Fitbit Blaze First Look Review

Today, I received my new Fitbit Blaze.  I was extremely excited to get the Fitbit Blaze because it had some great features I really wanted from a Fitbit.  It has a watch type color display. It has a band that can be switched to another color or style. I can connect it with the GPS on my phone to better track my activity outdoors.  I walk, but others may use it for running or bike rides. It is also going to get Reminders to Move in the future by firmware update (as per Fitbit). This post is a first look and very early review.

Blaze in Box

This is my 4th Fitbit and I am really excited about it.  I started with my first Fitbit a couple of years ago, when I bought a Fitbit One that I carried in my pocket. It was nice, but when the Fitbit Force came out I replaced it to get a wrist-based tracker with a display (my husband had a Flex which was wrist based, but didn’t have a stats display).  The Force was recalled and Fitbit refunded that purchase.  Then, last year I bought the Charge HR when it came out.  The Charge HR was similar to the Force except it had a heart rate monitor built into it so I could measure my heart rate throughout the day while wearing it on my wrist.  I posted previously when I first received the Charge HR and then later posted an update.  I was happy with the Charge HR, but wished it had a GPS and I really liked the changeable bands on the Flex.

And, then last month, Fitbit announced the Blaze.  I ordered it that day as it had a number of the features that were really appealing to me.  It was more like a watch with a large color touchscreen with Gorilla glass.  You can change the wristbands on it.  That was a feature that the Flex had that I loved, but I didn’t like the other limitations of the Flex.  While the Blaze doesn’t have GPS built into it, it will connect to my phone GPS and use that to give me a nice map of my route when I get home.  Just being able to change wristbands and the connected GPS were enough to sell me on the Blaze.  In addition, because of the larger display it can display more information and you can tell it when you track an activity what you are doing.

I got it this afternoon and took it out for a walk. I am happy with it so far although I had one glitch that was user error.

Unboxing and Set Up

The Fitbit Blaze came in this box:

Blaze Box

Note that I bought the Size Small.  It comes in Small, Large and XL.  For the Charge HR I bought the Large.  It was getting to be loose on me, so this time I bought the Small and it fits very well.  A Large would have been too big.

Inside the box, is the Fitbit itself, waiting to be set up.

Blaze in Box

 

Also in the box is the charger.  There is no manual in the box, but it can be seen on the mobile app or online.

I paired the Blaze with my Fitbit account using the mobile app.  I had already read on the Fitbit Help forum that this is way easier than trying to connect the Blaze on a computer unless you either have Bluetooth on your computer or have a dongle from a previous Fitbit.  That is because this Fitbit does not come with a dongle to use in place of built in Bluetooth on your computer.  However, if you have an existing dongle, this will pair with that dongle.  I do have an existing dongle, but it was easier to just connect using the mobile app.

Once connected, I immediate charged the Blaze.  To do this you pop the Blaze out of the frame of the wristband (easy to do, you just push it) and then pop it in the charger.

Blaze Charging

In the upper left of the display you can see where you are in terms of fully charging.  On the upper right of the picture you can see part of the Blaze frame without the Blaze in it.

For me, as an existing Fitbit owner, there was not much for me to do to set up my Blaze.  I did have to choose my clock face (more about that later) and I had to set up my alarms.  I did not have to do anything at Weight Watchers.  My existing syncing with Fitbit carried over as I was simply adding this device to my existing Fitbit account.

Once the Blaze was set up and charged, I took a picture of it next to my Charge HR to give an idea of the size difference.

Blaze Charge HR

I bought both in plum (I love purple).  The bands are similar but not identical.  The Blaze band is wider than that of the Charge HR and seems a bit more flexible (that is good).  The pattern on the Blaze is different than that on the Charge HR as can be seen in the picture.

The display on the Charge HR was nice enough, but very limited.  You basically got time and date and your stats: steps, calories burned, current heart rate, distance, and stairs.  You could also initiate a generic workout mode and could see the stats for the workout as you were doing them.  You would scroll through stats one at a time by hitting the button on the side.

The Blaze has a large color display and you can get a lot more information (more on that below).  The face is much wider, but it is worth it to get the additional features.  One thing I really like about the Blaze is that it is much thinner in terms of height than the Fitbit Surge.  I had considered the Surge when I bought the Charge HR because it has a built in GPS, but it was huge and very thick.

Here is a photo of the back of the Blaze.

Blaze Back

The rectangle in the middle is where the heart rate monitor is located.  There needs to be good contact between this and the wrist to get the best heart rate tracking.  Below that is the charging port.

Taking the Blaze For a Walk

As soon as I got it charged I took the Blaze for a walk in the neighborhood.

You can move from screen to screen on the Blaze by swiping to the side.  First, you have a clock face, then you can Swipe to the Today screen, and then to Exercise.  When you tap on Exercise, you are first given the option of Run.

Blaze Activity Choice

By default you are given 6 exercise shortcuts: Run, Bike, Weights, Treadmill, Elliptical and Workout.  Workout is basically a generic workout for anything not in the other groups.  You also have 1 more shortcut you can add.  When I went for the walk I hadn’t done that yet, so I used Run even though I was actually walking.  Since then, I added Walk as my 7th option.

When you tap on Run, you get an opportunity to connect to your phone for connected GPS.  This first time I had to select on my phone to allow it access to my location information.  Once I did that I could then tap an arrow to start the workout.  At that point you get a screen that shows your distance:

Blaze Miles

At the bottom on the left it shows how long you have been doing the workout. On the right, you can tap to pause the workout.

You can then swipe down on the screen to see the current heart rate:

Blaze HR

This still shows the workout time on the bottom left.  Oh, see the two dots above the heart?  That is telling me I am in the Fat Burn zone.  Two dots below would be the Peak zone and 1 dot above and 1 below would be the cardio zone.  A heart outline that is not filled in would be out of zone.

The display is not persistent which I guess is to save on battery life.  However, when you raise your arm and kind of turn it to you the display pops on.  This feature existed on the Charge HR but rarely worked for me.  I would turn on the display on that tracker by hitting the button on the left.  For the Blaze, the Quick View works much, much, much better.  I can also hit the button on the left or I can tap on the frame twice.

If you swipe down from heart rate, you get a screen showing the current pace.  I didn’t take a picture of it as I was standing still while my husband did these pictures.  The next screen after that has the average pace:

Blaze Pace

And then the next screen tells you the calories burned so far in the workout.  Somehow, I didn’t get a picture of that.  If you continue to scroll down, the next screen shows the number of steps so far in the workout.

Blaze Steps

Note that you can pick a particular screen you want to focus on during the workout and simply look at that one.  You don’t have to scroll through unless you want to.

When you end the workout you can tap on the flag in the upper right of the screen:

Blaze Flag

When you tap on that, you get a results screen (I failed to do that after the long walk so I just turned on a run while I was here at home which is why there aren’t many results to show below):

Blaze Results

You get summary information which shows the total time, distance, pace, heart rate average, max heart rate, calories burned, steps and feet (I think that is elevation, not sure).

When I got home I was eager to check how the workout looked on the Fitbit webpage and on the mobile app.  You do get a nifty map showing the route taken.  You can also get the map on the terrain and you get information and a graph showing the elevation.  I was very happy with the information I received.  You can also set running cues, either based on distance (1/2 mile, 1 mile, etc.) or based upon time (10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc.). You get the pace per mile and per lap.  Also, you get a graph of the pace throughout the workout, as well as graphs of the heart rate, heart rate zones, and calorie burn.

I wore a chest strap heart rate monitor during the walk so I could compare it to Fitbit.  I use my HRM with Digifit which I have had talking to Fitbit to give my calorie burn during exercise.  I do this because if I do that then for higher exertion activity, Weight Watchers will use that workout data to give me more FitPoints than I would get just using steps.  The problem is that since Weight Watchers updated FitPoints to put in the baseline requirement, Weight Watchers has been double counting my steps and the workout from Digifit.  So, I still wore the HRM today but I disconnected Digifit from Weight Watchers so it wouldn’t get double counted.  I wanted to use the chest strap HRM and the Blaze to see how they each did on calories burned and on the heart rate.

But…here is where the glitch occurred.  When I looked on Fitbit, I realized that only the first 39 minutes of my 54 minute walk had been tracked.  I think what happened is that while I was looking at the face of the Blaze I had somehow hit the pause on the screen (see the bottom right of the pics above from my walk) and so the last 15 minutes of the walk didn’t get tracked.  Next time I will be more careful about that.

Because of that I can’t exactly compare the results of the Blaze workout versus the Digifit workout since Digifit covered more time.  But, from what I could see the two were very comparable both in terms of calories burned and heart rate.  The main reason I have been wearing a heart rate monitor during walking was to get the extra FitPoints by having intensity counted and because I wanted the route information and pace information.  Now, that I have the connected GPS on my Blaze I don’t think I have to wear the HRM during walks.  I will check the calorie burn after walks and if the intensity would cause me to earn more FitPoints than I would get from my steps alone I will then record those extra FitPoints on Weight Watchers (and I don’t have to worry about double counting).  I will still use the HRM when I do weight lifting as wrist based heart rate monitors don’t do well with that type of activity.

The Today Screen

One of the screens that is to the right of the clock screen is called Today.  Which you tap on it you get summary information for the day:

Blaze Today Steps Blaze Today Distance Calories

Above I have tapped and then scrolled to show steps, current heart rate with resting heart rate below (nothing is shown in the photo as I had the Blaze off when the photo was taken), total distance, and calories burned. You can also scroll down (by touching the screen) to get the number of floors of stairs you have walked.  Note the circles for miles and calories.  The part of the circle that has not been filled in is where I have not yet met today’s goal.  This will fill in as I get closer to my daily goal.

The Today screen is a good summary of information.  On the Charge HR this was basically the information you got by clicking the button to show one item at a time.  It is easier to get this information on the Blaze since you just have to swipe from the clock face to show the Today screen, then tap on it and scroll down to see this information.

That said, in certain situations I don’t want to have to tap at all.  During a workout it isn’t an issue, of course.  In that situation, I usually pay most attention to heart rate.  So, I would start my workout, then get to the screen showing heart rate and just leave it there for the whole workout.  Whenever I move my arm toward me, I will see the heart rate.

But, what if I want to know my heart rate or my steps or my calories burned without having to go to the Today screen?  The answer to this is to choose carefully the clock face you want to use.

Clock Face Choice

You have 4 clock faces to choose from.

Blaze Clock Options

This is an important choice because this is the first screen you will see on the Blaze unless you are in a workout.  Right now, if I glance down to my wrist I just see a black screen.  I can wake it up by tapping on the frame (on the screen also) or hitting the button on the left.  Or, what I will do most of the time, is simply raise my arm toward me and the screen will wake up.

So far I really like the Blaze, but I am not entirely happy with the clock face options.  I believe that there is a possibility of other choices at some point or for more customization, but there is no guarantee that will happen.  Given that, I have to choose the best one available now.  On the Charge HR, the default was to show the time and date.  You could then choose what to show next.  I chose the heart rate.  To see my heart rate, I would wake up the Charge HR and then hit the button to get to the heart rate.  And, I could continue to do that to scroll through everything else.

One clock face option is really kind of pretty.  This is called Flare:

Blaze Face Flare

This is very subtle and nice looking.  I could see using this clock face when I want something more watch-like.  The circle corresponds to what the minutes are for the hour. At the time I took this picture it was 6:44 and that corresponds to where the dots end.  You can see two other dots on the upper right.  It was indicated in the Fitbit help forum that the more the arms of the flair extend from the center of the block, the more active you were during that part of the hour. I wasn’t very active in the hour before I took that picture so there isn’t much flair there.

I really liked this clock face the best.  But, you can only get the date under the time. You can’t get heart rate information or anything else.  To see my heart rate, I would have to swipe to the Today Screen, tap it, and then look at my heart rate (and would have to scroll down to get some other types of information if I wanted more).

Not being happy with that, I regretfully switched clock faces.  Oh, one thing I didn’t like.  You can’t select a clock face on the Blaze itself.  You must either go into the mobile app or go to the dashboard browser to do so.  You then have to sync the choice to your Blaze. The next face I checked was Pop:

Blaze Pop

On the positive side, I liked that I could with a glance see where I was relatively speaking on both my steps and calorie burn goals.  Also, you can tap on the icons at the top and then will get a screen where you can swipe to see steps, current heart rate, and calories burned.  This is easier than going to the Today screen.  I almost chose this for my clock face.  But, two things stopped me.

First, heart rate is not displayed on the screen.  It would have been so simple to put the current heart rate where the heart is shown.  As it is, you have to tap to get to the heart rate.

Second, I hated the clock part of this.  I guess it is meant to have a modern look.  But, I thought it was oversized and ugly.  I didn’t like how part of the numbers are cut off.  Also, to the left of the 6 you can faintly see a zero.  And, I didn’t like the lack of a colon between the hour and minutes.  This was just too ugly for me.

At that, I tried the clock face called Zone:

Blaze Face Zone

I liked this face.  The colors correspond to your heart rate.  The colors are cool when the heart rate is low and go to warmer colors when higher.  I don’t have a picture of it but a little while after my walk when my heart rate was still in the 80s, the face was green at the bottom and sort of blue-green on the top. Reportedly, it is yellow when at higher heart rate like in a workout.  Some people say that makes it hard to read.  That said, most of the time when I am in a workout I will be tracking the workout so I would be looking at the workout screens not the clock screen.

I quite liked Zone.  It wasn’t as pretty as Flare, but you can choose to display heart rate under the time.  I really liked that. However, you can’t tap to then see steps or calories burned.  You only have the choice to display heart rate or the day and date under the time.  I would prefer to be able to tap and also have the option to show steps or calories burned.

The final option was the Original:

Blaze Face Steps Blaze Face Calories

The nice thing about the Original is that you can tap to show either heart rate (not pictured above) or steps or calories burned or floors or flights of stairs or the date.  The picture above was when I had met my step goal for the day so the circle is filled in.  If you haven’t met that goal, the circle is partially filled in to show how close you are to meeting your goal. (Again, I have steps set as my main goal.  This might be different if you had something else set as the main goal).

I liked the Original in terms of information given, but didn’t really like having an analog clock with no numbers.  Yes, I can tell time on an analog clock, with or without numbers.  But, it isn’t my preference.  I would rather have the choices you have here to show different things, but be able to do that on Flare (best) or Zone (acceptable).

For now, I am using the Original clock face.  If I find that I am not often looking at steps and calorie burn, I may switch to Zone.  After all, it isn’t that big a deal to have to go to the Today screen to tap and see my steps.

Reminder to Move

I wanted to talk about one feature which has been promised, but has yet to arrive.  That feature is what Fitbit calls Reminder to Move, but I have often heard referred to as idle alert.  Reminders to Move (or idle alert) is a feature where if you have been sedentary for awhile your Fitbit will alert you to get up and move.

This is a hugely important feature to me.  I sit at a desk most of the day.  My leisure activities are often sedentary (reading, writing this blog, web surfing, etc.).  For a long time I had a little program on my computer that would alert me every hour to get up a move around.  I liked it, but was frustrated that I didn’t have it when I wasn’t on the computer.  So, I got an app for my phone that reminds me to stand up periodically.  But, often, when I am immersed in something and am not holding my phone I don’t notice that alert.

Finally, I set alarms on my Fitbit Charge HR for set times during the day so that would be a reminder.  That was OK, but had limitations.  First, it was based on time of day and not my activity.  It might go off while I was actually in the middle of a workout. Second, Fitbit limits us to 8 alarms.  I use a couple of those alarms as just regular getting up in the morning alarms.  That left me only 6 alarms that could be used to remind me to move.  Better than nothing, but I wanted much more than that.  And, I really wanted it tied to how active I had been not, rather than to time of day.

For a long time, Fitbit users have been asking for idle alert on the feature suggestions page.  When the Blaze was announced some news outlets initially said it would have such a feature.  Hopes were dashed when Fitbit said those reports had been wrong and the feature was not in the Blaze.

Then, Fitbit announced another fitness tracker, the Alta. In some ways, the Alta is a step backwards from the Fitbit Blaze.  It has no heart rate monitor, a limited display much more similar to that of the Charge HR, and lacks many of the feature of the Blaze.  It is, however, $70 cheaper than the Blaze (which costs $199.95).  It does have wristbands that can be changed and has a light, sleek look.  In fact, you can best think of the Alta as an updated Fitbit Flex.  But, the Alta has something that no other Fitbit has:  Reminders to Move.  Apparently you will get a reminder to move that encourages you to reach an hourly goal of 250 steps.  I don’t have a lot of details on that feature but apparently it reminds you to move (I would guess through a buzz but not sure) by telling you how many steps you need to get to 250 in that hour.  I don’t know if you can customize that at all.

At first, I was stricken when I saw the Alta because I really wanted Reminders to Move.  But, not having a heart rate monitor was a deal breaker for me and I loved the display on the Blaze.  However, Fitbit has announced that it will do a firmware update to add Reminders to Move to the Blaze.  There is no timing announced except that it will be “soon” after the Blaze is released.  The Alta is to come out in March.  Originally it was supposedly to be mid-March.  The Blaze actually shipped early so maybe Alta will as well.  My hope is that by the time Alta ships the firmware on the Blaze will be updated with Reminders to Move.  That said, we don’t know when it will happen.

Other New Features

The Blaze has a ton of other features I haven’t even really looked at yet.

Call, Text and Calendar Alerts

For example, it will notify you of calls, text messages and calendar alerts.  My Charge HR had the phone call notification, but not text or calendar alerts.  That is a nice feature (you must be in range of your phone) and a convenience, but not a huge deal for me.  Still, better to have than not.

FitStar Workouts

You can also get on-screen Fitstar workouts.  There are 3 short workouts that you can select from:  Warm Up, 7 Minute Workout and 10 Minute Abs.  Here is one of the exercises:

Blaze Fitstar

The image moves on the screen to show you what to do.  If you tap the arrow on the bottom right there is a timer for how long you do that exercise, then you move to the next.  Note that the FitStar workouts on the Blaze are standalone workouts independent from a FitStar subscription.  This feature seems OK, but much too limited for me to take it very seriously at this point.

Music Control

You can control music on your smartphone.  You can adjust the volume or pause or play songs and switch to the next song.  You swipe down from the top of the Blaze to get the music control.  You then tap to pause or resume the much or to switch the song:

Blaze Music

The two buttons on the right of the Blaze are the volume control for music.  The top button increases the volume while the bottom button decreases it.

Blaze Volume

This is a nice feature although I’m not sure how often I will use it.  My headphones have volume controls on them so I am more likely to use that.

Criticisms of the Blaze

I think the Blaze is going to meet my needs just fine.  There have been criticisms of it.  I wanted to mention a few of those.

Fitbit Blaze v. Apple Watch

Fitbit itself has said that the Blaze is not meant to compete with the Apple Watch.  Fitbit markets the Blaze as a fitness watch not as an all around device.  Yes, there are some similarities.  They both have similar displays.  They both have bands that can be changed.  They both track certain Fitness information.  They can both do some things that aren’t Fitness related.

The fact, though, is that the Blaze is focused on fitness while the Apple Watch is not.  I considered getting an Apple Watch, particularly since I already have an iPhone and an iPad Pro.  But, from a fitness standpoint, the Apple Watch wasn’t as full-featured as the Fitbit Blaze.  Maybe the next Apple Watch will do more for fitness.  But, for now, it isn’t as good a choice for me.

For non-fitness things, of course, the Apple Watch does more than the Blaze.  There is no doubting that.  That is why Fitbit says that the Blaze is a fitness watch.  It doesn’t have all the features of the Apple Watch.  The cheapest Apple watch is $349, while the Fitbit Blaze is $199.95.  For me, I don’t really need all those features of the Apple Watch.  If the Apple Watch was as good on fitness stuff as the Blaze I would consider it.  But, right now, it doesn’t meet my needs.  But, for other people, the Blaze may be a pale substitute for the Apple Watch.  If you think of the Blaze that way then it is a failure.  But, that isn’t the right way to think of the Blaze, in my opinion.

Connected GPS

Another criticism of the Blaze is that it doesn’t have built in GPS like in the Surge.  In some ways I like the idea of built in GPS.  Some people don’t like the Blaze because you have to have your phone with you to use the GPS in the Blaze.  That doesn’t bother me because I always have my phone with me when I go out to walk.   So, that is a non-issue for me.

And, built in GPS has some negatives.  First, it makes the device larger.  The Surge is very thick and not very nice looking and I think most of that is due to the built in GPS.  The Blaze is much nicer looking.  And, frankly some people have said the Surge GPS isn’t that good, while the one on my phone works well. Also, the GPS in the Blaze would negatively affect battery life.  Fitbit advertises wearing the Blaze for up to 5 days and nights without needing a charge.  Well, maybe.  Supposedly the Charge HR has up to 5 day battery life, but in real life I need to charge mine about every 3 days.  I suspect it will be no better on the Blaze.  But, it would certainly be worse if it had its own built in GPS.  In short, I understand why some people might prefer built in GPS, but I personally prefer the connected GPS.

Non-Persistent Display

The display goes dark after a bit.  You can’t just wear it as a watch with the time showing all the time.  In some ways, that would be a nice option.  But, I am sure it would have a super negative effect on battery life.  For me, the Quick View on the Blaze works really well and the display turns on quickly when I move my arm toward me.  So, yes, it would be nice to have the option for persistent display.  But, I suspect I wouldn’t use it due to what it would do to battery life.

Heart Rate Monitor Limitations

Heart rate monitors on devices worn on the wrist aren’t as good, overall, as those that use a chest strap.  That is just how it is.  The Charge HR is really good at tracking my heart rate in my daily, non-exercise activity.  During exercise, it does fine for me for step based activity like my walks outside or on the treadmill.  It does reasonably well on the elliptical.  It starts going downhill on my stationary bike and is downright awful when I do weight lifting.  I know that and I can accept it as a limitation of having a wrist based heart rate monitor.  When I do weight lifting or ride the stationary bike, I use my chest strap.  It would be nice if Fitbit would let you directly attach a chest strap to your Fitbit account as a device.  But, it doesn’t do that.  However, I can use a chest strap and then have that chest strap talk to Digifit and then have Digifit tell Fitbit how many calories I burned in that activity.

Note that right now I am not doing that due to the double counting problem on Weight Watchers FitPoints.  When I go to the Y for personal training where I lift weights, I can reattach Digifit to Fitbit so I can record that activity on Fitbit. I am not worried about that double counting with Weight Watchers since I don’t walk many steps when I do weight lifting.

Anyway, some people are critical of the Blaze for the same reason they are critical of the Charge HR and Surge due to the inaccuracies of the heart rate monitor in some situations.  For me, I feel the wrist based heart rate monitor is reasonably accurate for all but a few hours of my week.  During the times where I think a wrist based monitor doesn’t work well, I will wear a chest strap.  But, the benefit I get from the heart rate monitor on my Fitbit far outweighs to me the fact I still wear a chest strap a few hours of the week.  Of course, I understand that is very much a YMMV kind of thing.

Conclusion

So far, I am very optimistic about the Blaze.  The display is great looking.  The connected GPS worked great.  I think the Blaze itself is attractive and meets my needs.  The one thing that I envied when my husband had a Flex was that he could change his band.  I absolutely love that I can change the band on the Blaze.  Right now it only has a few band options.  There is the plum band I got which also comes in black and blue.  There is also a leather band and a stainless steel band.  Fitbit is clear that there will be more bands to come.  And, for the Flex, there are many third parties who also made bands for it.  I am sure we will see the same thing with the Blaze.  I love the idea of having a more dressy band that I would wear for occasions where the plum band wouldn’t look appropriate.

The one thing that I am most wanting on the Blaze is to have the reminders to move feature.  I hope that Fitbit does add this as promised.  When it gets added I will report back on that feature and on how I am liking the Blaze.

Comments

  1. Kevin Jones says

    Excellent review. Thank you. I love my Blaze but couldn’t figure out what the right side buttons were for. You answered that. And your review of the clock faces was spot on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge