The Blaze is being sold for £159.99. That’s competitively priced against the Apple Watch, which still costs almost double that, but it’s still more expensive than most of Fitbit’s other offerings, which may put some people off.
What do you get over Fitbit’s other models? A colour touchscreen, for a start. This enables more advanced functions such as true smartwatch notifications and music control.
In terms of sensors, the Blaze has a three-axis accelerometer, an optical heart-rate monitor and an altimeter. Crucially, though, there’s no GPS, so this won’t be a true marathon runner’s companion. Instead, built-in GPS is reserved for the range-topping Fitbit Surge (although the Blaze can make use of your phone’s GPS when connected).
Sharp and responsive
The screen is one of the Blaze’s key features, and – for the most part – it satisfies. While it’s not as impressive as the Apple Watch’s, the 1.6-inch colour display is bright and sharp with a resolution of 240 x 180 pixels. It’s easy to see in direct sunlight, and the touchscreen is responsive. Our main issue with the screen is that it’s too small, creating a large bezel around it that makes the watch look dated – although, it must be said, the small screen doesn’t affect usability.
It’s worth noting that the screen isn’t always on; it has to be woken with a flick of the wrist or a press of a button. It’s fairly reliable when it comes to sensing this movement, but there were several occasions when the screen failed to register when a quick glance was needed.
Design-wise, the Blaze had GM’s staff divided; half loved the way it looks, the other half weren’t so sure. It’s obviously meant to look like a smartwatch, but whereas the Apple Watch is smooth and rounded, the Blaze is angular and edgy, giving it a retro look similar to a Casio digital.
The Blaze comes in one size but, thanks to its relatively slender proportions, it’ll look right at home on both male and female wrists.
The watch actually consists of three parts – strap, frame and screen – all of which are interchangeable. Our review model featured a black elastomer strap, infamous for causing rashes on the Fitbit Force. Luckily, we didn’t experience any. In fact, we found the Blaze comfortable and lightweight, even wearing it while we were asleep.
It does, however, feel quite cheap, with a more brittle texture compared to the Apple Watch Sport. The strap can be removed using a simple spring-bar system, enabling you to swap it with other straps from Fitbit, including more premium leather and metal options. These additional straps start at £19.99 and go all the way up to £89.99. Where the leather strap may not be suitable for gym use, you certainly wouldn’t want to wear the elastomer strap to a dinner party, so you could switch between the two to suit the occasion.
In terms of interacting with the device, there are three physical buttons located around the edge of the frame, but most interaction will take place on the touchscreen. The three buttons act as a home/back command (located on the left), and volume/selection buttons on the right. The buttons are especially useful if you’re working out in gloves.
On the rear of the device you’ll find an optical heart-rate monitor, used to measure both your resting heart rate and heart-rate zones during exercise.
The Blaze is sweat-, rain- and splashproof, but isn’t fully submersible, so you won’t be tracking your swim sessions with this device. This seems like a missed opportunity – a chance to win points over the Apple Watch.
One killer feature the Fitbit does have is a five-day battery life; that bests all of its rivals by a long shot, most of which require daily charging. This is partly down to the small screen and low-powered OS, but it’s great to see a wearable that can last the distance.
The charging dock is yet another proprietary job from Fitbit, which means, annoyingly, you can’t use the charging cable from a Surge, Charge HR or Flex. The dock itself is fine, although it does require you to remove the screen unit from the frame (not a difficult task) and clamp it into the dock. This seems overly complicated compared to the wireless-charging solutions found in other smartwatches.
The colour screen gives Fitbit a chance to introduce a new UI, and for a first attempt the company has done pretty well. Navigating the OS is slick and intuitive, with everything more or less laid-out how you’d expect.
Swipe up on the watch face to see your recent messages and notifications (only system notifications, though, including emails, texts, calendars and calls – no Facebook or Whatsapp, which is a shame). Swipe down to see music controls and a silent-mode toggle.
Swiping from the right brings up a menu that includes today’s stats, exercises, a timer, alarms and settings. There’s also FitStar – essentially an app that guides you through workouts, first using the screen to demonstrate the exercise, then timing you while you do it.
At the time of writing, Fitbit offers four different watch faces so that you can customise the look of your wearable. It’s a nice touch, though we hope this concept will be expanded in the future. For what it’s worth, ‘Pop’ is our current favourite.
So the Blaze’s operating system is basic, but functional and easy to work out – that’s a thumbs up in our book. As long as you’re not expecting advanced interactive notifications, and apps similar to those on the Apple Watch, you won’t be disappointed.
Of course, many consumers will primarily use the Blaze for counting steps, and it does this pretty well. It also counts flights of stairs, and estimates the number of calories you’ve burned. How accurate the last two functions are is open for debate – we can’t help feeling that Fitbit’s algorithm overestimates the figures somewhat. But hey, at least it overestimates them consistently, so if it says you burned more calories today than you did yesterday, you can trust that conclusion. On the whole, we’d advise using the Blaze as a motivation device rather than a precise measuring tool.
The touchscreen enables you to select different exercises, such as running, cycling and weight training. When you begin a cycling workout, for example, it’ll time you, and measure how far you’ve travelled, your average and maximum speed, your average and maximum heart rate, your calories burned and your elevation change. Your stats are then displayed postworkout, making the device more useful than a simple step-counter. Although, slightly annoyingly, the screen turns off after a short while, meaning you have to wake it up if you want to analyse your stats in detail.
As previously mentioned, the device features a heart-rate sensor, which will give you a rough idea of your resting heart rate. This seemed accurate to us, matching with other fitness trackers we’ve tried, though obviously it won’t be as good as a dedicated chest-strap monitor.
Bluetooth syncing is fast, connecting first time on every attempt. Once you’ve synced your fitness data, Fitbit’s ecosystem comes into its own. The company has had a lot of time to hone its app, and it really shows. The Fitbit app also offers integration with the likes of Endomondo, MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal, with its wealth of user-sourced food-calorie counts – essential if you’re a dieter.
There’s a lot to like about the Fitbit Blaze, especially if you like monitoring your workouts without having to worry about recharging the battery all the time. But there’s definitely room for improvement in the style stakes.