Fitness is in, strong is the new skinny and you can’t check out twitter these days without hitting a pseudo-celeb who is styling themselves as a ‘wellness guru’ or 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. 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 products– the Fitbit Surge and Charge HR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
It’s the start of the new year, and the fitness-wearable landscape hasn’t been able to beat what the Fitbit Charge HR does. No heart-rate band costs this little, feels this small, and connects to as good an app. Fitbit folds nutrition-tracking, sleep-tracking, heart rate-tracking, and social challenges with friends into one pretty clean phone experience — and syncing is fast and easy.
The Charge HR fits well and has impressive battery life for its size: over four days, beating most continuous heart rate-tracking bands. And its little LED display-slash-clock is basic, but it’s easy to lift your arm and see the time, or tap the display to see steps and other data.
It’s the all-in-one fitness band I’d buy, especially for its low price. It’s not perfect, but few wearable gadgets are — and none of the other watches and bands have been able to beat it at its own fitness game.
The Charge HR looks nearly identical to the older Fitbit Charge. It has an innocuous rubberized wraparound band, with a narrow black LED display that tells time, steps, and other data. That LED display isn’t always lit, but you can set the Charge HR to show the time when you raise your wrist, or show time and fitness data by tapping the screen. It’s a functional but unattractive everyday watch.
The band attaches with a standard watch buckle-type clasp, making it more secure and less likely to pop off. It fits snugly, but sometimes feels uncomfortable on my wrist: an optical heart-rate monitor with green LEDs bulges out of the bottom, pressing against the skin a bit when the Charge HR’s properly secured.
Fitbit recommends wearing the Charge HR a finger’s length above the wristbone on your arm for ideal heart-rate readings, which is farther up my own arm than I prefer to wear things. But I found it generally worked no matter where I wore it.
The Charge HR comes in several muted colors; my review unit was tangerine. It comes in several sizes, too, although each can be adjusted significantly.
Once attached, the Charge HR immediately flashes its green LEDs to gather heart-rate data. It does it all the time. That, plus a built-in accelerometer and barometer gather data on steps, heart rate, elevation (steps climbed) and intensity of exercise (walking or running).
It works automatically, from the moment it goes on your wrist. The Fitbit Charge HR found my heart rate quickly and held onto the reading, so I could access it quickly by pressing the side button or tapping the display, cycling through to heart-rate mode. Like many other on-wrist heart rate readers, they’re more accurate when resting. The reading fluctuated during active exercise.
The Fitbit Charge HR can also track individual exercise sessions by holding down the side button. This starts a separate timed event with its own heart-rate recording, which gets synced with the Fitbit app as its own discrete activity. It also tracks average and peak heart rate in that session. You might prefer to track a session yourself if you’re an active runner or gym rat, but smarter awareness is a nice touch for average folks like myself who want credit for everyday activities.
The Fitbit Charge HR can show incoming call notifications, like the Fitbit Charge. It’s useful in case someone’s calling while you’re at the gym, but the Fitbit’s buzz is so quick that I missed it a few times. Notifications require you to turn on an extra pairing setting in the Fitbit app, that allows for notifications and continuous syncing. Pairing happens quickly, and syncing is fast.
The Charge HR can also automatically track sleep, a feature in other recent Fitbits, too. Yes, it noticed when I drifted off and logged my hours resting, but its measures of restfulness seemed more forgiving than other, richer sleep-tracking monitors. The Fitbit’s sleep tracking just showed big chunks of blue with tiny, tiny, lines of interruption. There’s no way I slept that well. But, at least it knew when I went to bed most of the time. You can also set silent alarms to wake you up with on-wrist vibrations, a personal favorite of mine.
I was able to get a solid five days of use out of the Fitbit Charge HR, while continuously connected and measuring heart rate, and with notifications turned on. That’s better than nearly any other heart-rate wearable I’ve ever seen. It’s less overall than standard pedometer-type trackers, but I think the addition of heart rate to the equation is worth the slight drop in battery life.
If the Fitbit did that better, and dangled the fitness carrot on the proverbial stick in ways that motivated me more, I might love it more. As it is, it’s the best all-day heart-rate-tracking casual-use fitness band that’s currently available. That could be good enough for you. It’s the platform most people use, and it works easily. Maybe, next year, it’ll take another step forward with its coaching smarts.