FEATURE REVIEW – Fitbit Surge

Fitbit 101

This is one of the best features I’ve seen on an activity band or smartwatch; and I really wish it, or something like it would become the industry standard when you install the software on your PC or get started.  The Fitbit Surge takes you through a 101 with it and its functions when you get going.  You get to see important features, get some cool hints and learn what the device can do.

FBS101-01

Fitbit Weekly Stats

This is pretty cool… Every week that you’re active, Fitbit mails your stats to your email address connected to your profile at Fitbit’s website. You’ll get a well rounded view of how you’re doing and what you need to do to improve your activity rates, food and water intake as well as sleep.  Your Dashboard really gives you a good view of what you’re doing and how well you’re doing it.

FBS-01

I really like getting my weekly statistics sent to me.  This is a cumulative roll up of your week’s activities, and it also displays any badges you may have earned that week.  If you’re really wanting to challenge yourself against all of your friends or maybe JUST yourself, this is a great way to get that done.

FBS-02

iOS Software

I have to say that I really like the Fitbit iOS app.  Its easy to read  and understand.  The information it tracks is pretty informative.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its challenges, though.

 

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The Fitbit main screen The Fitbit screen is longer than the device The Walking detail screen
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The Workout detail screen

 

When you initially set the smartwatch up, you run the app for the first time and then pair the watch with your phone.  When you do that, you go through the following screens.

 

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The initial setup screen Now create your account After logging in…
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Your account screen Working out is always better with Fitbit friends You need some stinkin’ badges…
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Setting up your smartwatch Picking the best watch face for you Picking your exercise shortcuts

Sleep Tracking

Interestingly enough, the Fitbit Surge does sleep tracking like other bands and smartwatches do sleep tracking. However, with the Surge, you don’t have to put it into any special mode.  The watch monitors your heart rate and then and based on the recorded rate determines if you’re sleeping or not.  At that point, based on that algorithm, it calculates restlessness, actual sleep and then based on increased activity, when you wake up, to say, visit the rest room, or to start your day.

The good thing here is that you don’t have to do anything to help it determine how or when you go to sleep or when you wake. All you have to do is have the device on.  This is both good and bad, in that while you don’t have to do anything to activate it,  the algorithm isn’t very accurate.  It may measure sleep; but it doesn’t discern between light and deep sleep.  I have doubts about how accurate its sleep efficiency ratings are as well. If it can’t or doesn’t show you your periods of deeper sleep, how can it tell you how WELL you slept?

It also doesn’t do a very good job of telling you how many calories you’ve burned.  Based on your heart rate and the amount of time you’ve been awake, you should be able to determine an estimate of calories burned.  However, I have seen the calorie count on the surge rise when it was sitting on my desk, connected to its USB cable, supposedly charging.  Its clear, this is just an estimate based on time, and not much more.

Problems and Issues

Aside from the Notifications issue described in the Connectivity section of this review (which is a HUGE issue, by the way and needs fixing ASAP), I have two other issues that need some level of attention and resolution from Fitbit.

 USB Cable Connection

This has never been quite right.

The Surge comes with a proprietary USB cable that plugs into your computer via standard USB and then connects with a proprietary connector to the watch on the underside of the watch face. Unfortunately, that connection is very loose.  As such, the watch doesn’t charge right all the time.  The device vibrates when you plug it in, and every now and again, it will vibrate out of nowhere on my desk when connected to the USB cable. It doesn’t vibrate when it disconnects, so when it vibrates on its own because it detects a power connection, I have to wonder how long its been sitting there on my desk, with the cable in, but disconnected from power.  Its very frustrating, because when you plug it in, you aren’t necessarily plugging it in… and there’s no way to tell without picking up the watch, hitting the button on the left side and then checking to see the battery icon in the upper left corner of the device screen.

 Skin Reactions to Rubber/ Silicone Bands

This can potentially be a serious issue.

Allergies to latex or other forms of natural or synthetic rubber can range from skin reactions  like contact dermatitis, hives or just general itching. Other reactions may include some level of respiratory distress such as coughing, sneezing or a runny nose.  More severe reactions may include shortness of breath, swelling of the throat or severe wheezing. Life threatening reactions are rate, but have been seen in some rubber allergies and may include anaphylaxis.  However, again, the most common reactions are some form of hives, a rash or some other form of contact dermatitis that comes from prolonged wear.

If you encounter ANY of these while wearing the Fitbit Surge, you may either want to monitor how long you wear the device or take it back and seek a refund.

Fitbit has information on product care at their website.  Additional information on latex allergy issues can be found at WebMD’s website.

Since starting this series on Smartwatches, I’ve been wearing the Microsoft Band on my left wrist and the Fitbit Surge on my right.  Over the past few weeks of wear, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a bit of contact dermatitis on my right wrist.  The skin on the inside edge of my wrist is red, itchy and flakey. I am not experiencing ANY of this on my left wrist with Microsoft Band.

The problem here is that the Surge is meant to be worn around the clock as it measures not only exercise, movement and heart rate, but sleep quality as well. Its hard to measure all of this when the device is off… However, that’s what Fitbit recommends you do if you bump into problems with this type of skin reaction.  Thankfully for me, this is the extent of the trouble I’m having with actually wearing the device.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Surge is a decent smartwatch. However, it didn’t hit as big of a home run as I was hoping it would. From a construction perspective, the device itself is really, just ok.  Its one piece design and bulky body make it a total geek flag no matter where you are.  Its got a comfortable band, so when you have it on, it wears easily.  However, its really kinda ugly; and it really only comes in one color right now… black. The other color options – blue and tangerine – have yet to show up yet (and where the heck do they come up with these color choices..?  Dark blue and tangerine?  TANGERINE..? Really?  If you’re a Bronco’s fan, you’re in decent shape. If you’re a Chicago Bear’s fan, you can’t go wrong; but the color choices here are HORRIBLE.

There’s also no customization possibilities with Fitbit Surge. At least with the Fitbit Flex, you can change bands. Here you’re kinda stuck with whatever you choose at time of purchase.  Forever…

The biggest problem I have with the Surge however, isn’t battery life, which is decent… when it actually charges while connected to its USB cable. The device lasts about 3-5 days on a full charge, even with its Bluetooth radio on all the time. The biggest problem with the Fitbit Surge is the way it handles notifications.  If you’ve turned them on, you’re likely going to continue to get them, even if you turn them off… at least as long as you have your device paired to your smartphone.

This is a huge problem, especially since I don’t want any text messages coming over to the device. I don’t get many, and those I do get come from my wife and daughter, mostly; but they take up memory on the device, and I’d rather use that memory to hold the day’s stats than any notifications.  Its also a potential security issue.  The Bluetooth pairing shouldn’t send notification data when notifications are turned off. Just because the device doesn’t alert or vibrate when notifications are turned off and data arrives doesn’t mean this is OK.  When Notifications are turned off, the data should NOT be transmitted to the watch. Period.  It’s a simple thing, really. I’m not certain why this is an issue…

Unfortunately, most of the smartwatches on the market today are just way geeky looking; and until the Apple Watch or the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel hit, we’re going to be stuck with stuff that has a mono-color screen and just screams, “I’m a total nerd.”

Until then, if you’re looking for a decent smartwatch, the Fitbit Surge is a good choice. Its comfortable. Its easy to use and read (thought the back light could stay on a LITTLE longer…). The app that goes on your smartphone tracks a lot of very useful data, and should be something that will provide you with some decent insight on your exercise regimen, calorie and water intake, and heart rate.

The Fitbit Surge is priced at $249.99 USD. That’s $50 USD more than the Microsoft Band and $100 USD less than the entry level Apple Watch. It’s a decent device. I like it.  However, the biggest problem you’re going to have with the Surge is figuring out if its price point fits with your budget given that you can have any color you want (as of this writing) as long as its black.

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