In the world of Fitness trackers, Fitbit is currently one of the most famous brands, and rightly so. Extremely active on the market, the manufacturer regularly offers new products with ever more complete features. After testing the Fitbit Charge HR bracelet a few weeks ago, this time it’s time for the Fitbit Surge to come into our hands.
The latest novelty of the brand, the Surge is not only in the form of a bracelet but rather a GPS watch. On the program, you will find all the usual features of Fitbit’s latest products, complete statistics on your daily and nighttime activity, but the product now also includes a permanent heart rate monitor, GPS, or alert notifications. So a whole program, which comes to place the Fitbit Surge in direct competition with products such as the Polar M400 or the recent Garmin Forerunner 225.
Is it a real asset for runners or rather a sophisticated gadget? We spent a few weeks at his side and here is our full and colorful return.
The watch is offered in a rigid cardboard box, relatively compact and having on its front face the product and some of its main features.
On the right side, two bars measure the size of your wrist to select the version best suited to your body type. Two bracelets are available, in size small and large. For my part, having relatively thin wrists, I opted for the Small version. On the back of the box, there is a complete list and a little more detailed features offered by the Surge. We discover that the product incorporates a GPS tracking, wrist heart rate monitor, smart notifications and more other things we will detail later.
By unfolding the cover, we are faced with a clear hard plastic shell allowing us to discover the watch for the sportsman. The latter is perfectly squared on its base and seems to breathe the quality at first sight. Under the watch, a small cardboard box has a USB cable to charge the tracker, a Bluetooth USB dongle to synchronize the device with your computer, and of course a user manual and warranty. Note, however, that most of you will probably not use the USB dongle since the watch can automatically sync to your smartphone if you have the Fitbit app.
A small note about the USB cable for charging, this is a priority cable. You will not be able to charge your Surge with a standard USB / Micro-USB cable, or with the one available for the Fitbit Charge HR for example, so be careful not to lose it.
So much for the owner’s turn, now place the product itself.
Design, look, and ergonomics
- While leading activity sensor manufacturers often seem to opt for discreet designs, the Fitbit Surge is imposing. Much bigger than its little brother the Charge HR and much less discreet than a Jawbone UP2, it will go much less unnoticed than the latter once on your wrist.
- As explained above, several sizes are available, with a “Small” model for wrists 14 to 17cm and a “Large” model for wrists measuring 16 to 20cm. Note that there is also an XL version for wrists from 20 to 23cm. At the width level, count 34mm regardless of the size selected.
- Different colors are available, namely black, red or blue. Note however that it is not possible to change the bracelets unlike a Garmin Vivofit 2or a Garmin VivoActive.
- Speaking of the bracelet, it is made of an elastomeric material that seems rather solid. This is a material that we find more and more often on this type of product, and we must admit that flexibility and comfort are at the rendezvous. The inner side is completely smooth, while the outer side of it is textured with small triangles offering a rather pleasant visual.
- The clasp, in stainless steel, resumes the operation of a classic watch clasp. It is therefore relatively simple to put on or take off the Surge, and it should never leave your wrist against your will. The last point about the bracelet, it is obviously resistant to water and sweat, but remember to clean it regularly with a mild cleanser.
- In the middle of the bracelet, there is a large square dial, incorporating a monochrome LCD screen. Exit the miniature displays of Fitbit Charge and Charge HR, with the Surge, you will be able to consult your data at any time, and especially during your training.
- The screen is fully touch and backlight. It is, therefore, possible to easily navigate from one window to another with a simple swipe of a finger, note however that it will still be necessary to use the buttons arranged around it. There are three of them, and allow to enter the specific menu or activate specific features, but we will come back to it a little later.
- On the responsiveness side, the controls respond quite well, and the scrolling of the various information screens is done very quickly, a good point, therefore.
- Turning the watch, we can see a specificity of the Fitbit Surge directly. I obviously want to talk about its built-in heart rate monitor. In the same way, as on the Fitbit Charge HR or the Adidas Smart Run GPS watch, it is an optical sensor allowing you to follow your heartbeats in real time, whether you are at rest or during the effort. The idea here is obviously to need no longer to hang a heart monitor over your chest; then the watch takes care directly.
- Below the optical sensor is the connector for charging the Fitbit Surge. It will connect the latter to your computer via the USB cable available in the box.
- Overall, the design and look of the Fitbit Surge are more successful, but its size is still quite impressive. If it’s not necessarily shocking on a man, it may be a bit more for women who usually have relatively thin wrists.
Since this is Fitbit’s core business, let’s start by reviewing the activity tracking offered by the watch. On this side, no big news compared to the other tracker’s Fitness of the brand. The Fitbit Surge obviously records your number of steps; distances traveled throughout your day, but also calories burned (naturally or through your efforts) and the number of floors you have mounted.
All this information can be directly viewed in real time from the screen of the watch. By default, the main screen displays the date and time, but you can drag it to the right or left to see your stats. Since the watch, only the information of the current day can be consulted. To find complete statistics on your previous days, or the week, for example, it will then pass either through the dedicated mobile application or your account Fitbit from a web browser.
On the precision side, the step sensor seems to record consistent results. Of course, you will never be able to get your exact step count. The idea here is to get an overall trend of your business. If your result is around 2000 not, you do not have enough market today; if you are more about 15,000, then it’s not 100 steps more or less that will make a real difference.
Algorithms and sensors vary from brand to brand, but all tend to improve over time. For all is not perfect yet, so do not be surprised to see your steps increase while you take a shower or prepare food.
The Fitbit Surge can track your activity during the day, but also during the night. We find more and more products offering this feature, to get a relatively simple vision of your sleep. Unlike some competitors, you do not have to activate anything when you go to bed. Here, everything is done automatically, and so there is no button in a hurry either at bedtime or the alarm clock. Sleep data cannot be directly displayed on the screen of the watch, but it is possible to obtain the detail of each night directly via the mobile application.
On this one, you will be able to discover your time of sleep, the duration of your sleep or the various phases of light and deep sleep realized during your night. Everything is presented in a graphic form very easily understandable. Regarding accuracy, the Fitbit tracker once again offers consistent and relevant results, based on both the movements made during the night and on your heart rate.
A function also allows to set up a silent alarm, allowing to wake up gently thanks to a vibration of the watch. A rather useful function, to get up with a start because of your smartphone that rings, and also avoid waking up Sir or Madam.
Permanent heart rate monitor
One of the flagship features of the Fitbit Surge is obviously its built-in heart rate monitor. Unlike the majority of GPS watches on the market, it is no longer necessary to wear a heart rate monitor belt to track your heartbeat. Everything is done directly from your wrist, using an optical sensor called “PurePulse.” Without going into too technical details, the principle here is to detect the dilation and contraction of your capillaries through your skin to deduce your heart rate via home algorithms.
The monitoring of your heart rate is done here permanently (unless you manually disable the feature) and provides complete information on your heart throughout your day and your night. It is also possible to consult your beats per minute at any time directly from the dial of the watch, but also live from the mobile application. Always from the app, you can then get charts tracing the evolution of your heart rate during your day, and why not over time see the progress made after a few months of cardio.
Regarding the reliability, the results seem once again relevant, BPM racing quickly when you activate a little, then down when you rest. Comparing with those obtained via a heart rate monitor belt, the differences appear to be minimal concerning daily activity.
A GPS watch for runners
So far, in addition to its design obviously, the features we have explored are similar to those available on the Fitbit Charge HR. However, as soon as we start a physical activity, some major differences are emerging. Indeed, unlike a classic bracelet, the Fitbit Surge has a GPS. This is the essential point that differentiates this product from a classic activity sensor.
To start a running session with the watch, just press the left button once and select the “Race” option. You can not miss it, it’s the first one displayed by default, and the pictogram of a running shoe is quite explicit.
Then you will have the choice between several racing options:
- Carpet race
By selecting “Running” for example, the watch will then search for satellites to follow your route and find it again in the mobile application. The search is sometimes slow, and I found satellite acquisition for example much faster on the Garmin VivoActive. We hope that all this will be corrected via a small update. Once located, just press the “Start” button to begin your training. Several pieces of information are then directly displayed on the screen of the watch.
It is possible to display three information on the screen, but two are fixed: the distance and the time of your training. Then, by sliding your finger on the screen, it is possible to display below your heart rate, your running pace, time or calories burned.
If you choose the option “Tour de piste,” it will then be possible to indicate manually to the watch when you have just completed a tour by pressing the button on the top right of the dial. With this option, the information displayed on the screen is a little different. Thus we find at the top of the screen the number of the turn, in the middle the time of the current lap and it will be possible below to obtain his pace per lap. Note that it is possible to pause your training at any time by pressing the lower right button (especially when you are stopping at a crosswalk for example). Once your session is over, just click on the small flag to stop recording and save your results. A page displays the summary of your training.
You can then find all this information via the mobile application (or on the Garmin website). Everything is presented in a colorful and rather pleasant way. There are different charts for your heart rate or calories burned, as well as a map of your course. Regarding accuracy, the GPS seems pretty good but is not perfect either. Some angles tend to be a little cut. The environment in which you will obviously have a direct impact on the accuracy of GPS, which can be disrupted by large buildings if you run in town.
Heart rate monitoring, on the other hand, is not as accurate during exercise as at rest. Comparing these with a classic belt, the results seem similar, but we notice for example a strong descent in the middle of the training, for some reason. In the image below, you can compare the results obtained via a Garmin heart rate monitor (associated with the Runtastic mobile application) and via the Fitbit Surge.
Surge and other sports
If the latest Fitbit watch proves to be a good ally for running sessions, the latter is described by the manufacturer as a “multisport” watch.
Thus, rather than choosing the option “Race,” it is possible to choose the “Training” option, with different pre-configured modules. We find for example:
- Hiking (with GPS tracking)
- Elliptical bike
The idea here is mainly to assign a category to your different pieces of training to better refer to them on the application. As you can see, there are no Cycling related options available at the moment, which is a shame. We hope to see all this happen soon, mainly since it would be stupid to do without this sport with a watch incorporating a GPS and a heart rate monitor.
Note that it is possible for the app to add options regarding the displayed sports. For example, we can assign tennis, martial arts or golf training for example.
In practice, the “Training” option allows you to track calories burned, training times and your heart rates according to different exercises, then save all that in the application. Apparently, the information is less detailed than on running training, and do not expect to see the number of balls returned to tennis or how many birdies were made on your last 18 holes.
Sports watch or Smartwatch?
In addition to the functionalities for monitoring activity and training, the Fitbit Surge also offers some features that can bring it closer to a Smartwatch. I say bring closer since the notifications are rather limited.
If you activate the corresponding options, it is possible to display directly on the watch screen the messages you receive on your phone. A small vibration indicates the reception of these, and it is then possible to read them. You can also be notified when a match is trying to reach you, which is convenient when your smartphone is silent and not at hand. I would like to be able to show you a photo, but if the functionality seemed to work correctly at the beginning, you could not manage to make everything work again. I honestly think that the problem comes more from my Smartphone than the Fitbit product though.
However, the notifications stop there. It is not possible to check his e-mails for example, and it is clear that on this side, the Garmin VivoActive is doing a little better. You can also control the music on your Smartphone from the Fitbit Surge. For this, it will be necessary to activate the “Classic Bluetooth” mode and connect your watch to your Smartphone as a standard Bluetooth device.
Once in place, it is then possible to play/pause your music, or move to the next track. However, it is not possible to adjust the sound volume from the watch, which is rather annoying.
In short, you’ll understand, it’s more of a sports watch than a real smartwatch.
When talking about autonomy with this type of product, it is essential to separate the autonomy during the so-called “classic” use and the autonomous during “sport” use. Indeed, when the GPS is activated, the autonomy of these products is put to the test.
For the Surge, Fitbit announces a range of 3 to 5 days depending on the type of use. In practice, the results obtained to generally use the watch during effectively four days, with some running sessions using GPS. An icon at the top left of the screen provides an overview of battery usage.
With GPS enabled, Fitbit announces 5 hours of autonomy, enough to allow the most hardened athletes to follow their longest training. Apparently, that’s not enough for an IronMan runner, but it’s not the target of the product anyway. Having no habit of training during such a long session, I have unfortunately not been able to test these 5 hours of autonomy in practice, but the different comments of other users seem to validate these ads, or even surpass them.
Results undoubtedly correct, but still slightly lower than those proposed by the competition. The Polar M400, for example, can hold up to 9 hours with the GPS active, so the Garmin Forerunner about 8 hours.
To fully charge the battery of the GPS watch, allow about two hours.
Waterproof or not?
Fitbit’s announcements about the Surge’s tightness are pretty strange. In fact, the product is described as resistant up to 5 ATM, which means according to the brand that it supports sweat, rain, and splashing.
In practice, products resistant to 5 ATM can also be used in the shower or even in the pool, but the manufacturer discourages such activities with the wristwatch.
On our side, no problem to take a shower with it, but we have not tested swimming at his side. Others have done it, and the watch seems to resist perfectly. At your own risk, even if we imagine that the brand protects itself before any complaints in case of problems related to the sealing of the latter.
This is rather unfortunate because it would have been interesting to be able to follow the behavior of the heart rate monitor during a few laps of the pool.
In the end, should we advise this Fitbit Surge? The answer will depend on your expectations. The product is not the most affordable market, and it will be necessary to ensure that you need all its features to be truly profitable.
If you only want to track your daily activity and have a GPS tracker during your running sessions, the Garmin FR15 or Polar A300 watches are interesting and less expensive alternatives. For its part, the Fitbit Charge HR does not have GPS but can track your heart rate unlike the two products listed below. The GPS tracking may be eventually overcome by an application type Runtastic or RunKeeper, although far from ideal. In fact, the Surge is one of the few products to offer activity tracking, sleep and exercise while incorporating GPS and heart rate monitor. Many advantages, indeed, but whose performances are sometimes average, especially during the effort.
In practice, it is direct competition from the Garmin VivoActive but does not succeed. So yes, the VivoActive does not have a heart sensor, but it is easily possible to connect a belt to get accurate results during your efforts. The notifications are also more complete on the latter and the overall design to my taste more successful.
In the idea, the Fitbit Surge is placed as the continuity of Charge HR, offering users regretting the absence of a GPS a complete product, easy to use and to easily track your activities whether the day, the night or during the effort.