller-ID-and-text-messageThe Fitbit Surge houses a vibration motor so silent alarms, caller IDs and text notifications will  activate the vibration if this function is enabled.

The Fitbit Surge has gone the whole nine yards in offering message notification display on the watch face. Incoming calls will display prominently followed by vibration so there’s no reason you’ll miss your calls.

The message notification literally displays the entire message on the watch face with an option to scroll. Presently this function is limited to text messages from SMS only. App and other smartphone notifications are not included. This is a tad disappointing considering the burgeoning number of people using Whatsapp. Also, communication is one way, meaning the user can read but can’t do any pre-set replies.

DATA PRESENTATION 

The Fitbit app interface is identical across the various platforms.The app screen can be customised to display stats which the user is interested only. For starters, the available stats to be displayed include steps, calories, distance, active minutes, stairs climbed, water consumed, food log and weight, heart rate monitoring is available for Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge only.

steps and distance history

7 days history view of Steps and Distance. 

active minutes and calories burnt history

7 days history of active minutes and calories burned.

Among all the tracker platforms I’ve come across, Fitbit has nailed it in terms of tracked stats presentation and ease of use. Summaries are easily accessed, from current week until a month or even a year back. User interface is intuitive and the liberal use of charts and graphs make for ease of understanding.

Challenges with friends

fitbit-challenge

The challenges option was added on October 2014 and provides a new feature that allows the user to individually challenge members on their friend’s list. A total of 4 challenge types are available.

Fitbit In-app MapMyRun feature

mapmyrun feature

A 38 minutes walk with the MapMyRun feature activated. Map and distance is correctly captured. This feature is only available on iOS platform and select Android devices only.

The Mapmyrun in-app feature allows the user to track exercise (walk, hike, run) using the phone’s GPS. The Fitbit Surge is the only Fitbit tracker with built-in GPS and can track routes without requiring a smartphone to be close.

friends

Pictures and names of my friends have been blurred to protect their identity.

The key feature and probably what makes the Fitbit platform so easy to use , in my opinion, is the addition of friends and viewing their progress. You can also text, cheer or taunt your friends to encourage them to move a little more.

ANYTHING ELSE

I was hoping the backlit function would be automatic; lights up throught lifting of the tracker to a certain level. It’s not a big issue, just a small invonvenience having to press the buttons to view the stats in the night.

Battery life with heart rate monitoring set on “Auto” on a 24/7 basis was 5-6 days. I even threw in a GPS tracked workout. Had I done anything more, it would no doubt shorten the battery life. Similarly, I would safely assume battery life would be longer had I switched off the heart rate monitoring altogether.

The Fitbit Surge is sweat and splash resistant but it’s not water proof nor shower proof. Swimming is like kryptonite to this super watch.

Upon reaching your goals, the Fitbit Surge would vibrate and a light show of sorts will play on the Fitbit Surge screen.

There’s apparently a music control function via Bluetooth classic.

IN A NUTSHELL

Pros:

  • Tracks steps, calories burned, distance, stairs climbed, active minutes
  • Tracks HR and HR during exercise
  • GPS enabled
  • Large and crisp monochrome LCD display that’s always on
  • Caller ID notification and text message display
  • Splash and sweat resistant only
  • Vibrating alarm
  • Automatic sleep monitoring with ambient light sensor
  • App available on Android, iOS and Windows phones.
  • Syncs to proprietary blue tooth dongle, not necessary to have a smartphone
  • Super mobile app with web platform
  • About 5 days battery life depending on usage
  • Customisable time display
  • Wireless syncing via Bluetooth
  • Music control via Bluetooth classic
  • Pricey

Cons:

  • Limited smartphone notifications for now (No Whatsapp or emails)
  • No idle alert
  • Not suitable for swimming
  • Does not sync with HR monitors like Polar H7
  • Does not transmit HR data to 3rd party apps

On it’s own, the Fitbit Surge seems like a tracker more suited for runners and those who exercise to keep fit through various land-based activities. For the more serious triathletes or any events involving swimming, the Fitbit Surge is a no no. Priced at close to a quarter of a grand, I find that baffling. That being said, due credit must be given to Fitbit for squeezing so much in so small a tracker. Even Polar’s crown jewel, the V800, requires seperate HR monitors. Reviews.com has listed the Fitbit Surge as their best overall fitness tracker.

If your fitness regime consist mostly land based activities and you want to give people the impression you’re serious about your fitness tracking, look no further than the Fitbit Surge.

Fitbit Surge is available in black, blue and tangerine at the RRP of $249.95.

2 Comments

  • Reply Heather January 30, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    Great info! Have you used the Polarv800? I do a lot of interval training, running, and biking and I’m in search of a new HR monitor. It’s between the Surge and the V800. I find the chest strap extremely annoying but would like what’s more accurate. Thoughts?

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