The Fitbit Surge takes activity tracking to a whole new level, going beyond counting steps and calories burned.
The Surge isn't just the latest line of activity trackers from Fitbit -- it's a game changer. For runners who appreciate wearable technology, the GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring elevate this device to a class of its own.
Out of the Box
I eagerly anticipated the Surge's debut for quite some time. The idea of having GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring, activity tracking and a whole host of other features had me really excited when I opened up the box.
What I didn't expect was the size of the actual device. It looks pretty big sitting on my wrist and felt funny the first time I wore it. The marketing of the product led me to believe it was sleek and sexy. It falls short in both descriptions, but with this product looks aren't everything.
The Surge is very easy to set up and comes out of the box with a half charge, so you can use it right away. It only took minutes to adjust the settings to my preferences and sync it up with my Moto X. I appreciated the ease because it allowed me to spend more time familiarizing myself with the device instead of making the right sync connections.
One of the standout features of the Surge has nothing to do with its function, but rather its compatibility. Never assume that all wearable tech is compatible with smartphones. The folks at Fitbit must have known this to be an issue because the Surge is compatible with close to 120 smartphones. That's a huge number, especially in a tech world dominated by iPhones.
Unfortunately, it turns out my Moto X is not Bluetooth compatible. This is only a minor frustration because I'm not that interested in receiving texts and emails or listening to music via my wrist. What counts is that I was able to sync my data to the Fitbit app.
After a few surface-level observations of the Surge, I took a closer look at what the device can really do. It is very runner friendly with a dedicated app on the device. Furthermore, within the running app, there's an option for a free run, lap run or treadmill run. The benefits of these settings really puts my GPS watch to shame.
The Surge is also a useful device when cross training because it has an exercise app. Settings are available for hiking, weightlifting, using the elliptical, spinning and yoga. My assumption is that the heart rate monitoring is leveraged depending on the activity, meaning the Surge does not take the one-size-fits-all approach to exercise.
While the Surge did not impress with its looks, it's what's on the inside that really counts.
On the Run
If there's one feature of the Surge that really shows its friendliness to runners, it's the GPS tracking. Compared to my GPS watch, the Surge shines, mainly due to its infinitely better signal connection. When I use my GPS watch I often find myself standing in the middle of the street praying for a signal and waving my left hand in the air. In short, the Surge makes me a less silly and desperate runner.
As I ran with the Surge, I could swipe the screen to the left or right to get my average pace, heart rate, calories burned, steps or the time. The elapsed time and distance are displayed the entire time.
The screen is easy to read and displays each category name followed by a value.
Despite its clumsy look, I was surprised that the Surge rested comfortably while I ran. In fact, it felt no different than running with a GPS watch.
At the end of my run, the screen displayed a nice, tight summary. The information then synced up with the Fitbit app for a more enhanced review.
The whole Surge running experience is a really positive one, mainly because the device lets you do what you're supposed to: run. There are a myriad of features, but they do not interrupt your run. Instead they enhance it.
Given its superb GPS tracking, the Surge is accurate in reporting running stats. Unlike a lot of activity trackers on the market, the Surge proved more trustworthy than others when it comes time to review data.
The Surge is water resistant but not waterproof. The owner's manual is pretty specific about this, so use care after a workout.
The battery life is good, but using the GPS and heart rate monitoring still eats up much of that life pretty quickly (no surprise). Surge will send you alerts when the battery life is running low and will advise you to recharge as soon as possible.
Pay attention to the material on the wristband and how it affects your skin. Fitbit was in the news last year after one of its models caused skin irritation.
Runners can certainly benefit from the Surge, particularly when it comes to the GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring and the overall effectiveness of smartphone app and web platform. For runners who prefer minimal reliance on activity trackers, however, perhaps other Fitbit models would be better for them.
I found the Surge to be very reliable and durable while running. I wasn't able to experience all of the Bluetooth features, like music control or notifications, but with its focus on running above all else, it proved to be a wonderful fitness device.
Chris Narbone is a Chicago runner who curates Amplify Running, a blog about gear and technology for runners.