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Fitbit Surge Review: A First Generation Fitness Smartwatch

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Fitbit Surge Review: A First Generation Fitness Smartwatch

The Fitbit Surge is dubbed as a “fitness super watch” that tracks your steps, activities, heart rate, sleep, and more but as any first generation products go, it still needs some work, especially for the $249 price tag.

Once you open the package and put it on, the Surge looks and feels surprisingly comfortable, like a regular watch. It’s not too big or bulky. The band is made of a flexible, durable elastomer material (like a soft rubber and silicone) that feels good on your wrist. The only bad thing about it is that it attracts lint/dust like crazy and it’s pretty hard to get off if you’re OCD like me.

In order to use the watch, you would need to sync it with the Fitbit app or download the desktop software so you can input your data like height, weight, step goals, etc. The app is compatible with iOS 8 and most Android and Windows Phone devices.

The monochrome LCD display has a touchscreen with a backlight but there are also three (one of the left and two on the right) action buttons on the side if you prefer those. The touchscreen is nice at times but I didn’t feel like it was necessary. For example, you can only swipe from left to right to select your activities but there isn’t much more to it. At times, the screen lagged and I got a bit frustrated at it especially if I was in a middle of a run.

The watch can track various activities like running (outdoors and indoors), hiking, yoga, weight lifting, elliptical, Pilates, kickboxing, tennis, golf, walking, and more. You can customize the home screen with your most frequently used options so you don’t have to dig around the screen when you are starting a workout. Along with that, it also tracks your steps, distance traveled, stairs climbed, and calories burned.

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Step and running accuracy is pretty on point. I made sure I counted my steps on my walk as well as the distance and it was impressively accurate. And like most trackers, if you tend to move your arms a lot while talking or standing still, it’ll still count that as a step—but overall, it works great.

The GPS didn’t take that long to connect if you are using it to track your activity. On average, it took about 30 seconds to lock onto a signal, which isn’t bad. You also have the option to start your activity before a connection is established. The nice part about this is that because the GPS is built into the watch, you don’t need to take your phone with you if you are leaving your house for a jog.

I read that some users online tested the heart rate accuracy by using the watch along with another heart rate monitor and reported that the Fitbit was a little off but “not by that much.” I didn’t have another heart monitor so I couldn’t test it myself, but it seemed to be fairly on point. Having a resting as well as a current heart rate is very useful especially if you are working out. The watch also tells you when you are in the “fat burn zone” once you have hit that threshold.

One feature that was particularly neat to have was the sleep-tracking feature. You don’t have to do anything when you go to bed, it just knows based on your movement and all the things about your body it’s tracking. I’m assuming because of your resting heart rate and lack of movement while you are sleeping. One thing I did notice while I was sleeping is that it says I was restless numerous times throughout the night. On some nights, I was restless up to 30 times. I’m not sure if this is accurate or not because I don’t move a lot when I am sleeping or if its just counting the times I move my arm.

The watch is water resistant so you won’t be able to take it swimming or in the shower. Sweat and light rain are ok. I had no problems or discomfort using it when I was sweating nor did the screen fog up.

You are able to control your music via Bluetooth and see calls and text notifications on the display. When you receive SMS messages, the whole message doesn’t show up like it does on the Pebble watch. You only get the first line, which displays the name of the sender and part of the message. If you the name of the person sending is long, then you don’t get any of the message at all and you would have to push the button on the right in order to read the full message.

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This tends to get a little annoying after a while because I would like to see the whole message especially since the screen real estate is there, but Fitbit just doesn’t implement it. I am hoping they expand the messages as well as allow all notifications from apps to be sent to the watch at some point in the future.

Another thing that annoyed me is that the Bluetooth range is not that far. Fitbit’s website says that connectivity stays up to 20 feet but I found it to be a little less than that. With my Pebble watch, I can leave my phone on my desk and control my music as I move around, but with the Surge, I was unable to do that a lot of the time.

In my time with the device, I found the battery life to be pretty mediocre. Fitbit says it should last up to seven days but if you plan on using the GPS feature, it will lower the battery life significantly. For example, a two-hour hike where I wanted the GPS on drained about 40% of the battery. You can extend the battery life a little bit by turning off the back light but then again, you won’t be able to use it at night at all that way.

The Fitbit app is a pretty good source of data. You can enter what you ate and drank throughout the day and it’ll tell you if you’ve burned enough calories that day or not. You can also see your steps, sleep, and exercise activities on neat little graphs that are very useful. Data can viewed on their website as well but past activities cannot be viewed on the watch itself, which is a bit unfortunate.

I should also point out that the watch does support alarms but you can’t set an alarm on the watch itself so you have to do it within the app. I am not sure why the software developers did not make this possible, but it does get frustrating every time you want to set an alarm.

As a bit of a sidetone, after about two weeks with the watch, the band started to tear towards the bottom of the screen. I contacted Fitbit support and they were able to exchange it for me right away. Before I sent the defective watch back in, I tried to erase the current data on the watch but I could not do so. I tried looking online and asking their support team but they stated that erasing data and deleting your Fitbit account was not possible.

If you wanted to return or re-sell the Surge, you would have to send the watch with your data on it to the buyer and they would have to sync their own account to the watch in order to use it. You could make a new account to sync with the device so you can erase your data but doing the extra work is a little bit ridiculous.

Originally, I was going to say you should spend an extra $100 and get the Apple Watch when it comes out, but at this point the rumors are pointing toward many health tracking features being cut out due to inconsistency. Considering that, the Fitbit Surge really does feel like the first real attempt at a true smartwatch with a plethora of fitness-tracking features. The problem is that along with being the first of its kind, not everything has been properly developed, especially on the “smartwatch” side of things.

In the end, at $249, you really need to have a good exercise regimen/mind set to be able to take advantage of the Fitbit Surge. The amount of things it can track are impressive, but the price point is still a bit hard to justify. As it is, it just doesn’t quite cut it as a great smartwatch with things like the Moto 360 or the Sony Smartwatch 3 out on the market. I can’t help but feel like a lot of the “smart” features feel a bit tacked on. In a couple of generations, the Fitbit Surge might be the killer fitness smartwatch, but as of now, it seems to be made for a pretty niche market of tech-focused fitness lovers.

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