When Fitbit announced late last year that they were expanding their lineup of fitness dongles and bracelets, nothing gathered quite as much attention and anticipation as their quasi-smart health watch they were calling the Surge. Brimming at the rim with tech goodies, the Surge boasted a new heart rate monitor built into the watch itself, smartphone connectivity for incoming text and call notifications, and, most appealing to me, GPS tracking for runs.
Up until this point, tracking any data on my runs involved running Strava or Endomondo to map routes and mile times, and this meant carrying my Samsung Galaxy S5 at all times. Such a large phone made any small pocket space in my running shorts unusable and took up most of the very limited space in my hydration pack’s storage areas, so I would usually resort to carrying it in my hands. Not an ideal situation, especially for longer outings, which is why a phone-less GPS tracking option like the Surge was so appealing, especially when you pair that with so much real time fitness data.
- Price: First things first- the $250 price tag. If you’ve read any other reviews of the Fitbit Surge, you’ll immediately find a common gripe with this price point and an argument that the smartwatch’s little brother, the Charge HR, does 90% of what the Surge does but at $100 less. Both track your heart rate, steps, calories burned, and more, with the only difference being the GPS functionality of the Surge. Fair point, I guess, if you’re not a runner who currently uses a Galaxy S5 to track runs. If you are, however, the $250 price tag isn’t hard to swallow, especially given that this little watch is an all-inclusive package of singular features offered by other watches like heart rate monitors or GPS tracking, but never both at the same time.
- Functionality: Simply put, the Surge does it’s job well. Not the best that it could, but well enough that I’m sold on using it as my primary device for tracking my runs. The Surge’s GPS accuracy is a bit temperamental at times, especially when you’re running anywhere in a city. In my normal stomping grounds of Park City, Utah (about as opposite of a city scene as you can get), GPS was nearly spot on with my Strava results from my phone, showing a consistent distance variation of about 2-5%. Ok, I can live with that (and who knows, Strava could be the one that’s off). In a recent trip to San Francisco, however, the GPS really struggled when surrounded by large concrete buildings, showing a variation of about 10-15% when compared to Strava. That’s a lot and something Fitbit claims they are consistently working on improving. GPS aside, all other data from the Surge seems to be about as accurate as one could hope for. Heart rate was always spot on and the pedometer data matched that of my Galaxy S5 pedometer, generally within about 50-100 steps for a full day of tracking.
- Battery Life: Fitbit claims up to seven days of battery life when no GPS is used and about five hours of life when GPS is used. The seven days seems to be stretching things just a little bit- I typically saw about five days- but the GPS number is what can be expected out of the box. More than enough to track the majority or runs.
- Fit: Here’s where things go a bit south. The fit is fine at best. Having admittedly tiny wrists, the small size was still nearly too small on me but the large was too large. There is no medium size, which would be ideal for me and likely many others. When on the wrist, the watch rests in a slightly odd way, leaving me consistently having to twist it towards me to get a firm read on the face of the watch and to effectively use the touch screen capabilities needed to activate GPS tracking, workout tracking, and settings. It’s not bad enough to be a deal breaker, but an area where Fitbit will likely focus on improving in the future.
- Fitbit Software: This is where Fitbit destroys their competitors. The web app and phone app used to record the Surge’s recorded data is second to none. It’s highly visual, easy to access on any device, and a gives current on historical metrics on everything you’d ever want to know about your workouts. It even syncs with some third party apps like My Fitness Pal but, sadly, not Strava…yet. Fitbit claims Strava integration is coming soon, but what “soon” means is up in the air. Fitbit also injects some gamification into their software, rewarding users for hitting certain daily fitness and activity goals. Things even go social when you can follow friends to compare daily activity totals and challenge others and even yourself to fitness missions.
- Other Observations: Fitbit markets the Surge as a “super watch”, which is presumably one notch down from a smart watch. And it’s a well calculated move on their part because for all of the smartphone connectivity features that are built in, the only actual interfacing with activity from your phone is simple one way notifications when your phone receives a text or call. This isn’t a negative per se, but definitely leaves a lot lacking for those who want something with more two way communication functionality (like sending a response back to a text). Finally, I have yet to test out any sort of water resistance on the device. Fitbit covers their bases by saying that the device shouldn’t used while swimming or in the shower, but the watch itself boasts a 5 ATM water resistance rating, which should be more than enough to handle something like wearing it in the shower.
Final Thoughts: The Fitbit Surge is a great product that is meant for a specific users. Runners looking to track distance and heart rate from a single device will find the Surge to be a great alternative compared to carrying phones and large devices that run Strava or Endomondo. While battery life, fit and some basic functionality (like setting alarms from the watch itself instead of through the app) can be improved, Fitbit has done a great job of creating a comprehensive fitness and GPS tracking platform, especially for a first attempt at something more than just a pedometer dongle. Later generations of the Surge will undoubtedly be more well rounded, but for now, the current device is a great solution for the runner who is a GPS, data-junky nerd and something I would recommend to anyone who is also going through an “I don’t want to carry my Galaxy S5 anymore” dilemma.
Verdict: Great for now, should be better in the future.
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