PREVIEW: Fitbit releases new Charge, Charge HR, and Surge devices

Yesterday Fitbit announced their new lineup up of fitness/activity trackers for the 2014/2015 calendar year.  These three new devices, the Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Charge HR, and Fitbit Surge, are the culmination of the last year or more of development by the Fitbit team.  Here is a quick preview and some of my thoughts on these devices.

When I first delved into this market segment and personally began tracking my activity/steps it was the Fitbit Force that won me over.  Sadly the device was recalled, not to mention mine fell apart and hence got replaced.  At this moment I’m rocking a Misfit Flash on my wrist, yet I’m still using my Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale for regular weigh-ins.

I’ve longed for a nice Fitbit device to get me back into their amazing iOS app, so when I heard about three new Fitbit devices across all my tech news channels I quickly scoped out the features.  In the past 24-hours I’ve spent a lot of time pondering over their comparison chart and began contemplating if one from this new trifecta would eventually land on my wrist.

FITBIT CHARGE & FITBIT CHARGE HR

For those familiar with the out-going Fitbit Force, the new Fitbit Charge is a spin on the old device.  Materials and texture have been updated, but the functionality is more or less the same.  They’ve finally added alerts (a feature that was “coming soon” but never actually happened on the Force).  However these alerts are for Caller-ID only, as you’ll need to pony up to the top-of-the-line Surge for text alerts.

Battery life is listed at 7-days which matches the Flex my wife is still rockin’ on her wrist.  Based on the data listed it appears the same gorgeous OLED display from the Force remains on the new Fitbit Charge.  Utilizing the same exposed side-button means the device remains simply water-resistant and is NOT waterproof like many of the competitors.  And the clasp design visually looks the same, so I suspect attaching it to ones wrist will be the same bear the Force was, and Flex remains.

When you look at the $130 price tag of the Fitbit Charge it seems a logical step up from the Fitbit Flex, but at that price point lacks many of the features you’d get from the Garmin Vivosmart (at $170).  And that is where the Fitbit Charge HR comes in.

Starting with the core features of the basic Charge, the Charge HR adds heart rate monitoring using Fitbit’s new PurePulse technology.  This allows the device to record your heart rate constantly, all day long.  You’ll get metrics on resting heart rate, but more importantly you’ll be able to get a more accurate caloric burn analysis during your cardiovascular exercise.  I’ve long touted the heart rate monitor as the best and typically only way to get good workout data, so this new addition is VERY welcome.

Battery life on the Charge HR drops two days to 5 total, but this is expected given the added heart rate sensors.  The price jumps to $150 but that is still a $20 advantage over the Vivosmart, which requires a separate chest strap purchase. Bang-for-buck, the Charge HR is the device to snag if you’re serious about fitness or just “getting fit” and willing to spend the money.  It also appears to have a traditional watch clasp, which is a bonus.

There are, however, a few reasons I’d suggest the Garmin Vivosmart over the Charge or Charge HR, but only if your specific needs require it.  Firstly is the waterproof issue, which for many might be a deal breaker.  If you want a device you can wear while swimming or in the shower, the Vivosmart is waterproof to 5 ATM and neither variations of the Charge are meant to be submerged.  Additionally, the Garmin provides alerts for text messages, not just phone calls, which is displayed on a larger screen than the Fitbit.  For most users, however, the Charge HR will be a smarter purchase because it makes adding cardio workout logging just that much easier.

FITBIT SURGE

Unlike prior devices from Fitbit, which have been exclusively activity trackers, the top model Fitbit Surge is all about convergence of activity tracking plus two other important functions in the wearable segment.  First, they still want it to be your daily activity tracker, recording your steps, elevation, and other data.  Secondly, they now also want it to be a watch with some limited “smart” features.  And thirdly, the Surge becomes  your fitness and exercise companion, trying to best the Garmin Forerunner you perhaps already own, or have been thinking about purchasing.

Where I see the Surge shining is amongst those athletes who want a single device that does it all.  Those training for a marathon, for example, who love the idea that their wrist-worn device can help them ditch their chest strap.  And maybe also toss out that old watch they didn’t like that much anyhow.  And oh wait, it also has a touch-screen and can control my music, or alert me of text messages?  Yeah this device is pretty slick, but at the price of $250 it surely isn’t for everybody.

By definition most people consider a smart-watch a device that runs apps, and interacts heavily with your phone.  These days more and more wearables in the fitness/activity segment are adding what I call “limited” smart-watch features, namely alerts for text and email.  You can dismiss these alerts but the communication tends to be one-way only (from phone to wrist).  And you can’t actually place calls or reply to a text from your wrist.  As such, the Fitbit Surge is one of these pseudo-smart-watch devices, offering you music control, caller ID and text-alerts, but nothing more.  It will also be interesting to see how the backlit LCD display compares to the OLED on the Charge and Charge HR.

But what REALLY defines the Fitbit Surge is the addition of a built-in GPS sensor right in the device. Even with this feature the Surge still boasts a full week of battery life, thanks to the larger size.  With the GPS functionality they truly take on the Forerunner devices from Garmin, making this a great choice for runners and cyclists alike.  I suspect that you’ll find the data recorded both on the device, and later visible from the app to be rich and full of great data such as distance, speed, and other info.  I’m very excited to see how this works, but as I’m not a runner myself I may not actually test this first-hand.

CONCLUSION

For the average consumer, which is certainly my target demographic when I blog post here, cost is a huge factor.  For those who want to spend as little as possible, I still love the Misfit Flash as a $50 entry unit.  As you step up from there the Fitbit Flex is a nice $100 option and a tried-and-true ecosystem.  And up again the Fitbit Charge HR runs $150 and gives you the VERY important heart rate monitoring you’ll want.  I suspect the Charge HR may replace the Garmin Vivosmart, which is my current top-pick– so I’m anxious for that unit to come out next year.

But as you crest that price point I personally would have a hard time convincing myself or anyone else that the $100 premium for the Fitbit Surge is worthwhile.  And here is why: with the Fitbit app you can actually log your GPS during a walk/run already, even with the most basic Fitbit devices (like the Zip or Flex).  Sure this means your phone has to be on your person when you’re out for a jog, but isn’t it usually with you anyhow?  Very few of us exercise without a phone somewhat nearby, at which point the $100 extra for the Surge offers you simply a few smart-watch type features, a larger display with touch capability, music control, and that’s it.  Not saying it isn’t a great device, and for those who want a GPS running watch the Surge is awesome, and even adds heart sensing too!

Right now you can snag a Fitbit Charge pre-order and expect the device in the weeks to come.  The Charge HR and Surge will follow in early 2015, and should add nicely to the Fitbit family.  Look for my hands-on review next year of the Charge HR, when it becomes available.  And look for my holiday shopping guide coming in early November.  Ciao!

preview-fitbit2014-family

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Published by

Ari Jay Comet

Sharing my life experiences. Interacting with technology. Digital self-expression. Binary is black, white, and many shades of grey.

2 thoughts on “PREVIEW: Fitbit releases new Charge, Charge HR, and Surge devices”

  1. Have you or would you be willing to do an accuracy test between the Garmin Vivosmart and the Fitbit Flex HR?
    I am curious if the heart rate monitor really makes that big of a difference for every day activity.
    Thanks!
    Katherine

    1. Kat,

      There are other reviews out there, such as this one, that cover the accuracy spectrum:
      http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/02/fitbit-charge-review.html

      My issue there is how do I know which one is right vs wrong? If they don’t match each other, my curiosity is, are either correct? However, I can somewhat answer your question.

      In most cases, the Fitbit (and other devices) do not use the heart rate monitor for caloric burn, unless you tell it to. Same goes for the new Apple Watch. You have to manually put the device into activity mode. The only exception is that some of these devices have auto run detection, and would then use more HR data to calculate your actual caloric cardio burn during that run.

      Overall, you’ll ALWAYS get a better workout burn recording using HR. Otherwise, we’re talking estimates, and if you’ve read the news lately there is a lot of talk about BMI, and how two people, same height, same weight, could be comprised of different levels of fat vs muscle to have very different builds yet same net weight. Hence using HR data builds a more accurate story of the calories you burn and the effort you exert, to perform an exercise task.

      Long story short: if you just want to record steps and step-based activities, the non-HR devices work great. If you do cardio workouts (run, jog, cycle, treadmill, stationary bike, etc) then I strongly urge people to get some sort of heart rate recording device, be it on your wrist, a chest strap, or otherwise– to garnish the most accurate data possible, both for calorie burn, but also to help you learn better about how your workout went, so you can help yourself improve over time. Cheers! – Ari

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