(Pocket-lint) - Described as the ultimate fitness superwatch, the Fitbit Surge places the company in the sportswatch category for the first time, competing against the likes of Polar and Garmin.
Fitbit claims to now have a fitness tracking device for everyone. We've tried a number of its devices before, including the Charge HR (which has taken pride of place at the top of our best activity trackers feature for months) and have been impressed by the platform.
But can the Fitbit Surge stand out against the established competition? We've been living with one on the wrist for a few weeks to see whether it can bring the same quality to sportswatches as the Charge HR brings to activity trackers.
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The Fitbit Surge is not quite beautiful like some smartwatches, nor is it subtle like some activity trackers, but the design cements it as a defined sportswatch. It measures 34mm in width, 12mm at its thickest point, shrinking to around 8mm at its slimmest. It's not chunky but it is larger than the likes of the Sony SmartWatch 3.
The Surge follows a similar design ethos to the Charge HR for its wristband and fastening mechanism, featuring a flexible, textured elastomer strap and a stainless steel buckle. It's comfortable to wear and the buckle means it always feels secure, especially with the extra Fitbit-branded loop that locks the strap in place.
The Surge is available in three colours, from a plain black, to bolder blue or tangerine options. There are also three sizes, comprising small, large and extra large. The small, which we've been using for this review, caters for wrists between 5.5 to 6.3-inches - which is too small for some of the Pocket-lint team, so measure your wrist before buying.
A 1.25-inch square touchscreen LCD display sits on a stainless steel surround on the Surge, separating it from the wristband. It's a crisp and clear monochrome display that we had no issues reading, even in bright sunlight. There is also a backlight that can be turned on or off in the settings menu, which is handy for low-light situations.
A swipe left on the responsive touchscreen from the homescreen will display your daily stats, with each additional swipe presenting the next stat, whether that be steps taken, heart rate, distance travelled, calories burned or floors climbed for that day.
A single button on the left of the display brings up the run, bike, exercise, alarms and settings menus, requiring a swipe left or right to switch between them, or returns you to the main homescreen on the watch.
There are also two right-hand buttons, which act as selectors. The lower one dives into the various menus for more options, starts or pauses a selected exercise. The top one will finish an exercise, close the summary of a completed exercise and allow you to read notifications that come through to the watch (more on that later).
Within the settings menu, it is also possible to adjust notifications, shut the watch down, adjust the heart-rate mode and turn Bluetooth on or off.
On the underside of the display is the optical heart-rate monitor, which is where the Surge sets itself apart from some of its competition. Fitbit opts for the same PurePulse technology as introduced in its Charge HR, to achieve constant heart-rate monitoring.
Like the Charge HR, the heart-rate monitor protrudes slightly into the wrist, but isn't uncomfortable and, for us, was barely noticeable when on. There are two green LED lights on either side of the monitor, which are used for detecting blood volume changes and therefore your pulse. That, coupled with some clever algorithms, provides more accurate data as the Surge knows how hard you are working.
Compared to the measured heart rate on the elliptical machine and treadmill at the gym, the Surge was between three and five beats per minute lower. If you want the most accurate heart-rate monitoring then a chest strap is probably your best bet, but for a good indication the Fitbit Surge scores well in this area.
The Surge also does a good job when it comes to activity tracking. Especially for running and cycling thanks to GPS connectivity, meaning a smartphone isn't required to track a route. As we mentioned earlier, running has its own menu, as does cycling now, a new addition via Bike Mode, while other activities are listed within the exercise menu rather than on their own.
The options within the exercise menu include hike (where the Surge monitors heart rate and GPS), weights, elliptical, spinning, yoga and workout (all of which the Surge monitors heart rate, time and calories). What's measured can be changed within the app so golfers could, for example, add golf into the exercise menu - but the Surge won't do anything fancy like measure your swing.
We used the Surge for several activities and it performed well overall, although we did find it was a little mean with steps counted. The Surge awarded its 10,000 steps goal later than the Charge HR, requiring an additional 20-minutes of non-stop walking in our test. As we've found the Charge HR to be very accurate, the Surge therefore feels more on par with the Withings Activite.
Within the running menu there are three options: free run, treadmill run, and lap run. The satellite lock for GPS running was quick, and although the Surge registered between 100-140m less distance than MapMyRun for our free run exercises, we didn't think this was too concerning. After all, there are all sorts of factors that contribute to an accurate GPS reading, such as frequency of read, signal strength and different satellites.
Both the running and cycling modes offer time, pace, distance and heart-rate monitoring, as well as displaying the route taken when you open the app.
While we love the Surge as a running companion, it's not possible to change the order of the data displayed on the screen, which was frustrating. Distance, time and pace are shown on the main display and swiping left will show steps, calories or heart rate - but we would have liked the option to trade pace for heart rate, for example.
Along with GPS running, we also tested the hiking feature on the Surge when climbing Scafell Pike, which is England's highest mountain. The Surge measures distance, elevation, time, heart rate and pace, but we did find it wasn't anywhere near as accurate at measuring elevation gained as the Garmin Forerunner 610 we were also wearing for comparison.
In fact the Surge lets itself down significantly here. Scafell Pike is 978m and the place we started at Wasdale Head was 76m, resulting in an elevation gain of 902m. The Surge measured an elevation gain of 1088m (which is measured as 357 floors, at 10ft per floor, totalling 3570ft), making it 186m off the mark. The Garmin Forerunner 610 measured an elevation gain of 899m (2949ft), meaning it was just 3m out and therefore much more accurate. The data presented for elevation is also far more useful on the Garmin than the Surge, with Fitbit only showing the floors climbed and Garmin representing a graph to show exactly what occurred.
In terms of distance, the walk from Wasdale Head to the summit and back down is said to be 8km. Our Surge measured a distance of 8.75km, while the Garmin measured 8.9km so the Surge was closer to the mark here.
Overall we are largely impressed by the data Fitbit provides for activities, whether that be running or hiking. It offers a breakdown of pace per km, average heart rate, calories burned, time in heart rate zones and the impact for the day.
Along with monitoring various activities, the Surge will also track sleep, which isn't a common sportswatch feature. There is a simple reason for that: sportswatches are not comfortable or small enough to wear all day and night. Activity trackers are lighter and smaller so they aren't as noticeable or annoying when sleeping.
Nevertheless, the Surge sleep tracking works in the same way as the Fitbit Charge HR and it works well (from what we could tell being asleep anyway). Logged sleep is recorded, as is the number of minutes awake, number of restless minutes, while the rest of the graph represents the times asleep.
Extra features and battery life
The Surge has a couple of other features up its sleeve, including music control during workouts and smartphone notifications.
Don't get too excited when we say smartphone notifications because the Surge isn't a smartwatch, it's a sportswatch. If you're expecting the same features as Apple Watch or one of the Android Wear numbers then you'll be seriously disappointed. It simply displays incoming calls, missed calls and text messages. There are no email notifications, social media notifications or third-party app notifications such as WhatsApp.
The Surge enables you to read a text message, but you can't answer a call or reply to any messages. Essentially it shows you what is going on but doesn't allow you to do anything about it. Fitbit could have added a few more notification options here, such as calendar alerts, for example, but then again it's a device designed for tracking your fitness, not your life.
Battery life is mixed. Fitbit claims the Surge is capable of up to seven days per charge, which can be achieved if you sit on your derrière all week. In our experience it's four days per charge at best if you plan on actually moving. However, use GPS continuously for a four hour hike like we did when climbing Scafell and you can reduce that four days to five hours. The battery is average until you start GPS tracking, after which it becomes pretty awful.
Charging is easy though, with a small port that sits beneath the heart-rate monitor. A proprietary cable that comes with the device is required, which isn't standard Micro-USB, nor the same as the Charge HR. Which is annoying, as if the cable is lost you'll need to buy another as you aren't likely to have a replacement lying around the house.
The Fitbit app is where the company hits the nail on the head, as it does with all its other products that we've seen. As mentioned, the extent of data delivered for tracked activities is fantastic, save for the elevation accuracy.
A main dashboard is where all the data from the day is collected, showing everything from steps, heart rate, distance, calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes, through to logged exercises, weight management, sleep data, calories consumed, calories left and water consumed. It can be edited to only show certain features but we found we preferred them all on show.
As goals are reached, the sections turn from red to green, which makes it easy to see progress. Clicking on each individual category will bring up more detailed stats including graphs and weekly totals.
Steps, distance, calories burned, active minutes and floors climbed goals can be changed in the Account section, as can the main goal you are hoping to achieve over a longer period of time. This is a great feature of Fitbit and one that isn't always available on competitor platforms. It means if achieving 20km every day is your target, rather than 10,000 steps, then this can be setup no problems. It's all about the goal most important to you.
Most other settings are found within the Account section or by clicking on the Fitbit Surge illustration at the top of the app under where your name appears. The latter is where you can set a silent alarm, turn call and text notifications on or off, choose a clock face, and alter heart-rate tracking between on, off and auto. Wrist settings, exercise shortcuts, music control and your main goal is also changed in this area.
In the Account section, along with changing specific goals, it's also possible to choose a custom heart rate zone, select a time zone, alter the sleep sensitivity, select what units the app presents and decide which day kicks off the start of the week.
Linking Fitbit to partner apps such as MyFitnessPal means you get the most out of the platform, especially for calorie counters or weight monitors. Logging individual food is tedious to say the least but apps like MyFitnessPal make it a little easier with a barcode scanning feature. These two apps talk to one another seamlessly, too, which is helpful.
As with most platforms, Fitbit also has a section for challenges if you need extra motivation and there is a Friends feature so if anyone you know uses the platform, you can link up and compete against one another.
Overall, thanks to data presented in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-read format, you could be a hardened marathon runner or a beginner and you would still find the Surge's presentation simple and sophisticated.
The Fitbit Surge offers plenty of features: GPS tracking, continuous heart-rate monitoring, basic smartphone notifications and music control are all present within its slim and well-built design.
Fitbit's platform and app are fantastic too, delivering visual data in a far more interesting way than some of the Surge's competitors, especially in the sportswatch department. However, some inaccuracy within its data collection, especially elevation, and limited battery life when using GPS are both drawbacks. Therefore it's perhaps not ideal for professional athletes.
Overall the Fitbit Surge is the perfect watch for those that want those extra features an activity tracker typically doesn't provide, such as GPS and heart-rate monitoring, in a device that is easy to use and understand. However, we aren't convinced it quite hits the mark as the "ultimate fitness superwatch" - but it does successfully bridge the gap between a standard activity tracker and a sportswatch.