The Fitbit Surge is Fitbit’s most advanced activity tracker yet. It tracks all the same things as their other trackers, but also includes advanced features like GPS and basic smartwatch features along with an always on large touch screen display. I recently reviewed the Fitbit Charge HR which quickly became my new favorite fitness tracker replacing the Withings Pulse. After testing the Surge for a couple of weeks, has it taken the favorite spot? Let’s find out.
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
Fitbit Surge activity tracker
USB charging cable
Wireless sync dongle
Over the past few years, I’ve reviewed more than a dozen activity trackers. Having the opportunity to try so many different devices has led me to form my own must-have wish list of features. For me, a fitness tracker has to count steps (well duh!), stairs climbed and heart rate. Is that all you’re asking? Yeah pretty much. Although most trackers can also track calories burned, distance and sleep, I really only care about steps, stairs and heart rate. Having said that, it’s how it track those stats and displays them that makes all the difference. The Fitbit Surge is the best fitness tracker in that regard – at least for the time being.
The Surge is larger than Fitbit’s other trackers, it’s sized more like a smartwatch and as such could be described as being large and bulky. That being said, unlike some smartwatches, I haven’t found the Surge be too large on my wrist or too uncomfortable to wear all day which surprised me because I don’t usually like to wear anything on my wrist.
The tracker has a wedge shape with one button on the left side of the display and two buttons on the right side. The buttons are easy to find with your fingers because they extend past the casing. The Surge has a flexible wide band with a buckle that is easy to put on and remove from your wrist.
On the underside of the tracker is the heart rate monitor and power port. Be aware that the Fitbit Surge is sweat, rain and splash proof, but it’s not waterproof. You should not swim or shower with it.
The Fitbit Surge has a 7 day battery life which is really nice considering that it is continuously tracking your heart rate and other activity.
To start using the tracker you first need to charge the device using the included proprietary USB charging cable. Then you need to connect the included USB dongle to your PC or Mac and install the desktop software.
Once the installation is finished and the tracker is connected, it will then automatically sync your data when you visit the dashboard web page. You can also sync the data to your Fitbit account using an iOS or Android device. Using the web app or mobile app, you can customize your settings like alarms, dominant hand, watch face style, etc.
By default, the Surge watch face is set to Flare. I changed it to the Digital watch face.
The display is grey on black with a dim backlight that you probably won’t notice unless you’re in the dark. The display is easy to read in full sunlight as well as in complete darkness. The Surge’s display is a glass capacitive touch screen that feels as responsive as the screen on your smartphone or tablet. The display is always on and will not time out or go back to the clock view. It stays on whichever screen you desire: time, steps, heart rate, distance, floors climbed or calories burned.
You can also press the button on the left side to start a workout or exercise session like running, hiking, yoga, lifting weights etc. You can use the run or hike mode to track your route using the device’s built in GPS which works really well when I used it record a couple hikes in my woods. It was very easy to start a session. I just went outside, selected hike on the device, waited about 10 seconds for the GPS to lock on to a satellite and then pressed start.
During the workout you can see the elapsed time and at the bottom of the display you can swipe through different stats like heart rate, steps, pace and average pace. I really wish you could use this same split display all the time… When you’re done with the workout, you will be shown a summary of the workout’s stats.
From there you can sync the info to your phone or computer. I use the Android app more often than I use the desktop app. Every time the app is launched, it will try to sync the latest data. For runs and hikes it will show your route on a map, info about your heart rate and calories burned during the session.
In addition to workout info, the Fitbit dashboard shows all the recorded activity info for the day. You can click on any item to drill down to see more details about each stat or swipe back to see data for previous days.
Reading the stats is pretty simple but I kept wishing that the sleep info was a little easier to read. As it is, it just shows lines in different colors to represent when you were asleep, restless or awake. It lacks an easy to view timeline. To see the actual times when you were awake, you have to click on the lines which is sometimes tougher than it sounds. Since sleep tracking is now automatic and you don’t have to remember to tell the tracker when you’re going to bed, I’m not going to complain that much.
The app will also allow you to track your water and calorie intake to help you get a better idea of your calories in vs. calories burned from activities. One really nice feature is the ability to scan barcodes on food packages to add calories.
As an activity tracker, the Fitbit Surge works really well. The Fitbit detected close to the same number of steps as other trackers when worn at the same time. The surge does really well with counting flights of stairs too. It seems to do a little better than the Fitbit Charge HR in that regard.
In addition to tracking steps, heart rate, calories burned, distance and GPS data, the Fitbit Surge also includes what they call smart notifications for incoming calls, SMS text messages and music control – at least that’s what the Fitbit site says when you read the details about this tracker. The problem is that the music control feature isn’t implemented yet and the call / text message notification feature is hit and miss. First of all, these smart notifications don’t work for all phones. I tested the Fitbit Surge with an LG G3 and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. For the LG G3, the smart features require Lollipop (Android v5.0). My Verizon LG G3 is still running on Kit Kat so I’m left out in the cold. I was able to get the incoming call notification feature to work on a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, but as you can see in the image above, instead of showing the name of the caller, it shows the email address. Not sure why that is… And the SMS / Text message feature doesn’t work at all on either phone even though it’s supposed to be compatible with the Note 2 according to the Fitbit device compatibility page. But nothing happens on the Surge when text messages come in to the phone.
I love the always on touch screen that stays on the stat that I want to monitor. I love that I can easily track walks and hikes with the built in GPS and I really like the continuous heart rate monitor and automatic sleep tracking. I think the Fitbit Surge is the best tracker on the market. BUT, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns… The biggest problem with the Surge is that it’s too expensive. Pair the high price with the fact that smart notifications don’t work with all phones and music control doesn’t work at all, and I start having problems recommending it. Even if smart notifications and music control worked as advertised, I’d have to say that this activity tracker is still overpriced by about $50. Even though I actually like the Fitbit Surge better than the Fitbit Charge HR, I think the Charge HR is the better buy at $100 cheaper than the Surge. Call notifications work fine on the Charge and even though it doesn’t have a built in GPS, you can use the Fitbit app on your phone to track routes for walks and hikes.
So to answer the the question at the beginning of the review, the Fitbit Surge is my favorite activity tracker to date, but I think the Fitbit Charge or Fitbit Charge HR is currently the better buy.
Source: The sample for this review was provided by Fitbit. Please visit their site for more info.