Fitbit Surge review

Three of Fitbit’s activity trackers (Charge 2, Blaze and Surge) feature heart-rate monitors that take wearable tech into the gym and out on the track. The Fitbit Charge 2 is aimed at the active user, and the Fitbit Surge is packed with features for the really committed sports and fitness nut... sorry I mean enthusiast. Read our Fitbit Charge 2 review and Fitbit Blaze review, and of course our full-range comparison round up Which Fitbit is best. (For more on performance enhancing wearables, read: Best GPS sports watches for running, cycling and swimming.)

Alongside the heart-rate monitors all three feature the usual other fitness and activity-tracking features: step count, floors climbed, calories burned and active minutes. But it's the Surge that boasts the most features. Also see: Best Fitness Tracker Deals

Here is our review of the Fitbit Surge.

Surge 10000 steps awards

The Fitbit Surge is quite a different device to Fitbit’s other trackers and indeed most other fitness wristbands. See all Activity Tracker Reviews.

The Surge features all the functions of the other Fitbits and adds a slew of other sports features and a chunkier more watch-like design. It’s not exclusively for the more serious fitness user but only they will use all of its more sports-orientated features.

The Surge is is available in Black, Blue and Tangerine colours. For best prices see below this review, and also try out at Amazon. At the time of this update you could get the Black version £50 cheaper than the Blue or Tangerine, but that might be just because the new colours had just been released. Also: Fitbit vs Apple watch.

Like the others the Surge is an activity-tracker wristband that displays real-time fitness stats. While the Charge costs £99.99 and the Fitbit Charge HR is priced at £119.99, the Surge will cost £199.99. That extra £100 marks the difference in form and function that the Surge offers compared to other trackers. You might also be interested in Fitbit's Aria scales that sync with your account, and measure weight, body fat percentage and BMI; read our Fitbit Aria scales review.

Fitbit Surge colours

Fitbit Surge review: sports “super watch”

The Fitbit Surge looks like a watch, and Fitbit is calling it a “sleek fitness super watch”,  although compared to most trackers it’s not actually that sleek. It's actually quite chunky, but that adds to its serious tool status for the fitness addict. Although wide it is lightweight.

It has a full eight sensors – the 3-axis accelerometers, gyroscope, compass, ambient light sensor, GPS and heart rate – which means it can offer much more varied and indepth fitness-tracking functions. For a full breakdown and comparison of all the Fitbits see our feature “Which Fitbit is Best”.

Like all Fitbits it has a MEMS 3-axis accelerometer that measures motion patterns to determine your steps taken, distance travelled, active minutes, and calories burned. Just like the Charge and Charge HR it also features an altimeter that measures floors climbed, to push you to take a more challenging route on your next walk or run.

Aside from the heart-rate monitoring (much more on which below) the Surge beats all other Fitbits and most other activity trackers with its wide range of multi-sports and exercise functions, although the Charge 2 and Blaze come close (albeit without the Surge's built-in GPS). See New Fitbit trackers rumours and release date.

It can record multi-sport activities such as running, cross-training, hiking and cardio/strength workouts, and let users see comprehensive summaries with tailored metrics, workout intensity based on heart rate and calories burned. This is where the beauty of the larger swipeable display really comes in, with on-the-wrist, real-time stats and summaries.

Fitbit Surge Run stats display summaries

Other Fitbit wristbands can use the GPS in your smartphone to track run, walk and hike stats and map routes. The Surge has its own built-in GPS. As the Mobile Run features work with iPhone only right now having the built-in GPS makes the tracker even more handy for Android users. And anyone running, jumping or lifting weights would probably prefer to do it without having to lug their smartphone around with them all the time. The Surge allows for this too.

Mobile Run and Surge are great for recording distance, average pace and split pace times. It also offers music controls so you can use it to select and shuffle songs on your iPhone. You can view runs from the past four weeks. You tap specific runs for an expanded view, where you can view steps, calories, and active minutes taken during your Mobile Run.

The Surge measures the duration and quality of your sleep, which is a key aspect of leading a fit and healthy lifestyle. Sleep detection is now automatic, and works well. There’s a vibrating alarm to wake you – but not your partner – at the times you set beforehand. You can set the alarm to go off at different times and on different days, in case you want a lie-in on the weekend – or get up earlier for a run, of course!

Fitbit alarm settings

If your phone is nearby you can set the Fitbit Surge, Charge and HR to show incoming call notifications using Caller ID. The top-of-the-range Fitbit Surge goes further yet, with built-in text notifications and music control, so you don’t even need your phone nearby.

Fitbit Surge review: read the manual

All Fitbit trackers are pretty much ready to go, and are simple to set up and operate. The Surge has enough deeper features to warrant reading the user manual, so you get the most from the tracker. You don't get a thick manual with the Surge, but can read it or download the Fitbit Surge user manual and instructions here.

Fitbit Surge displays

Fitbit Surge: Heart Rate

Its big attraction is the continuous heart-rate monitoring, which it shares with the cheaper Charge 2 and Blaze.

Experts believe that 60-80 beats per minute (bpm) is a healthy level. Your heart rate can change as you get older, but it can also indicate a change to your health. If your resting rate is consistently below 40bpm or above 120bmp, you should see your GP to check if that’s normal for you. The heart is a muscle, so the more aerobic exercise you do, the stronger it becomes. The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate will be.

Unlike other heart-rate monitors the Surge, Charge 2 and Blaze don’t require a device to be strapped to your chest. It’s all done on the wrist, which means you’ll get a more complete picture of your heart rate as it is on all day and night.

Fitbit Surge LED heart rate

Surge features Fitbit’s proprietary PurePulse optical heart-rate technology, which uses safe LED lights on the underside of the wristband to detect blood volume and capillary-size changes under pressure.

When your heart beats, your capillaries expand and contract based on blood volume changes. PurePulse LED lights on the Surge reflect onto the skin to detect blood volume changes.

Fitbit says that the LED lights are safe for skin and are on the visible spectrum, similar to the domestic house lights. They are very low power so will not burn the skin, and are programmed to shut down if your device freezes or doesn’t see the right signal.

PurePulse allows users to track workout intensity and calorie burn with algorithms that provide insight through interactive charts and graphs on the app and Fitbit dashboard.

It stores heart rate data at 1-second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5-second intervals other times.

Futbit Surge dipalays heart bpm

The Surge’s smart display tells you if you're in one of three heart-rate zones. These zones can help you optimize your workout by targeting different training intensities, and are calculated based on a percentage of your estimated maximum heart rate.

Fitbit calculates your max heart rate with the common formula of 220 minus your age. When you’re “out of zone”  – that is below 50 percent of your maximum heart rate – your heart rate may still be elevated but not enough to be considered exercise.

Fitbit Surge Heart Rate displays

During low- to medium-intensity Fitbit classes this as the Fat Burn zone, measured at 50-69 percent of maximum heart rate. This is called the Fat Burn zone because a higher percentage of calories are burned from fat, but the total calorie burn rate is lower.

The optimum Cardio zone is at 70-84 percent of maximum heart rate, and is the medium- to high-intensity exercise zone. Fitbit describes this zone as when you are “pushing yourself but not straining”.

The Peak heart-rate zone is the high-intensity exercise zone for short intense sessions that improve performance and speed – it is greater than 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Instead of using the three default zones you can create a custom heart-rate zone on your computer’s Fitbit dashboard.

Resting heart rate is traditionally measured just after waking up before you start moving around. The Fitbit Surge measures your resting heart rate throughout your day during periods when you are still.

Fitbit Surge black

Fitbit Surge: software

The Surge is best appreciated alongside the excellent software: its free app and desktop dashboard, both of which display fantastic graphs and stats  that show you how you are performing to your set targets.

Fitbit Surge app dashboard

The Fitbit Surge is compatible with iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.

 Fitbit Surge Blue

Fitbit Surge review: specs

The Surge has a very respectable 7-day battery life, better than the Charge 2’s 5+ days. In our tests we did notice that prolonged use of the GPS function does drain the battery much faster than without. Using the GPS frequently shortened battery life to three days.

While the Charge 2 is both water resistant up to one Atmosphere, the Surge can apparently withstand five Atmospheres, which theoretically means it can be submerged to 10 metres, but in reality it means each will withstand not much more than splashes and a quick dousing. Neither should be worn in the shower or when swimming. The Surge is more water resistant (five Atmosphere), which means it is wearable around household sinks, while playing sports and while swimming in shallow water. Experts recommend that you don't wear it while bathing, snorkelling or scuba diving. For more on water resistance ATM ratings see this guide for watch owners.

If you often exercise in wet conditions – or are a profuse sweater – then the Surge’s extra water resistance is a benefit worth paying for.

Fitbit Surge tangerine

Fitbit Surge: design

The design of the Surge and Blaze are quite different to Fitbit’s other wristbands. Both are more like a sports watch than a simple band.

Fitbit Surge clock displays

The Surge's backlit LCD touch screen display boats customisable watch faces, and navigating through real-time stats, workout apps and alarms is fully swipeable – just like you’re used to with a smartphone or tablet. 

The Surge measures 34mm wide, and its display uses much of this space, measuring 24.36mm by 20.88mm. You can buy it in either Small, Large or X-Large wristband sizes.

The Surge lacks the minimalist design of the other Fitbit trackers, although it's not flashy. Its width, to incorporate the larger screen, probably precludes you wearing both the Surge and a regular wristwatch, which is what many owners of the smaller Fitbits do.

The Surge features a watch-like strap and buckle, which feel less likely to slip off than earlier Fitbit wristbands. It feels as secure, which is important if you’re pushing your fitness and sports performance.

The Surge is available in three colours: Black, Blue, and Tangerine.

Fitbit Surge Exercise stats heart rate Hike

Some users have reported getting a skin rash from the Fitbit Surge. Fitbit replied in a statement: "The reactions we are seeing with new products are not uncommon with jewellery or wearable devices that stay in contact with the skin for extended periods. According to our consulting dermatologists, they are likely from wearing the band too tight, sweat, water, or soap behind held against the skin under the device: or from pressure or friction against the skin and should resolve quickly when users take a break from the device, usually within hours or days."

Fitbit Surge: further hands-on testing results

Photographer Sam West was invited to order the limited release of the Fitbit Surge. Here are his Fitbit Surge unboxing photos.

 Fitbit Surge box 1

The small box the Fitbit Surge came in is nicely packaged. It doesn't feel cheap or generic in the least. It's a high-end device and it comes packaged as such. This adds to its "super watch" designation, with the Surge presented as a quality timepiece rather than just a wristband.

 Fitbit Surge box 2

Fitbit Surge box 3

Fitbit Surge box 4

The Fitbit Surge comes half charged so you can turn it on immediately and get a glimpse of its features. Further removal shows the instructions and safety precautions and a quick start guide. Also, there’s a wireless USB dongle for syncing to your PC or laptop, and a proprietary USB cable for charging. We were somewhat disappointed to discover that the Surge has yet another different charger. Now each Fitbit tracker has its own different charging cable. Lose the charging cable and you need to go buy a new cable (around £17) from the Fitbit Store only.

Fitbit Surge box 5

First you need to follow the quick guide instructions, and go to fitbit.com/setup where you download the Windows or Mac software. Don’t forget to plug the special dongle into your computer.

Fitbit Surge box 6

 Fitbit Surge box 7

Like most trackers it has a short delay between steps and then catches up quickly. Sam compared the Surge with the Galaxy Note's S health app and both were close to each other.

Fitbit Surge box 8 

Simply swipe across the watch to the data you want to see. For text you can press the upper-right button as they come in, or hit home and, once the settings appear, you can press the upper-right button to show the last ten messages you have received.

While iPhone users will immediately have access to all the new features, Android users will lack the music player controls, which according to Fitbit may be added later.

Fitbit Surge box 9

When you first set up the Fitbit Surge you will see these steps for instructions.

Surge Fit tips

You should wear the tracker on your non-dominant wrist.

Surge Fit tips 2

Fitbit recommends removing the wristband regularly to stop possible skin reactions.

Surge Navigate tips

One of the best things about the Surge's large screen is its swipable navigation.

Surge clean tips

Fitbit Surge: Specs

  • Touchscreen mono display with backlight
  • Tracks Steps, Calories, Distance, Heart Rate, Sleep quality, flights of stairs walked
  • Caller ID
  • Small band: 16-20cm, Large band: 16 - 20cm, X-Large: 20-23cm
  • Sensors and Components: GPS 3-axis accelerometers 3-axis gyroscope Digital compass Optical heart rate monitor Altimeter Ambient light sensor Vibration motor
  • Touchscreen mono display with backlight
  • Tracks Steps, Calories, Distance, Heart Rate, Sleep quality, flights of stairs walked
  • Caller ID
  • Small band: 16-20cm, Large band: 16 - 20cm, X-Large: 20-23cm
  • Sensors and Components: GPS 3-axis accelerometers 3-axis gyroscope Digital compass Optical heart rate monitor Altimeter Ambient light sensor Vibration motor

OUR VERDICT

The Fitbit Surge is an activity tracker for the serious fitness enthusiast. We’re not saying a more casual user wouldn’t appreciate its good looks and features, but the level of functionality and price put it properly in the market for the power user. The larger, swipeable display is a revelation of on-wrist stats. If you wish to wear a tracker and your regular wristwatch then the Surge may be too large, and you should consider other more minimalist bands. The everyday user who wants a tracker to push them to exercise more is catered for with the Fitbit Flex 2 and Charge 2. If you’re just interested in the heart-rate monitor you could consider the cheaper and very capable Fitbit Charge 2, but if you want to see dedicated heart-rate stats during performance-based workouts, and map your routes with built-in GPS the Fitbit Surge has it all.