Fitness is in, strong is the new skinny and you can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a pseudo-celebrity who is styling themselves as a ‘wellness guru’ or ‘fitness coach’ while tweeting about #gains.
There have always been sporty people but, as the waistline of the world expands, it’s somewhat ironic that fitness has never been hotter.
And whether you’re training for your first 10k or your fifth marathon, or just hoping to make ‘gains’ in the gym, you will want to track your progress.
That’s where Fitbit comes in.
Founded in 2007, Fitbit was one of the original ‘wearables’ players, but now finds itself in a competitive wearables market. Having to compete against a plethora of phone apps that perform many similar functions, the company has had to up its game.
And it’s probably fair to say it’s done that with its latest and most advanced product – the Fitbit Surge.
Described on the Fitbit website as ‘the ultimate fitness super watch’, the Surge more or less fits that description.
As well as telling you the time and date, as a normal watch would, the Surge also continuously tracks your heart rate and sleep patterns, tells you how many steps you’ve taken in a day, the number of flights of stairs you’ve climbed, the distance you’ve travelled, and the calories you’ve burnt in the process.
You can track your runs and workouts, set silent alarms and notifications, get phone and message alerts on the watch, and control your phone’s music player through the Surge, too.
Look and feel
First things first. A watch is, after all, ultimately an accessory – one you wear all day – so how it looks and feels on your wrist is paramount.
I have to say the Surge scored quite highly on this point in my eyes. The watch is quite large, no doubt, but it feels light and I found it easy to wear all day – which, in a job where you spend a lot of time typing, is pretty impressive.
It’s also good enough to look at, resembling a slick-looking sports watch. Though while I liked its utilitarian look well enough, and felt quite happy to wear it most of the time, I probably wouldn’t be rocking it on a night out.
One point to note is that its chunkiness means it mightn’t necessarily sit with ease under a buttoned-up shirt cuff — something worth knowing for the fitness-fan office workers out there.
Naturally, this product’s target market is people who are into fitness, so how does the Surge perform when it comes to tracking workouts?
The answer is pretty darn good.
Something that sets the Surge apart from many of the free mobile phone apps out there that can track things like the length and route of your runs is that the Surge, due to its PurePulse heart rate technology, is able to track your performance during all manner of exercises – including lifting weights, doing yoga, spinning, etc.
Because it is on your wrist all the time, measuring your heart rate, it is able to tell you how hard you’re working, how many calories you’re burning and how long you spend in the ‘peak’, ‘cardio’, and ‘fat burn’ zones while working out.
It’s really pretty impressive and is sure to be popular with any gym bunnies out there, with its particular advantage being that it can appeal to those who ‘lift’ – as this has become such a huge growth area in the fitness business lately – as well as those who run.
For those partaking in running, walking or hiking, the watch keeps track of your distance, pace, average pace, heart rate, calories burned, steps taken and time. As the watch is on your wrist it’s easy to keep track of all these stats and there’s no annoying voice in your ear interrupting your running tunes.
It allows you to easily keep track of how hard you’re working and makes it easier for you to push yourself to stay in the zone.
You don’t have to set the watch to workout mode for it to recognise that you’re partaking in an activity that gets the heart rate up. It records your ‘active minutes’ through the day, acknowledging whenever you do an activity more strenuous than regular walking.
Of course, half the point of the Surge is that it is a wearable you can wear all day, so, while tracking your workouts is important, that is only half the reason it’s there.
The Surge also continuously tracks the number of steps you take, flights of stairs you climb and calories you burn in a day, as well as constantly monitoring your heart rate and telling you how well you slept.
Through the Fitbit app (which you can download to your Android, iOS or Windows device), you can set yourself all sorts of aims, including how much sleep you’re aiming to get and how many steps a day you’re aiming to take, though the default is set at 10,000.
When you hit your steps aim or various other goals, the watch vibrates to let you know. You also get a badge in your weekly activity round-up, essentially feeding into all of our childlike desires for approval and bestowing on us adult gold stars.
There can be no doubt, though, that things like that do motivate us and certainly I found if I was nearing my 10,000 steps per day goal I would walk that bit further at lunchtime to give myself the satisfaction of hitting it.
Being able to track your sleep is also fascinating, with the watch able to tell you when in the night you were restless or awake – information that would no doubt be very valuable to those with trouble sleeping (the Surge emphasised to me I do not fall into that category).
The complementary app also allows you to set additional goals and to track your food and water intake. You can set weight-loss or -gain goals and the app will tell you what your calorie deficit or surplus needs to be each day in order for you to hit that target by a certain date, as well as telling you how hard it will be to achieve that aim. As the watch is already tracking how many calories you’re burning and syncing that with the app, it makes keeping tracking of your calories in vs your calories out as simple as possible.
You can also set yourself challenges to achieve a certain goal yourself, or go up against your fellow Fitbit-using friends.
Battery-wise, for me, the watch lasted around six days without a charge, under what I would describe as medium use, and it charged up within a couple of hours. Although, if you were doing long runs every day and using the GPS tracker, it would certainly need to be charged more often.
Overall, I have to say I was a fan of the Fitbit Surge and I think it is a great piece of fitness tech.
It’s very light and, despite its size, which may bother some, I found it uncumbersome.
Importantly, it does an amazing job of measuring all the activity you do in a day, subtly encouraging you to make those ‘small changes’ health professionals constantly tell us are the key to good health.
By bringing activity, calories in and out, and sleep and heart rate monitoring together in one app, it makes it simpler to get a picture of your overall health and, by proxy, perhaps show you how you could improve it.
With things like challenges and the graphs it compiles from your daily stats, the Surge is also likely to bring out anyone’s competitive side and encourage them to do more to achieve their goals.
The ability to use the device to stop and start the music that is playing on your phone – be it your own music or a streaming service like Spotify – is also certainly handy, especially if you’re out running and have your phone strapped up on your arm somewhere.
It is simple to use, looks good and would really benefit anyone with any interest in their health and fitness, be they a serious athlete or simply someone trying to be that bit more healthy.
Having said all that, I suppose the question of how much we really need all this information has to be asked: does the average person really need to know their heart rate at all times and at what exact moment of the night they were restless?
The answer is probably no, but, at the same time, knowing it does no harm, and could perhaps prove a surprising and important revelation for some.
The one thing that would require consideration if you’re thinking of purchasing the Surge is the cost – retailing for €249, it’s not exactly cheap.
However, if you consider what you would pay for a regular, nice watch, and factor in the amount of functionality you get out of this, I would say that – for anyone with an interest in health and fitness, or a goal they’re seeking to reach – it is probably worth it.
Also, while the size of the watch didn’t bother me, it may be an issue for some people.
Overall, though, I would give the Fitbit Surge a thumbs-up. I found it easy to use and beneficial, and any slight niggles were, for me, outweighed by its advantages.
The Fitbit Surge is available now, and has a RRP of €249. See the Fitbit website for more information.
All photos by Luke Maxwell