surge cut 2A Tale of Two Fitbits.

Fitness Trackers:  A Phenomenon with no end in sight.

I don’t recall when it was, but it was not long ago, when I first began to see what looked like slim watches or fat bracelets coated in rubber being worn on folk’s wrists; folks who looked pretty fit. “What izzit”, I asked.  “Fitbit”, they said.  Fit what?  Fitbit…a ‘Fitness Tracker’, that being a lifestyle device that is worn pretty much 24/7 and tracks your heart rate, motion in steps, calories burned, etc, and syncs to your smart device by bluetooth, putting all that data into an app that allows you to see how you are doing, activity wise. Not something I was all that interested in, however, I did see the appeal.

So when I received the invite to join Fitbit for a breakfast presentation at this year’s Sea Otter Classic, I was not too interested.  Even when the mention of taking home a Fitbit Surge, the best selling GPS watch/Fitness Tracker, was promised to me, I was still not all that excited.

You see, there are two kinds of people as applied to athletes and, of course, cyclists. There are those who love gadgets; gadgets that are designed to feed you data about every facet of your workout and your training et al.  You can know calories burned, calories ingested, heart rate, power over time, peak power, speed, elevation, cadence, distance, watts, joules, grams, grimaces made, and farts counted (don’t ask where the sensor is for that one).  It’s all quite tiring really and more than a bit beyond me.

For years I just rode.  Oh, I might have had a cyclometer here and there, but not all the time. Most of the time if you asked me how long the ride was I would have said “two hours” or four hours or whatever.  Heart rate strap?  Why?  It’s still beating, yes?  When I was hungry I ate.  When I was thirsty I drank.  When I was tired I rested.  When I was not tired, I went riding.  Simple. Caveman stuff, for better or worse.

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Mrs. GG, mid climb up The Beast, So Cal.  Road…gravel…MTB…she does it all and has the data to prove it. [photo taken pre-Surge acquisition]

But in my house there is the other side of the coin…Mrs. Grannygear.  She counts it all…weighs her food portions, calories eaten per day…calories burned in a workout.  Protein vs. carbs. I will hear her say, “Oh good…I have 500 calories more to eat today!”  Really?  Give her data.  Riding without Strava or a Garmin is anathema.  She knows her average speed over any given route she regularly rides.  She collects Strava ‘bling’ like a proud teeny bopper at a mall kiosk shopping for costume jewelry.

So it occurred to me that she would be very keen on trying out a product like the Fitbit Surge, and so the arrangements were made. At Sea Otter, after a very pleasant breakfast and presentation, we were handed bags of product, and I was quite surprised to have two Surges to sample, one for each of us.  Really?  For me too? This is like handing a high tech dust mop to Oscar the Grouch.  Not wanted and possibly even threatening! But lately I have been softening a bit…I even signed up for Strava last year…mostly to track my wife’s progress.  And I do own a Garmin now.  And I have the Strava app on my iPhone.  And I even sign up for those monthly challenges, like climb the equivalent of the entire Italian Alps in a week, etc.  So perhaps an old dog can learn new tricks.

But then it came to me that having two of these in the house would be very interesting.  There have to be folks like me who are wondering, “Do I want one of these Fitbit Surge things in my life?” and there have to be others who know they want something like this, and just might lose all hope of life and would fall into despair without a fitness tracker, but which one to get? The Fitbit Surge or something else? So this review will not try to be the equal to DC Rainmaker, but rather will be about what this does for my life and my wife’s life as cyclists and as athletically oriented, health conscience folks.  And if something annoys or falls short, we will say so.  And if it turns out to be one of those things like a Smartphone, something you did not know you would love until you had it, we will say so as well.

Let us begin a Tale of Two Fitbits


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‘Surging’ ahead.

It is the evening following a long day at the Sea Otter pavilions. I am resting from being on my feet, etc, sitting on the bed, chimping through photos and posting things on Facebook.  The Fitbit Surge sits unopened next to me, looking like a mini-Borg Cube in its packaging.  “You will be assimilated”.  Maybe later.  Assimilation sounds complicated.

Next to me is the Missus.  She already has her Fitbit Surge unpacked, the app installed on her iPhone, and she is playing with the features and screens and settings.  Now the thing to note here, is not that she could barely wait to get on with this thing, and I could, but that she had it all up and working with very little difficulty.  This is impressive in that she is hardly a techy whiz with stuff like this.  I typically get pressed into service when things get a bit confusing in that sense.  So that she was able to install the app, set it up, and have it running in a very short time speaks well of the process.

Let’s take a look at what you get in that cube of fitness wizardry.

In the box is a Surge, a charging cord (I’d also advise readers to pick up an additional Fitbit charger. This can be useful if you intend on charging your fitbit when away from home – such as at the office), a wireless dongle (for syncing to a laptop), and a small pamphlet.  The Fitbit Surge comes in three sizes to accommodate wrists from Small to XL and in three colors.

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The Fitbit Surge falls into the ‘Performance’ category of devices sold by Fitbit and is targeted more at athletes looking to track workouts, get GPS tracks/data, etc, and not just lifestyle/fitness tracking, although that does that too.   Let’s watch a quick video.

Built in to the unit is GPS, a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis gyroscope, a digital compass, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, and vibration motor.  It has a touch screen too. It looks like a rather thick watch and on the wrist feels quite unobtrusive.

Water resistance seems to be on the light side, in that they do not allow swimming in it or showering with it, although I have already forgotten that several times and been in the shower a bit before finding I had it on.  There have been no ill effects from that brief time of wet soapiness, but it is not suggested you do likewise.

The battery life seems quite generous as a daily fitness tracker, with approx 7 days of use before charging is needed.  However, when used as a GPS device, say when tracking a bike ride in the Exercise Mode, the battery is rated to about 10 hours, assuming a full charge to begin with.

The heart rate is taken without a separate chest strap, which is pretty cool.  That allows for things like resting heart rate monitoring as well as daily and exercise monitoring.  Fitbit calls this Pure Pulse, and you can see the green light sensors on the rear of the watch that pick up blood flow in the arm.  It needs to be worn a bit up the arm away from the wrist for best results.

The app is running on my iPhone and makes getting all the stats from the Fitbit Surge an easy task.  The app is quite cool really, with multiple screens for set-up and data monitoring.  You can see your daily and weekly activities in calories burned, steps taken, stairs climbed (or the equivalent thereof), and more.  You can log food intake, set goals…all kinds of things to see how you are doing.  As well, you can sync your Fitbit Surge to your phone so that texts and phone calls are shown on the Surge screen.  It will vibrate and you can read the texts on the screen or see who is calling if the person is in your contacts.  That allows you to keep the phone in your bike bag or pocket and have some idea of what is happening communications wise.  The three partial screen captures below are from my iPhone (there is more info for each screen if I could have scrolled down, etc).  The first is the front page showing the Fitbit Surge as synced to my phone and giving me a snapshot look at my stats.  You can drill down into each of these quite a ways and also look at weekly/monthly views too.

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It also tracks how well you sleep, and that applies to my wife who struggles with getting good, quality sleep.  Me, I just sleep like a rock, but not her, so if this helps her get an idea of how her efforts to sleep well are preceding then that has value. Since we bought the highly acclaimed Leesa mattress, she has been sleeping better and we used the fitbit to test this!

Here is a partial screen showing my sleep quality (note some odd hours as work that week required some unusual sleep times).

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For cyclists, this has a dedicated ‘Bike’ exercise setting which is a bit like getting your Garmin going.  The touch screen/function button combo allows you to get to the exercise mode (the app is involved here, where you previously set up the kinds of exercise modes you want to use), you start into Bike mode, get GPS to acquire and begin tracking satellites, then hit the ‘start timer’ button before you begin.  Stopping the timer stops the Bike mode tracking.  As an option, if you just decide to go riding without getting into Bike mode, the Fitbit Surge is smart enough to know you are doing “outdoor cycling” and tracks your workout, but with less features (like a layout of your route on a map).  Below is a sample of the Outdoor Bike on an easy day, where the Surge was not in Bike exercise mode, so no mapping of my route.  It still recognized my activity, and logged it anyway, and calories, etc are logged but not on the screen shot.

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We are well into our use of the Fitbit Surges, wearing them pretty much 24/7 and tracking our steps and spins and heart beats and so forth, so hang out and see if this wins me over to the dark side and whether or not Mrs. Grannygear is happy with her orange Surge uber-watch.  Me, I chose Johnny Cash black.

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Make it orange and she will buy it. Or purple. Roadside in spring. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley, CA.

The Fitbit Surge retails for MSRP of $250.00, but pricing in the e-marketplace seems to be around $200.00 or so.


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Note: The products shown here were provided at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for these reviews and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.