Over the past two years I’ve tried a number of Activity and Fitness trackers – Jawbone UP, Nike Fuelband, bought a Fitbit Flex and a basic Polar watch (FT4). I’ve also worn Polar and Orangetheory branded Heart Rate chest straps during workout sessions.
The early version of Jawbone UP was great for sleep tracking and supported by a great app, but wasn’t that useful from a Fitness perspective and didn’t sit comfortably on my wrist. The Nike Fuelband didn’t have a sleep tracking function but was very motivational from a Fitness POV, supported by another great app – trophies, points and the fact that more of my friends were linked up via different devices. It did feel a little overpriced for what it was however. Having said that, it is good value if you also take advantage of Nike’s free classes, events, and app-based workouts. At the time there were also limited design and colour options. The Fitbit Flex seemed to fit my needs best at a reasonable price point. But I lost it due to the strap, somewhere in the African bush during a conservation project.
So I decided to do some research and wait for something better to come out – a product that ticked every box. I toyed with later versions of the Jawbone UP and the Garmin Vivofit but wasn’t quite convinced. I also didn’t feel like enough of a runner to buy into the TomTom sports watches.
I finally came across the Fitbit Surge, which I’ve been tracking for the best part of the year as I couldn’t quite justify the original £200 price tag, preferring to direct that cash towards fitness classes and other hobbies. Then Black Friday happened this year and I jumped at the chance to finally get my hands on the Tangerine coloured version of the ‘Super Watch’ for around £160.
Here are some of the pros and cons that I’ve found so far. Just for context, the activities that I’ve worn the watch for include:
• A 25 day outdoor running challenge
• CrossFit sessions
• Indoor treadmill runs – Continuous, Intervals
• Weights and resistance
• Reformer Pilates classes
• General walking and day to day activities
Note: I took it off for Bouldering and also wouldn’t wear it for any kind of Martial arts as it would probably be more of a hazard in these scenarios.
• GPS: accurate and can be linked and cross-checked against apps such as Strava and MapMyRun (for runners) via your mobile devices. On a couple of December runs I switched on all three and found the Fitbit Surge to be the most reliable, i.e. less volatile in terms of the routes I took. In terms of distance recorded however I would get variations between all three apps/devices, with Fitbit always giving me a slightly shorter distance of between 0.1-0.3km (on the few occasions that I actually remembered to start it at the same time as the other apps). The obvious con to switching GPS on if you do a lot of long distance running is that it does drain the battery
• Heart Rate monitor: works on your pulse rate so is best worn on your left wrist to get the best readings. I found this accurate most of the time when compared against a regular chest strap and have read that a lot of work has been done over the past few months to improve this function. The largest variation I’ve seen so far has been around 14bpm, usually when working at over 80% of Max HR. Both watch and chest straps usually take a while to stabilise. More than half the time the readings are either exact or within a range of around 5bpm. This is good enough for me as the chest straps sometimes go a bit off too, and both don’t work accurately for every single individual against ‘norm’ calculations. The added elements of sweat and movement during exercise should also be considered
• Sleep tracking: there are two settings available via the Dashboard – ‘Sensitive’ and ‘Normal’. I started off on ‘Sensitive’ at which point it was telling me I slept only 2-3 hours a night when I’m pretty sure I slept at least 5 (an area I really need to work on in 2016). On the ‘Normal’ setting the device said I was asleep when I wasn’t, which is probably to be expected if you’re being really still in bed and your pulse drops low. Still, this setting gave me readings that made more sense overall so I’m using this as the best indicator at present, while appreciating that it’s not 100% accurate
• Makes you move more: even for someone active, I do have lazy moments when I’m tempted to take the lift instead of the stairs or just stand on a tube escalator. My slight obsession with numbers and results mean that my Fitbit encourages me to take the less lazy option more frequently!
• Colour options: Black, Blue/Navy, Tangerine
• Doubles as a watch
• The buckle: less risk of me losing this watch somewhere elephants may pick it up
• Social: the app, like many others, allow you to add ‘Friends’ who also have a Fitbit (any model). You receive Weekly Stats with a Leaderboard where you can see how you’re doing against others for those who like a little bit of friendly competition. I only have three at present *sad face*
• Links to other apps: such as Strava (as mentioned above).
Some other things to be aware of:
• Size and weight: while not that heavy, it does take some getting used to if you’re not used to wearing a watch-type device during your workouts. It’s more of an annoyance at first, along with the sweating underneath it part. For those with smaller wrists like me (15.5cm), you may also find the top quite chunky – I’m wearing it on the 5th slot from the smallest on the size Small model below:
• The dongle: used to sync your watch with the Fitbit Dashboard is tiny and easy to lose. I’d recommend keeping this fixed in your main laptop or computer’s USB port. If you only use the app on your phone then you can just sync via Bluetooth
• Food logging: via the Fitbit app and Dashboard. The database is not as comprehensive as hoped for and skews more towards US products. I’d like to see the barcode scanner pick up more common UK brands to save having to manually enter everything. I kept this up for a couple of weeks in order to analyse my current Food intake but then gave up because it is time consuming
• Battery life: this is of course dependent on how active you are and heavy your GPS usage is, but currently I’m having to recharge the watch every 5 days or so. It only takes 1-2 hours however so isn’t much of an inconvenience if I’m at work or just at home in the evening
• Skin sensitivity: you do need to give your wrist a break from it occasionally, for a few hours or overnight. I have sensitive skin that doesn’t react well under extended pressure, e.g. bandages, supports, sports tape, some elasticated waistbands on gym leggings. After about a week of wearing this device non-stop I did have a reaction to the buckle area of the strap. This resolved itself after a few nights of not wearing the watch to bed and is completely fine now
• It is not swim proof: though it is fine in the shower (and rain). As someone who doesn’t currently swim as part of my fitness regime this suits me just fine, but regular swimmers may want to check out other alternatives such as the Garmin Vivoactive instead.
Overall rating: 8/10
In summary, the Fitbit Surge isn’t perfect however it is a fun device that does everything I need it to do in a user-friendly way and gives me that extra little bit of motivation. Right now, I just need more Fitbit (any model) ‘friends’ to compete against.
Online retailers and more reviews at: Fitbit.com/uk, Amazon.co.uk
Extra info: if you’re a runner and signed up to Parkrun, then you’re now also eligible to claim £25 off any Fitbit device with your Parkrun ID number. For those wanting to do more running this year, then it could just be an additional incentive to get involved! Expiry: 31st May 2016
*Disclaimer: This is a fully independent review. No products or payments were received for the writing of this article.
Next week: Sleep and sleep-tracking