TitaniumGeek




When the FitBit Blaze launched earlier this year in Las Vegas, in spite of the Blaze’s smoking looks, I think it’s fair to say it didn’t set the world on fire. Which is a shame! After living with the FitBit Blaze for a few months, whilst it might not have initially been a white hot passion, my time with the device has turned into a slow-burning love affair. Suffice to say I’ll actually miss it when it goes! Enough with the heat puns – ON WITH THE REVIEW!

FitBit Blaze Review

The FitBit Blaze has been positioned carefully in FitBit’s line up, allowing more information than the Fitbit Charge, whilst lacking the GPS of the FitBit Surge. However, the Blaze really has been polished and doted on by the designers and engineers, not only is it to my eyes one of the more attractive looking smart watches, it’s also got a deliciously vivid OLED screen, which is a real joy to use.

TitaniumGeek IMG_1516 FitBit Blaze review steps smart watch smart notifications running optical HRM HRM Fitbit cycling calorie counter Blaze activity tracker

Device Design

So let’s take a look at the FitBit Blaze. It never fails to amaze me at the quality of some of the packaging for sports tech gear

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Inside we have the usual gubbins

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The FitBit Blaze itself, the charging…Module? Pod? Capsule? and finally, some dead tree telling you what not to do with the FitBit Blaze.

Looking at bit more closely at the FitBit Blaze it’self, we have a metal frame, surrounding the inner workings of the device

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If you look closely on the top left of the Blaze, you can just make out the light sensor

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On the LEFT side of the Blaze is a single button used as the power buttons, and to activate the display

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On the RIGHT there are a further two buttons, used to navigate on the device

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The buttons on the strap actually move small metal pistons, which then work the buttons on the Blaze module

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The FitBit Blaze itself is actually a really small bit of kit when you pop it out of the watch band

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The edges of the Blaze are slightly concave

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Which is how the Blaze stays within the strap, little rubber bumpers on the inside of the strap fitting snugly in the dip

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The straps are user changeable, via small thumb pins at the back of the strap

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Then on the back of the Blaze that we have slightly elevated heart rate sensor

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As well as the dual LEDs and sensor with form the heart rate monitor, there are also the four charge points which juice up the Blaze when you insert it into the charging pod

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The charging pod is relatively unique, most devices seem to have a clip, or magnets, or a charger for the device to sit on top of.

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The cradle opens up, and you slot the FitBit Blaze within, so the contacts touch and the optical HR sits within the recess

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Closing the pod, the FitBit Blaze almost becomes a small desk clock – whilst I think that’s a cool idea, I hasten to add it’s not something I’ve even done, usually just throwing the Blaze + charger on the desk for an hour or so. Although the Blaze certainly doesn’t need to be charging overnight

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As mentioned, I think that the FitBit Blaze is one of the better designs for a sports smartwatch on the market. You’ve more functionality that the Withings Activite series, and when you compare it to similar watches but with the inclusion of GPS, you loose a lot of the charm and delicacy of the smaller Blaze, here with the TomTom Spark and Withings VivoActive HR

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Specification

  • Waterproofing: Sweat, rain, and splash proof – you are not going swimming in the Blaze, but I’ve not had any issue going in the shower with it
  • Screen: OLED
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Altimeter, Ambient light sensor, heart rate monitor
    • Note no GPS –
  • Smart notifications:  Initially Text, Calendar, and Calls, but will be increased to 3rd party notifications in September
  • Battery: 5 days
  • Communication: BlueTooth Smart
  • Weight: 39g

Using the device

The first step to using the FitBit Blaze is getting the FitBit app installed on your phone, and the device update to the latest firmware.

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As we’ll come across shortly that update to the latest firmware is VERY important. The firmware is done from the FitBit app, which is one of the more user-friendly fitness tracker apps out there – perhaps show by the fact this is the only one my Gran seems to get on with!

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Music

By long pressing on the top LEFT-hand button, from the watch face, or swiping down from the watch face, you come to the music control screen – you can also switch notifications off here

Whilst the FitBit Blaze does have onboard storage, it displays what music is playing, and allows you to easily skip tracks. Very useful if you phone is in a pocket somewhere on a run etc.

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Pressing again on either of the RIGHT side buttons on the music control screen brings up the volume controls.

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Activity Tracking

Essentially this is what fitness trackers are all about, self-monitoring, and in Fitbit’s case competing with your friends and relatives!

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It’s surprising when you have the ability to record your steps, how often you find yourself checking, and at various points! Plus if there are two of you in a household with FitBits, be prepared for constant pokes in the side “How many are you on now?”

Apparently, it was vital to know even when doing DinoSnores in the Natural History Museum!

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However, the checking of steps raised my first dislike of the FitBit Blaze – simply compared to checking on the FitBit Charge HR – which you’d just tap, it seemed needlessly complicated on the FitBit Blaze. This was only highlighted by no watch face being able to display the step count be default

I think one of the reasons for this was that I felt the watch faces were limited with only four options
TitaniumGeek IMG_3942 FitBit Blaze review steps smart watch smart notifications running optical HRM HRM Fitbit cycling calorie counter Blaze activity tracker

TitaniumGeek IMG_3941-1024x502 FitBit Blaze review steps smart watch smart notifications running optical HRM HRM Fitbit cycling calorie counter Blaze activity tracker   Crucially NONE easily showing your step count. The Pop face in the bottom LEFT shows dials indicating your activity, HR and calorie burn, but I would have preferred more easily accessible information, rather than having to enter into the FitBit Blaze, and select the “Today” view in the menus

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Now to be fair, the Today app is quite in-depth covering: steps, pulse (inc resting), distance walked, calories burnt, floors climbed

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However, it turned out that I was actually being a bit thick!

On the “Pop” watch face, if you tap on the screen, it first changes to show your steps

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Another tap will bring up your current heart rate

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Then a final tap will display your calories

TitaniumGeek IMG_1788-1024x768 FitBit Blaze review steps smart watch smart notifications running optical HRM HRM Fitbit cycling calorie counter Blaze activity tracker

James was just being very dense. Using the Pop watch face, all I had to do was tap the Blaze once, in the same way as I would have on the Charge!

Stair counting always seems a little…variable in most activity trackers, but the FitBit Blaze seems to do well enough, the FitBit Blaz registers one floor when you climb about ten feet at one time. It does not register floors when you go down, so recording five floors for ascending about forty-five steps, with three landings I think is reasonable

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As we’ve recently seen in the Suunto Spartan Ultra review, the FitBit Blaze steps track happily with the more expensive Garmin’s, whilst frankly showing up the Suunto’s major inaccuracies.

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Companies step trackers have different algorithms to address noise and try to get a realistic figure for your movement. Variability within about 500-1000 steps seems reasonable, given all they a step tracker has to take into account, driving, opening and closing doors, typing etc. What matters more is the reliability, and I have been quite happy with the FitBit Blaze reliability, showing very similar reading to the Fenix3 all through my test period.

Sleep Tracking

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The tracking of your sleep duration is good. But the detailed sleep tracking is very superficial. It feels a little like FitBit wanted to make the data seem to be more substantial than it is, by trying to give detailed information. I think it would have looked better if the app merely gave the duration of sleep time, as that number is very accurate when compared with the Withings Aura  and the Beddit sensor.

HOWEVER, I would also advise strongly against changing sleep sensitivity from Normal to Sensitive in the Advanced Settings within the app

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The issue being that the FitBit Blaze just becomes much too sensitive. You can see here, whilst I was happy getting by usual 6-7 hours sleep, because the Blaze was picking up every movement, it thought that my sleep was much shorter than normal

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Whilst there is an alarm on the FitBit Blaze, a silent vibrating alarm you can set from within that app. It is not a smart alarm, nor connected to your sleep pattern, just a straight forward “buzz at time X”

Heart rate monitoring

Heart rate monitoring is appearing everywhere currently, but FitBit was one of the earlier devices to bring this to the main stream. Monitoring is done in two ways – 24/7, or during activities.

24/7 in order to save on battery, your HR is taken once every 5 seconds, whereas when you are doing an activity – so having quickly reactive HR is more important, the Blaze is recording every 1 second.

The module is essentially the same optical monitoring as seen on the Charge, but given the addition of set exercise the software has been tuned in order to be able given more accurate readings when you are… well active!

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Your resting HR is displayed over the last 30days, personally, I really like 24/7 hear rate monitoring, only as it’s entertaining to look back on your day and see where things have gone up – so on Tuesday there is a raised block for 90mins, as I rode the Zwift ZTR EB

Specific Activities – Running

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The FitBit Blaze can be used as a standalone running device, utilising the HR module on the back, and the accelerometer inside to calculate an estimated distance from the run.

However, if your phone has a GPS module, then there is the option for the Blaze to piggy-back that data, in order to get distance and speed – something you chose by selecting the settings cog on the Run title screen

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When you phone is connected, you’ll see a mobile symptom and signal strength on the top LEFT of the screen. From there you hit the bottom RIGHT Go button, and you’re off to the races!TitaniumGeek IMG_1801-1024x768 FitBit Blaze review steps smart watch smart notifications running optical HRM HRM Fitbit cycling calorie counter Blaze activity tracker   When running the FitBit Blaze can showing the following data: Pace, Heart rate, calories, steps for that activity, time of day, duration, distance.

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You can move through the screens but using your finger to swipe across the screen, or by using the buttons on the RIGHT of the Blaze

After the run, you can view your details on the FitBit app, along with a breakdown of the run

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However, on the 6km run around Belper, I found that the HR trace from the Blaze didn’t match up very well compared to a heart rate strap connected to my Garmin Fenix3.

 

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Cycling

The Cycling option uses the same approach as the running activity. Utilising your GPS for distance and speed.

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It would be nice to be able to pair other sensors over Bluetooth – you can’t – but at the same time, that isn’t the purpose of this watch. The FitBit Blaze is for casual exercisers and people who want a simple way of recording what they had done over the week – NOT sports data geeks.

As long as you are connected to your GPS on the phone, you get to look at all of your speed/distance data on the app at home

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TitaniumGeek IMG_4013 FitBit Blaze review steps smart watch smart notifications running optical HRM HRM Fitbit cycling calorie counter Blaze activity tracker

By comparison, as I have seen with several other optical HR wrist devices, you get a much cleaner trace when using an optical sensor, simply as there is less movement going on at your wrist. This allows the sensor to get a better, be clearly not perfect idea of what your pulse is doing

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FitStar

Highlighting my previous point about casual users, the FitBit Blaze contains the FitStar app. This is similar to a wrist mounted, smartphone free version of Wahoo’s 7 Minutes app

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FitStar gives you the option of three workouts:

  • Warm up
  • 7 Minute Workout (I’m sure I’ve seen that somewhere before?)
  • 10 Minute Abs

Each workout contains a series of bodyweight related exercises. All you need is yourself, and perhaps a mat!

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10 mins abs contains 12 workouts, each with a little animation

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I quite like the FitStar app. It’s a classic case of availability laziness.

I’ve used the Wahoo 7 Mins work out on my phone before, using the position sensors in the Wahoo TICKR X. HOWEVER the presence of the FitStar app on my wrist I found overcame a degree of exercise apathy, and I found I was much more likely to do a 10 min Ab workout after I have climbed out of bed in the morning. OK that’s a lie, I’ve probably done a few 5 min workouts before I have realised I’m late for something, BUT I have done it more often now it’s simply on my wrist. Frankly, that’s what I’d call a win!

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The 7 minutes work out, has another series of 13 work outs to run you through during your session, which can be reviewed before you start, by hitting the list button in the top RIGHT

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Smart notifications

One of my biggest issues when testing the Fitbit Blaze has been the smartphone notifications. In many ways, I’m not sure that I would go as far as to describe the pop-ups as “smart notifications” given that you could only see text messages and calls… how very 2006!

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However, as is the joy of firmware updates – the planned September update will bring the FitBlaze kicking and screaming up to date, specifically adding email updates, but also “notifications from third party apps” – finally, I’ll start being able to see my WhatsApp messages on the device! Seriously, when you are used to having smart notifications coming through to you from every other manufacturer, suddenly losing the updates feels very bizarre!

The notifications alerts, as with everything else, look beautiful on the Fitbit Blaze’s OLED screen – the sooner other manufacturers start using this tech the better!

When an alert comes in, you get a small buzz to the wrist and an indication of what is going on.

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The BlueTooth communication works both ways, so you are able to divert an incoming call to answer phone, by pressing the top button

Sports Tracker

The FitBit Blaze had a bit of a baptism of fire in terms of tests, as it was thrown together with my ride bundle for the RideLondon 100mile cycle

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The metal edges of the FitBit Blaze strap protect the inner device very well, however, the top and bottom parts of the device are a little exposed, and over time can get knocked a little – esp on cupboards I found – leaving little indents in the rubber around the screen. This is probably the biggest gripe that I have over the Blaze.

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Conclusion

As mentioned, I initially didn’t like the Blaze, I felt that it was a little limited compared to some of the more expensive devices out there. Oddly though the Blaze really grows on you over time. Part of this is simply the ease of utility – I used the 7 min/10min abs work out, much more than I have similar apps on my phone, purely as the FitBit Blaze allows more of an opportunistic use, with everything on your wrist.

I think you grow accustomed to the Blaze and quickly grow to enjoy having it with you. The animations on the beautifully crisp OLED display have no lag, and the software works without issue. I have though been really rather irritated however at the lack of 3rd party smart notifications, however as this is being updated in the September 2016 firmware update, I’ve nothing to complain about there now.

The FitBit Blaze is targeted to people who need/want more utility and information than you can get from the standard FitBit Charge HR, but without going full GPS sports watch. Plus the Blaze is relatively clear in it’s design language that this is an active watch, but without becoming utilitarian, or going too far towards the sports side of design.

The Blaze is not a dumb device by any means though, providing the casual user with a lot of information, without drowning you in statistics. The fabulous FitBit app can only help in that regard.

I’ve been wracking my brain to think of what the Blaze design reminds me of, and I twigged. The FitBit Blaze is the fitness tracker equivalent of a Swatch Watch. It’s bright, capable, and slim, but with the option for more subdued staps, and personal styles.

Bottom line, if you are looking an activity tracker, but with something more about it in the style department, and you are not going to sweat over minute variations in heart rate and running pace, then the FitBit Blaze should certainly be a device to consider

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James Gill

<p>Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!</p><br />

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  • Hello James,

    Thank you for this in depth look at the Blaze. I had previously gone through it when I was deciding whether or not I wanted the Blaze. I am happy to report that I did purchase it and wrote my own review based (somewhat:-D) on yours.

    I’d be interested to hear from you about the user experience in general. Did you feel that the software was well designed? Any major or minor annoyances you wish to share? I personally had a few points when it came to the user experience. I didn’t feel as if the flow in the menu was very well thought out. My biggest annoyance was that at times I would flick my wrist to look at the time only to find that I am somewhere in the bowels of the menu from last times. Requiring manual intervention to just see the time.

    Fitstar’s standalone app became famous for its progressional nature and led you onto exercises that were based on user input on difficulty and ability to keep up. The fitstar on the Blaze is just led exercises that are very simple (7 minute workout and the like) without the progress aspect that made them famous. It was a major disappointment for me as I thought Fitstar app was great.

    Keep Up the Geek 🙂