Fitbit Charge HR and Surge review: Wristbands for the serious daily tracker

Fitbit's two high end devices are now available and both come with heart rate monitoring and basic notification support. Matthew spent a couple weeks with each and prefers one over the other.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Fitbit had been a leader in activity tracking and with its three newest products it remains a serious contender for the space on your wrist.

I took a look at the Fitbit Charge a couple of weeks ago and was ready to purchase one, but now plan to go with the Fitbit Charge HR instead. The Fitbit Surge is a powerful tracker and basic GPS sport watch, but has a more limited appeal.

Fitbit Charge HR Specifications

  • Display: OLED
  • Sensors and components: Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer, altimeter, vibration motor
  • Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-polymer, up to 5 days
  • Internal storage: Tracks up to seven days of detailed data, daily totals up to 30 days
  • Radio: Bluetooth 4.0
  • Water resistance: Sweat, rain, and splash proof. Not fit for swimming or the shower.
  • Dimensions: Fits wrist sizes 5.5 to 9.1 inches in three size bands. 0.83 inches wide

Fitbit Charge HR Hardware

The Fitbit Charge HR is very similar to the Fitbit Charge with the addition of an optical heart rate monitor on the back and a typical watch post and slot securing clasp. The piece that secures the extra strap piece has an extension that helps lock the band onto your wrist.

It is extremely comfortable and I honestly forgot I was even wearing it most days. I was able to sleep, travel, commute, and exercise with it without any issues at all. I removed it when I showered since it is not fully waterproof, but it survived a few rainy days just fine.

The custom charger plug fits into the back of the band and takes a couple hours to fully charge up. The stated battery time of five days matched my actual experiences.

The OLED display is crisp and clear. The single button is easy to press and advance through the different views of your data as well.

Pros Cons
Comfortable design Not fully waterproof
Readable OLED display
5-day battery life
Auto sleep functionality
Wireless syncing to phone or computer

Fitbit Charge HR software

The Fitbit Charge HR experience is managed via your smartphone or desktop software. You can select to view the clock, steps, heart rate, distance, calories, and floors on the Charge HR OLED display.

There is a Fitbit mobile app available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. The same dashboard view is now also available via your computer web browser.

The smartphone software lets you view all the details of your data while also viewing trends over time. You can log water and food consumption, including view bar code scanning, browsing, or typing.

A call notifications toggle is present so you can see caller ID information on the small OLED display. You use the smartphone app to select which wrist you wear the Charge HR on and what information you want display.

The Charge HR has a vibration motor so you can setup silent alarms that will help wake you up in the morning.

One great aspect of the Fitbit ecosystem is the network of family and friends available to you. You can challenge and track your friends progress and in many cases this competition is a good way to gain some motivation to move. You can message people to also egg them on.

There are also challenges available to you to participate in.

Fitbit Charge HR Pricing

The Fitbit Charge HR is available for $149.95. You can purchase it in black and plum with navy blue and tangerine coming soon.

Fitbit Charge HR Conclusion

I was going to purchase a Fitbit Charge for $129.95 because I thought the heart rate monitoring might have limited usefulness and functionality. I quickly discovered that the heart rate monitor is quite accurate and matches other heart rate monitors I have for my wrist and chest.

It is actually very interesting to track and view heart rate data and for just $20 more I am sold on its capability.

The Fitbit Charge HR is extremely comfortable and the fact that I do not have to do anything to put it into sleep mode is fantastic. My testing shows that the Fitbit Charge HR does an amazingly good job of tracking sleep start and end times.

Steps, floors climbed, and heart rate are all quite accurate. Since I work in a building with an elevator, tracking floors climbed is an important motivational metric for me and Fitbit is the only tracker I know of that has an integrated altimeter for tracking floors climbed.

I can't think of anything I don't like about the Fitbit Charge HR. It meets all my needs for an activity tracker and is very comfortable. I plan to buy a black or navy blue one soon.

Fitbit Charge HR Contributor's rating: 9.5 out of 10

Fitbit Surge Specifications

  • Display: Monochrome touchscreen LCD with backlight
  • Sensors and components: Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, altimeter, digital compass, vibration motor, and ambient light sensor
  • Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-polymer, up to 7 days for daily tracking and 5 hours for GPS running
  • Internal storage: Tracks up to seven days of detailed data, daily totals up to 30 days
  • Radio: Bluetooth 4.0
  • Water resistance: Sweat, rain, and splash proof. Not fit for swimming or the shower. Tested up to 5 ATM
  • Dimensions: Fits wrist sizes 5.5 to 9.1 inches in three size bands. 1.34 inches wide

Fitbit Surge Hardware

The Fitbit Surge is larger than any previous Fitbit product with a full GPS running watch form factor. It is very comfortable to wear, but the display is large and it is raised a bit off of your wrist.

I did not like wearing the Fitbit Surge to bed since it was just too big and bulky for me to sleep comfortably when compared to the Charge and Charge HR.

The Fitbit Surge has the same clasp as the Charge HR, along with the same soft silicone material.

The display is a touchscreen version that is very responsive to your touch. Two buttons are also found on the right side with a single button on the left side.

The Fitbit Surge also has an optical heart rate sensor, in addition to a GPS receiver within the band.

The monochrome LCD display is readable inside and outside and there is a backlight for dark conditions.

Pros Cons
Comfortable design Not fully waterproof
GPS receiver for full independent run tracking Bit large for comfortable sleep tracking
7-day battery life Run data locked into Fitbit ecosystem
Auto sleep functionality Heart rate varies quite a bit when running
Wireless syncing to phone or computer

Fitbit Surge software

The Fitbit Surge uses the same smartphone and desktop software as the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR so I won't go into that part again. Instead, I will focus on what is unique to the Surge experience on the device and in the smartphone software.

While the Fitbit Charge and Charge HR show caller ID information, the Surge will also show you text notifications. You can read incoming text messages so may be able to leave your phone in your pocket more.

While I like my Android Wear watch, the Sony SmartWatch 3, I find using a smartwatch for phone call and text notifications to be my primary use so the Surge may be perfectly fine as a smartwatch for many folks.

If you want to use the Fitbit Surge for running then you can choose free run or manual lap run. There is an onscreen prompt to show you which right side button to press to advance to the next screen.

After you advance the display, the Fitbit Surge will look for satellites. There does not appear to be any GPS caching so your connection time could be a minute or two if you travel and use the Surge for running.

Start your run with another button press and then you can swipe through on the display to see different stats as you run. Available data includes steps, time, pace, average pace, distance, heart rate, calories burned, and total activity time. You can pause by pressing the bottom button and end your run with a press of the button next to the flag.

I found the GPS accuracy to be exactly the same as a TomTom Multisport GPS watch and my smartphone. Maps, splits, and all your other run data is viewable on your smartphone or in a web browser. Unfortunately, I cannot find a way to export this data into my favorite RunKeeper service.

You can also choose to use the Fitbit Surge for other excercises, such as a treadmill or elliptical. In these cases, the Surge tracks steps, heart rate, and other data, but no GPS is used.

I personally don't focus too much on hitting a target heart rate when I run, but I did test out the Surge for this. The Surge seems to do well for recreational runners, but those serious about tracking their heart rate may be a bit disappointed in the consistency of the readings as they tend to wander around quite a bit.

Fitbit Surge Pricing

The Fitbit Surge is available for $249.95. You can purchase it in black with navy blue and tangerine coming soon.

Fitbit Surge Conclusion

There are not many GPS sport watches that function as a daily activity tracker and heart rate monitor. If you are a recreational runner and don't mind having your GPS running data locked into the Fitbit ecosystem then you may want to consider the Fitbit Surge.

I think serious runners will look to dedicated GPS watches and chest straps for the most accurate and complete running solution. That said, for people like me who run 2-3 times a week and like tracking steps, stairs, and heart rate the Fitbit Surge is perfect.

Before I buy one, I would like to be able to get my run data synced to RunKeeper and see the Surge priced at $200.

The Fitbit Surge has basic smartphone functionality, basic GPS running support, and advanced daily activity tracking. It's a master at daily tracking, but compromises a bit in the other two areas.

Fitbit Surge Contributor's rating: 8 out of 10

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