A feature rich watch for a niche audience. If you are in the market for a watch to track your daily activities like steps, heart rate, and sleep than look no further.
The Fitbit Surge is the currently the most cutting edge watch for the exercise enthusiast. I say “exercise enthusiast” not to be insulting but to say that this watch has all the features most athletes would want. But it does fall short when compared to a watch like the Garmin Fenix 3 that Alec Blenis recently reviewed here. That’s not the worst thing either, this watch isn’t trying to be the Garmin Fenix 3 or any other similar watch, it is in its own space and doing amazing there.
My initial excitement for this watch was for the possibility of having the ultimate quantified self measurements as well as taking care of my usual GPS and heart rate monitoring usage for running. The space for quantified self and smart watches is starting to become more crowded with great options and the soon to come apple watch.
|Fitbit Surge||Microsoft Band||Basis Peak||Apple Watch - Sport Edition|
|Battery Life||7 days without GPS, 5 hours with GPS||2 days without GPS usage||4 days||18 hours|
|Heart Rate Monitor||Yes, optical||Optical||Optical||Yes, optical|
|Waterproof||50 Meters (no swimming)||Splash Resistant||5 meters||Splash Resistant|
|Weight||1.8 oz||2.12 oz||N/A||1.41 oz|
|Phone Compatibility||Android, iOS, Windows||Android, iOS, Windows||Android, iOS||iOS|
|Price||$249.99||$199.99 - $249.99||$199.99||$549.99|
|ORM Review||Yes||No||No||Being Tested|
Fitbit Surge Review – Features
The main feature of this watch is the optical heart rate monitor. What this means is that you get heart rate monitor, without a chest strap, through a sensor on the back of the watch. While this technology is cool it is not as reliable as a traditional chest strap. For day to day usage when not working out I would say it accurately tracked about 85% of the time. When exercising at a fairly high capacity it would track about %50-%60 of the time. I have used 3 other watches with this same technology and so far this watch performs the best. It out performed the Basis Peak and the TomTom Runner Cardio by far, these both barely functioned when working out. So in comparison it is great but optical heart rate monitoring still has some ways to go before it’s as reliable as a chest strap.
Another impressive feature is the battery life that lasts for 7 days while constantly tracking your heart rate and steps. This means that it is literally tracking you 24/7 while walking around and sleeping. All it requires is a few hours a week to fully charge or you can just charge it while you shower like I did. When used with GPS it only lasts 5 hours on a full charge.
Unfortunately one area where it falls short is in waterproofing which pretty much rules it out for OCR usage unless you are doing a stadium/urban race. They say it is rated at 5 ATM which in theory means up to 50 meters but then they turn around and say not to use it for swimming. I have ended up going for many runs where I am sweating heavily and it was raining out with no issues at all.
The running and GPS combination is another area where I was not impressed with for high performance tracking. GPS acquires just as fast as any watch but the screens related to running with the GPS on are not intuitive and at the moment they can’t be customized the way I would like. When you use this after using a Garmin with GPS for running you noticed a clear difference in what a real GPS running watch should feel like. One of the main custom screens I use on the Garmin 620 is a lap based screen where it shows my current lap pace, lap distance (mile intervals), and lap time. There are no lap based options on this watch.
Fitbit Surge Review – Durability
The Fitbit Surges durability for every day use it just fine. For obstacle course racing I would say never ever use it. The brushed steel of the main body will scuff easily and leave it looking marred. The texture of the strap band is one that when it gets mud on it and dries will require a significant amount of scrubbing to make it look clean and new again. And finally the screen is completely exposed with no bezel and has exposed some what rigid edges. I gave it a 2 for durability because for many people they might want to just use it for normal exercise which was what I did.
Fitbit Surge Review – Usage
As I stated before, the main usage in my mind for this watch was in a manner similar to quantified self. In this aspect it succeeded and had some really cool charts that you could see online after syncing by bluetooth to your phone/computer or through USB. It would automatically detect things like when you went up stairs compared to normal steps and when you went to sleep without you having to press anything. I think the auto sleep detection was very impressive because it would even recognize a short nap during the day.
For someone that is casually running or biking this will meet your needs for exercise. It will definitely track the distance you move, how long you have done it, and for the most part your heart rate. When I used it for easy to medium effort runs it was very accurate with my heart rate and only cut out optical heart rate monitoring once or twice for short periods. When running hard at near max capacity and dripping in sweat it would cut out every so often until I shifted the watch a little. I would adjust the position but it could take a bit of time to come back with HRM which is something I didn’t enjoy focusing on while I was just trying to crack out a hard run.
When I used it on a stationary bike it was the most reliable for heart rate tracking. I think this is due to two factors that are unique to indoor biking – no bright sunlight and relatively stationary arms. You can see from this comparison chart that it was right in line with the Garmin 620 and heart strap combination.
In the looks department the Fitbit Surge while feeling and looking slim to the user looks a bit large to the outside world because of its design. You see it tapers from a large size to a thin size closest to you which is very visually pleasing to the user but large looking to the outside world. The strap is also incredibly soft and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time which is a huge plus since you are generally meant to wear this watch 24/7 and only rarely take it for for charging.
Another interesting thing about the watch is its general interface. For the most part you will only swipe the touch sensitive screen for most of your time using it. The buttons are only used to navigate menus and change modes such as changing to the GPS run mode from the usual daily monitoring. It is pretty intuitive and I never needed the manual when setting up the watch or using it.
Where the lack of screens I mentioned when running is redeemed a little is after the fact when you upload your data. The online dashboard and phone app have some really great ways to analyze your data. Look at all the data I get for one day of running errands walking around a little:
And here is what running looks like when seen on the dashboard (those pace drops are traffic lights):
Fitbit Surge Review – Verdict
The Fitbit Surge is a watch that I wanted to love and be my only watch for all of my exercise and life tracking needs. Regrettably while it excels in tracking, it falls short in the exercise area. It is also is not OCR friendly which is a major downside for many of you. What a good solution that I might suggest if your budget is wide open for fitness gear – get this watch for daily tracking and a Garmin or Suunto for your OCR and workout needs. Or if you are lucky enough to already have a sports style GPS watch, just get this to track your daily life if that is something you are interested in like I am. If you own one make sure to leave a mini review below!
Fitbit Surge Pros
- 7 day optical heart rate, step, and sleep tracking on one charge
- Automatic Sleep tracking
- GPS for the occasional run
- Nice Dashboard to view data
- Easy bluetooth syncing
Fitbit Surge Cons
- Short GPS battery life compared to Fenix 3
- Limited Running Activity Screens
- Not as Durable as I would like