Fitbit have now released not one, but two proper full-on smartwatches, so does that make the Blaze out on a limb?
Well, Fitbit certainly seems to: the Blaze is no longer available for sale on the company's store. That doesn't mean you can't buy it anywhere else, of course, but should you?
The differences between the Fitbit Blaze and the Fitbit Versa are largely cosmetic. The Versa is lighter, slimmer and generally more conventional – though it does also add NFC for contactless payments, WiFi and a 3-axis gyroscope for more accurate tracking. It also adds £40 to the RRP, of course, going from £159 to £199. If you want GPS built in, you're looking at the Fitbit Ionic, which also adds a longer battery and another £100 to the RRP.
That makes the Fitbit Blaze still worth considering to this day. Yes, it lacks GPS and is only smartish, rather than a full-on smartwatch, but it's still customisable and a pretty good tracker.
Fitbit Blaze Smart Activity Tracker and Fitness Watch with Wrist Based Heart Rate Monitor - Black/Large
Fitbit is the market leader when it comes to fitness trackers, with a wide range of devices to suit pretty much every need. The Blaze, however, is a little harder to pin down. At first glance, it looks more smartwatch than fitness tracker, but its feature-set is pretty limited. It's also not really a sports watch, as it doesn't have built-in GPS.
Instead, Fitbit seems to have prized form over functionality with the Blaze, which is more or less the exact opposite of what it's done previously. However, considering that appearance is very much at the forefront of the Blaze, Fitbit's made sure that it's highly customisable, allowing each individual user to get the look they want.
You won't escape the metal frame, but there's a multitude of different strap colours and materials to choose from, making it one of Fitbit's more personalised fitness trackers in a while. Place the Blaze in one of the leather straps, for example, and it feels like a much higher-quality watch – it’s still too light to feel like a real watch, but it’s still very comfortable to wear. The downside is that the leather band costs around £60, while the metal strap is around £90.
Fitbit Blaze design
The Blaze itself is a square, plastic affair with a bright OLED screen. The screen is a good one and it’s easy to read in most lighting conditions. The screen is off by default, but it will automatically turn itself on as you raise your wrist – this generally works very well, but on the rare occasions when the screen doesn’t activate, you can simply tap it to wake it up.
The default display is the time of day, but swiping the screen sideways will reveal a host of other options – daily stats, exercise options, FitStar (more about this later), timer, alarms and settings. As well as touchscreen control, there are also three buttons - a home button and two multi-function buttons whose purpose can vary depending on what you’re doing at the time.
The Blaze is designed to pop out of it surrounding metal frame, which sits at the centre of the supplied rubber strap. It comes out backwards, so it can’t pop out while you’re wearing it, but does need to be removed from the strap for charging. It’s this modular design that opens the door to a plethora of fashion options.
Fitbit Blaze features
The core feature set of the Blaze isn’t that different from the Fitbit Charge HR. The Blaze will track every step you take throughout the day as well as estimate the distance you’ve travelled and the calories you’ve burned. There’s an altimeter built in, too, so it will take account of every flight of stairs you climb – I’ve always liked this feature in a fitness tracker as it really does encourage you to take the stairs instead of the lift. At the rear of the device is an optical heart rate monitor, which will track your heart rate throughout the day, giving you an average resting heart rate as well as an active heart rate.
There has been a lot of discussion about the accuracy of wrist-based, optical heart rate monitors, and in a chest strap will always be more accurate. However, for what devices like the Blaze are designed to do, the HRM is more than adequate. In testing I found that the HRM in the Blaze was generally quite close to the readout from a chest strap, but you need to adjust how you wear it depending on the situation. For everyday usage, where you’re really just logging your average heart rate the Blaze can be worn relatively loosely. But if you’re being active – running, circuit training, etc. – then you’ll want to wear the device quite tight to your wrist.
Bear in mind that this caveat is true for any wrist-based, optical HRM. The looser the fit, the more light can seep behind the device, and the harder the sensor will have to work to get an accurate reading. Unless you’re in the habit of running maximum heart rate intervals, an optical HRM should be fine, and if you are that kind of hardcore athlete, then the Blaze isn’t the device for you in the first place. Incidentally, I found that the standard rubber strap was far better at keeping the Blaze tight than the leather option, and if you’re going to be getting all sweaty, you’ll want to use the rubber strap anyway.
As already mentioned, the Blaze doesn’t have a built-in GPS receiver, but it can make use of the GPS built into your phone. This Connected GPS feature is pretty common among smartwatches, while serious fitness watches usually have a GPD receiver built in.
Fitbit says that the Blaze would have been far heavier and bulkier with a built-in GPS, and that the option of connected GPS still provides speed, distance, pace and mapping functionality when it’s needed. Of course, that does mean that you’ll need to carry your phone with you when exercising, which isn’t always convenient.
Fitbit Blaze exercise
Fitbit has equipped the Blaze with some dedicated exercise features. The standard exercise modes include Running, Cycling, Weights, Treadmill, Elliptical and Workout, although you can customise these. The Blaze will also attempt to automatically recognise when you’re exercising and identify what type of exercise you’re doing. In practice this works pretty well, although you do need to be exercising for at least ten minutes for this to work.
The running and cycling options will make use of the connected GPS feature, tracking your speed, distance, pace, route, etc. All the other options are essentially just timing your training session, measuring your heart rate and calculating calories burned accordingly. Unlike many dedicated sports watches, the Blaze won’t pair with additional sensors, so if you’ve got a speed or cadence sensor on your bike, you won’t be able to make use of them with the Blaze.
The FitStar integration brings another exercise option to the table, placing guided workouts on your wrist. Currently, you can choose from a 7-minute workout or a 10-minute abs workout. Whichever one you choose, the watch will display an animation that demonstrates each exercise, and then time you as you copy the demo.
The watch will vibrate to tell you when to start, and vibrate again to indicate when to stop. It’s quite a neat feature, and well implemented, but it’s also somewhat limited in its application. Wahoo fitness also uses the 7-minute workout with its TICKR-X chest strap, but has the advantage of counting all your reps as you exercise, while also ensuring that your form is correct. Obviously, since the Blaze is on your wrist and not around your chest, it can’t measure reps or judge form.
Given that FitStar offers a wide range of exercise options, one hopes that Fitbit will integrate more training plans into the Blaze. Ideally, you’d be able to choose which FitStar plans to load onto the Blaze, as well as being able to customise the intensity of the sessions. As it stands, though, the FitStar integration is a nice, but far from compelling, feature.
Any fitness tracker is only really as good as the ecosystem that supports it. If the smartphone app is buggy or difficult to navigate, you’re not going to enjoy using it and consequently will lose interest in the device.
Fitbit, however, has a very good supporting ecosystem, both in terms of mobile app and web portal. The app is a superb example of how to clearly present data in a visually appealing way. It’s easy to navigate, and syncs quickly with the Blaze whenever you open it up.
You can pair third-party apps with the Fitbit app, too. You can link your Fitbit account to your Strava account, for instance, so that whenever you go for a run or bike ride with the Blaze, it will automatically send your activity to Strava.
Likewise, you can link your MyFitnessPal account, which means that all the food you log will instantly sync with the Fitbit app and vice versa, giving you a dynamic calorie count throughout the day. Fitbit does have its own food logging database within its app, but the MyFitnessPal database is more extensive.
I was slightly disappointed that the Fitbit app doesn’t play nicely with the Withings HealthMate app, since I use a Withings smart scale to track my weight and pull that data into my activity stream. I understand that Fitbit has its own smart scale (the Aria), but I’d still like as many fitness tech platforms as possible to work together.
Fitbit Blaze sleeping and charging
Like other Fitbit trackers the Blaze will also track your sleep overnight, but while I’m happy to wear a regular size fitness tracker like the Fitbit Charge HR overnight, the Blaze is just a bit too bulky for that.
For testing purposes I did sleep wearing the Blaze and it gave a good account of itself, tracking light and deep sleep, as well as logging when I got up during the night. As always, though, I do question just how useful sleep tracking is – after all, it's far easier to increase your activity levels than it is to reduce stress to try and improve your sleep.
Talking of sleeping, well waking up anyway, you can set silent alarms on the Blaze, just like on other Fitbit devices. The Blaze will then vibrate on your arm to wake you up, thus sparing your partner the annoyance of being woken unnecessarily.
If you’re thinking that the sleep tracking is a white elephant, since you’ll need to charge the Blaze overnight like a smartwatch, think again. Fitbit quotes around five days of use from a full charge, and although you won’t get near that if you’re running every day with the connected GPS active, I still managed three very active days on a charge. Even then, the Blaze wasn’t completely out of juice.
Fitbit Blaze notifications
The Blaze will relay certain notifications from your phone, but these are limited to text messages, calendar notifications and call alerts. By contrast, the Garmin Vivosmart HR was able to relay any alert from my phone, even from third party apps.
Fitbit says that it intentionally limits the notifications that are relayed to the Blaze since no one wants their wrist constantly buzzing. I understand that sentiment, but I’d rather be the one who decides which notifications are relayed and which aren’t, rather than being presented with an arbitrary and limited list.
Fitbit Blaze Smart Activity Tracker and Fitness Watch with Wrist Based Heart Rate Monitor - Black/Large
The Fitbit Blaze is a difficult device to place. It’s larger and has more features than your average fitness tracker, but it’s not feature-packed enough to be considered a proper sports watch. It’s something of a smartwatch, but the limited notification relays mean that there are better fitness trackers in this respect.
It’s a decent-looking device, and Fitbit has designed its modular system very well – snapping the Blaze in and out of the strap frame is quick and simple. The optional accessories make it a respectable everyday watch, too – the leather strap looks great and is extremely comfortable to wear.
Well, it’s not a device for serious fitness enthusiasts, and it’s not a viable alternative to a smartwatch. if you want a tracker that looks good enough to wear every day, with any outfit, then the Blaze is a viable option.