Fitbit Blaze Review

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Preface: I’m looking at this device from a smartwatch point of view, as I’m not a fitness buff in any sense. If you want to know about the FitBit Blaze from a non-fitness person’s point of view, please read on!

Smartwatches. I love the idea of them, a quicker way of seeing information you’d normally need to get by taking your phone out of your pocket. Yet, I dislike the general implementations of any smartwatch I’ve tried: their features, price point, lack of battery life and the annoyance of having them ‘in the way’ of being able to look at my wrist to tell the time.

I’ve reviewed the Samsung Gear 2 previously, and since then tried an original Microsoft Band. They fit into my above description, where I’m hoping the technology and design improves enough to meet my expectations.

While Smartwatches were adapting, so were fitness bands. They seemed to start out as ‘dumb’ devices where a digital watch with a heart rate monitor was considered high end. Those have come along way, with Fitbit and Garmin leading the pack.

Fitbit however (like Microsoft and others), seem to be blending the two devices together into one. Part fitness with step counts, heart rates, GPS and a bunch of other fitness junkie options, as well as phone notifications and music control.

One of Fitbit’s latest releases is the Fitbit Blaze, which seemed to tick a lot of boxes for me personally (aka ‘the stuff I care about’):

  • Battery life: lasts up to 5 days
  • Notifications: Text and call via Bluetooth 4.0
  • Syncs with Windows Vista and later, Mac OS X 10.6 and up, iPhone 4S and later, iPad 3 gen. and later, and leading Android and Windows devices (i.e. all the things)
  • Charge time: One to two hours
  • Fitbit Blaze is sweat, rain and splash proof
  • Sleep Tracking
  • Touch screen
  • Color LCD

This gives us a device that can last for days, charges relatively quickly (charging while getting ready in the morning daily would cover it), provides useful information I care about in a non-bulky form factor, and I can use it on whatever device I’m currently on.

First Setup

When you first power on the FitBit Blaze, you will see a single prompt asking you to set it up by going to a URL fitbit.com/setup. Somehow through black magic I assume, you can install the app on your mobile device of choice and it will detect your watch, ready to be configured. The black magic part is that you don’t configure any connections. Nothing, it just knows you’re near an unconfigured watch. I don’t know if it’s GPS or just seeing the watch broadcasting it’s Bluetooth availability, but whatever they’re doing, it works and is a well designed setup process.

That is, until I tried to do it on Windows Phone 8.1 care of a Lumia 640 XL. Please see my rant* at the bottom of this post for further details, it’s frustrating enough that on this issue alone I wouldn’t touch a FitBit again.

After using an Android phone instead, the above setup process was what I experienced, which was the great experience I’d hoped for. The setup process from the app side asks for your basic information, such as sex, age and weight to make calculations around step count and other nifty functions

Hardware

Technical specifications like CPU don’t matter when a product has it’s own OS – it’s how it works, and the experience that matters. I’ll cover function rather than under the hood here.

Firstly, they’ve designed the watch face so it pops out, by pushing it inward. I thought this would be a benefit due to not having to take the band off, but it’s too tricky to do. The watch itself is quite comfortable to wear and doesn’t feel like it sticks out or has weird lumps. It’s also very light, lighter than my metal analog watch, so there’s no weight concern.

20160429_092442
Fitbit Blaze on Wrist (Hairy arm not included)

The popped off watch face can then be inserted into the dock for charging:

20160429_090727Watch face docked

That system seems to work pretty well – I don’t know if the clipping in and out daily of the watch face will eventually wear the plastic that holds it in, but you’ll probably throw it in the bin due to being obsolete before that happens.

The back of the watch has the standard sensors for heart rate (apparently detecting the volume of blood) which emit green beams of light:

20160429_092801
Underside of FitBit Blaze

The band itself is upgradable, since it’s just a chassis for the watch face. The one that comes with it doesn’t feel premium, but also doesn’t feel cheap, so I see no reason to swap it out.

Buttons and Touch

There’s 3 buttons on the watch, one on the left and two on the right. The left is a ‘back’ button, while the top right is ‘action’ and the bottom right ‘select’. I haven’t really worked out what ‘action’ does, as normally I’m just using the touchscreen or the back button. Pressing it on several menus did nothing.

The touch interface is amply responsive, doesn’t feel laggy, and seems to accurately detect where you’re pressing.

Also, the screen goes off when you’re not using it. To bring it to life, you need the motion option enabled (which is annoying in bed at night when the room lights up because you turned over), or by pressing any button. I’d prefer a low energy constant output of the time, like the Microsoft Lumia phones have.. but then we wouldn’t have 5 days battery life. Still, I’d like the option.

Menu Options on Watch

There’s a few different watch interfaces you can choose from the Fitbit app, and when I say few, there was about 3 from memory. Not a huge choice. Beyond the default time screen there’s:

Today – shows you all your stats for the day such as steps, fat burn, distance walked, calories and floors (as in, how many floors you’ve walked up)

Exercise – A set of exercise options that will track what you do while running, biking, doing weights etc. Suffice to say I haven’t tested these.

Fitstar – Your watch will tell you what to do, and take you through a workout routine. Also untested, got as far as seeing this and quickly exited the menu option:

20160429_112450Cat and Cows?? The more I think about this, the worse it is.

Timer – Yep, both stopwatch and countdown options here.

Alarm – I like this one, setting an alarm which just vibrates your watch is less distruptive than a noise based alarm. You can’t set the alarm on the watch though, you’ll need to use the app for that.

Settings – 4 settings in there, not very customisable.

Overall, enough options for a basic smart watch. You can also get notifications such as SMS from your phone, and that’s configured from the app too.

Summary

Do I like this watch? I’m asking myself because I’m still not sure. It still has a few inherantly annoying things that smartwathes have, such as low battery life and a screen that doesn’t do the basic function of showing you the time without pressing a button, or enabling ‘light up at any movement’ which has other drawbacks. However. it’s very handy to glance at your watch to see an SMS rather than dragging your phone out of the pocket, and it’s still a step (rather than leap) forward from the smart watches of a year ago.

It’s also a hybrid fitness watch and smart watch – I do like to know the basics of step count and heart rate, but the other functions are lost on me personally. Along with my rant below, I can’t recommend the watch, but nor can I dismiss it. It’s one of the better ones out so far, and I don’t believe anyone would be disappointed in their purchase. If you don’t mind buying a new watch every year, then this is worth getting. If you don’t want to buy a new watch every year, then maybe wait for something newer… however, something better may take quite a while to show up.

 

*Rant time:

FitBit Blaze is not supported on Windows Phone 8.1, despite the box implying that it is, and the support site not indicating any issues against the Lumia 640XL phone I was setting it up against.

20160420_213758“Works with iPhone, Android and Windows devices.” – the word ‘some’ apparently left out.

I raised this with FitBit’s Support Twitter account and didn’t get any helpful answer:

Giving up on their lackluster Twitter support, I searched their forums and found this: https://community.fitbit.com/t5/Windows-10-App-Windows-Phone-App/Blaze-not-listed-on-Windows-phone-app/td-p/1213142

The ‘answer’ from that from 1st March 2016 (almost two months ago from time of writing) was this:

Hi everyone! Thanks for moving this to the Windows forum @PureEvil! 
I understand that some of you have already done this but, for those that haven’t tried it yet; if you’re not seeing Blaze appear in the app, please try uninstalling and reinstalling the app.
For users with Windows 8.1, the Blaze tracker is optimized for Windows 10. I highly suggest using a mobile device, tablet, or a computer with Windows 10 installed for Blaze to work properly.
There will be an app update coming later on this week to help with Blaze not appearing on the current app version. I’ll make sure to update you all here once it’s released and will be available to answer any questions.
Thanks for your patience!

There’s no further update, and somehow that’s an acceptable answer. There is no Blaze option appearing at the time of writing. Based on this crappy support experience, I want nothing further to do with the company’s products, which are highly successful and hardly cheap. If everything they had didn’t indicate that this combination of devices was supported, there wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.

I ended up having to buy an Android phone at a similar cost to the FitBit itself, the Oppo R7s – which I’m really impressed with for it’s price, but money I shouldn’t have had to spend.

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