I’ve never been a regular watch-wearer; in fact, the only time you’ll see one on my wrist is when I’m running or out for a nice night on the town with my wife. So I was intrigued to give the new Fitbit Blaze (MSRP $200) a whirl over the past couple weeks to see how it performed as a running watch and all-day timepiece/fitness tracker. Here’s what I thought:
One of the Blaze’s most attractive features is its adaptability. The square watch face easily pops in and out of three available band settings. The classic band and frame (included) is the one I use most often, especially when running or working out, while the luxe leather and luxe metal options (each sold separately) add some sophistication and style to your wrist for an important meeting or special occasion. The classic setup is also slim and light, and I was really impressed by how comfortable it was on my wrist while wearing it throughout the day. The color touchscreen is really intuitive and easy to read. There are four different clock faces to choose from depending on your preferences and/or mood.
Amongst its many functions—many of which I’ll dive deeper into later—the Blaze allows you to sync text and call notifications from your smartphone to your wrist. This feature actually works quite well, but it was one of the first ones I turned off as I found myself staring at my wrist every time there was an alert. You can also control your music from the watch (when synced with your phone), if that’s something that interests you.
I’ll get into the Blaze’s functionality as a running watch below (note: there’s a reason it’s not in this section), but I found its Fitstar exercise feature to be pretty neat. Fitstar, which lives on the watch and doesn’t require syncing with your smartphone or computer, provides you guided instructions and animated images for three different types of workouts: Warm It Up, the 7-Minute Workout and 10-Minute Abs. I didn’t think I’d ever use this feature, but gave it a shot and found the workouts to be pretty effective (what runner can’t stand to do some extra core work?) and the instructions easy to follow.
Finally, the Blaze syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth with your smartphone or computer, connects and uploads relatively seamlessly, and provides you plenty of data, charts and graphics to analyze. The platform also allows you to take part in challenges (e.g. chase a daily step count), follow friends, send motivating messages (and also “cheer” or “taunt” them), and earn badges and trophies for hitting marks that you’ve set for yourself.
The Blaze is not geared toward the performance-minded athlete (which Fitbit doesn’t deny) and the run tracking feature doesn’t provide accurate mileage unless you’re running with your phone and using connected GPS. In multiple test runs not using connected GPS, my mileage was off by as much as four-tenths of a mile for a 5-mile run. That said, the connected GPS feature works really well—mileage was in line with my Garmin 220—but, like the Apple Watch, you need to have your phone with you to enable it. For what it’s worth, the FitBit/Strava sync is one of the most seamless I’ve seen—WAY better, faster and less clunkier than Garmin and Suunto. Like the Surge, the Blaze is missing some key features more performance-minded runners want and need, such as built-in GPS, more on-screen options, the ability to take splits, turn off auto-laps, etc. But for casual runners who aren’t too concerned with performance, accuracy or the ability to take splits during your workout—running is just one of a number of activities you do throughout the week—the watch covers the basics quite well.
Aside from when I’m wearing a Fitbit (I tested a Surge a few months ago), I have no idea how many total steps I’m taking throughout the course of a typical day, what my cumulative mileage is, or how many calories I’ve burned. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you are and how you look at the data. I can understand the appeal for those who need the motivation and accountability to include more activity in their life but I can also see how constantly being exposed to those numbers might make someone obsessive about hitting a given target. One night, prior to going to bed, I did two laps around my apartment to get the 40 steps I needed to hit 20,000 for the day. Of course, I didn’t need those 40 steps, but seeing how those numbers influenced me to take action was eye-opening to me.
The most interesting—and useful—tracking feature for me has been in the area of sleep. The Fitbit app allows you to set a nightly sleep goal. For me, that’s 7 hours, and when I sync my watch to the app in the morning, it lets me know how close I’ve come to that target. This has been super insightful and motivating, as I can see a direct correlation between the quality of my sleep and how I feel and function the next day. Like the Surge and other Fitbit devices, the Blaze recognizes when you fall asleep, when you wake up (and for how long) and how many times you’re restless and/or awake. I’ve found this information to be pretty accurate. There are nights when I’ll fall asleep on the couch for an hour or so, take a few minutes to stumble into bed, and the watch recognizes this break in my sleep, showing I was honked out for a 60-minute stretch (when I was on the couch) and then a 6 or 7 hour stretch (when I finally got into bed.)
I don’t train by heart rate or monitor mine throughout the day, but I do know my numbers (my resting heart rate is typically between 44-48 beats per minute, my max is in the 190-range when I’m really pushing), so I was curious to see what the wrist-based heart-rate tracker told me. I’ve actually been really impressed by how accurate the Blaze’s readings have been when I wake up in the morning, while sitting at my desk, during easy runs and on the few occasions when I pushed hard. There have been a few occasions where the reading has cut out for a few seconds (indicated by a — on the screen) or been a little wonky, but for the most part it’s given me consistent feedback during a variety of activities.
With regular 24/7 wear, including running with connected GPS, I was able to go four and five days, respectively, between my first two charges with the Blaze. This is on par with what Fitbit claims on their website.
The Blaze is a fashion-forward fitness watch that you won’t mind having on your wrist all day, whether you’re going for a short run, heading to the gym, meeting a friend for lunch or going out to a nice dinner. It’s easy to use and performs all the key activity-tracking functions of other fitness watches without being overloaded by third-party apps or extraneous features. Most performance-minded runners and athletes won’t find it suitable for all of their workout needs but for the average active consumer, it’s a home run.