The Fitbit Blaze is part of the company's push to bring the fitness bands to those with some fashion sense. Unlike the utilitarian bands we've been dished up over recent years, the Fitbit Blaze tries to bridge the gap between function and fashion.
Fitbit arguably built the fitness band industry. With different models covering every prices point from around $80 up to over $300, and a wonderful integrated app, they're the company that others are trying to emulate. This latest version doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel though there are some noteworthy additions that make it a definite improvement over previous models.
First, the specs
|Band material||Elastomer, Leather or Stainless Steel|
|Display type||16-bit colour touchscreen, Corning Gorilla Glass 3|
|Resolution||240 x 180 pixels|
|Battery life||5 days (approx)|
|Sensors||Optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, altimeter, screen auto-brightness|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.0 (Low Energy), Custom charge cable|
|Supported devices||Windows Vista and later, Mac OS X 10.6 and up, iPhone 4S and later, iPad 3 gen. and later, and Android and Windows devices|
|Wireless||Bluetooth 4.0 combo|
|Water resistance||Rain, sweat, and splash proof - swimming or showering while wearing Blaze not recommended|
Features & design
The Blaze is a curious device. Although it looks like a typical smartwatch, Fitbit has wisely decided to stick to what it knows best, focusing on their strengths in activity and fitness monitoring. Unlike many smartwatches that see notifications as their "killer app", Fitbit has avoided getting into a features war.
The Blaze's styling is perhaps its weakest point. Its square bezel and the shape of the back means it's ill-suited to more petite wrists. However, after a week of wearing the Blaze, I find it comfortable.
There are three buttons on the Blaze; one on the left side and two on the right. However, most functions can be accessed by simply swiping from right, top or bottom edges of the display. Once one of the options is set, such as starting an exercise session or adding an alarm, you can simply tap on the screen to activate the chosen option or setting.
Fitbit has made a range of different bands available for the Blaze. I chose a blue elastomer band for my Blaze but there are also black and plum options that retail for another $49.95 each or you can choose stainless steel ($219.95) or leather ($169.95). Bands can be easily switched as can the bezel as the watch can be popped from the frame easily. Bands come in small, large and extra large sizes.
While battery life is one of the Blaze's strengths -- it will get through close to five days use on a two hour change in my use -- the charging system is inelegant. To charge the Blaze, you need to pop the watch out of its frame and place it in a charging cradle that uses USB. This is a pain the butt. It's disappointing Fitbit couldn't come up with a better charging system.
While its Fitbit's devices that will have you paying out your hard earned cash, the app is a big part of Fitbit's success. The free app makes it easy to track activity and nutrition, invite or join your friends in challenges, monitor your sleep duration and quality, look at changes in your heart rate over the curse of a day.
Unlike many devices, the Blaze doesn't need to be told when you go to bed or commence an exercise session -- it can automatically detect when you engage in those activities. Over the last week, it did incorrectly identify one activity; the Blaze determined I'd been cycling even though my movement was limited to walking within a hotel and conference centre facility. However, it was simple enough to re-categorise the activity to walking.
From a notifications point of view, the Blaze isn't trying to do everything. Paired with my iPhone, the Blaze received calls, texts and calendar notifications. These can be separately toggled on and off from the Fitbit app. There's no ability to add other apps.
There are two "serious" fitness features missing from the Blaze. One is waterproofing. While the Blaze is rain and splash safe, it's not designed for swimming or even showering. However, the modular design could make it possible for either Fitbit or a third-party to create a waterproofing frame and band.
The other omission is integrated GPS. The Blaze requires a nearby smartphone for geo-tracking. I'm an enthusiastic, but plodding, runner. Unlike many runners, I prefer to not run with a smartphone so this approach doesn't work for me. If you need a GPS-enabled fitness watch, there are many other options on the market from Garmin, TomTom, Suunto - as well as the Fitbit Surge.
Personalisation & integration
Fitbit is walking the tightrope between fitness watch and fashion smartwatch. The ability to change frames and bands means you can change look of the Blaze easily. The Fitbit app lets you choose different watch faces but the choices are limited to just four with no way to create your own faces or do any customisation.
Despite the falling out between Fitbit and Apple, started by Fitbit's decision to not integrate with Apple Health resulting in Apple removing Fitbit devices from their stores, Fitbit integrates with almost every other fitness service we could think of including the Under Armor family of apps and Strava. FitStar gets some special treatment with three different FitStar workouts built into the Blaze.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When people see the Blaze on my wrist, reactions vary between curiosity and "yuck". I have to agree the Blaze isn't the most attractive watch. It's quite chunky and sits off the wrist because of the device's thickness.
But the activity tracking is excellent, the supporting app works well with lots of options to work with other, non-Fitbit services as well as plant of opportunity for social interaction.
Is it worth the local price of $329? Even with some discounting down to $299 already happening there's a significant price hike given the US price is US$199. But if you're not looking for the full all-you-can-eat smartwatch experience, can live with the lack of GPS and waterproofing and don't mind the look it's a solid performer with great battery life, an easy to read screen and excellent activity tracking.