The Blaze - a great health and fitness companion

The Blaze was presented for the first time at CES 2016 in Las Vegas as a fashionable fitness watch not so much as a smartwatch. According to New York Times, the announcement made Fitbits stock fall 18% on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 stating "investors [are] worried about its ability to compete with Apple and other makers of wearable technology". This may be true if Fitbit was actually trying to compete with the Apple Watch functionally instead of fashionably. But, in my opinion the Blaze is no Apple Watch. It looks like nothing more than a fashionably repackaged Surge at a better price. Fitbit, the world’s leader in personal activity tracking, provided for Blaze “smart” features like basic notifications and alerts but it is not meant to respond to phone calls or texts. It provides on-screen workouts with FitStar. But, FitStar requires an additional $39.99 a month subscription.

Blaze by Fitbit

Fitbit's new design is a welcome change, and for activity tracking fans its focus on fitness is a winner. If you need motivation to get moving more throughout the day, to hit step goals and stick to a healthier sleep schedule Fitbit will be your great health and fitness companion. It’s mobile app can track your meals, calorie / water intake, and plot out your weight from week to week.

The process of setting up the Blaze with your smartphone is simple, and it regularly syncs over Bluetooth to keep your app updated with your progress throughout the day. One of Fitbit’s claims to fame is that, unlike Apple Watch, its trackers work with iOS, Android, and Windows smartphones.

Design

It is intended to be a stylish fitness watch. The Blaze is Fitbit's best designed device till now. It has now a selection of different straps to give it a more smartwatch feel. Do you think that has an Apple-like approach to design? Me too. Fortunately with the option of metal and leather bands, you are able to customize it for different looks. Taste is debatable, of course, but if you like the square design it is certainly a winner, especially since is more efficient as a data display.

The octagon-shaped steel frame that houses the Blaze is rather large for women and probably not the ideal watch to wear every day.

At the center is a 1.25-inch touchscreen LCD (covered by Gorilla Glass 3) with a resolution of 240x180. It's a vast improvement over the mono-color, very tiny displays on earlier Fitbits.

Blaze has three hardware bottoms; one on the left side that most often serves as a back button, and two on the right. The fitness watch automatically lights up when you raise your wrist, and this works just as it should 99 percent of the time. Pretty well. There is of course the touchscreen display as well, letting you swipe to view notifications or hit the buttons to view progress.

You can choose between four watch faces. Most let you tap between your key metrics - steps, floors climbed, overall distance, heart rate, etc. - and some will alter the display’s color based on your pulse and level of exertion. It’s a nice, glanceable way to determine just how active you really are.

Even if it should hold up for a run in the rain though the Blaze is not built for swimming, because is water resistant up to 1m for 30 minutes.

Activity tracking

Fitness tracking is the Blaze's big play, and its list of features is a kind of refinement of the company's products to date. It'll track steps, sleep, calories, floors climbed, active time and there's an optical heart rate sensor to deliver resting HR and active time. In terms of sensors, there's a 3-axis accelerometer, gyro sensor and an altimeter to track elevation.

Unfortunately there's no on board GPS, so you'll have to rely on your phone's GPS to track runs and hikes via a feature called ConnectedGPS. You do get sleep tracking though and it's done automatically using the accelerometer to detect movement.

The Blaze can also track a whole host of exercises and uses the recently introduced SmartTrack feature to automatically recognise what activities you're doing. This means you'll always get credit for any exercise you do, whether it's the walk to your car or the evening walk.

Blaze by Fitbit
Blaze by Fitbit

FitStar exercise tutorials delivers warm-ups or workouts suited for 7 or 10 minute intervals, tap start, and GIF-like animations will lead you through the motions. But the Fitbit doesn’t actually know whether you’re doing it right; there’s zero feedback, so the FitStar integration isn’t as useful as the guided workouts you’d get with the Microsoft Band.

If you want a best guide for your workouts, Moov Now might be your answer. But there's still an abundance of other third party app support as well, so you can feed data from the likes of Strava, Endomondo and Weight Watchers into the Fitbit companion app if you don't want to give up data from your existing health and fitness apps.

Notifications

With the Blaze, you'll be able to do things like reject or accept calls, receive notifications from emails and control music playback. A recent update to Android app brought Whatsapp messages to the party, but at the time of writing that hadn't rolled out to the iOS version. There's also no support for Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or other notifications.

The Fitbit Blaze unfortunately lacks any kind of stand-up-and-get-moving reminders, something that’s now standard in devices like this. The company is exploring bringing "get up" alerts to the Blaze after the Fitbit Alta - which does have them - ships. I don’t quite understand how it’s absent from a shipping fitness product in 2016, but at least the feature is coming.

Battery life

The Fitbit Blaze is definitely a winner when looking for a long battery life! The Blaze’s promise of holding for five days is reflected in our using in the last month. That’s impressive for a device with a color display and active tracking! Of course those days included a number of workout sessions :-)

That of course depends on which features you use on a regular basis and whether you decide to crank up the screen brightness to the max. For most part it is true to its claim. The usage is somewhere there between 4 and 6 days. However, charging the Blaze is not the most pleasant experience because it requires taking the device out of the strap and placing it into the charger... and that proves quite tedious. Not to mention that sometimes one might not fit it properly back into the strap.

Conclusion:

So what’s the conclusion? What is the Fitbit Blaze and who’s it for? Most definite for the athletes or the aspiring ones trying to get in shape or stay in shape, having good control over the activity and heart rate and so on, not so much for the ones expecting to have a smartwatch that can be used as a speaking companion for the phone.

I would call the Blaze more than a sports watch less than a smartwatch.


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