Review: Fitbit Surge Fitness Tracker smart watch
Like many cyclists, I enjoy keeping track of my rides, sometimes so that I can see where I’ve been if happened upon a particularly fine route, other times so I can analyse my performance once I’m back on the sofa with a cup of tea.
Much of the time, I use a dedicated cycle computer mounted on my handlebars as it’s convenient to just glance down at the screen and see how many hours I’ve been riding or how much longer the climb I’m doing is going to last. Or I might be keeping careful watch on my power or heart rate zones whilst doing interval training.
It’s safe to say that any kind of watch, no matter how smart is not going to be ideal for the latter – it will be hidden under a long sleeved top in winter and besides, you have to loosen your grip (or let go of the bars) in order to rotate your wrist and take a look at the face.
But for the kind of rides where you want less on-the-go data and of course, for running, hiking, working out and just tallying your steps, the Fitbit Surge, a super charged fitness tracker and a bit of a ‘jack of all trades,’ does a fine job.
I’ve got to be honest – the design of the Surge just doesn’t do it for me. I was sent a size Large which doesn’t exactly help, but the problem is that the band is clunky and huge, making it hard to get your sleeve up. And just looks a bit weird. I have nothing against something so conspicuous looking per se, I would just prefer it to look nicer or sportier if I’m going to walk around with a device strapped to my wrist that screams ‘I’m wearing a fitness monitor!’
The digital display itself is oddly retro looking and I’m not sure whether that’s intentional. I’d prefer something a bit more slick and modern, like the display on the Fitbit Blaze for instance. Presumably, the monochrome display helps with battery life.
Set up and user interface
To set up the Surge and use it properly, you’ll need a Fitbit account and to download the app to your phone. I found it easy to set up and use and had no problems pairing the device. It’s worth noting that you can only set an alarm on the watch via the app, which I find irritating.
The Surge is a smart fitness tracker so can be paired with your phone to alert you to calls can be used to control the playing of music and can display text messages.
Heart Rate Monitoring
Like the majority of fitness trackers, the Surge has a built in heart rate monitor that continuously monitors your heart rate. It uses Pure Pulse technology, which shines a light into your capillaries creating a reflection that is read by the sensor (weird, huh?). During normal wear, the sensor takes a reading every five seconds but when you’re recording activity it does so every second, for greater accuracy.
The day-to-day heart rate tracking seemed close enough, giving adequate information to track your resting heart rate trends through the app. When exercising, the heart rate monitor was ballpark rather than pinpoint accurate, which is fine for a casual user.
I like the way you can set target heart rate zones for your workout, depending on what kind of result you’re looking for and it’s easy enough to train in said zones providing they are of sufficient length. I found that during really high intensity intervals, the Surge was slow to pick up the raise in heart rate – I’d do a set of burpees for instance and see a large spike in my heart rate when I had already stopped. It wasn’t too much of a problem down the gym as I don’t train in heart rate zones but could be an issue if you wanted to run short intervals or do HIIT at a particular heart rate.
The Surge fares well if you’re just using it to track steps, lasting about four or five days without a charge. If you’re using GPS, expect around 5 hours on a full charge.
Fitbit are well known for the quality of their sleep tracking which is activated automatically after a period of inactivity and low heart rate – you don’t have to press any buttons to get it to begin recording. But on the nights I’d been tossing and turning, I found it my results indicated I’d slept all night, which I found odd.
Other than that, it did seem to fairly accurately record the time I went to sleep and woke in the morning so it could be useful for figuring out very roughly how many hours sleep you are getting – in case you’re bad at Maths and can’t figure that out yourself.
The Surge has GPS built in, so you don’t have to pair it with your smartphone in order to get a fix on your location. When recording a ride or a run, it can take a minute (or several) to get a GPS signal, but then you’re good to go.
Recording a run is very simple. Hit the left button to select run, then either tap the screen or select the kind of run from the menu on the right – ‘Free Run’ or ‘Manual Lap’ run. Once the GPS has been acquired, start recording by pressing the bottom right button again.
Once you’re running, you can swipe through various metrics to view your heart rate, distance, pace and average pace or check out your lap pace or lap distance, if you’re in the Manual Lap mode. Just tap the lower right button again to end your run. Afterwards, it’s easy to check out your splits on the app and analyse your performance and there’s a whole load of in-depth info on your dashboard on the Fitbit site.
For running indoors, you’ll need to configure your stride length by running a certain distance whist the device counts your steps, then inputting the date in on the website.
When it comes to cycling, well, hmm. For some reason, when you select ‘Ride,’ it doesn’t disable the step counter, so when you record a hilly ride the device thinks you’ve climbed about 80 flights of stairs. If that doesn’t bother you then it works just fine, recording where you’ve been, your distance and all that, but if I was looking to track my fitness over the day with any precision, that would be irksome.
As I said earlier, the heart rate data is not minutely precise, but I’d guess that if your recording cycling on a watch (rather than a bar mounted computer so you easily see) then accurate enough should be fine. What I like the watch for is bike rides where I’m more interested in where I’ve been and how quickly I got there, for instance when I’m mountain biking, rather than training on my road bike.
It’s worth noting, you can’t swim with the Surge, as it’s not fully waterproof.
The Fitbit Surge is user friendly, works well as a running watch and makes a good companion for those looking to monitor and analyse their sleep and heart rate trends whilst keeping track of general activity. The phone notifications are a nice touch, the caller ID telling you whether you need to quickly grab your phone.
It’s not without its flaws, which for me were the fact it thought I’d climbed stairs when I rode the bike and the only ballpark accurate heart rate data.
Fitbit Surge. RRP: £199