- Large readable display
- 5 day battery life
- Auto activity and sleep tracker
- Fairly accurate heart rate monitor
- Design could be better
- Can't take it swimming
- No built-in GPS
- Watch needs to be removed from frame for charging
We did not have a new activity tracker from Fitbit last year. This has all changed at CES 2016 when Fitbit’s CEO announced the Fitbit Blaze – “a device that is more motivating, smarter and more stylish than ever before”. We have reviewed other Fitbit devices and have highly recommended the Fitbit Charge HR as excellent value for money. In fact, the Charge HR was our choice for the best fitness tracker in 2015. Today, we present you with our take on Fitbit’s new fitness tracker/smartwatch – our Fitbit Blaze review. A device that is not quite an everyday smartwatch, but is more than an activity tracker.
Ease of use
Use of information
The Blaze looks a lot like the Apple Watch, but puts fitness first. It fits somewhere between the Charge HR and a sports watch.
This is 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 with stainless steel casing and an elastomer band. The screen, which is made of Gorilla Glass 3, pops out and interchangeable band and frames and customizable clock faces let you personalize your style.
The Blaze has a fairly unisex design, that may be slightly more popular with men due to the size of the device. It measures: 8.6 x 1.7 x 0.4 inches. Weighing only 43 grams, it is light, and comfortable enough to forget it’s there.
The Blaze comes in a bunch of colours and is designed with a satin finish, stainless steel body. There is a range of bands of different colors and materials, like elastomer, leather, or stainless steel. Bands can be removed using quick release spring bars while the tracker module simply pops out. Many, but not all, of the bands comes in three sizes – small, large and extra large.
Classic accessory bands have been tested up to 5 ATM meaning they are sweat, rain and splash proof, but not swim proof. Which means we will have to wait a bit longer before Fitbit comes out with a fully water-resistant fitness tracker. Leather bands and metal bands are not intended for high intensity workouts as they are not sweat or water-resistant. Changing bands is as simple as removing the Blaze from the housing and placing it into another band. Total time to change from one look to another is under 10 seconds.
The device has a 5 day battery life, no doubt helped by the lack of GPS. This compares pretty favourably to some smartwatches on the market. Charging the Blaze requires removing the actual module from its housing and placing it into a cradle. If you’re within Bluetooth range of the device, your smartphone will alert you when it’s fully charged, which usually takes about an hour.
Getting started with your tracker requires connecting it to your compatible mobile device or computer. After setup your tracker can sync its data to your Fitbit dashboard, which is where you can analyze your stats.
The Blaze is very user friendly – once you have done the initial set-up – strap it on and you are ready to go. Like most other smartwatches the screen is off most of the time, for power saving reasons. Raising your wrist wakes the device, displaying time and current activity stats, depending on which of the four clock faces you have chosen. Navigating the Blaze is done primarily through a series of swipes. There are options for Today, Exercise, FitStar and Settings.
Although there are three physical buttons, you can perform most actions on the touch-screen. Swiping on the screen will move you through the menu, allow you to select workouts, view notifications, or use the music app. Swiping down from the top of the screen provides the option to disable notifications if you do not wish to be disturbed, while a swipe up from the main screen offers a chronological list of notifications.
There is a button on the left side that functions as a home and back command. The two buttons on the right are contextual, performing different actions such as volume control. They can also be used to select exercise options which can be useful if, for example, your hands are wet so are not registering on the touchscreen.
To track on exercise, swipe to the Exercise screen and tap it, then swipe to find the exercise of your choice. Multi-sport lets you select one of 18 exercises that you are doing. Select biking, for example, and the Blaze will show you real time data such as distance, average speed, duration, heart rate and calories burned. It will also record the details in your exercise history. If you see a gear icon in the lower left corner, that exercise offers connected GPS. Tap the gear to see an option for turning GPS on or off.
A new feature, called SmartTrack, automatically recognizes select exercises and records them in the Fitbit app. It can be easy to forget that you’re logging exercise, so a feature that does it automatically is useful. Activities are recorded when you’ve been active for at least 15 minutes, but that time can be manually adjusted according to your preference.
Activities that can be recognised include elliptical, outdoor biking, running, walking, and general categories of aerobic workouts (such as Zumba, cardio-kickboxing and other dance classes) and sports (such as tennis, basketball and soccer). You can also edit settings to exclude certain activities from being recognised. SmartTrack doesn’t record GPS data, provide real-time stats on your wrist, or provide distance and pace information in your exercise history. For those features use the Multisport mode.
With the Blaze, a few FitStar workouts are available directly on your wrist. FitStar is the company Fitbit acquired last year. You can choose from three guided sessions: Warm it Up (8 minutes); 7 Minute Workout; and 10-Minute Abs. When you’re done with the workout, you can find your results in your exercise history. Note that FitStar workouts are battery intensive so it is a good idea to make sure your Blaze is charged before starting a workout. Although a step in the right direction, FitStar workouts are fairly simplistic. You may want to refer to our article on Taking activity tracking to the next level: fitness coaching from the wrist for more sophisticated alternatives.
Unlike pre 2015 Fitbit devices, you don’t have to tell the Blaze that you’re planning on snoozing, and sleep mode will kick in from your movements and heart rate data. Which means, all you have to remember is to wear your tracker to bed. When you wake up, sync your tracker to see last night’s sleep stats on the dashboard.
While it doesn’t play music, the Blaze allows you to control your smartphone’s music playlist. You can pause, go back and skip tracks, which is helpful because it means you don’t have to take your smartphone out of your pocket when working out. The Blaze also features push notifications from your Bluetooth-connected device. It will also display information on phone calls, texts and calendar alerts, letting you dismiss them. All notifications are automatically removed each day. There is also a stopwatch and countdown timer function and vibrating alarms.
The Blaze connects to your smartphone or computer over Bluetooth, and will store data on the device itself for seven days. As with all the Fitbits, you can monitor your stats on your wrist via the Blaze’s touch screen, and also on the mobile app or web interface.
The Blaze uses the same app as all other Fitbit devices. The mobile app remains a well-designed, easy to navigate tool for looking at your data, monitoring your fitness progress, and also tracking your food intake and water consumption. Any metric can be tapped to show historical data, and weekly totals.
The device uses pretty much the same motion sensors we’ve seen in previous Fitbits. So it still counts steps, calculates calories burned, counts the stairs you climbed, determines your active time, tracks your sleep, monitors your heart rate, and syncs to your smartphone device to track additional health-related stats.
The full list of sensors is as follows: 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor and vibration motor.
This means that the Blaze features the company’s PurePulse continuous, wrist-based heart rate sensor which allows you to see simplified heart rate zones for quickly checking exercise intensity during workouts. These zones can help you optimize your workout by targeting different training intensities. Its optical heart rate sensors will take a heart rate reading every five seconds during the day and every second during workout sessions. This should, in theory, give wearers relatively accurate heart rate readings.
The device also displays your resting heart rate. The resting heart rate is an important metric as it can be an indicator of longevity and current level of fitness. This will be populated once you’ve slept while wearing the wristband. Resting heart rate is traditionally measured just before waking up and certainly before you start moving around. The app graphs your resting heart rate so you can see how it changes from day to day, week to week and month to month.
We find that Fitbit devices compare favourably to the competition, and are very good devices for basic heart rate monitoring. The figures should, however, be taken with a grain of salt – as wrist based heart-rate monitors are not as accurate as chest straps. For example, certain exercises in the gym can cause inconsistencies in heart rate tracking due to the twisting of the arm. If you are extremely serious about training in heart-rate zones, there are better options out there, although none are as good as a dedicated HR chest strap.
Fitbit did face a lawsuit earlier this year with reference to it heart rate sensor. A group of three Fitbit users have the complaint in San Francisco federal court, stating that readings “don’t count every beat” and sometimes show dangerously low BPM numbers, which may pose major health risks to certain users.
As mentioned, the Blaze has ‘Connected GPS’, which is a fancy way of saying that it doesn’t have built-in GPS but will pull GPS data from smartphones. Which means that you can use it as, for example, as a running watch, as long as you remember to take your smartphone along to ‘borrow’ its GPS readings. The Blaze is very good at tracking exercise, and the addition of automatically recognizing select exercises through Smart-track and recording them is a welcome improvement.
While sleep tracking is fairly accurate, as with Fitbit’s other devices, the information provided is still pretty basic. The charts will only show sleep, restlessness and wake. There are much more advanced sleep trackers out there such as Jawbone UP3 or Basis Peak. The UP3 for example, shows you details of light, deep and REM sleep. It does this by monitoring your heart-rate, respiration rate, body temperature and galvanic skin response.
The Fitbit device offers a wide selection of data to help and motivate you towards your fitness goals. We feel that more could have been done to provide users with meaningfull analysis of its sleep tracking and heart rate data. Also, although a move in the right direction, FitStar workouts are fairly basic. And there is the obvious omission of reminders to move – something that will be featured in the new Alta tracker.
Fitbit has recently added a new feature that allows you to set weekly exercise goals. Exercise Goals can be personalized by choosing the number of target exercise days per week and the types of activities that will count toward their goals. Progress toward goals is displayed within the Fitbit app.
As with the recently announced Alta, with the Blaze Fitbit is styling up what it already offers. There is no ground-breaking new technology on board. It is nevertheless a welcome addition to the Fitbit family, especially for people looking for a device that is not overly complicated to use.
The Blaze is very much a fitness tool rather than a smart watch. And there is definitely a market for this sort of wearable as indicated by the excellent reviews on Amazon and 4.3 average customer rating.
If you have an older fitness tracker band like the Fitbit Flex or Jawbone Up, the Blaze is a great upgrade with all its new features (heart rate monitor, auto activity/sleep tracker, smart notifications). If this is the first fitness tracking device you’re considering, we would definitely recommend it.
Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch
The lack of built-in GPS is an obvious omission, and we are not great fans of the new design. But all things considered, the Blaze covers all the basics well, and offers a wide range of vitals stats, even if they are not always perfect. So if you’re looking for a fairly stylish fitness tracker from a recognised brand, that does the essentials well, this could be the device for you.
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