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Fitbit has proved it’s good at making fitness trackers. Offering a breadth of quality products in just about every price range, it’s no wonder why their trackers can be found on just about every other person’s wrist. But what happens when a fitness-first company tries to make something more along the lines of a smartwatch? That’s what we all asked ourselves when Fitbit unveiled the Blaze “fitness watch” at CES 2016.
For some time now, I’ve been having trouble choosing whether I want to wear a smartwatch or a fitness tracker. Sometimes I wear both, and sometimes I wear neither. Because of this, I was really excited when I first heard about the Blaze. I thought it would be an all-in-one wearable solution to my problems, but I quickly noticed that wasn’t the case at all. In what areas does the Fitbit Blaze excel, and is it worth the high price tag? We find that out in our full Fitbit Blaze review.
It’s clear that Fitbit is taking design much more seriously than ever before. The Blaze doesn’t necessarily look like a fitness tracker, but it doesn’t really look like a standard smartwatch either. This is no Android Wear device, nor is it an Apple Watch. The company is trying to do design its own way with the Blaze.
The metal frame makes the watch much bigger than it needs to be
Two main parts make up the Blaze. One part consists of the watch band that’s attached to a metal frame, and the other is a small black square with a display that houses the device’s internals. The display portion can be popped out of the body, allowing you to easily swap out watch bands. My one gripe about the design is that there’s a sizable gap between the tracker itself and the metal frame, making the watch much bigger than it needs to be. Also, the display is very small compared to the overall size of the watch, so it looks like this thing is pretty much made of bezel.
The company is offering three different strap styles – silicone, leather and metal. We’re reviewing the silicone variant, but you can buy the leather and metal bands from Fitbit’s website for a hefty $99.95 and $129.95, respectively. Not only do the bands cost too much money, that’s on top of the already high $200 price point for the standard Blaze. I get why Fitbit is offering extra bands, don’t get me wrong – use the silicone one during your workouts, use the leather or metal options when you’re at work or going out for the night. I just wish the company could have brought down the price a little bit more.
Each one of these extra bands also come with an additional metal frame. The bands themselves can easily be removed from the frame, but it’s much easier to just pop out the tracker and put it in another frame. As is the case with other Fitbit products, the silicone band on the Blaze is very nice. It’s soft, comfortable and doesn’t collect a lot of dust or hair. It also attaches with a clasp just like a normal watch, which I find to be very helpful.
The Blaze just isn't as fashionable as other smartwatches on the market
The metal frame is super sturdy and makes the watch feel very well built. You’ll find one physical button on the left and two on the right. The one on the left is your back button, and the two on the right can be used for selecting different options when you’re in a workout. You can pause your run or create a new lap with these physical buttons, but it’s also pretty easy to select these options on the touchscreen itself.
Overall, I’m on the fence as to whether or not I like the design of the Fitbit Blaze. It’s not really as fashionable as any of the Android Wear or Apple offerings, and I can’t help but think it just looks like a tiny computer on my wrist. Some people don’t mind that, but I do. With that said, the Blaze is a really good start for Fitbit on the design front. I’m just looking forward to seeing what the next generation Blaze looks like.
The Blaze is the first Fitbit device to come with a color LCD display. It measures 1.25 inches and comes with a resolution of 240 x 180. Overall the screen is quite nice. It remains visible both indoors and out, and I haven’t had any problems with touch sensitivity during the review period. This isn’t an always-on display though, so it’ll go black when you’re not using it. That wouldn’t normally be a bad thing, but the Blaze isn’t all that responsive when you flick your wrist to check the time. Oftentimes I found myself flicking my wrist 2 or 3 times, then giving up and pressing the side button to turn on the display.
When it comes to fitness tracking, the Fitbit Blaze covers all the basics. It can track your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes. It can even track your heart rate and sleeping patterns if you choose to leave it on at night. Basically, the Blaze is a fancier version of the Charge HR with an LCD display, more notification options and guided workouts.
GPS and proper waterproofing aren't offered here
It’s not too farfetched to think that a GPS should be included on a device this large (and this pricey), but unfortunately that’s not the case. It doesn’t have GPS tracking capabilities on its own, but you can use Fitbit’s Connected GPS feature if you don’t mind carrying your smartphone with you on your run.
The Fitbit Blaze also lacks waterproofing, just like with the company’s Charge HR and Surge devices. Instead, Fitbit says the Blaze is “sweat, rain and splash proof, but not swim proof.” Waterproofing has pretty much been the most requested feature in the Fitbit community for the past couple years, and it now looks like fans will need to wait even longer for this feature to be added.
The vibration motor in the Blaze is much less powerful than what you’d find on other Fitbit products or Android Wear devices. It’s not weak enough to where I wouldn’t notice it, but I wish it was a little more powerful.
For a more detailed look at the specs, check out the table below.
1.25-inch touch screen LCD display
240 x 180 resolution
Heart rate monitoring
Splash, rain and sweat proof, but not swim proof
Up to 5 days
Sensors and components
Optical heart rate monitor
Ambient light sensor
Android, iOS, Windows
Black, Blue, Plum
Small: 139.7 - 170.2mm (40.13mm wide)
Large: 170.2 - 205.7mm (40.13mm wide)
XL: 205.7 - 236.2mm (40.13mm wide)
As is the case with other Fitbit devices, the Blaze can track your steps, calories, distance and floors. It’s very accurate in all four of these cases.
Accurate step tracking is the metric that most people look for in a fitness tracker. Like I did with the Charge HR, I counted out a certain number of steps and recorded the results on the Blaze when I was done. I started with exactly 1,500 steps, and I walked 500 equally big steps outside on the sidewalk. After I was done, the Blaze said I was at 2,004 for the day, which is very accurate for a wrist-mounted fitness tracker. I’ve also compared the Blaze’s step tracking capabilities with those of the Garmin vivosmart HR, Jawbone UP3 and the Charge HR, and it seems to be pretty spot on with all three.
The Blaze excels at detecting what workout you're currently doing
There are a handful of different exercises supported by the Fitbit Blaze, including running, biking, lifting weights, running on a treadmill, and using an elliptical. Fitbit devices have always done well with automatically recognizing what workout you’re currently doing, and the Blaze excels in this area. What this means is that you don’t need to manually select “Run” mode before you take a run. You can just go, and the Blaze will record your running stats once you’re all done.
It should be noted that in addition to the exercises listed above, the Blaze also has a generic “Workout” mode. This is for your workouts where you’ll be doing multiple activities in rapid succession, so you don’t have to keep switching between modes every time you want to switch activities.
Since there’s no GPS on board, you won’t be able to accurately see how far you’ve traveled on your run, but the Blaze will estimate your distance based on your arm movement. This is a pretty rough estimation, too — I went on a 3.9-mile run, and the Blaze only recorded it as a 3.5-mile run. This is pretty good for not having a connected smartphone nearby, but not accurate enough to rely on for every workout.
At the end of each workout, you’ll be shown an overview screen with your time, distance, max and average heart rate, burned calories and steps. You can get more detailed information in the smartphone companion app once the Blaze is done syncing. These statistics should be more than enough for the average person, but likely won’t suffice for folks who are really serious about tracking their workouts. You’ll definitely get better results with a triathlon watch or something similar, but those are also much more expensive.
Heart rate tracking
The Blaze’s heart rate monitor sits on the underside of the watch and remains pretty unnoticeable when you’re wearing it. You can set the HRM to be always on or off, but you should probably just keep it in Auto mode. This way it will only monitor your heart rate when you’re active, and not just when you’re sitting around. If you don’t care about this feature, you also have the option of turning it off, which will likely result in a few extra hours of battery life.
But how does it perform? Well, before we get into that, we should tell you that this isn’t going to be nearly as accurate as a chest strap. Although they’re not the most convenient workout accessories, chest straps are the way to go if you need something that will give you accurate HR readings.
Heart rate tracking on the Blaze is one of its lowest points
Heart rate tracking on the Blaze is one of its lowest points. If you’re looking for a fitness tracker that can accurately report your resting heart rate, the Blaze is for you. Anything more than that, though, and you should look elsewhere. During our testing, we just couldn’t get the HRM to rise above 150 BPM. Even at the most intense moments, when our heart rate should be closer to the 175-180 BPM range, the Blaze just stayed at 150. This is quite unfortunate, as Fitbit has been marketing its PurePulse Heart Rate technology as one of the Blaze’s main selling points.
All in all, the Blaze will give you accurate resting heart rate stats, but nothing more than that. If you’re looking to train in a certain zone or want accurate results while you’re in a workout, you probably shouldn’t be seeking out a wrist-mounted HR tracker anyway.
Fitbit devices are really good at tracking sleep, and the Blaze is no different. Unlike other fitness trackers, there’s no need to manually log your sleep in the Fitbit app. You don’t even need to press a “sleep now” button before you go to bed. When you wear it to bed, the app will automatically log your sleep and record any time you were restless or got up in the night. It’s usually pretty accurate, too. Sleep stats are pretty limited, and it doesn’t show you any info on deep or light sleep. The statistics the app does show you should be just fine for most people though.
One thing to note is that the Blaze is sort of big, so it’s not as comfortable as the Charge HR or other smaller fitness trackers. This might turn some people away from wearing it every night.
Fitbit bought a company called FitStar last year, and the company’s exercise software is one of the headline features on the Blaze. From the FitStar menu on your watch, you can select three different cardio routines — Warm It Up, 7-Minute Workout, or 10-Minute Abs. Once you make your selection, you’ll be shown how to do each workout for a few seconds. You’ll then have about 30 seconds to do each workout, then move on to the next one.
The workouts are overall easy to follow, but offer no room for improvement. You’ll still get a brief overview screen of your workout after your routine is finished, but it doesn’t motivate you to do better next time, nor does it come with any truly challenging workouts. I get why FitStar is on the Blaze, but it just seems like Fitbit didn’t try very hard to perfect this feature.
Fitbit devices usually have a pretty basic user interface, but not the Blaze. Thanks to the LCD touchscreen display, you can do a little bit more on the Blaze compared to other Fitbit devices.
The device’s home screen is a watch face, and you can choose from four different styles in the companion app. None of them are particularly good, though. They all look and act differently, which is nice, but they aren’t all that intuitive to interact with.
You can scroll through the watch menus by swiping to the left on the display. This is how you’ll select different workouts, FitStar, timers, alarms and the settings menu. You should try your best to remember to always manually navigate back to your home screen, though. For some reason, if you leave your watch on a certain menu – say the FitStar screen – and your watch goes to sleep, flicking your wrist will bring you back to the that menu, not the home screen, even if your watch has been idle for a few hours.
From the watch face, you can swipe down to turn notifications on or off, or control the music that’s currently playing on your phone. Swiping up will give you access to your recent messages. Having the ability to receive notifications on your wrist is great, but unfortunately this is the most undercooked part of the whole watch. From the Fitbit app, you can turn on call, text and calendar notifications, and that’s it. No Facebook, no Twitter, not even email. I’m not saying I particularly need Twitter mentions on my wrist while I’m out and about, but I wish the option was at least there.
Fitbit wants to simplify notifications on your wrist, and that unfortunately means options are limited on the Blaze
It should also be noted that notifications are quite buggy at the moment. With my Blaze connected to my phone, there have been times where I haven’t gotten any notifications sent to my wrist at all. That’s pretty frustrating, but Fitbit offers somewhat of a fix for it. You can enable a widget in the notification shade that will help with missing or late notifications, but I’m not really sure that’s a viable solution to the problem.
Out of all the companion apps I’ve used over the years, Fitbit’s app is my favorite. It’s easy to use and it looks good. The app’s home screen, or Dashboard, shows you which device you’re using, and all of your daily stats below that. You can click on each statistic to get more details on your progress throughout the day. Tapping on your device will bring you to the settings menu, where you can change watch faces, notification settings and more.
You can slide out the menu to the left to access Challenges, Friends, your account and a tab to manage your alarms. The app is really good at providing daily, weekly, monthly and yearly challenges, and the built-in social features are great too. It’s easy to connect and chat with other Fitbit users.
Fitbit says the Blaze can last up to 5 days on a single charge, and I can vouch for that claim. I’ve been able to make it last for close to 5 days pretty much the entire time I’ve had the device. It’s not often that you’ll need to charge the Blaze, and trust me — that’s a good thing.
Charging this thing is a task. You can’t just plug a USB cable into it, and there’s definitely no wireless charging here. You need to take the device out of the metal frame and place it in a little plastic charging cradle, then hook it up to a computer or charging brick. It’s pretty annoying to charge it this way, but luckily you won’t have to do it that often.
Should you buy it?
So, should you consider the Fitbit Blaze? You need to know what you’re buying before we answer that one.
The Fitbit Blaze isn’t as smart as a smartwatch and it’s not as advanced as some of the other fitness trackers out there. It doesn’t come with a GPS, it’s not waterproof, and anything beyond resting heart rate is a flop. With that said, it’s very good at the basics, which is par for the course with Fitbit products. Step tracking is pretty much as good as it can get, battery life is great, and with the exception of the heart rate monitor, it’s a great all-around fitness companion. There are also a variety of different bands available for the Blaze if you want to wear it all day.
Bottom line, the Fitbit Blaze is a fitness tracker with a few smartwatch-y features thrown in that aren’t all that great. If you aren’t keen on the design of the Blaze, you’d be better off going with the Charge HR — it’s a bit more than half the price on Amazon and comes with most of the same features.
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