Ionic or Blaze: Picking between Fitbit’s fitness-focused watches

With Ionic going on sale in October, its getting all the more difficult to choose between Fitbit’s fitness devices. The company now sells twelve in total, although some have been superseded with new versions.

Essential reading: Choosing the right Fitbit tracker

Ionic is by far Fitbit’s most advanced wearable yet. It comes with a host of sensors, contactless payments, local storage for music, smartphone notifications and more. But many consumers have questions related to how it compares to other devices.

So far, the closest Fitbit has come to building a smartwatch is its Blaze activity tracker. But, while the Blaze has many of the features you’d find on a smartwatch, it does not support any third party apps. It is very much a fitness tool rather than a smartwatch. But so is Ionic.

So what are the differences between the Blaze and Fitbit’s latest offering?


Fitbit Ionic or Blaze: Design

Ionic looks very much like the Blaze. So much so, that at first glance its difficult to tell them apart. But there are a few important differences.

The Blaze is the company’s first major attempt at making an everyday watch. Its also Fitbit’s first wearable with a color touch screen that displays the time and other details about your movement for the day. The device has a hexagonal face with stainless steel casing. There is a range of bands of different colors and materials, like elastomer, leather, or stainless steel. They can be easily swapped using quick release spring bars while the tracker module simply pops out.

Ionic retains the same square unisex look with swappable bands, although there are subtle differences such as more rounded edges. Its core unit is built from strong and lightweight 6000 series aerospace-grade aluminum. Although it weighs more (50 grams compared to 43 grams), at 38mm it is slightly narrower than the Blaze (40mm).

Both devices have three physical buttons on the sides, one on the left and two on the right. In combination with the touch-screen, this allows you to navigate through the display. After a bit of practice, you learn how to whizz through the stats.

The bigger differences are to do with the display. To compete with the Apple watch, Fitbit has upgraded the screen with increased pixels and amplified brightness up to 1000 nits. In terms of actual specs, Ionic sports a hi-res 348 by 250 pixel LCD touchscreen that measures 29 x 21mm. The Blaze also has an LCD touchscreen, but with a reduced 240 x 180 pixel resolution. Its also slightly smaller measuring 25 x 19mm.

Under the hood there are a few other important differences. Both trackers share an optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter, vibration motor and ambient light sensor. But Ionic also comes with an upgraded heart rate sensor, digital compass and something Fitbit calls a relative SpO2 sensor. This measures blood oxygen levels and could be used to identify sleep apnea in the future.

More importantly, Ionic also comes with built-in GPS. This means you can leave your phone behind and still track and map your runs. Blaze on the other hand comes with something Fitbit calls connected-GPS. This is just a fancy term for the trackers ability to tap into your smartphone’s GPS readings.


Fitbit Ionic or Blaze: Battery life and water resistance

Both timepieces have a rechargeable Lithium battery. Because of its higher specs, the Ionic trails the Blaze slightly on this measure. It comes with around 4 days of battery life which comes down to 10 hours with GPS switched on. Nevertheless, this is still pretty good and leaves Apple something to aim for. The Blaze has enough juice to run for around 5 days on a single charge.

In order to become a true 24/7 fitness tracker, water resistance is essential. With its fantastic 5 ATM (50 meter) water resistance rating Ionic easily fulfills this criteria. You will, however, need to take Blaze off when heading to the pool as its only sweat, rain and splash proof.


Fitbit Ionic or Blaze: Features

Fitbit’s strength is in fitness tracking and the Ionic and Blaze are great when it comes to keeping tabs on your activity. You get all the basics with both, along with inactivity reminders and automatic activity recognition. In the morning the accompanying smartphone app will provide you with detailed info on light, deep and REM sleep. You’ll also get your Cardio Fitness Level (VO2Max) assesment and there is the cardio friendly Relax to help keep you calm.

Fitbit’s Purepulse heart rate sensor stores heart rate data at 1 second intervals during exercise tracking and at 5 second intervals all other times. You’ll get real time info on heart rate zones during exercise and info on your resting heart rate in the morning. The company has upgraded the sensor on the Ionic, so accuracy, which for a wrist wearable wasn’t too bad to begin with, should be even better.

As mentioned, Fitbit’s first smartwatch is also capable of phone-free exercising. For outdoor fitness tracking, the built-in GPS will keep tabs on your pace, distance, elevation and split times. In the water it will track your swim sessions too, with lap count, duration and calorie burn. You will need to rely on GPS on your phone to see real-time stats like pace and distance and record a map of your route on the Blaze.

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Fitbit Blaze
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The Ionic has also introduced a new sensor with SP02 readings. This measures the oxygen saturation in your blood, i.e. how well oxygen is sent to parts of the body furthest from your heart (such as arms and legs). In the future, this sensor may be used to detect sleep apnea. Fitbit’s CEO James Park said that he is also hopeful Ionic may be able to determine atrial fibrillation. In their tests, it is apparently 98% accurate in detecting the condition, with only 1% false positives.

When it comes to non-fitness features, both of these devices show notifications (calls, texts, calendar events push notifications from your favorite apps) and allow for music control. Ionic, however, also comes with 2.5GB storage for music, it can run third-party apps and comes with an NFC chip for contactless payments.

Although it can’t really compete with the Apple Watch on this measure, Fitbit’s first smartwatch has an app store with a handful of native apps and an open its SDK for third-party developers. It will take time, however, for this to develop but there is great potential down the road.

Essential reading: Fitbit Ionic or Apple watch, which to get

So you can be truly free from your phone, Ionic has on-board storage for up to 300 songs and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless headphones. Yup, you guessed it – Fitbit also now sells Bluetooth headphones. The Blaze, on the other hand, can’t offer music or connect to headphones.

Another first for Fitbit, Ionic sports a built-in NFC chip which stores credit card information so you can leave your wallet behind. This means you can now pay for your coffee right from your wrist. Fitbit Pay will work with American Express cards and select Visa and Mastercards from supported banks. Over 10 markets across the globe will be supported at launch, with more countries and banks planned soon.


Fitbit Ionic or Blaze: The bottom line

For overall health and wellness, the Blaze and the Ionic are both excellent options that do the essentials well. There are plenty of similarities in design and specs between the two, along with a few very important differences.

This includes waterproofing and built-in GPS which you will find on the Ionic but not on Blaze. There are upgrades to the heart rate sensor, along with the ability to measure blood oxygen levels. For a true phone free experience, Fitbit’s first smartwatch also comes with built-in memory for music and there is a third-party app store, wireless payments and a better display.

Fitbit Ionic
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Another difference is in the price. As its crossing into smartwatch territory, you won’t be surprised that Ionic retails for around $100 more than the Blaze. But is it worth the extra cash?

It probably is, particularly if you are an avid swimmer or serious runner. If not and you are looking to spend that money on something else, the Blaze remains a solid choice for someone who is after 24/7 fitness device, and how does the occasional run here and there. If on the other hand you are looking for a smartwatch first – fitness tracker second, we would suggest going for the Apple Watch.

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