GPS Activity Trackers – Surge vs Vivoactive HR

I’ve always been a fan of fitness gadgets and during my running life I have followed closely the Garmin Forerunner evolutionary path, seeking ever more specialist and techy running gear. This culminated with the world-class triathlete standard, Forerunner 910XT.

Forerunner Evolution
Forerunner 305, 405, FR60, 310XT, 920XT.

Now, as extremely loyal followers would know, way back in 2007 I competed in a pool based sprint triathlon and am therefore entitled to call myself a triathlete. I have however, begun to face facts relating to my world-class status in the sport and it has led me to question the need for such focus on multisport functionality. Even with running as my mainstay, I couldn’t really find a use for my stride length and vertical oscillation stats.

Besides, what all these watches lacked was 24/7 heart rate monitoring and that is of course essential in this day and age. I could have looked to the new range of wrist based HR mounted forerunners such as the Forerunner 735XT but it is still a world-class triathlete watch at heart. Feeling more comfortable with my amateur athlete status I looked to the activity tracking world where a few devices have been emerging with GPS functionality on the side.

Fitbit SurgeThe Fitbit Surge

Although its been around for a while now, the Fitbit Surge stood out from the crowd.

It’s a neat wrist watch that doesn’t draw attention to itself, includes a GPS unit and is built on the Fitbit infrastructure which is truly outstanding for activity and sleep tracking as well as social interaction.

The Fitbit Surge does feel a little bit dated now, it is black and white (or black and grey) and it takes a little getting used to the low contrast screen but the watch just works as its supposed to.

The GPS picks up quickly and the runs are recorded without fuss, the default running screen doesn’t tell me my vertical oscillation or position against a virtual running partner but I find I don’t use any of that stuff anyway. Nowadays I just press start, run, press stop, stop and I’m done. The Surge does that extremely well and then it syncs in seconds and if I like, it’s up there on Strava before I’ve caught my breath.

Activity tracking is of course brilliant with the Fitbit Surge and you don’t even need to tell the watch you are doing something. I use my eBike to get into work, it’s a pedelec which means I have to pedal and my Fitbit therefore recognises it as an outdoor bike ride, my heart rate shows this to be a relatively relaxed bike ride (due to the assistance) but it recognises the activity nonetheless. It does the same for my badminton sessions although it marks these as Other activity type for me to amend at a later date.

To be honest, if you gave me a splash of colour and a brighter screen, the Surge would almost be my favourite fitness watch ever.

Tooting Bec LidoBut then I took up swimming again!

For some reason I ventured into the Lido at Tooting and was completely hooked. The thrill of the cold plunge has given me an addictive buzz and a new activity to track which revealed a flaw in the Surge make-up.

It is not waterproof and will therefore not track swimming activities.

So, I could stick with the Surge and get a swim only watch (I’m ignoring the low tech option of manually recording my swims), or I could see what was available in the market for GPS activity trackers with swim functionality.

Enter the Garmin Vivoactive HR.

The Garmin Vivoactive HR

Garmin Vivoactive HRIt claimed to do everything that the Fitbit Surge had to offer but with so much more: detailed graphical outputs on the watch display – in full crisp colour, automatic activity detection, sleep tracking, golf and ski tracking (like I care) and the big one, Swim functionality.

DC Rainmaker seems to love the Garmin Vivoactive HR and quite neatly points out the disparity in features available:

Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here.  While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge.  Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.

It’s true, you can do stacks of stuff with the Vivoactive HR and you can do it all so beautifully. The watch is a miniaturised version of the Garmin Connect app and provided you have your specs on you can see weekly charts of all your main stats. It’s almost glorious.

But only almost.

When it comes down to the battle of GPS activity trackers, with the aged Fitbit Surge vs Garmin Vivoactive HR, the young flashy whipper snapper should win hands down. But Garmin is not getting my vote this time. In fact after 3 weeks trialling it, I’ve packed the Vivoactive HR into its box and sent it back to Amazon as a bad job.

Problems with the Garmin Vivoactive HR

It’s not a great activity tracker for one and the auto exercise detection didn’t work for me once. You may say that e-biking isn’t real cycling and while I wouldn’t agree, Garmin obviously would. Despite the wrist unit registering my heart rate hovering around 120 bpm for the duration of my 40 minute ride into work, I arrived at my desk at about 9:30 am to find no exercise recorded and as a further slap in the face, the vivoactive HR was declaring me to be still soundly asleep. I think that’s pretty pants on both the activity and sleep tracking front.

Its next major failing and the nail in the coffin for my short life with the vivoactive HR was its swim tracking functionality. Firstly, its not very good at counting laps so I still had to keep count in my head. If you jostle during a length, perhaps to grab a wayward noseclip, or to sight the end of the pool, the watch records a new length regardless of whether that would generate a world record lap or not. I find that quite inconvenient although it seems to be a flaw shared by all the swim watches and one that Garmin make particularly tricky to correct post swim. In fact they don’t make it possible at all but you can use third-party apps such as the brilliant swimmingwatchtools to correct.

Secondly, the touch screen functionality of the Vivoactive HR makes it particularly unsuitable for swimming. I’ve managed to delete no end of swims, mid-swim, by unintentional screen swipes. I’ve pressed the button to pause the swim during a rest at the end of the length and then adjusted my goggles or swim cap only to find that the action has deleted the entire activity. Hopping mad doesn’t come close!

Surge vs Vivoactive HR

Surge vs Vivoactive HRAs a result I have deemed the Vivoactive HR to be wholly unacceptable for swim recording and therefore why would I not go back to the Fitbit Surge with its flawless execution, its superb app and its world domination of my friends list?

I can’t help looking for a fitness watch that would do it all and do it well though…….

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