I first started using a Fitbit with the Flex model. Very easy to use, no buttons and a display that consisted basically of five small LEDs – either showing battery level or a percentage of your daily goal achieved for that period.
I also had the next models up – the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR. I really liked how those devices had nice bright displays where you could get some actual information about your daily stats, as well as the time!
I am now using a Fitbit Surge. Its design is not much different from previous devices, mainly a wider bracelet but this time with a much larger display.
At first I thought it wasn’t (well it is still not) the most beautiful of watches. But then I realise this is no piece of jewellery. And it’s not a smartwatch either. It still is for all effects a fitness tracker.
Once you get this, it is easy to understand why it works. Remember the Palm Pilot and how the Zen of Palm was about simple things? The same applies here. Fitbit is not in the smartwatches market (although this is getting close) but in the wearables, health and fitness tracking market. It is all about the quantified self.
I think Fitbit understands this well because just recently they introduced a change to their platform that allows you to have multiple tracking devices associated with a single account. This means you can wear your Fitbit Surge most of the day but if you want to wear a piece of jewellery you can easily get the small Fitbit Flex and wear it on the other wrist (I like that).
The Fitbit Surge has a square display where you can see, by default, the time. Like many smartwatches it allows you to change the “watch face”. I personally like the Flare, because it shows your activity over the last 60 minutes at a glance.
The display is touch enabled so you can just swipe left or right to see some of the stats – steps, floors, calories, distance and heart rate.
The Fitbit Surge measures your heart rate with two green LED in the back of the case. These will flicker quickly and the tracker will measure the small variations of width in the blood vessels under your skin, associated with the heart pumping the blood around, therefore measuring the rate. I found it pretty accurate when measuring using more traditional methods – you know, finger on the pulse, count for 15 seconds, etc…
The cool thing is that you can see an instant reading or see your at rest rate and exercise rate via its mobile app/dashboard web site.
The Fitbit Surge uses Bluetooth low power to communicate with a mobile device so you can synchronise this information at any time via your smartphone – Android, iOS or Windows Phone, all welcome.
If you want you can even set SMS notifications to be sent to your Fitbit Surge, so that a discrete buzz on your wrist will alert you of new messages – you can even scroll through these messages but you can’t reply to them. Ideally I’d love to see more integration so that it could have a full notification system where you could scroll through apps and notifications per app. This could be useful for some users (myself, I use SMS more than other apps for instant messages, anyway).
Using the Fitbit Surge you can record activities such as running, biking, walking, etc. And its built-in GPS you can then have a complete log of activities via your app, including a map (if you happen to be outdoor). I have seen other reviews complaining about the GPS lock time, but I always found my Fitbit Surge pretty good at getting a lock in just a few seconds. I did however notice that sometimes the GPS locations were not correctly recorded with either the start or end of a walk being “dropped” (although steps and time seemed correct).
In terms of battery life I am pretty happy with the Fitbit Surge. It seems the company managed to get a bigger device with more features and still have a decent battery life – sometimes up to five days as promised on their website. Obviously if you turn your GPS on for some long runs then you are talking about reduced battery life here.
Unlike previous models, you can actually turn the Fitbit Surge “off” on demand, via its settings menu. And it is here that I found some intriguing UI choices. For example in some places the OK and Cancel actions are the top right and bottom right buttons respectively but in some other places it is the other way around.
The Fitbit Surge is not waterproof. Or at least there’s a long debate about what waterproof means. From what I have read in their forums with comments from their moderators it is ok for some water on the device (rain, washing hands, etc) but don’t go swimming with it.
The only thing that I really think let it down though is the backlight. It works at night but I would really like to see a brighter version though.
Am I happy with the Fitbit Surge? Yes. I have been using Fitbit devices for a year now, and about six months ago we also bought a Fitbit Aria (their WiFi scales). I have seen my weight go down nine kilos since then – that is basically thanks to the motivation for that extra walk or exercise. I haven’t changed my diet (much) but the amount of walk I have been doing has increased significantly. I think the motivational force behind these little trackers and the gamification system they bring with its platform is in part responsible for this result.