In the world of wearable fitness accessories, consumers are faced with a slew of decisions and potential pitfalls.
Going too cheap will get you a crappy piece of tech that may look just fine while failing in the realm of usefulness. There are tons of devices in the mid-range that span the spectrum between wonderful and garbage, too. Older generation Fitbits, for instance, were just fine for around $100. Then, in my opinion, the Jawbone line launched with units that were more hit and miss.
What Fitbit's trying with the Blaze, a premium tier fitness wearable, is unique. The company has clearly recognized that consumers want more from their fitness bands without completely breaking the bank. Fitbit is trying to occupy the space between low quality fitness bands and full on smartwatches with the Blaze.
Do they succeed?
The Fitbit Blaze retails for $199.95.
When you search for fitness watches on online retail sites, you'll be met with devices that look like the Blaze with much cheaper price tags. I'm talking about units that fall between $30 and $60 that, to a consumer not really willing to do research, look nearly identical to what Fitbit is offering here.
By going after this space between smartwatches and fitness bands with the Blaze, Fitbit has to fight one of the hardest battles in retail: sticker shock. That is, the company places itself at a disadvantage right off the bat with the cost of the Blaze.
So, what sets the Fitbit Blaze apart? Well, for starters, the brand. Nearly everyone knows Fitbit in the world of fitness wearable tech. Now, I note that as a quality for the Blaze because Fitbit commands a large consumer base. That consumer base means the company has the ability to pump money into making a decent app.
Which, right, seems like a weird place to start with a review of the Blaze, but the app is where, for better or worse, you'll find most of your information. The Fitbit app is, in my mind, among the best on the market made by a fitness company. I've tested several of these fitness apps, and I personally use the likes of Runkeeper and My Fitness Pal on a daily basis and have for years. When I started reviewing fitness wearables, not a single application from one of these band companies has come close. Fitbit has managed to design an app that falls into my routine, something I genuinely appreciate.
The application plays nicely with the Blaze. Connecting the device and setting it up was a breeze on my LG G4. I regularly synced my application with the Blaze without noticing any drops or significant battery loss over the last three weeks.
The app displays information perfectly, lets me tweak my Blaze on the fly and even works with My Fitness Pal for better calorie tracking. Heck, that last feature is practically a selling point in and of itself for the Fitbit brand.
What about the Blaze itself? Does it justify its price tag? Yes and no.
Does the Blaze's feature list match its price?
First and foremost, the Blaze is an activity tracker. It counts steps, monitors your heart rate (although, its reliability here isn't as good as other methods, like a chest strap), tracks distance traveled by connecting to your phone and records sleep. I found the step tracker to be a little on the high side, a bit of annoyance when you're taking issue with individual calories gained and burned.
The Blaze even manages to discern what type of activity you're engaged in based on how you move, something I've seen other trackers like the Jaybird Reign do as well. For better accuracy, though, you can select and start exercises like biking and running that will use your phone's GPS to work efficiently.
The Blaze is not waterproof, however. Don't swim with this thing, and don't take a shower with it. I didn't hit any issues during a few runs in the rain, but I wouldn't really want to push the device's water resistance with its nearly $200 price tag.
This thing's also a semi-smart watch. It tells time, of course, over currently four different digital face schemes. The Blaze's touchscreen stays off until you hold your wrist up to read it, though I found this to be a bit hit or miss. Activating the display when it doesn't automatically is easy enough with a simple button press, but the fact that it doesn't work every time is annoying.
The Blaze also offers a small host of notification options. I connected it to Messenger (Google's SMS application) and my phone. Getting a text or call causes the Blaze to vibrate noticeably, and the message is displayed in an iOS like bubble. You can scroll through your notifications with the touchscreen and clear them. You cannot, however, respond or expand these messages. While I recognize developing a full keyboard would have been too much for this wearable, it would have been nice to see Fitbit create some generic responses to hit while running.
Say you get a text from your significant other reminding you to do something. Allowing users to tap from a selection of suggested responses like "Yes," "No," "Okay" or "I'm working out, I'll call you shortly" would have been wonderful. It's not like these are particularly unheard of features, so maybe we'll see them in an update down the line.
With that said, it was great being able to at least read text messages while working out instead of digging out my phone. I appreciated the feature then, for sure.
Finally, the Fitbit Blaze boasts a neat feature called FitStar. Honestly, it felt like a bit of a gimmicky addition, though it was one that I enjoyed enough to use and hope for future iterations.
You can pick a workout under the FitStar menu, like 10 Minute Abs, and the watch displays exactly how to do each workout with diagrams. Right, cool idea, but I want more from this. I want the Blaze to actually track the activity, offer more workouts and get better through updates. For now, without tracking, it feels like a neat feature that was simply tacked on at the end of these thing's development time. Fitbit wanted to do more with it, but didn't.
A fashionable device with decent usability.
The Fitbit Blaze looks to address the world of fitness tracker customization with its look and additional straps.
The device itself is a simple rectangle. It's black, relatively thin and light weight. It looks fine, though I can't tell you how many people asked me if I got an Apple Watch. That bit was odd.
The display does feature a little too much bezel for my liking, it accounts for almost half of the total face of the device. That reduced screen size, though, seems to pad the battery life… which I found perfect. I used the Blaze heavily, constantly checking the time, tracking activities and syncing with my phone. I averaged around four days of battery life even during heavy use. That's fantastic.
The actual tracker fits into frames connected to a specific band. The Blaze ships with this rubber-esque strap that feels just fine. We also received a leather version that lets you dress up the Blaze a little bit for those going out in public occasions. Fitbit, though, sells even better looking options, though you will pay a premium price.
For instance, the fantastic looking metal links and frame (pictured above) sell for $129.99. That's more than half the cost of the Blaze itself.
The Blaze looks great. It's a bit on the bigger side, though certainly not big enough to warrant knocking the device by any means. Fitbit is offering a wealth of options for customization at launch, and hopefully the catalog only gets better, too.
It's battery life, accuracy, incorporation with the already great Fitbit app and flexibility in style make it a great fitness watch. It arrives with some oddities like the potentially great but obviously under-implemented FitStar.
I'd say the Fitbit Blaze does a decent job straddling the line between complete smartwatch and fitness tracker. Its $199.95 price tag may cause some buyer hesitation, and I do recognize that that's a problem. However, the tracker does enough to justify the price. Perhaps $20 or $25 cheaper would make this thing undeniable.
Disclaimer: We received the Fitbit Blaze and a leather band for review from the company. We used the tracker for roughly three weeks before starting this review.
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