Comparing FitBit SurgeHR and Garmin 920XT

Comparing FitBit SurgeHR and Garmin 920XT
Today I’m comparing the new FitBit Surge HR fitness watch with the Garmin 920 XT sport watch.

I ran them through two very different tests so that I could compare the data quality and the user interface presented from both of them.


FitBit SurgeHR and Garmin 920XT

FitBit SurgeHR and Garmin 920XT


FitBit is of course coming from a pure activity tracking background, with many different devices that really do little more than track steps and make rough guesses for number of stairs or calories. In this new Surge HR watch, they’ve stepped it up and added a GPS chip and optical heart rate tracking to pull heart rate from your wrist. They have also built-in the ability to mark the start and end of a lot variety of different activities such as weightlifting, yoga, general workouts, running, treadmill runs, and timed laps. (Oddly, they left out cycling – not sure why.)

Garmin is coming traditionally from the technical sports watch category and are moving into FitBit terrain by offering new devices that not only provide high-performance tracking for sports activity, but also do double duty as activity trackers by tracking sleep and daily steps. (see below).

Screenshot 2015-01-27 15.11.32(click to enlarge)

Test #1:


For this test, I did a 12 mile walk through the park and back.Comparing the two data sets side-by-side:


Top Left: FitBit; Top Right: Garmin Connect; Bottom: TrainingPeaks showing the Garmin watch data including calories.
(click to enlarge either the top or bottom)

ADMIN NOTE: Oddly, the Garmin watch corrupted the data and I was not able to ever get it fixed or to upload it to Garmin Connect. Instead I had to pull it into my TrainingPeaks training app and view it there. I’ve had that happen twice so far with this watch in the past 2 weeks and I’m not sure why. Not even Garmin’s online repair tool could fix the file, however Training Peaks ingested it fine. So I’ve had to include a TrainingPeaks window here for reference too so I could see the calorie data.

Overall, I’m actually pretty surprised by how much more useable the FitBit interface is now than it was a year or so ago. It’s very modern looking and fairly comprehensive, in-line with Garmin Connect and in many ways, it is more friendly.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 11.10.54

The FitBit SurgeHR did a pretty good job of getting “good enough” data on this hike. If you’re a serious data junkie and like accuracy (and can put up with the less friendly, more complex design), then the Garmin approach is better. But for hiking, they were pretty close in terms of data.

*I think the calorie counter in the FitBit is also adding in hourly basal metabolic rate on top of the activity. Not sure though.

Test #2:

Cross-Training workout (ride, workout, ride)

For this test, I rode to the gym, did a short kettlebell workout, and then rode home. You can see the two different views below for comparison.
Dashboard view:
Screenshot-2015-01-27-08.27.05(click to enlarge)

Activity view:

Screenshot-2015-01-27-08.26.02(click to enlarge)

How do they compare?

Screenshot 2015-01-27 13.13.09
I have to say that I’m honestly surprised that the SurgeHR is as accurate as it is and that the UI on the web application is as good as it is. I hated the ChargeHR and sent it back but the SurgeHR is definitely a step up and really does create almost a separate hybrid category of activity tracker and fitness watch.

The Verdict

FitBit SurgeHR is for “fitness folks”

FitBit calls the SurgeHR their “fitness super watch”. I really doubted it would serve that need very well because optical HR is a beast to do well. It’s very, very tough to get good HR data from the wrist. However, I think they have pulled it off here, at least for sports that are not super dynamic in nature. It is useable for walking, running, hiking, cycling (no cycling mode though oddly), doing general workouts, tracking sleep (automatically) and steps and calories (via the HR). It just kinda works and you never have to fuss with putting on and taking off your heart rate strap (it won’t even use one.)

If you are really active and need more than an activity tracker but don’t quite need a full-blown multi-sport sportwatch like the Garmin, this is a surprisingly good option.

Garmin 920XT is for triathletes, multi-sport athletes, and serious data-geeks

This is Garmin’s pre-eminent triathlon and multi-sport watch. It is designed from the ground up to do single-sport, running/cycling/swimming (with dedicated screens), triathlon (as in swim/T1/bike/T2/run) and any other multi-sport combo you want (bike/run/swim/workout). It’s designed by multi-sport athletes for multi-sport athletes…and also tries to capture your sleep and steps so you don’t need an activity tracker. The data quality is higher overall and the watch can put up with a LOT more abuse. It requires more attention and you have to use some sort of heart rate strap to get your heart rate data.

This is a professional sport watch for serious (recreational or competition level) athletes. If high-quality data and long battery life matter to you, go with this one.


As always, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, or questions here at the bottom.