surge cut 2We began this look at living with two Fitbit Surge GPS/Fitness watches here, where we talked about the two of us, Mrs. Grannygear and I, and our very different approaches to this type of product.   After living with them, basically barely taking them off for days at a time, using them through cycling workouts and daily activities, we have some strong feelings on what we did and did not like.

Note that we did not intend to make this an exhaustive review.  For instance, neither of us linked our Fitbit Surge to Strava. My wife was using her Garmin 520 and did not want to deal with the possible confusion of two files.  Reality based?  Not sure, but it was her decision.  I do not always use Strava, but when I did, it was also with a Garmin (500).  She uses My Fitness Pal for inputting foods eaten on a daily basis, although she did experiment with the Fitbit version in the app and it seemed to be fine as well.  She is very ‘invested’ in My Fitness Pal with her own custom menus, etc, so she was reluctant to start all over again.

I never played with any goal settings or friendly competitions with other Fit Bit buddies, etc.

So before I get into the details of what we did and did not like, let me sum up:  The Fitbit Surge is well thought out, has a very good interface (iPhone App), is comfy(ish) to wear, easy to live with, and good fun.  But at one point, neither of us were wearing ours anymore.  Read on as to why that might be.


There is a lot to like about the Fitbit Surge. Once installed on our smart devices, the app worked perfectly with the Fitbit Surge, syncing with no issues when the app was opened (and the Surge was nearby), and displaying all the stats of recent activities. It is quite well done and fun in a geeky way, poking around in there and looking at your data, including stuff I never would have thought to track, like sleep patterns, quality of rest, etc. The app also sends you little emails congratulating you on your steps taken, stairs climbed, etc.  Like little Strava KOMs in miniature.  The Surge will buzz and beep and carry on giving you a little party when this happens.  Pretty cool, but a couple of times it was a bit alarming…all that madness on my wrist when I was not expecting it was a bit of a heart rate raiser.  Luckily the Fitbit Surge tracks that too! Likely worth a couple of stairs in calories burned.

Then there are the little things. Like, when combined with the ambient light sensor (it knows when you are in a dark place), and when you make the classic motion with your wrist, such as when you ‘look at your watch’, the Fitbit Surge lights up so you can see the clock at night.  However, there were a couple of times I would be moving around in bed and fool it into that ‘mode’, shining a little light into my face for a bit. Argh!  Still, it’s a neat touch.

I also got to liking getting texts and phone call info on the display, which was handy if my iPhone was in the frame bag or a pocket somewhere.

I played with the Bike Exercise mode for a few rides, and compared it in tandem with my Garmin 500. I found the GPS data to compare well, both for elevation and mileage, mapping, etc. When in that mode, you can scroll the screen to a static display, like distance or heartrate. The first time I used it, I did not realize you have to start the timer or it does not track you.  It is not enough just to get into the mode and go riding. You will see heartrate, and maybe some other things, but the mileage will not increment.

On the other hand, if you leave it in the normal daily mode and just go bike riding, it is smart enough to know that you are riding and it will log that as a cycling event.  You will not get GPS tracking though. Note that when you are in the dedicated Bike Exercise mode and the GPS is tracking you, battery life drops pretty quickly, but if you are in ‘smart mode’ and just let it figure it out on its own, the battery life is extended.

I found I only needed to charge it once a week if I was just wearing it as a lifestyle device.  If I did a ride in Bike Exercise mode, I would charge it that same day.  Charging is fast and easy with the supplied cord, but it is a dedicated cord, so if it ever goes bad, nothing else will work with it such as a Garmin cable, etc.  USB charging source is required.

Once I got past the novelty of it, I just wore it like a watch and would sync every or every other day. It became normal in that sense, and required very little of my time to add the value it offers…data on my activities, calories, heart rate over time, resting heart rate, etc.  In fact I was curious about the resting rate, and that was something it was very good at logging.  Tracking that can be a clue to overtraining or fatigue.

What it did not do was win me over to the dark side of wanting to know every little detail of my life’s journey.  I remain decidedly un-geeky when it comes to knowing all those numbers everyday.  Leopard…meet spots.  Unchanged.

So, if I am going to remain aloof as to the charms of charts and graphs and numbers and such what regarding my daily duties, I need to approach this Fitbit Surge as a cyclist. And for me, that was where it fell a bit short. Now to be fair, Fitbit is not saying this is for a hardcore cyclist…it is more holistic than that.  So with that in mind, here we go, as the thoughts come to me.

  • Battery Life – If I am using the full function of the Bike Exercise mode in order to get the GPS tracking I would want, I could exceed the battery life on some rides, especially if I did not begin with a fully topped off battery.  And how many times would I be able to make sure I had a full battery before every long ride? That part is not a deal killer, but it is a bit iffy.
  • Heart Rate – There were too many times I would look down during a ride and find my heart rate was much lower than I knew it to be.  Once I was working pretty hard on a climb where I knew I was in the early to mid 150BPM range based on what I know about myself (and from often using a heart rate strap with my Garmin).  The Surge said I was at 135BPM.  Nope.  I moved the Surge on my arm a bit farther up from my wrist and it began to self correct, finally getting to where it should have been. Now while this might fall under the heading of Fitbit’s instructions where we are to wear the Surge a few fingers width up the arm from the wrist, the fact is I would not want to wear it any tighter on my wrist just for comfort and it will not stay up that high on my arm otherwise, if even then.  And this was real world riding conditions…sweaty, a bit bumpy. The Surge would seem to get a bit lost heartrate wise sometimes, even when it was placed in the ‘zone’ on my wrist/forearm.
Fit Bit Surge

Ah…here is the rub. Heartrate is the iffy part.

  • Clothing – I bet the pics in the product info for Fitbit show people wearing these jogging and riding and walking in nice weather, but that is not always the case.  For instance.  Wearing it under a jacket is not an issue, but you cannot see your heartrate (or distance or speed, etc) at any given moment. Arm warmers are an issue.  Wear it OVER the warmer and no heartrate data.  Under it and it is too bulky for comfort and you can’t see it anyway.  Ditto for tight fitting long sleeve jerseys. Thin arm coolers though, especially when moist, allowed the sensor to work pretty well.  None of this is an issue with a bike mounted Garmin/chest strap combo.
Fitbit surge

It reads well, even over a thin arm cooler, but the fabric was quite damp as well. Thicker and drier fabrics are a no-go zone for the optical sensor.

So purely as a cyclist, I find it limiting. I don’t want my clothing interfering with my point of information.

So let’s step back for some perspective. If I am going to care about heart rate enough to wear a monitor of any kind, I want it to be accurate or what is the point?  But if I were taking a more holistic approach and cycling was just one of the things I did, especially if the rides were shorter in nature…like commutes or after work rides…then as long as the here-and-there heart rate inaccuracies were not critical for me, it makes sense and is a slick package.  I know a runner who saw it, looked at the App interface with the iPhone, and was really stoked, thinking it could replace his more costly Suunto watch and separate heart rate chest strap. [Note: He is testing it right now, prepping for some ultra off road runs.]

For me, the Fitbit Surge went from a novel curiosity to a daily ritual to a somewhat interesting thing to a…well, to a watch.  And when it hit watch level, it began to lose relevance.  Now it is not on my wrist.


Mrs. Grannygear…For my wife, the biggest complaints centered around the heart rate.  The first issue for her was that in order for the heart rate to remain on the screen where it would be simple to see at a glance, you need to be in the dedicated Bike Exercise mode. Then you can scroll through functions a screen at a time and whatever you choose will stay there till told otherwise.  But in the Smart Exercise mode, you can scroll over to see the heart rate, but it will not stay there.  Rather it will ‘go home’ to the default screen.  We inquired to Fitbit about this but never heard back.  I guess it is what it is.

The other straw breaker for her was the heart rate accuracy.  As I had found, it would just get lazy about the HR at a given moment, and with her smaller arms/wrists, it seemed to be even more acute an issue (and she wears the smaller size band).

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Perhaps a bit low on her wrist, but it needs to work within the constraints of cycling clothing too.

However, she also very much enjoyed the wide range of information it gives you about your activities and such.  Sleep quality is something she struggles with quite regularly, so the Fitbit Surge would tell her that she is a restless sleeper.  In this, I do see some value if you were tracking your sleep patterns during training or diet or supplement changes, etc…whatever might affect your sleep patterns.  Like resting heartrate, you would get to know what is ‘the norm’ for you and when it degraded, it could alert you to issues related to that.  I don’t know how else you could do this at home without going to a lot of trouble.

She actually is wearing it again as she has been going to some Zumba classes just for fun with some of her cycling peeps.  For this, it works great and gives her calorie info she wants to keep track of. The game is not over yet for the Fitbit Surge and Mrs. Grannygear, but it will not see much bike time.


Grannygear’s final thoughts:  If it were I, and I was shopping for a Fitbit device, and I knew what I know now, I would do this.  I would buy one of three other Fitbits, none of them with GPS:  Either the Alta (or the Charge HR), or the Blaze.  The first two, the Alta or the Charge HR, would be less intrusive (smaller or thinner), cheaper, and the app would give me all the details I would want.  Or, if I wanted the watch functions, then the Blaze is thinner, more fashion-watch like, and has a color screen with better graphics.  It does offer “connected GPS” where it uses your smartphone to get GPS stats.

Not to say the Surge is not all that and more, it just misses my target bullseye by a bit. So would I even bother at all with a device option like I mentioned?  I might, but not at $250.00.  At $129.00 (the cost of the Alta)?  Maybe.  I actually am thinking of wearing the Surge again.  I kind of miss some of the features it brings to my life.  I sure can live without it, but having it is pretty cool too.  And that is where I leave it.


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Note: The products shown here were provided at no cost 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.