Luthien got me an “upgrade” this holiday to a Fitbit Surge HR, replacing my Fitbit Charge device that I’ve had since July. While the Charge is a fine stepper, it fails to account for many of my exercise workouts – eliptical trainer, stationary bike, and most important does not really understand “effort” in terms of interval training or intensity workouts. With the Surge HR I’m hoping to get a real sense of how I’m doing based on these things. So after a week with the device, how is it? Read on!
Fitbit Surge HR Device Ergonomics
Fitbit devices have been at Tarn Aeluin for years, but we have also used devices from Garmin, Jawbone, and many others. Fitbit, like all the other guys, seems to have struggled with how to make a band that lasts even though humans have been designing good wrist wear for hundreds of years. Modern wearable makers seem to not know how to make a wristband that works and Fitbit is not alone in this. However this device has a very nice strap and real watch-like clasp. It feels very secure and the rubber is very flexible with a soft touch. Only concern I have is can it last without tearing (like the Flex band). With this clasp, there will be no more falling off in heavy surf!
I was a bit worried about the size. The device has a wedge shape to it and is thinner on the inside of your wrist. This makes it feel smaller than it actually is and also helps with screen glare. It is big, but not to the point of feeling like a brick on your wrist. My wrists are not huge either, 8.25″ in circumference. I prefer a thin and light watch. The ‘L” version is what I have. Its ok in terms of size.
The buttons on the device are easy to find, large enough even when exercising, and are simple to learn.
The screen is an adequate monochrome with a good enough resolution to get the job done. Its visible in all light conditions with a back-light helping out. The touch interface responds well even with a screen protector installed on it.
Fitbit Surge HR Device Features: Exercise
Obviously the big features are the HR monitor and the GPS integration. The other nice feature is the ability to recognize different kinds of exercise and then account for these in calorie calculations. I’ve got 3-4 other HR monitors, but my reference is a Polar device. The Surge HR lines up pretty well with the Polar. It seems to lag a bit at the beginning of the workout, but overall it seems pretty much the same. I like the icons on the screen that remind you when you are in fatburn vs. cardio vs. peak ranges.
Setting up exercise periods is quite simple. Hit the main button and then swipe to what you are going to do. I’ve done a few walks, bikes, and runs on an exercise that uses the GPS. The GPS location gets setup pretty quickly and the data available at the end is pretty cool. You can see elevation and location lined up against heart rate and other stats.
For stationary activities you can see HR vs. effort when doing intervals or intense workout. I’ve been using the treadmill, spinning, and elliptical exercise periods to record my calories burned. The device is pretty much in line with the estimates from each piece of equipment.
Fitbit Surge HR Device Features: Usability
So what about battery life? No doubt that with GPS and HR tracking battery life suffers, but on the flip side the device charges pretty quickly. I figure you get about 3-4 hours with the GPS tracking on other wise you get a few days (4-5). Well that’s not as good as a straight up stepper, but for what you get it is pretty good. If the charge port was on the side you could use a battery to charge it while wearing it – d’oh.
There’s a lot of talk about phone integration and yes the Surge integrates perfectly with my Nexus 5 device. I see SMS and calls popping up on my device and yeah that’s pretty cool I guess. At this point however I’m a bit sick and tired of everyone getting me at all hours of the night and day. Yeah it works – the best part is that I can just use it as a way to reject calls and text messages, but then I’ll see my “boss” (wife/mom/actual boss) texting me too so is this really a good thing?
Features at night are a problem. I need to figure out how to disable the touchscreen features and things when sleeping. Currently I have to take the device off in order to sleep without seeing the screen come on.
Fitbit Surge HR Supporting Apps/Website
Fitbit’s apps are both a blessing for their simplicity and a barrier to geeks like me for the same reason. The apps – both mobile and web – are very easy to use and in my experience are crash proof. The problem is they are pretty basic too. I would love to see my full resolution data, dive into all the nitty gritty stuff, but you really can’t. I do see quite a bit of cool stuff with the HR data and more details on what is going on. Pretty cool stuff and in general I think the Fitbit apps get the job done. The community that is combined with their apps is also excellent and is a major draw. Competition against your friends can’t really hurt in getting you to your fitness goals. In fact it is probably one of the best ways to get there and Fitbit has the largest user base.
Fitbit Surge HR Overall Impressions
So far I really like the device with the exception of the sleep stuff. My guess is there is a way to fix this issue. The device is comfortable, recognizes and gives me credit for intensity, and the battery life is ok. Its also comfortable and does have a watch readout. So far == thumbs up!
I should also note that I installed a screen protector from IQShield – simple to install and pretty inexpensive. Works great and didn’t lose any features of the touchscreen.
12/22/2016 Update: The band is failing right where you might expect. The rubber near the little screws on the inside of the band is tearing off – take a look at the screw in the main image. That is right where it is ripping.. This was an obvious design issue, but I was hoping that it would hold up. I’ve been very careful with the device too. I finally gave up on the IQShield thing. It fell off…sigh.
7/2/2016 Update: After 7 months with my Fitbit Surge HR, it still works, the band hasn’t broken, and in general I still like the device. I can see there is wear happening at the corners where the strap attaches so I am a bit worried about that. Fitbit has released a number of new features in the mobile app around sleep goals and other subtle improvements to the exercise recognition logic. Because so many people have a Fitbit I’ve also been able to get a community together for the Challenges. That is probably the best part of the device. The Challenges do actually encourage me to get more steps.