Fitbit is currently one of the top names in the fitness tracking device industry and also one of few companies that compete against the ever-growing Apple Watch, although Apple’s product steps more into the smartwatch category and counts less as an activity tracker.
Sales of the Apple Watch have been on the rise since the launch in April 2015, so shipments of all the other companies in the wearables industry have been more or less impacted by the arrival of a new device gaining all the attention.
Fitbit tried to counteract this migration towards smartwatches with two new devices launched this year, namely the Blaze and the Alta models, which have both experienced strong sales from the very beginning.
The company sold no less than 1 million Blaze units only in the first month of availability, with shipments reaching 4.8 million sold units during the first quarter of the year. Sales of Fitbit thus increased by 50 percent, with revenues totaling $505 million, up from $337 million the year before.
Since the Fitbit Blaze is such a good-selling device, we wanted to see what this is all about and took one for a several-week-long test in an attempt to determine not necessarily if it’s better than the competition, but if it brings so many upgrades over the previous models.
The Fitbit Surge, for example, which is the best-selling device ever produced by the company, comes with pretty much everything you’d want from an activity tracker, including a wide variety of workouts, a built-in GPS tracker, and a heart-rate monitor.
So does the Blaze offer so many advantages as compared to the Surge? Should you buy a Blaze instead of a Microsoft Band or an Apple Watch? These are some of the questions we’re trying to answer with today’s review.
Design and build quality
It’s worth mentioning from the very beginning that Fitbit aimed to make the Blaze a modern device that you should be able to wear all day long, no matter the outfit.
The device now looks a bit more masculine and comes with dimensions that place it in the men’s watches category. It has a screen size of 31.75mm diagonally, and the display area measures 25.38×19.04mm.
As compared to the Surge, which came with non-interchangeable straps, the Blaze just targets a bigger audience, and it gives options that have never been offered on a Fitbit device, including the possibility of replacing the standard band. Ours came with a blue silicone band that proved to be quite comfortable on the hand, but since it uses standard lugs, you could easily replace it with any kind of band you want, including leather – that wouldn’t be appropriate for a very active person, though.
It’s obvious that Fitbit paid much more attention to the design and build quality of the Blaze, and it is the little things that confirm it. For instance, the strap comes with a little clip that makes sure that the watch stays in place, a thing that’s very important especially when performing hard workouts.
The watch itself is made of the display, so it can be removed from the frame, which, in turn, is attached to the strap. Whenever you want to recharge the device, you need to pull out the display from the metal frame, and that wouldn’t have been a problem if Fitbit had used something more durable than hard plastic. The screen edges seem to be rather easy to scratch, and our review unit quickly got a small mark because of this.
The Fitbit Blaze weighs only 44 grams, so it’s pretty light, and you’ll barely feel it, although its dimensions make you know it’s there all the time.
Overall, the Fitbit Blaze is most definitely a worthy successor to the Surge, and it’s very clear where Fitbit was aiming with this design. It wants to give buyers more options to customize and personalize the device while also helping them match its look to pretty much any outfit.
Hardware and performance
First and foremost, the screen. The Blaze is the first Fitbit model that boasts a color screen, but don’t expect anything too innovative. The display offers 16-bit color at a resolution of 240×180 pixels and comes with scratch protection thanks to Gorilla Glass 3.
It’s very clear that the screen is not even close to being high-end, but this isn’t what Fitbit was aiming for anyway. The company actually tried to offer a decent color display, the first in its history on an activity tracker, without impacting battery life. So the longer autonomy of the Blaze is to compensate for the rather poor quality of the display.
Then, it’s the sensors that make it a fitness tracker. The Blaze comes with pretty much the standard feature lineup on any activity tracking device these days but lacks one that’s very important and that becomes a deal-breaker for many: GPS tracking.
“The 16-bit display is just as good (or bad) as a no-color screen.”
Unlike the Surge, the Fitbit Blaze does not come with a built-in GPS tracker, so in order to get more detailed stats, map your routes or view the distance you cover during a workout, the device needs to be connected via Bluetooth to your mobile device. This way, the Blaze uses the phone’s GPS module, a configuration that we’ve already seen before on other smartwatches and activity trackers.
The main reason for this is once again the desire to offer longer battery life. GPS modules are generally the ones draining batteries of our wearables the fastest, so by not offering one on the Blaze, Fitbit makes sure that you won’t have to recharge the device every day. The power usage to transfer data through Bluetooth is significantly smaller than in the case of a GPS module, so depending on your needs, Fitbit could have made the right call.
In terms of sensors, the Fitbit Blaze packs a 3-axis accelerometer, an optical heart rate monitor, an altimeter, and an ambient light sensor. It also features built-in memory to track 7 days of detailed motion data and can keep your daily totals for the past 30 days.
The device comes with Bluetooth 4.0 and is not waterproof. It’s water-resistant, but not waterproof, so while it should be able to withstand rain and sweat, you aren’t recommended to swim or take a shower with it.
Features (smartwatch and activity tracking)
The Fitbit Blaze is one of the company’s first attempts to offer more than a simple activity tracker, so it comes with more advanced smartwatch capabilities, not only in the hardware and software areas, but also in terms of design. The interchangeable bands are the best example here, especially because this way it’s easier to match the Blaze to your outfit.
Unfortunately, however, this is going to be one very short section. Although Fitbit wanted to make the Blaze more of a smartwatch, it remains a pure activity tracker, so it fails to deliver in a category where the Apple Watch, for instance, gains the most.
Before anything, however, it is not even worth comparing the Apple Watch with the Fitbit Blaze because the two are still aimed at different buyers, despite Fitbit’s intention to tackle the other segment too.
So for example, there are just four watch faces, one uglier than the other, but it’s very clear that we could be subjective here. The default theme that ships with the Blaze is the only one that’s worth using, in our opinion, and there’s no option to customize it in any way. Fitbit is currently considering offering more faces, as feedback in this regard keeps coming, but no decision has been made just yet.
Then, there’s the notification support. By default, Fitbit comes with support for just three types of notifications on your wrist: phone calls, text messages, and calendar appointments. There’s no support for third-party apps such as WhatsApp (although Android users are one step ahead here), emails, or anything like that. This is just pretty basic notification support, so there’s clearly plenty of room for improvement here.
There’s no speaker, but just a vibration motor, so when you receive a call, you can only feel the device vibrating, but not ringing. You can’t answer a call, so the closest thing you get is actually the notification on your screen. So if you’re cycling, pull over, find the phone in your backpack and answer the call, all of these before it’s too late.
Then, the Fitbit Blaze lacks the typical smartwatch capabilities, such as weather information, and the only things you see on its face are the step count, calories burned, and heart rate. But again, Fitbit isn’t necessarily aiming to offer such features, as it’s still more focused on the activity tracking side.
There are lots of little annoying things that Fitbit seriously needs to fix as soon as possible, such as switching from 12-hour to 24-hour format. You can’t do this from the companion phone app, but you need to log into your Fitbit profile on the company’s page, edit your region settings and then choose the 24-hour format. Sync the Blaze, and you’re done. Frustrating, to say the least.
This is where the Fitbit Blaze should really excel. And at some level, it actually does.
Ugly 8-bit UI aside, the Blaze offers support for the most common workouts, including running and cycling. You get the typical statistics, such as calories burned, distance, time, and heart rate activity during the workouts, but only if the Blaze is connected to your mobile phone via Bluetooth. If no phone connection is available, only an estimate of the burned calories, the heart rate, and the time spent working out are provided.
The Blaze can track steps, distance, floors climbed, calories burned, heart rate, sleep, and exercise stats, and a permanent connection to a phone is a must-have to get all of these.
The steps are automatically tracked with the 3-axis accelerometer, so it can provide detailed information regarding frequency, duration, intensity, and patterns of movements, distance traveled, calories burned, and sleep quality.
For counting floors, the device uses an altimeter that calculates the altitude based on atmospheric pressure. To determine whenever you climb a new floor, the device analyzes continuous motion with an elevation gain of 3 meters, and we’ve noticed that this is quite accurate most of the time, although it fails especially in the case of buildings with small stairs.
Sleep tracking is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s there, and this is always a good thing. It automatically kicks in, but it sometimes fails to detect you’re sleeping, and unfortunately, there’s no manual mode to turn it on. It uses the accelerometer to determine when you’re not moving and the heart rate to monitor heart activity so that it can generate reports regarding sleep efficiency. This is the same system that other trackers, including the Microsoft Band, use to track your sleep.
As for the heart-rate tracker, the Blaze monitors heart rate data at 1-second intervals when you exercise and at 5-second ones all other times, so it’s safe to say that it’s kind of accurate. Not all the time, though, as we’ve noticed slight differences between the Blaze and other activity trackers providing the same stats for a specific workout.
What’s very important, however, is that the Blaze offers heart rate stats, with support for 3 different zones: fat burning, cardio, and heavy. This way, you can analyze your exercises and better adapt them to your needs – for instance, you can configure a specific workout to help you stay in the fat-burning zone all the time if losing weight is your main goal.
A similar feature has been recently introduced by Microsoft on its Band 2, and those who want to stay in tip-top shape already find it quite useful, so it’s clearly very important that Fitbit features such capabilities.
As compared to the other trackers, we’ve found the Fitbit Blaze to be quite accurate most of the time, offering features that are in the same region as the Microsoft Band, for example.
When it comes to the Apple Watch, it’s not a secret that Apple’s device is off-target at random moments, so even though both watches use a phone connection to collect data, the Fitbit Blaze is just more appropriate for fitness tracking. There’s a small difference of heart-rate activity and distance on the Apple Watch (usually between 10-20 bpm and +/- 400 m for distance tracking).
Another thing that’s worth having in mind is that, when syncing the Fitbit Blaze with an iPhone, keeping the application running on the phone is mandatory. If you close the app, the activity tracker can no longer connect to use GPS tracking, and this is the same behavior we’ve seen on Intel’s Basis Peak (which has its very own problems right now, by the way).
Overall, however, the Fitbit Blaze is a good companion for fitness tracking, although we do feel like a GPS module would have made it even better than that. Having a phone with you all the time is not always possible, and if your daily phone is an iPhone 6s Plus, imagine how hard it is to do workouts such as running with your phone always in your pocket.
As we’ve said several times throughout the review, there are certain areas where Fitbit hasn’t offered the best features on the market in its search of battery life. The best examples here are the display, which is an 8-bit screen, and the lack of a GPS module, but when looking at battery life specs, it’s very clear that it was worth it. But only if you were looking for an activity tracker, because if you want a smartwatch with longer battery life, this isn’t the right choice.
We’ve used the Fitbit Blaze with one cycling session every day for approximately 2 hours, an always-on Bluetooth connection, and all notifications enabled. The battery life reached nearly 5 days, which is clearly quite impressive for a device launched this year.
“Best battery life on the market right now. Without a GPS tracker, that is.”
Recharging completes in just 60 minutes, which once again is somewhat startling, but you wouldn’t expect anything else, given the fact that it features just a small battery (its exact capacity hasn’t been revealed by Fitbit), and it lacks a higher resolution screen or GPS tracking.
All in all, the Fitbit Blaze won’t disappoint when it comes to battery life, and Fitbit has clearly made a pretty good job here. And yet, we can’t help but ask for a GPS tracker because that’s the biggest drawback here.
The bottom line
After spending a couple of weeks with the Fitbit Blaze, there’s just one conclusion. If you’re looking for an activity tracker, this might be the right choice. If what you want is a smartwatch, then not so much.
Now let’s take these two statements one at a time and see what we meant.
First of all, we said “might” because the Fitbit Blaze performs well for an activity tracker, but it lacks certain features that would make it a little bit more advanced and independent of a mobile phone. A GPS tracker, for instance, would have allowed us to use it without a mobile phone, and for certain activities, such as running, this would really come in handy. Having a phone with you all the time could be really frustrating, and this is why we’d incline to choose the Microsoft Band over the Fitbit Blaze.
Second of all, why isn’t this a good choice for a smartwatch? Pretty much because it wasn’t even supposed to be one. It lacks support for third-party app notifications, it doesn’t have a speaker, it cannot show emails, and has just an 8-bit screen that makes everything look quite ugly for the decade we’re living in.
So in the end, the Fitbit Blaze is just what it’s supposed to be: a decent fitness tracker that needs just a few upgrades here and there to become a true 5-star device. Despite the fact that it comes with a better design and more personalization options, there are devices out there offering much more than that.
|Excellent battery life||No GPS tracker|
|Very comfortable on the wrist||Poor display quality|
|Good-looking design||Cheap look|
|Fast charging||Slow operating system|
|Affordable price||Lack of faces|