The Fitbit Surge: Watching Where the Super Watch Puck Goes

Editor’s note: Here’s a review of the Fitbit Surge from Ultan (@ultan, @usableapps); if anyone can road-test a fitness tracker, it’s him. As luck would have it, the Surge is on my list of wearables to test as well. So, watch this space for a comparison review from a much less active person. Enjoy.

I’ve upgraded my Fitbit experience to the Fitbit Surge, the “Fitness Super Watch.”

Why?

I’ve been a Fitbit Flex user for about 18 months. I’ve loved its simplicity, unobtrusiveness, colourful band options, and general reliability. I’ve sported it constantly, worldwide. I’ve worn out bands and exhausted the sensor until it was replaced by the help of some awesome Fitbit global support. I’ve integrated it with the Aria Wi-Fi scales, synching diligently. I’ve loved the Fitbit analytics, visualization, the badges, and comparing experiences with others.

The human body makes more sense for me as a dashboard than a billboard, as Chris Dancy (@servicesphere) would say.

But I wanted more.

The Flex didn’t tell me very much on its own—or in the moment—other than when a daily goal was reached or the battery needed attention. I had to carry a smartphone to see any real information.

I am also a user of other fitness (mostly running) apps: Strava, MapMyRun, Runcoach, Runkeeper, and more. All have merits, but again, I still need to carry a smartphone with me to actually record or see any results. This also means that I need to run through a tiresome checklist daily to ensure the whole setup is functioning correctly. And given the increasing size of smartphones, I am constantly in need of new carrying accessories. I’m a mugger’s dream with twinkling phablets strapped to my arms at night, not to mention asking for technical grief running around in European rain.

The Surge seemed like a good move to make.

Spinning up the Fitbit Surge in the gym

Spinning up the Fitbit Surge in the gym

Onboarding the Superwatch Experience

I tested my new Fitbit Surge right out of the box in Finland on long snowy runs around Helsinki and have hammered it for weeks now with activities out in the Irish mist and in gyms, too. My impressions:

  • I love the fact that the Surge is standalone. I can record and glance at activity performance quickly, without the whole smartphone connectivity checklist thing.
  • The UI is intuitive with just three buttons (Home, Activity, and Select), and it incorporates swipe gestures and click interactions to get through the little cards that make up the UI paradigm. Familiar. Easy.
  • The Surge records and shows my heart rate, something that I realize should always be part of my fitness plan (duh). I discovered a resting heart rate bpm of around 50 BPM. Read. Weep.
  • The Surge has enhanced notifications capability, and I can see SMS messages or cell phone calls coming in. Nice.
  • The Surge has options for choosing between predefined activities. Fast.
  • The battery life (charging is via USB) is a major bonus over other smartwatches. The limited battery life of the Moto 360, for example, drives me crazy. The Surge battery life gives me about three days (although that is less than that advertised).
  • Having GPS is awesome, as I like to record and see where I have been, worldwide.
  • I am happy with the recorded data, and it seems comparable to the data quality I demand for my runs. I’ve had concerns about the Flex and other devices in this regard.

On the downside:

  • I don’t like the fact that the Surge is available only in black (as of now), that the display is monochrome, and that there are no interchangeable band options. I’m a #fashtech kinda guy.
  • You can only use one Fitbit device at a time. (I’m like that; I might like to wear a different device on different occasion.)
  • The predetermined activities are slightly limiting. Who knows, maybe ironing in the nude burns lots of calories? (I don’t, by the way.)
  • The call notifications and text notifications are great, but to do anything in the moment with those alerts means that I need to turn to my phone, unlike say my Android Wear Moto Motorola 360 that lets me respond using voice.
  • Having to actually tell the watch what you’re doing first is pure Age of Context denial. Google Fit, for example, does a decent job of automatically sensing what activity I am up to, and where and when I am. Plus, it lets me enter data manually and plays nice with my Moto 360 for a glanceable UI.
  • And then there’s the “unlearning” of the Flex invisibility. I’ve walked off quite a few times forgetting Surge is still in action, and only hours later realized I needed to stop the thing.
Relative glance: Fitbit Surge versus Motorola Moto 360

Relative glance: Fitbit Surge versus Motorola Moto 360

Thoughts on the Surge and Super Watch Approach

An emerging wearable technology analyst position is that upped smartwatches such as the Fitbit Surge or “super watches” will subsume the market for dedicated fitness bands. I think that position is broadly reasonable, but requires nuance.

Fitness bands (Flex, Jawbone Up, and so on), as they stand, are fine for the casual fitness type, or for someone who wants a general picture of how they’re doing, wellness-wise. They’ll become cheaper, giveaways even. More serious fitness types, such as hardcore runners and swimmers, will keep buying the upper-end Garmin-type devices and yes, will still export data and play with it in Microsoft Excel. In the middle of the market, there’s that large, broad set of serious amateurs, Quantified Self fanbois, tech heads, and the more competitive or jealous wannabe types who will take to the “super watches.”

And yet, even then, I think we will still see people carrying smartphones when they run or work out in the gym. These devices still have richer functionality. They carry music. They have a camera. They have apps to use during your workout or run (be they for Starbucks or Twitter). And you can connect to other people with them by voice, text, and so on.

I like the Fitbit Surge. Sure, it’s got flaws. But overall, the “super watch” approach is a sound one. The Surge eliminates a lot of complexity from my overall wearable experience, offers more confidence about data reliability, and I get to enjoy the results of my activity efforts faster, at a glance. It’s a more “in the moment.” experience. It’s not there on context and fashion, but it will be, I think.

Anyone wanna buy some colored Fitbit Flex bands?

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

2 comments

  1. Thanks Jake. It’s gonna be interesting to compare experiences. Expect the topic to ignite when the Apple Watch hits the stores…

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