Hands-on Gear Review

Fitbit Surge Review

Fitbit Surge
Price:  $250 List | $189.51 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Step count, heart rate, GPS tracking
Cons:  Bulky, wrist band appearance
Bottom line:  This is a great daily activity and exercise tracker that looks like an athlete‚Äôs wrist band.
Editors' Rating:   
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Main body size:  52mm diameter, 11mm thickness
Weight, Verified:  49g
Inaccuracy percentage. Variation from actual.:  5%
Manufacturer:   Fitbit

Our Verdict

We considered Fitbit's model for our Best Buy award. It is tied in price with the Garmin Forerunner 35 and even has features that the Garmin does not. The Surge, for instance, tracks your daily steps and nightly sleep, while the Forerunner does not. However, for the dedicated athletes we are speaking to most directly, the Forerunner has more sophisticated exercise data management - both track heart rate and have rudimentary smartwatch functions. Both are reasonably good looking, though we wish the FitBit looked more like a "normal" watch.


RELATED REVIEW: Best GPS Watches of 2017 for Running & Training


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter

Last Updated:
Wednesday
June 21, 2017

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Products evolve to join this category in a variety of ways. Companies grow and expand in many different directions. FitBit came to the GPS watch category with their Surge full-function training watch from the past that began in the basic, step-counting "fitness tracker" category. In fact, "FitBit" has become somewhat synonymous with the movement-sensing step tracker. This Surge device is so much more than just a step counter, though it does that. Basically, it represents full-function daily activity and run-tracking technology, in a practical, sporty package. As is becoming more and more standard, the Surge adds basic smart watch functionality to further broaden the appeal.

Performance Comparison


The FitBit is a daily tracker that can also monitor proper running sessions. The Surge earned a 10/10 (the highest in the review) for Ease of Use and a 9/10 for Ease of Set-Up. Here  lead test editor in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.
The FitBit is a daily tracker that can also monitor proper running sessions. The Surge earned a 10/10 (the highest in the review) for Ease of Use and a 9/10 for Ease of Set-Up. Here, lead test editor in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.

Ease of Use


FitBit established its well-regarded reputation with simple step-counting electronics and a phone-app-based data management system that has served now to motivate millions of users and trillions of steps. Since their early devices, devices that literally just counted your steps, letting the phone app do all the processing and communication of that basic information, FitBit inc. has steadily added features and functions, without compromising the effectiveness and clarity of their information communication. The Surge is now a step counter that also has a screen for on-the-go data viewing and smart watch function, an optical wrist-mounted heart rate sensor, and a GPS antenna and associated software for even more accurately measuring distances and speeds outdoors. All is communicated to your smartphone using the app you may already be familiar with from your basic FitBit. We emphasize simplicity in our review of the FitBit, because it is just that easy to use. The feature set is comprehensive, but the interface and usability remain clean and basic.

The Garmin devices, whether the award winning Fenix 5 or Forerunner 35 or the excellent-but-non-award winning VivoActive are similarly easy to use. It took some time and work for this giant GPS manufacturer to adapt their user interface, but it is now similar to the FitBit in all the right ways. Computer and phone giant Apple, with their Apple Nike+ brings easy user interface and a fully comprehensive feature set to their product. The FitBit is easier to use than the Apple, if only because there are far fewer options on the FitBit.

The Surge and charging cable.
The Surge and charging cable.

Features


The Surge has what may prove to be exactly the right features for you. There are certainly some sensors and attributes that are omitted in the interest of cost, size, and efficiency, but the things the FitBit does are useful. As noted above, this contender counts steps and monitors your sleep, receives basic smartphone notifications, and uses a GPS sensor to track specific, intentional exercise sessions.

Other devices, notably our Editors' Choice Garmin Fenix 5 and close second Suunto Ambit 3 Peak add even more features. Both these, in addition to what the Surge has, have navigation functions, barometric altimeter sensors, temperature gauges, and can be accessorized with external sensors. The Fenix 5 has the wrist-mounted heart rate sensor while the Ambit does not. The Surge combines some of the best attributes of our Best Buy Garmin Forerunner 35 and the Garmin VivoActive. It has the smartwatch and GPS features of both, with the step count of the VivoActive and the heart rate sensor of the Forerunner.

A wrist band with a screen? Or a smart GPS watch that looks funny? It works  and some dig it  but most wish it looked more like a "normal" wrist watch.
A wrist band with a screen? Or a smart GPS watch that looks funny? It works, and some dig it, but most wish it looked more like a "normal" wrist watch.

Accuracy


We measured the accuracy of every GPS watch on an outdoor running track. We completed, with every product, multiple half mile tests. On a track, the actual distance is very clear. We could then easily compare the watch measured distance to the actual distance. The 5% average error of the Surge is a little greater than average. Only the Nixon Mission is less accurate, with an average error range of 7%. All the other tested products are more accurate than the Surge. Notably, close competitor Garmin Forerunner 35 is more accurate by 1%.

Ease of Set-Up


It is in ease of set up that FitBit excels. In some ways, they set the standard for phone-app-linked wearable electronics. In a digital "quantified life", FitBit is ahead of the curve. You simply charge the device, download the app, and click through a few setup questions. With FitBit leading the charge, other manufacturers have now "caught up" and offer similar ease of set up. Garmin, Suunto, and Apple have emulated this intuitive format. The Polar M400, Nixon Mission, and TomTom Runner all take longer to set up.

Battery Life


All FitBit devices have aimed to last for about a week. As they add more features to subsequent generations of devices, the battery must get larger, but the recharge interval stays about the same. Our anecdotal testing of battery life supports the claim that the Surge will last about a week. The Garmin VivoActive battery lasts almost twice as long while the Apple Nike+ endures half the time of the Surge. In day-to-day use, plus a few hours per week of GPS tracked running outside, both the Surge and the Editors' Choice Garmin Fenix 5 last about a week.

The mid-sized Gps watches we tested  left to right: TomTom Runner  FitBit Surge  and Polar M400.
The mid-sized Gps watches we tested, left to right: TomTom Runner, FitBit Surge, and Polar M400.

Portability


The Surge "body" is about average in bulk. One orders the Surge in one of a few different sizes, but the difference is only in the band. Size is the primary determinant of portability, but we also consider fashion here. Especially for these devices with step-count attributes and smartwatch functionality, daily wear style is valuable. If you can wear this in all social and work settings, as well as during activity, the value will increase. While activity trackers are more and more ubiquitous, and therefore less socially stigmatized, the most appropriate still look like a "normal" watch. The Surge does not look like a normal watch. The wide band and squared profile are definitely more "athletic" than fashionable in appearance. The Garmin Forerunner is smaller and more normal looking. For everyday wear, the Garmin is more comfortable, fashionably and physically. The Surge is similar in bulk and fashion to the Polar M400 and the TomTom Runner.

Best Applications


The Surge is perfect for someone who can and will wear this form factor in everyday settings and wants GPS tracking for occasional (weekly, or a little more) dedicated training sessions.

Value


This model was a contender for our Best Buy award. Only the TomTom Runner is less expensive, but the TomTom has no step counting, no smartwatch features, and no heart rate tracking. The FitBit and Garmin Forerunner 35 are tied for second place, price wise. They differ in ease of use and in features. They are similarly featured, except that the FitBit has step count. The Garmin, for athletes, has more robust data management. To record volume and diversity of training activity, the Forerunner is better. Since we are evaluating this category of products for athletes looking to track their athletic endeavors, Garmin's advantages in data management edges it ahead. For this reason, the Forerunner earns our Best Buy award. If we were evaluating for day-to-day activity tracking, with occasional dedicated training, the FitBit would win the Best Buy.

Conclusion


For a large segment of the population, the FitBit Surge will be just right. It has the functions many want. It has good battery life and excellent user interface. However, it is a little bulky and overly practical in appearance. For daily use, it stands out a little too much. We'd prefer it looked more like a "normal" watch.
Jediah Porter

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Most recent review: June 21, 2017
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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