Fitbit Surge – No fitness super watch

The Fitbit surge could have been the best fitness tracker in the world. For that to work the basics must be perfect, but they aren’t. If this article sounds a little bitter, it’s because I am a little bitter. After 6 weeks of wearing it, here is my verdict of the Fitbit Surge. There is also a message in here to Fitbit itself because it could still become a very good tracker.

Setup

After I picked up my Fitbit Surge I put it on my wrist pretty much right away. I hoped I could set it up with my Android smartphone (Moto X 2014) because it should be compatible. That did not pan out and after pulling out my laptop I was able to finish the setup. The firmware update I got next solved most of the connection issues with my telephone. One good thing in the whole process? It did start measuring in the background while I wore it and the setup was not finished. Kudos there!

Different charging cable for every Fitbit?

For about €250,- you get “ a fitness super watch”? No you don’t. I had the first :( moment when I got home. I wanted to connect my wife’s Fitbit HR charging cable but it’s incompatible. Are you kidding me? Same brand, both new and you decide not to support micro USB and you build different charges for both devices? BOOH.

24h

I also noticed that the clock was not in 24h mode. I checked all the settings but ended up googling it. I found out I had to set this up in a my profile which is only available online. This should be a watch or an app setting which is synced to the online profile and vice versa.

Sleep tracking, mwah

The third issue came to light the next morning. It measured my sleep and all the graph said is that I was restless about 15 times in a 7.15hour period. First of all, I want to measure light, deep and REM sleep and I want decent statistics. Second, I did not sleep for 7.15 hours, I slept 6.45h. The first 30 minutes of laying in bed where measured as sleeping, where I actually was reading.

fitbit-sleep

Another sleeping issue arose a few days later. I put on my tracker just before going to sleep and it decided not to measure any sleep. A nap I did during the day (young kids;) was not measures either, but when the flu hit me a few weeks later it did measure during the day.

GPS is highly inaccurate

The next day I decided to go for a run. I ran a course I often run which has been measured using my phone with Strava and using a Garmin Fenix 2 sportwatch.

I started Strava, and started the run activity on the Fitbit. The fitbit got a GPS fix pretty fast (kudos) but when I got home it measured 6% less distance that Strava and the Fenix 2 measured and I am pretty sure the last two are on the mark.

Update 31-5-2015: Might have improved with firmware update, but needs more research.

Heart rate and no stats

A week later I was on one of the Dutch islands with my wife and kids and decided to do an afternoon run – dunes and beaches. I found out that the Fitbit app allows syncing with the Runkeeper platform. Great I thought. Fitbit made a wise choice here. They do the basis measuring and send the raw data to Runkeeper. Runkeeper syncs with Strava and Garmin Connect and then I would have real stats.

hardlopen

I had a great run but I noticed two things. My heart rate never really spiked. The max I reached was 168bmp and running in the dunes is not a walk in the park. At peak moment during training my heart rate will go over 195 with any other heart rate monitoring device.

When I got back to my computer I was in for the real surprise. Runkeeper did have my stats: “Mark burned 3,526 calories and took 18,163 steps over 1 day”. Than was not what I expected.

Luckily Fitbit does have a manual TCX export (GPS track, waypoint, route data, heart rate)

fitbit-stats

Swiming

After my run the kids wanted to go to the pool. Good thing I googled the water resistance of the Surge. I have a Casio watch from 1990 which still is waterproof to 50m and that watch will cost you about €15,- today. The €250,- Fitbit Surge can not be used for swimming. Showering ok, swimming no. It will actually break.

The things I did not like

So to sum it up

  • It is expensive
  • The charging connector is unique
  • It is not waterproof
  • It does not measure heart rate correctly
  • It does not sync well with other platforms
  • GPS is inaccurate <- improved with firmware update
  • It does not measure sleep well <- improved with firmware
  • Has very little sleep stats
  • There is no default cycling activity (they advertise with cycling photo’s) <- improved with firmware 
  • Either bluetooth music control during running works or call/text notifications works but not both.
  • Call notifications are rather late (they could be instant).
  • No smart wake up feature (wake up after enough sleep during light sleep cycle)

The things I liked

It has rather seamless integration with the very well designed and friendly Android app and it’s web environment. The Fitbit makes you very aware of your habits and it stimulates movement. It is very strong here! The interface of the tracker is friendly and simple. The watch band material is good for wearing, so you can wear it a couple of days in a row. (Update: my wifes Fitbit Charge HR was replaced and the band is from a different material now, and she likes it even better. It feels smoother than my Surge. It attracts less dust, but since the difference is small this might just be a feeling.) I did get more that 4 days of battery life without sporting activities and it charges fast. It is light for a sportwatch – but heavy for a step counter. It notifies me when I have an incoming call or text on my phone, which is great even though that does not always work properly. The Fitbit web environment is beautiful and does allow for TCX exports so you can get your date in Strava, Runkeeper and others.

What Fitbit can do to improve the Surge and it’s devices and services

  • Improve the max heart rate measuring. That should be fixable with firmware.
  • Make the GPS more accurate or play better with the phone GPS system to make it more accurate. People often bring it with them to listen to music anyway.
  • I would LOVE the smart wake up feature which the Jawbone has (I was actually expecting the Fitbit to have it too).
  • Improve sleep statistic. I don’t mind you being 30 minutes “over” time when I lay in bed reading. I do mind lack of decent stats.
  • The next version of any Fitbit must have a standard charger. No really, no debate here. It must.
  • The next version should be waterproof! If it is the band material which is the issue – salt and chloride water – I would understand it, but from a technical viewpoint I do not.
  • If you want me to log water intake, it would be great if I could do that on my wrist.
  • Drink water reminders.
  • Fix the 24h setting.
  • Improve the data sync. If you offer a GPX API your very sporty users can use Tapiriik to sync the data to Strava, Runkeeper, Garmin Connect and others. It improves your product without you having to do anything for it and it will inspire users of these products to buy your product. I did find you are already working on this!
  • Split up the sms and call notification settings. SMS is not realtime, calls are so I only needs those notifications.
  • “Get off your lazy ass” messages if you have not moved enough.

Should you buy it

Should you buy it? No you should not.

But … if Fitbit improves its product via firmware updates and if the heart rate and sleep monitoring becomes more accurate
… and if they were to including smart wakeup
… then the Charge HR (€ 150,-) might actually be you best buy.

It can “steal” the GPS data from a smart phone and combined give you the best sporting experience. Until they do the regular Fitbit Charge (€ 100,-) could be a good buy, but 2014 brought a lot of great devices. Another option is the Garmin Vivoactive. It lacks the heartrate monitor the Surge has but is a better and more accurate overall sport watch and has great battery life.

Final words to you guys at Fitbit

If you see me as “not your default customer” you should wonder why I am one of the first buyers of the product. The Surge is no fitness super watch. It’s the best live tracker Fitbit ever made. Under promise, over deliver went totally wrong here.

From a business point of view: you need to open up. Android and Apple smart watches are going to do the hardware thing too. Polar, TomTom and Garmin -Fenix 3 an outlook- could be competing for the high end market as well. Your competitive edge could be software and combining the data but that does mean better integration with other platforms.

Finally, I know how it feels when you put all you love into a new product and customers write stories like the one I wrote above. After two weeks my wife asked me “why don’t you return it”. The reason is that I believe you can and will improve. I see the detail you put in the product and I see improvements with every new release of the firmware and the app.

The fact that I took the time to write more than 3 pages on the Surge without returning the device says that I care.

Update: 31-05-2015

I started writing this on the 25 of April after owning the Fitbit for two weeks. Since then Fitbit has released some updates. Today I did a run with my Fenix 2, Fitbit (firmware 16.31.5.8) and Moto X runnning Strava. These are the results.

Overall

Moto X 2013 + Strava

  • Distance: 8,4km
  • Moving time: 43:16
  • Average: 5:07/km

Fitbit Surge

  • Distance: 7.52 km
  • Moving time: 41:26
  • Average: 5:30/km

Garmin Fenix 2

  • Distance: 7,70 km
  • Moving time: 41:25
  • Average: 5:23/km

Split

strava-fitbit-connect

Map plot

strava-fitbit-connect-mapplot

Strava is all over the place -hence the extra distance- , because this road is straight. Fitbit plots me off the road but is pretty accurate. Garmin plots me on the road.

The winner

I would like Strava to me wright here, but after some measuring Garmin is the winner, Fitbit is second -but it’s has improved dramatically since my first test- and the Moto X and Strava loose. I did choose a path with little trees and other obstructions which might bring GPS off course. I will update this post with new data if I have any.

Update: 07-07-2015

No more firmware updates came out, but we did do more benchmarking tests. Running in de hills of France. Clear weather, little GPS disruptable parameters.

Overall

iPhone 6 + runkeeper 

  • Distance: 6,25km
  • Moving time: 45:40
  • Average: 8,21 km/h

Fitbit Surge

  • Distance: 6,15 km
  • Moving time: 45:40
  • Average: 8,08 km/h

Garmin Fenix 2

  • Distance: 6,27 km
  • Moving time: 45:38
  • Average: 8,24 km/h

Summery of the 07-07-2015 update

There is a 2% deviation between the Fenix 2 and de Surge. The truth seems to be somewhere in the middle but more on the Garmin than on the Fitbit side.

Update: 11-07-2015

So, I took a road only segment. Drew a route on it with both Strava and Google Maps (6,2 Km) and ran the route twice. The Fenix 2 was dead on (between 0 and 1% deviation). The Surge had a deviation of 0,8 to 4,5% less and always measured less.

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