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Fitbit Surge Review

The Fitbit Surge
Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $250 List | $181.96 at Amazon
Pros:  Built-in GPS, great display, easy to use
Cons:  Expensive, bulky
Bottom line:  All the benefits of the Fitbit online community in a full-featured tracker make it one of the top performers
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Fitbit

Our Verdict

The only model of Fitbit that offers a built-in GPS, the Surge took home one of our Editors' Choice awards, only lagging the top score by a single point. This model is the top of the line Fitbit, offering all the benefits of their companion app and online community. This, and the impressive suite of sensors present in the device helped net it the top score when it came to fitness impact. The Surge has a great display — though it is a little more expensive and bulkier than other models — and is a fantastic fitness tracker for those that want the best.


RELATED REVIEW: Best Fitness Trackers and Activity Monitors of 2017


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
David Wise and Austin Palmer

Last Updated:
Wednesday
January 11, 2017

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By far the largest and bulkiest of all the models that we tested, the Surge by Fitbit is an exceptional tracker. This device has a great blend of being easy to use, while still being packed with features. It's only real drawbacks were falling a little short in ergonomics, especially for those with more petite wrists, and having the highest list price out of all the models that we looked at.

Performance Comparison


The Surge by Fitbit took home one of our Editors' Choice awards.
The Surge by Fitbit took home one of our Editors' Choice awards.

Fitness Impact


Fitness impact, the quintessential category for these products, was the highest weighted metric in our tests. The Surge dominated this category, earning the highest score of the bunch with a 9 out of 10. We evaluated how good the online community was — looking at what kind of challenges and competitions it offered to help you get up and get active. We also checked the accuracy of the step count and the stairs climbed count. Finally, we assessed how this mode did at tracking a cycling and a high-intensity cardio workout, as well as what other physical activities it could track.

The step count on the Surge was highly accurate  in part due to its built-in GPS.
The step count on the Surge was highly accurate, in part due to its built-in GPS.

Fitbit by far had the best companion app and online community out of all the models we tested, with the most features and a great layout. The blend of challenges, competitive and not, are a great way to motivate you when you need it most. The app also shows leaderboards of your friends, which can be found through searching or connecting with Facebook.

A competitive challenge with the Fitbit app to help you get up and get active.
Taking a virtual "Adventure" to Vernal Falls with the Fitbit app.
 

The Surge did great at step counting, averaging only 0.9% off of our manual count, or about 19 steps over a mile. The distance is spot-on, greatly helped that it uses the built-in GPS, rather than estimating off gait. However, this model does pick up a decent number of false steps due to random arm movement. This tracker also did an excellent job at tracking a cycling workout, tying for the most comprehensive set of data out of all the trackers we tested, not only displaying distance and time, but average and max speed, as well as elevation on the device at the completion of the activity. It also shows a route of where you went on the app and a graph of your average speed.

The route and speed stats are recorded on the Fitbit app while cycling for GPS enabled models.
The Fitbit app will show your estimated calories burned  as basic stats about each activity.
 

For a cardio workout, the Surge displays steps taken, calories burned, and duration. It also tracks your heart rate, and shows how long you were in each heart rate zone. This model also will auto-recognize an activity after 15 minutes, and gives you the ability to pause tracking mid-workout for a quick break. Finally, the Surge was dead on in tracking the number of flights of stairs climbed during our test.

Health Impact


The performance of the Surge dropped slightly when it came to health impact, but still earned a respectable 6 out of 10. This was our second highest weighted metric, comprising 25% of the total score. We compared the heart rate monitor on the tracker to a chest strap model, as well as looked at how the device could aid in implementing a diet or lifestyle changes, and whether or not it had an alarm clock feature and the ability to track sleep.

The heart rate display on the Surge.
The heart rate display on the Surge.

The Surge was alright when compared to the chest strap heart rate monitor, averaging about 21 bpm off throughout our tests, with the resting heart rates being much more accurate than the active ones. It does a very good job aiding in dieting, both through the app and on the device. The device's resting Metabolic rate (rMr) calculations aligned very well with a generic calculator based on our tester's height and weight. The app also allows you to scan in food items using your smartphone's camera, as well as manually enter its nutritional information and the amount of water you have drunk, making it easy to see if you are meeting your calorie and hydration goals.

You can track your water intake to ensure you stay hydrated on the Fitbit app.
You can also log your calorie intake on the Fitbit app to track your progress towards a diet.
 

Unfortunately, this model lacks reminders to move, and while it does have a waking alarm and sleep tracking, it is so bulky that our testers were not a huge fan of wearing it to bed.

Ease of Use


The Surge had a strong showing in our ease of use tests, earning the second-highest score of 7 out of 10. We checked how easy it was to navigate the menus on the device and the app, how easy it was to put on, whether or not it was waterproof, how problem-free it was to sync with a mobile device, and the battery life.

The Surge uses a proprietary USB charger that plugs into the underside of the device.
The Surge uses a proprietary USB charger that plugs into the underside of the device.

This device had an alright battery life, claimed to last for up to 7 days. However, the battery will rapidly deplete when using the GPS, reduced to only about 10 hours. When depleted, the battery takes about 1-2 hours to recharge on a dedicated charger. It synced reliably and consistently to the app, only taking about 2-10 seconds to complete the data transfer. The app, common to all Fitbit brand trackers, is fantastic, allowing you to easily check your prior fitness data.

The home screen on the Fitbit app displaying your current progress towards your daily goals.
The home screen on the Fitbit app displaying your current progress towards your daily goals.

It is relatively easy to navigate through the menus on the device itself, using a combination of the touch screen and button interface, but this model is only sweat, rain, and splash proof, not waterproof. This model is definitely not the best choice if tracking swims is your main focus. It's easy enough to put on, essentially a large watch with a band that has a nice stiffness to it.

The clasp on the Surge is identical to a watch.
The clasp on the Surge is identical to a watch.

Ergonomics


This is the only category where the Surge fell flat, earning a below average 4 out of 10. The built-in GPS forces this model to be on the bulkier side, immediately hurting its score in this metric. We assessed the comfort level of wearing this tracker, its visual appeal, as well as its profile design to determine scores in this metric, and the Surge was lackluster at best.

The Surge felt alright on testers that had larger wrists.
The Surge felt alright on testers that had larger wrists.

This model was about average when it came to comfort, though our testers with smaller wrists noted that it felt exceptionally cumbersome. It was also about average in visual appeal, essentially a generic rectangle with rounded edges. Unfortunately, this model has a very high profile, making it prone to snagging on all kinds of things, and caused this model to lose some points when we attempted to put on a light jacket or a backpack.

Display


Finishing out our last metric with a strong performance, the Surge earned the highest score out of the pack in our display metric, with a 9 out of 10. We took into account what was displayed on the home and secondary screens, its responsiveness to touch, visibility, and what smart notifications it could receive when determining scores.

We really liked the responsiveness of the touchscreen on the Surge  and the display was visible in all lighting conditions.
We really liked the responsiveness of the touchscreen on the Surge, and the display was visible in all lighting conditions.

This model displays the current time, month, and day, and offers some degree of customization. It's nice and visible in all lighting conditions, and the touchscreen is responsive, to the point of being overly sensitive. It will receive call or text notifications, and display the sender and first snippet of a message on the screen. You can also see your steps, stairs climbed, distance traveled, and calories burned on secondary displays.

Value


This model isn't really a value option, having the highest list price out of the bunch. However, this is the model to get if you want the best of the best, and aren't deterred by price.

Conclusion


The Surge is a fitness tracker packed with almost every conceivable feature and function — at a price. This model might be unnecessarily sophisticated for the more casual user, but is a great bet for the person that wants the most comprehensive set of data available, and doesn't mind the bulk or the cost.
David Wise and Austin Palmer

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