Two of the most popular activity trackers are the Fitbit Charge HR and the (more expensive) Fitbit Surge. In the battle of Fitbit Charge HR vs Surge, which should you choose? This post compares the two devices in depth to help you decide which activity tracker is best for you as a cyclist.
Table comparing Fitbit Charge HR vs Surge
This table shows you all the key features of the Fitbit Charge HR vs Surge, so you can decide which one is right for you.
|Continuous heart rate monitoring?||Yes, with an optical heart rate monitor, so you don't have to wear a chest strap||Yes, with an optical heart rate monitor, so you don't have to wear a chest strap|
|Simplified heart rate zones?||Yes, so you can see at a glance how much of your workout was in peak HR zone, cardio zone, and fat-burning zone||Yes, so you can see at a glance how much of your workout was in peak HR zone, cardio zone, and fat-burning zone|
|Automatic sleep monitoring?||Yes - accurate and very helpful. Very useful for anyone with sleep issues.||Yes - accurate and very helpful. Very useful for anyone with sleep issues.|
|Calories burned||Seems to be accurate. Works with METs (metabolic equivalents) and lets you know all day long how many calories you have burned (even if all you have done is napped!)||Seems to be accurate. Works with METs (metabolic equivalents) and lets you know all day long how many calories you have burned (even if all you have done is napped!)|
|Built-in GPS?||No||Yes, and the GPS function is excellent! You do have to select "Bike" "Walk" or "Hike" so it knows to switch the GPS on. You can arrange these in your order of preference on your dashboard, so that "Bike" is the default|
|How long does the GPS take to pick up satellites?||n/a - no GPS||I was happily amazed at how quickly the Fitbit Surge connected to satellites - much quicker than my expensive Garmin Edge bike computers|
|Can you link it to your Strava account?||n/a as there is no GPS to track your movements||Yes, you can link it up, and then it automatically uploads your bike rides to your Strava account. Seamless and excellent! It saves you on cell phone data usage and costs, because it tracks with its own internal GPS unit. If you track rides via the Strava app on your cell phone, it costs you in terms of your cell phone data usage.|
|Sensors and components:||Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer, altimeter, vibration motor||Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, altimeter, digital compass, vibration motor, and ambient light sensor|
|Does it track active minutes?||Yes, but you have to tell it that you are starting a bike ride (it won't figure out that you are cycling just because your heart beat elevate)||Yes. The default is that elevated HR does not count as exercise until you have had an elevated HR for 15 minutes. 2 minutes of elevated HR is probably just you trying to update Windows, not a workout. You can change this default. Also, by default it won't track GPS for all active minutes. You have to tell it that you are starting a workout that has a GPS symbol. Once you tell it you are starting a bike ride, for example, it starts searching for a satellite. Once it finds it, you press the start button, and it will record both active minutes and a map of your ride until you press stop. This will use more battery power, of course.|
|Counting steps||More accurate on the Charge. It comes preset with a daily goal of 10,000 steps, but you can change this.||It is accurate during the day, but does this strange thing of showing between 100 and 400 steps when I wake up. After that, it counts correctly. Am I sleep walking ? It comes preset with a daily goal of 10,000 steps, but you can change this.|
|Counting floors||Sometimes it over-estimates. It does not seem to count walking or cycling uphill as floors climbed, which is odd.||Over-estimates slightly more. It does not seem to count walking or cycling uphill as floors climbed, which is odd.|
|Tracking sleep||Does this extremely well and automatically. This is extremely useful for people dealing with sleep problems.||Does this extremely well and automatically. This is extremely useful for people dealing with sleep problems. I took my Fitbit sleep record print out to my doctor and she immediately referred me to the Sleep Disorder Clinic!|
|Can you use it to lose weight?||Yes, you can set up a weight loss plan on the dashboard. Fitbit will calculate how many calories you should eat to lose weight. Then all day long it monitors how many calories you are burning, against how many you are expending. You do of course have to input what you eat. Once you do that, it has an excellent database of calories that it uses for its calculations.||Yes, you can set up a weight loss plan on the dashboard. Fitbit will calculate how many calories you should eat to lose weight. Then all day long it monitors how many calories you are burning, against how many you are expending. You do of course have to input what you eat. Once you do that, it has an excellent database of calories that it uses for its calculations.|
|Operation||Done with one button; you can click your way through to review stats on the go.||Better - three buttons and touch screen; it is effortless to swipe through to review stats on the go|
|Display||Tiny display; easy enough to read.||Much bigger display with choice of four screen formats; easy to read even in bright light. Monochrome touchscreen LCD with backlight.|
|What's on the display||It's a narrow little face, but it is able to give you caller ID notifications if synched with your smart phone, daily stats, and of course, time of day||Much bigger face. It is able to give you caller ID notifications if synched with your smart phone, daily stats, and of course, time of day. It also gives you previews of your text messages (which the Charge does not do)|
|Resting HR measurement||Seems to be excellent; nice that you can check your heartbeat at any time, plus your resting heart rate stats over time.||Seems to be excellent; nice that you can check your heartbeat at any time, plus your resting heart rate stats over time.|
|Distance walked per day||Seems to be consistent and reliable||Seems to be consistent and reliable|
|What colors does it come in?||Black, teal, plum, orange||Black, blue, orange|
|Active minutes||Seems to be accurate - it's fun to look back on the day and see a bar graph record of the times when you were active.||Seems to be accurate - it's fun to look back on the day and see a bar graph record of the times when you were active.|
|Automatic synching?||Yes - syncs stats wirelessly and automatically to your computer and over 120 leading smartphones.||Yes - syncs stats wirelessly and automatically to your computer and over 120 leading smartphones.|
|What is it like to wear?||It is very small, so most people could probably tolerate it, and it won't disrupt your cuffs much at all. It is made of an elastomer material that is flexible, durable and lightweight, so it feels comfortable on your wrist.||It's quite a bit larger than the Charge, and can disrupt your shirt cuffs. The chunkier size is of course to accommodate the internal GPS chip. This makes it the largest of the Fitbit range. It does have a very nice, quality feel against the skin, though. It is made of an elastomer material that is flexible, durable and lightweight, so it feels comfortable on your wrist.|
|Sizing||Small! Choose a larger size than you might usually do. Especially as you are supposed to push it up to a finger widths above your wrist to get an accurate HR reading when exercising. Maggie is average size and needed a Large||Small! Choose a larger size than you might usually do. I am average size and needed a Large|
|Can you swim with it?||Absolutely not! It's splash proof, not water proof||Absolutely not! It's splash proof, not water proof|
|How do you monitor your activities?||On the go, you have a few basic functions you can review on the tracker - such as steps taken. You can review an indepth dashboard of all your activities on your smart phone and on your computer. The Fit.com connection is one of the HUGE strengths of Fitbit. It's a great way to monitor your activities and your progress. It's a really, great, modern interface with tons of information.||On the go, you have a few basic functions you can review on the tracker - such as steps taken. You can review an indepth dashboard of all your activities on your smart phone and on your computer. The Fit.com connection is one of the HUGE strengths of Fitbit. It's a great way to monitor your activities and your progress. It's a really, great, modern interface with tons of information.|
|How long does the battery last?||About 3 days. Manufacturer's specs: Rechargeable Lithium-polymer, up to 5 days||About 5 days - less if you use the GPS function. Manufacturer's specs: Rechargeable Lithium-polymer, up to 7 days for daily tracking and 5 hours for GPS running|
|Challenge features||You can set goals, invite friends to challenges, etc.||You can set goals, invite friends to challenges, etc.|
|Does it cause you to make smarter choices?||Absolutely! It's very motivating. It also sometimes sends you an encouraging message when you are close to your goal, or congratulates you when you reach it!||Absolutely! It's very motivating. It also sometimes sends you an encouraging message when you are close to your goal, or congratulates you when you reach it! It definitely motivates me to cycle more, because I love having the maps pop automatically into my Strava account. And my FItbit Surge also sends me an alert when a Strava friend gives me kudos on my ride 🙂|
|Reviewing data||Gives you access to Fitbit.com, on which you can review a comprehensive dashboard of everything - steps, activity minute, heart rate, etc.||Gives you access to Fitbit.com, on which you can review a comprehensive dashboard of everything - steps, activity minute, heart rate, etc.|
|Syncing||We had some problems with the Fitbit Charge just refusing to sync, even when plugged into the computer. We read on the net that this is a common glitch. We had to exchange the first one. Keep your receipt, or buy from Amazon, who are really good about exchanges (and refunds).||No syncing problems experienced - it syncs well with phone and computer.|
|What can you see on your wrist?||Screens on the watch face are fairly limited; as you scroll through you will see: Time/HR/Steps/Calories burned/Floors climbed||A lot more screens: Menu 1: Time/Steps/HR/Miles walked/Calories burned/Floors climbed
Menu 2: Settings/Run (with choices of various kinds of runs)/Exercise (with choices of various sports that you choose on your settings in order of your preference)/Timer/Alarms/
Why get a Fitness Tracker at all?
A great activity tracker that correctly matches your needs is a really strong motivator to exercise. It provides you with goals, feedback and encouragement. Plus you can review your day/s and be encouraged or motivated. You can get a quick overview of activities, calories, sleep, steps, etc. on your desktop, as below. And I find it incredibly motivating to sit down at night and see a map of the bike ride/s I have done that day!
You can also get this overview on your cell phone, as shown below (I cannot get the whole overview into one shot – on your cell phone, you have to scroll down). This was on a day when I was not active (a “rest day”!).
I find the cell phone dashboard really easy to read and user friendly. And of course, you can click on any of these on-screen snapshots, to get more details. For example, as you can see in the screen shot below, you can review your activities.
Personally I have found that wearing my fitness tracker causes me to make more good choices all day long. I choose to walk upstairs instead of riding the escalator; I choose to ride my bike more; I choose to park further away from stores; I choose to take a walk at lunchtime; and I even offer to walk the dogs in the evening if I haven’t hit my daily quota of steps!
This effect seems to be ongoing – it has not worn off after the novelty of my new tracker wore off. In fact, both Maggie and I found we quickly became very fond of our trackers, and that over time they continued to motivate us.
I used to take the dogs for a 30-minute walk every morning, but gave up that habit about two years ago – out of sheer laziness, to be honest. Just this morning I started those walks again. Why? Because it’s the only way I can be sure I will meet my steps goal for the day. And I rediscovered how good it is for my mental health to start the day with an energizing walk in the park with two creatures who are just plain overjoyed to greet another day!
Having said that, it is essential to have a fitness tracker that matches your needs.
Fitbit Charge HR vs Surge: the Test
Maggie bought a Fitbit Charge HR and I chose a Fitbit Surge. Both of these offer optical heart rate monitors, and those were essential for us. We wanted to be able to record our heart rates without wearing chest straps.
Then we put our trackers to a grueling test: we took them with us on a week-long trip to New York. During that week we hiked miles and logged hundreds of subway steps. We didn’t do any bike rides because we found the traffic too scary. We were in the unusual situation of doing exactly the same thing every day, so it was a great way to check their accuracy. We compared notes every evening to see how well they had tracked us.
Luckily, the Fitbit Surge DOES have a multi-sport feature – for example, you can tell it that you are now about to Bike, Hike, Walk, Workout, etc. It then records this time as active minutes, and records this in your daily record. It also tracks your bike ride (or hike) with its built-in GPS, and automatically syncs this to your Strava account (if you have linked that account).
Unfortunately, the Fitbit Charge cannot do this. As far as it is concerned, if you are not logging steps, you are not exercising. This can be irritating. For example, it’s ridiculous to do a 14 mile bike ride and then have the Fitbit Charge HR tell you that you have not logged any active minutes!
Related content: Indepth review of the Fitbit Charge HR
Bottom Line on the Fitbit Charge HR vs Surge
These are both excellent fitness trackers, and I can honestly recommend either one. You can get cheaper fitness trackers, but then you do have to give up the built-in optical heart rate monitor – which I am not willing to do. Monitoring your heart rate is just such an excellent fitness tool, and also enables you to monitor your sleep patterns. Being able to do so without a strap around your chest – priceless! And note that these are just as accurate as any dedicated HR monitor we have tried. In fact, Fitbit tracker are now being used in medical studies and trials. All in all, no wonder that Fitbit owns 75% of the activity tracker market. It’s hard to find anything that competes.
There is quite a big size difference between these two Fitbit trackers, as you can see in this photo.
The Fitbit Charge HR is excellent, and well deserves its position as Amazon’s no. 1 bestseller in fitness trackers. However, it may disappoint if you are a cyclist and want the convenience of a device that combines activity tracking with GPS recording of your athletic achievements – and automatic Strava synching! For that, you need to pay the extra for the Fitbit Surge.
The Fitbit Surge is a great little all-in-one activity tracker, fitness motivator, and GPS recorder. For me, the automatic synching with Strava really sealed the deal! But if you don’t need that, or use a Garmin bike computer to record your rides and sync with Strava, then you might want to consider the Fitbit Charge HR instead.[table “28” not found /]
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