The Fitbit Surge is Fitbit’s latest fitness tracker, pairing together features from their previous trackers with GPS, a heart rate sensor, and a watch, making it their most advanced activity tracker to date. Having used other wearables to track fitness before like the Moto 360 and the Razer Nabu X, the Fitbit Surge definitely feels like a more robust offering. You can set it up and sync it one of two ways, either through the PC dashboard or through the mobile app, and it’s fairly simple to do using the Bluetooth connection to link the two devices together.
Fitbit launched the Surge officially in the beginning of this year back in January, and I’ve been using the Surge for the past week to check out what it has to offer those who are looking for a wearable experience. The Surge is capable of tracking a handful of different activities including your running workouts, GPS, continuous heart rate, and all day activities like steps, calories burned, distance, and floors climbed. You can also use it to track cross training and cardio workouts as well as track your sleep, and while you can see more data from these tracked activities in the dashboard or in the mobile app, you are able to view some stuff right on the display of the Surge. It’s not capable of taking phone calls or replying to messages, it does however, list notifications for incoming calls and messages if you wish to have them.
Hardware and Features
When it comes to hardware, the Fitbit Surge is packed with a decent amount of stuff. It doesn’t house a camera so you can’t take subpar photos with your wrist, there’s no mic for taking voice guided interaction and you can’t place calls with it. That’s all well and good though, especially if you’re not looking for those features. It comes equipped with a heart rate sensor on the back which continuously monitors your heart rate so you don’t have to worry about it working or not working. The band is made of a flexible elastomer material. It’s soft to the touch, and felt comfortable even when wearing it for extended periods of time, although Fitbit recommends that you take a break and remove the tracker from time to time throughout the day to give your wrist a rest, and after wearing it all day on multiple occasions this is a good suggestion. That of course will vary from person to person and some people may not mind wearing it literally all day. The Surge is water-resistant too, so it’ll stand up to rain and sweat and it’s also splash proof as it’s been tested at up to 5 ATM. It isn’t waterproof though, so you can’t swim with it and Fitbit recommends you don’t shower with the device on.
The screen is a monochrome LCD display with a backlight so you can see things even when it’s dark, if need be, and it’s touch so you can interact with it by swiping through screens and stats. It feels just like using an Android Wear smartwatch like the Moto 360 when swiping away notifications, so the interaction should feel familiar to those who have used any Android Wear device before. The Surge is capable of monitoring your heart rate, but it also has a load of other sensors built in, like the GPS, 3-axis accelerometers and 3-axis gyroscopes, a digital compass, altimeter, ambient light sensor and a vibration motor.
As for the features, the Surge actually does quite a lot, and it may take some time before you really begin to start acquainting yourself with everything it’s capable of. For starters, you can use the Surge for the standard things anybody might use an activity tracker for, like tracking your steps on a daily basis and having it monitor your heart rate (which as I stated above is continuous, so you don’t have to do anything to initiate it, it just works) but it can also track your sleep stats like how many hours you slept and how restless you were during sleep. All of this information shows up either in the PC dashboard or in the mobile app. In conjunction with your steps tracking and generally any other fitness activity you may be engaging in, like running, the Surge will also track your calories burned over the course of the day during wear. Using the GPS, you can log your distance walked or ran, and you can see the pace at which you did either as well as the elevation climbed. Fitbit’s dashboard even gives you badges for completion of certain things throughout the day, but we’ll get more into that later.
If you’re extremely active, you can also use the Surge for tracking multi-sport activities like running, cycling (which also now syncs automatically with the Strava app if you have it installed), cross-training, and your workouts. As mentioned above the Surge also tracks your sleep which happens automatically but you can also use the app to set alarms, which you can then sync with the Surge to have it wake you up with the silent vibration alarm at the designated time. You can even set repeat days with it or you can turn that feature off altogether. Lastly, the Surge also lets you view your notifications for incoming calls and text messages, and you can use it for music controls.
These last few features are ones that I haven’t been able to test, and I suspect that the Surge will only show you notifications for incoming calls and messages if you use the standard call and messaging apps on your device. Since I personally use Hangouts for these things, the notifications did not come through. The same goes for the music controls and controlling your playlist from your phone. If you are using anything other than the stock music player on the device, the controls aren’t going to show up. For example, if you’re streaming songs using Play Music Unlimited or Spotify, the interaction for music controls won’t be there. This isn’t entirely a deal breaker, but some users may want the ability to control music from these particular services, in which case a more traditional smartwatch may be a solution.
There are two ways to sync your Fitbit Surge with the dashboard tools. You can sync it to the mobile app dashboard using the Bluetooth on your phone, or you can sync it to the PC dashboard by using the included wireless dongle. It’s a nice touch being able to sync the Surge wirelessly no matter which interface you choose to utilize, however, keep in mind that you can only sync to the PC dashboard if you are already disconnected from the phone. If you are not, you should be prompted with a message via the PC dashboard that there was a sync error (this happened to me multiple times when trying to sync up to the PC the other day) and to disconnect Bluetooth on your mobile device. Once connected to the PC Dashboard however, you can sync the Surge with the phone app and view the data from your Surge on both the PC dashboard and the mobile app dashboard simultaneously if you wish, with synced data showing up in both locations.
Charging of the Fitbit Surge is done using a USB cable which connects to your PC, although presumably you could charge it via a wall adapter as well. Connecting the cable to the Surge is easy thanks to the magnetic charging pins on the back, and it takes about 1-2 hours to charge the Surge to full battery capacity.
In the looks department, the Fitbit Surge is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s sporty and modern, and although it isn’t nearly as elegant looking as something like the ASUS ZenWatch or the Moto 360, it isn’t trying to be and that’s what users should be paying attention to. This isn’t something you’d normally wear to a dinner party, (although you definitely could) but the Surge is understated enough that it could really go with anything. Of course, that is also my own personal opinion and others will surely feel different. The elastomer band is soft feeling and comfortable, and it’s rather flush with the tracker unit core that holds the face and all the components making the design mostly seamless. While others might feel the look of the Fitbit Surge leans more towards the ugly side, I find that it presents itself tastefully and lends itself well to just about any situation.
Mobile App/PC Dashboard
This is where all the interaction for the device stats is going to be, so you’ll want to become acquainted with it. You may use one more than the other, but I suggest setting up both ends as you may use both from time to time. Both the PC Dashboard and the mobile app generally serve the same purpose, which is viewing your activity stats during the day. These two pieces of software are what really turn the Fitbit Surge into a rather capable and comprehensive fitness tool. Both provide a pretty easy setup for the first time user, and from every time thereafter things are as easy as either logging into the dashboard or simply opening up the mobile app when you’re ready to use it, which is a one-time sign-in.
You’ll get plenty of deep insight for all of your activities, and the interface for both I found to be easy to read as well. The mobile app has been fitted with material design, with a thick header bar and hamburger menu for things like account, profile, and settings as well as a few other features, and all your stats are listed right on the main page for that particular day. Should you want to view other days you simply swipe from the left to the right to cycle through. On the PC dashboard this interaction is handled by clicking the date button in the top left corner, and accounts, settings etc. are located in the top right corner, while all your stats are presented in the form of tiles instead of a scrolling list. Fitbit has made things fairly customizable allowing users to configure the order of their listed stats or stat tiles, so you can place things you’re more interested in towards the top. At a glance, each list item within the mobile app or tile on the PC dashboard gives you the relevant information, but should you want more data you can tap or click on each individual item and get a much more in-depth series of data about your activities. Things like the resting heart rate for example are listed on the main menu screens, but tapping or clicking on that particular item takes you to a new screen with much more detailed data, including a graph which shows you what your resting heart rate was at during different points of the day. (You can view an example of this in the screenshots gallery of the mobile dashboard below) You also get an overview of what your heart rate was at throughout the past week and the week prior to that.
This is one example where the mobile app becomes a little more intuitive than the dashboard, as I was able to tap a button to get an expanded view of the graph in full-screen mode on my phone, which allowed me to view my heart rate stats for either a week, a month, a 3-month, or 1-year segment of time. Overall things can be either very glanceable and minimal or very detailed depending on how much of the data you’re looking to view. If you seek only a little bit of data, simply open up either interface and just briefly take a peek at what you want. If you seek a more detailed set of information, tap or click on the things you’re interested in knowing more about and you’ll be presented with the accompanying additional data. While you can use the PC dashboard and the mobile app to view your stats, you can also use both to set up goals for a food plan and then view those details too, and you can view other things like a comparison of your calorie intake v.s. the calories you’ve burned off, and set goals for how much water you need or want to drink during the day.
Fitbit makes it easy to share and export your information as well, so should you want to share data and stats, you can do so from the dashboard and set up daily or weekly tweets with your average activity, or you can set it up to share data with WordPress. You can also export your data into an XLS or CSV file if you want to keep the data on hand, and you can do this with data from the current week, the prior week, the current month, the prior month, or you can set up a custom time frame if you want to be very specific.
Setting the alarms is easy and if you don’t require the audible sounds to wake you up in the morning, this will serve as quite a handy little feature. The alarms portion of the app isn’t going to have as many options and customization capabilities as other dedicated alarm apps, but I found the alarm woke me up pretty easily most days, and after a short series of vibrations the alarm turns itself off. You can also snooze it with the press of a button if you want to stop the vibrations manually.
Remember above when I spoke briefly about badges? This is part of Fitbit’s methods to motivate you and reward you for hitting your goals. You can set goals for yourself and be rewarded a badge for completion of those goals, like the badge for Weekend Warrior which rewards you with this title for getting in the most steps for your current week on Saturday and Sunday. There are also various other badges which Fitbit rewards you with for unseen challenges, like taking 5,000 steps in a day for the “Boat Shoe” badge, or climbing 10 floors in a day for the “Happy Hill” badge. All in all, if little things like this motivate you to do better than your previous days, you’ll love the badge and reward system. If you’re a gamer, think of these things like achievements or trophies for completing certain tasks in your favorite games. This is exactly how I think about it and it works wonderfully for me.
As with plenty of other wearables, Fitbit bakes in some social interaction allowing you to add and keep up with friends and their personal activity data. Adding friends is easy too, and you have options to add them by email, Facebook, or by letting Fitbit scan your contacts. Naturally, it wouldn’t be much of a social interaction if you couldn’t talk to your friends, so Fitbit gives you the option to send messages or emojis to stay in touch, or just to create a little friendly competition. On a friend’s profile you can see the comparison of your 7-day steps count v.s. theirs, and you can also view all the badges they have acquired and what they did to obtain them. If earning badges alone won’t motivate you, perhaps seeing friends with badges you don’t currently own will do the trick.
This can vary pretty widely from person to person, because most people will use the Surge a little differently. Fitbit rates the battery life for the Surge at about 7 days during normal use, and I found this to be mostly accurate for my personal activities. I got about 6 days or so out of it before I needed to plug it back in, but someone who is using the GPS function more often will likely get a few less days. If you’re using the GPS feature continuously throughout the day, you’ll end up needing to charge it again by the end of the day. Per Fitbit’s recommendation, users should probably plug the Surge in every few days to make sure it always has power and the capability to track your activities, although you can push it to around a week if you have to.
This particular function is pretty limited, but Fitbit doesn’t leave the user completely powerless here. You can swap out watchfaces from a few different options, (four total) letting you personalize the look just a little bit with three different digital-based clocks and one analog clock if you prefer to tell time the old school way. You can also set whether or not you wear the Surge on your dominant hand or non-dominant hand, as well as tell the Surge whether you want sleep tracking to be normal or more sensitive. Fitbit gives you a handful of different privacy settings to play around with too, so you can choose who you automatically share things with (you, friends, anyone) and what categories of data you share with each group. As stated above you can also customize the order of the tiles in the dashboard or the items in the list of the mobile app.
As far as activity trackers go, the Fitbit Surge seems to go above and beyond without packing the device with too much extra junk. It has what it needs to make it a fully capable tracker with tons of benefits, but doesn’t add anything useless like a camera. It performs well in what it does, and is easy enough to navigate once you get the hang of what the buttons do. Using the Surge will require a mix of utilizing the physical hardware buttons on the tracker as well as interacting with the touch screen, so learning the times when you’ll need to do each is likely to be the most difficult for people, although this isn’t hard to do. It only took me a day or so to personally get accustomed to the setup. For the most part the mobile app and the PC dashboard both work pretty well, with only a few hiccups here and there trying to sync it. The main issue in this instance is that the wireless sync dongle that comes with the Surge for syncing with the PC dashboard couldn’t find my Surge when it was already connected to my phone, so I was forced to disconnect the Bluetooth on my Xperia Z3 before I could reattempt to sync the Surge with the PC dashboard. It would be nice if the dashboard or the mobile app could simply disconnect the other when trying to connect to the Surge, but this isn’t a deal breaker either.
Feature wise the device is packed with pretty much anything you’d need in a fitness and activity tracker, and with the help from the dashboard tools the Surge becomes a well-rounded wearable for the individual with an active lifestyle, or anyone who is looking to be more active. Compared to other smartwatches it is a little bit less equipped in terms of functionality, but you have to remember the Surge is more activity tracker than smartwatch. At $249.99, the cost isn’t bad at all for what you get. It comes in multiple colors including Black, Tangerine, and Blue, and it has a few different sizes including small, large, and extra large. If you want more functionality that allows smartphone like interactions such as messaging, reading emails, or taking calls, you should look elsewhere. If you don’t need to be tethered to those smartphone-like features though, definitely consider the Fitbit Surge as an option for your fitness tracker, first wearable, or smartwatch.