By now, Fitbit is coming close to being synonymous with “activity tracker” and the brand name is occasionally tossed around as a generic term to describe any similar device. That does mean the company has a lot to live up to in terms of delivering solid devices that meet the expectations of buyers. One of those devices that was released this past year was the Fitbit Blaze which is ostensibly the company’s top of the line device and probably comes closest to merging the Fitbit activity tracking expertise with pseudo-smartwatch capabilities.
After spending some time with the Fitbit Blaze, we put together this review to help you decide whether this might be the trail you want to blaze for an activity tracker purchase.
When it comes to designing their activity trackers, Fitbit is not scared to try a variety of form factors. They have devices that look like bracelets to others that resemble a more traditional watch. That is the case with the Fitbit Blaze which gets the square watch face treatment. Despite the rather pedestrian shape, Fitbit did give the Blaze a unique feature. The main unit of the Blaze can actually be separated from the square metal frame that holds it and connects to the bands. This actually has to be done on a regular basis since the unit has to be removed from the band to be charged.
The bands are made of a rubber material similar to other Fitbit devices. To the extent possible, it is supposed to be a material that will not trigger allergic skin reactions. The material tends to be flexible enough to be comfortable yet tough enough to resist damage from being worn constantly. One weakness that Fitbit activity trackers have suffered from in the past is with the bands breaking where they connect to the main unit of their trackers. Since Fitbit does not use a typical lug system, replacing a broken band meant sending the unit back to Fitbit to be worked on – not an ideal situation for something meant to be worn 24/7.
Since the Blaze unit is separate from the frame and band, this should help users avoid similar problems. In addition, consumers can get replacement frames and bands. Bands can also be swapped in and out with a typical lug system. Overall, this design, while a bit unusual, should help protect the investment in the Fitbit Blaze and open the door to users who want to try different colors and materials for their bands.
One issue some consumers may run into though is with the size of the Fitbit Blaze, especially when in the band. It is a bit on the large size, so if you have a smaller wrist, be prepared for that. You do want to be sure to get the right size though – they come in two sizes, small and large. The first one I tested was a large and I found that the frame and band would not easily conform to the wrist, creating small gaps. However, the second unit I tested was a small and it fits like a charm.
When it comes to the buttons, these are built into the frame in a way so that pressing on them passes the button press on to the Blaze unit itself. There is one button on the left hand side of the Blaze and two on the right. Using them was easy, if a bit confusing.
The Fitbit Blaze features a 1.2-inch (240×180) LCD display, 5-day battery life, a heart rate sensor, and Bluetooth 4.1 LE.
The Fitbit Blaze performs as one would expect considering it is fairly lightweight in terms of software and features when compared to something like an Android Wear smartwatch. Although users can connect the Fitbit Blaze to their smartphone in order to get notifications on their wrist, the device is not trying to do much more than provide activity tracking functions. Swiping between screens is smooth and instantaneous. Likewise, for screens where a tap option is available immediately brings up the next screen.
The battery life I experienced when using the Fitbit Blaze was a pleasant surprise considering the size of the screen and the fact that it is full-color. I was easily able to get a full week of use between charges. For activity trackers, this is important as users will want as little downtime for charging as possible. This means a unit needs to be able to go for several days – and nights for effective sleep tracking – between charges. I found the Fitbit Blaze also charged quite quickly at around two to three hours, so when a charge was needed I could plan it around some activity when I knew I would not be moving much, if at all, like when driving or sitting down to watch a ballgame.
I would note that in my testing I did not configure the Fitbit Blaze to receive notifications from my smartphone. I would imagine doing so might cut down on battery life some due to the constant polling of the connected smartphone. Fitbit advertises battery life as being five days which might give a clue as to how much power is consumed by the smartphone connection.
The software that comes loaded on the Fitbit Blaze is on the simple side and similar to other Fitbit devices, which is appropriate for a dedicated activity tracker device. With the ability to track a variety of stats like steps taken, heart rate, calories burned, and “stairs climbed” all the device really needs is an effective way to go through the screens with this info on a regular basis. A good summary screen that lets users glance at the screen to assess daily progress is also useful. The Fitbit Blaze hits all of these right on the mark.
Along with the activity tracking information, Fitbit also built-in some more traditional watch-like functions like alarms and timers. A nice addition to the Fitbit Blaze is something called FitStar. This is a built-in app that provides a series of guided workouts for users. When you launch FitStar, it will display successive screens for each stage of the workout, like warming up, the exercises to be performed, and then cool down. If you are struggling to come up with ideas or do not know where to start in looking for a workout to follow, this is a good, easy way to jump right in on a fitness regime.
Another nice set of features that Fitbit started building into their devices, and the Fitbit Blaze is no exception, is automatic detection. This includes automatically detecting when someone starts exercising or when they lay down to go to sleep. This makes the device nice for users who want to put it on and then forget about messing with the device.
I would also mention the Fitbit app for smartphones is very effective. Although not specific to the Fitbit Blaze – it is the same app for all of their devices – I found the Fitbit app to be one of the better fitness apps I have used. The screens are easy to read and Fitbit did a good job of presenting the information. I also find the reminders provided by Fitbit to do things like get up and move or to let you know if you are falling behind on progress towards a daily target to be effective and useful.
When it comes to activity trackers, the Fitbit Blaze sits above much of the competition in the dedicated device market. That should probably come as no surprise as soon as you look around and see the Fitbit Blaze standing apart with a full color screen and a more watch-like form factor. I am not sure the Fitbit Blaze would be the best choice for a first-time activity tracker buyer only due to the level of investment at $199.95 MSRP for the base models that come with blue, black or plum bands and a silver frame or $229.95 for a model with a black band and gunmetal frame or pink band and gold frame. First time buyers may want to look at a cheaper alternative to make sure activity tracking is for them.
For users who know they are into tracking their activities, the Fitbit Blaze provides a nice upgrade path to get some additional features like the FitStar workouts. The color screen makes it a little more engaging to check your stats during the day. Although the frame design is a bit unconventional, this does make the Fitbit Blaze a bit more attractive in that users can avoid some traditional Fitbit issues like bands breaking and it opens the door to more variety in band fashion.
One consideration that users will have to give some thought to though is whether they want to just go for a full-blown smartwatch since the price tag for the Fitbit Blaze is in that same range. The question will likely come down to the importance of battery life versus access to more advanced smartwatch features.
Overall, the Fitbit Blaze is a nice solid entry in Fitbit’s portfolio of devices. The price may be a stumbling block for some. If you are a hardcore Fitbit user, the Blaze is definitely a device you will want to look into adding to your collection.