Late in October, Fitbit announced three new activity trackers: Charge ($130), Charge HR ($150), and Surge ($250). Each offers different features depending upon your need. At the base, the Charge provides step activity, floors climbed, calories burned, automatic sleep tracking, call notifications, and silent alarms. Moving up to the Charge HR, Fitbit includes an optical heart rate monitor (PurePulse) that uses light to track your pulse throughout the day and during workouts. The idea being that included heart rate data will provide a better measure of calories burned (more on that in a bit). The top of the line Surge includes everything from the Charge HR, but also adds a larger screen and GPS to the mix. This means you are able to log walks/runs even when you don’t have your phone on you.
Last week, Fitbit sent out a special limited release email to those who showed interest in the new Charge HR and Surge products. As these products were not supposed to be released until early 2015, it was a nice surprise. Fitbit provided a one time code to purchase the new trackers and I was lucky enough to receive an email for the Surge. Order was placed Thursday night, and on Monday the Surge was delivered.
Compared to the two Charge models, the Surge is slightly wider to accommodate a larger screen. The screen itself is always on and is back lit when needed. The material used has a nice soft texture and the strap below is a standard watch strap instead of the clasp of the Charge or Flex. This updated strap is also in play on the Charge HR. The reason behind the new locking mechanism is to accommodate the heart rate reader on the bottom. Because the reader uses light to gather HR data, the Surge needs to be worn snugly against the top of the wrist. This is so light doesn’t enter into the reader and skew the data. I’ve tried different tightness settings and can comfortably wear the Surge without it feeling like I’m cutting off circulation to my hand. :-)
When comparing the feel of the Surge to my (former) Microsoft Band, it is night and day, even though they both have heart rate capabilities. Whereas the Microsoft Band felt ridged, the Surge provides a much more conformed fit around my wrist due to the softer material used.
Heart Rate and Sleep
With the ability to track continuous heart rate data, the Surge (and Charge HR) are in a position to provide better data throughout the day. Previously, FitBit would just calculate your calories burned based on movement of the tracker. This is nice if the activity you are doing includes moving around a lot, but what about weight lifting, spinning, yoga, or CrossFit? (Disclaimer, I don’t do yoga, but might one day try hot yoga ;-) For these activities, you might not be swinging your arms a lot, but I guarantee you are working harder than what the regular Charge or Flex states. Having the ability to view heart rate data can also help if you are trying to hit certain zones or percentages of max heart rate during your workout.
My experience using the Surge for HR data has been positive. From the screens below you can view a walk from yesterday,
or my CrossFit class from last night. We were only doing max handstand push ups so the workout wasn’t as strenuous as others. I’ll continue to wear the Surge to test out when my heart rate really sky rockets.
Along with continuous heart rate throughout the day, the Surge also tracks your resting heart rate. Each day, the Surge will calculate your lowest heart rate when resting (usually during sleep). The FitBit app can display the last 30 days or resting heart rate which can show overall progress if you have been working out. Resting heart rate can be a good indicator of overall health and you can read more about it here.
One of the newer features of these new trackers is auto sleep detection. FitBit has designed these trackers to automatically detect when you have fallen asleep and capture that time frame. With my previous experience with the Charge, the sleep detection works well (unless you are Dave and sleep all afternoon).
The Surge continued auto sleep detection without a hitch last night as well. Having auto sleep detection is just one less thing to worry about when wearing a fitness tracker. The Surge also has the ability to use silent alarms which will buzz your wrist to wake you up. Currently, the alarm on the Surge only buzzes 3 times which might not be enough for the deep sleepers. Browsing the forums on FitBit, they are aware of this limitation and are looking to enhance the alarms with a future update. For me, the 3 buzzes work to wake me up so I have no issues there.
With the larger screen, the Surge not only provides call notifications, but also can provide text notifications when paired to your phone. When someone calls or texts you, the Surge will vibrate and then display either caller information or a small window showing a the person’s name who is texting you. You are able to select the text notification to get a view of the entire message. With the Surge only supporting these two notification types, it isn’t a full blown “smart watch”. The Surge will not show notifications from other apps on your phone. Saying that, I think for most people these two notification types will provide additional benefit without having to pull your phone out of your pocket.
After 24 hours with the Surge, there are a few things that I would like to see. The Surge’s screen is large enough to have more information than just the time. The Surge should have the ability to include steps or current HR data at a glance. You shouldn’t need to swipe through to the other screens to get to this data. This also goes for a battery indicator and previous text notifications. You can only view the these indicators when you go into the menu screen. I’m sure FitBit will release updates to include some of this functionality, but it would have been nice to have it from the start.
My first 24 hours with the Surge has been positive while I’m getting used to the device being a little bulkier and wider than the Charge. In the back of my head, I’m trying to determine if I really need the GPS and larger screen. I have my eyes set on the Charge HR when it becomes widely available. The Charge HR gives me 80% of what I want in a fitness tracker in a smaller form factor than the Surge. For now, I definitely appreciate the additional heart rate information as I feel it gives a better overall indicator of my day.