Hands-On: Fitbit Surge

Fitbit Surge
(Image: Fitbit)

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28 August 2015 | 0

The Fitbit Surge is a fitness, activity, sleep and heart rate monitor, supported by a comprehensive smart phone and PC app that also tells the time and fits in a package that straps onto your arm. It is not a smart watch as such, nor does it have any communications capability.

It is important to make an admission here: I am a watch fan. Traditional, mechanical, highly accurate quartz, Swiss made or Japanese manufactured, I love watches and the more stuff that can be crammed into them, the better I like them. However, I am not mad about smart watches because they tend to compromise some of the things that made it most compelling to strap timepieces to people’s wrists, way back in the dark days of World War I.

That said, the Surge is one of best combined fitness trackers/monitors and watch that I’ve yet seen. The fact that Fitbit focuses on wearable fitness monitors, rather than add that functionality as an afterthought, has had a great bearing on the Surge, and it is all the better for it. Apart from the Huawei Talkband series approach of Bluetooth headset combined with fitness monitor that also tells the time, the idea of talking into your watch, to me, is just a bit “Get Smart!” and therefore daft.

Fitbit_Surge_back_web

The Surge features an optical heart monitor, but is dependent on fit and position for accuracy (Image: Fitbit)

Not small
The Surge is big — very big. When actually doing activity, which the Surge can classify (yoga, martial arts, cross training, weights, hiking, etc), it is comfortable, unobtrusive and easy to read. However, when you’ve had your shower and got dressed for work, the bulk of the Surge interferes with shirt sleeves, glove wrists and motorcycle jacket cuffs. That said, it does look rather attractive with its LCD screen, integrated, hypoallergenic, rubber/gel strap that has a well-designed anti-loose buckle arrangement.

Our test model was the large, black variant, though blue and tangerine ones are on the way. It is a little disappointing that there is a bezel around the screen, as it would have been nicer for it to fill the entire watch face, but that drawback may go some way to explaining one of the Surge’s best features, it’s week long battery life.

One of my favourite timepieces is a purely mechanical, automatic watch that when set, will keep good time for months being wound by body movement and thus needing no intervention. The idea then of something that needs charging every two to three days, as with some smart watches, is ridiculous. The Surge in testing needed charging only once per week, even with its activity monitor functions being used daily. This is impressive and sets the bar for other devices in the arena. The default time display also employs an interesting visualisation in that it displays a ring of dots around main digits, representing minutes of the hour, but outside of these, it shows little starburst type figures where there has been activity in that hour.

The other thing that sets the Surge apart, in the Fitbit range and generally, is the level of detail and information. This device is able to cater for the serious athlete, though it is within reach of the ordinary punter too.

Sensor packed
Based around an eight sensor platform, including GPS and optical hear rate monitor, the Surge is not quite medical grade technology, but in terms of the combined capability of this clutch of good sensors, it does a lot of things well, if nothing perfectly.

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