Fitbit Blaze Review

Fitbit Blaze Review

I’ve had my Fitbit Blaze for over 3 weeks now, so I figured it was time to write up a big post about it. So, here it is: part review, part informational post! It’s really long so…enjoy!

Note: My pictures of the screen DO NOT do this device justice at all. In most cases, the colors are much more vibrant. The lighting in the office and at home are pretty horrible for taking pictures of anything shiny, especially head on.

First, a little background, so you know where I’m coming from. Overall, I’m fairly new to fitness trackers. My opinions and experiences are from the viewpoint of someone who hasn’t been largely in to fitness most of her adult life, and has very little to compare this product to. Here’s what I’ve used so far:

  • Wii Fit Meter: Pretty much nothing more than a basic pedometer and altimeter. Still using this, even with my Blaze, because the distance and altitude challenges on Wii Fit U give some fun goals to work toward (currently working on Mt. Everest for altitude, and Appalachian Trail for distance).
  • Withings Pulse O2: In December 2014 we decided to buy our first “real” fitness trackers. It’s a decent little device, worn on a watch or belt clip. Other than the expected steps/elevation/calorie/distance tracking most devices have, it has sleep tracking, and, as the name suggests, a heart rate sensor. I wore it on the wrist for a while, but eventually switched to the belt clip.
  • Samsung Galaxy S6: My phone is almost always with me, so it’s always tracking my steps while I’m out on walks. I set up S-Health, and put the steps widget on my screen. But it doesn’t really act well as a fitness device on its own. I don’t carry my phone with me everywhere (e.g. around the house), and the heart rate sensor doesn’t work well with my case. Also, S-Health doesn’t sync with the other apps I use. Wearable trackers are far superior.

It’s Fitbit Time!

Last Christmas, I purchased a Fitbit Charge HR for my mom. The always-on heart monitor intrigued me. I’d been wondering how much I was “exerting” myself on our walks and during my other exercise, and decided I wanted one of my own. During my research on the Charge HR and the Surge, I saw Fitbit’s newest device, the Blaze, was due for release in March. With features nearly identical to the Surge (minus on-device GPS), more visual flair, and a price tag $50 cheaper, I made my decision and stuck it out for a couple months.

Come March 6th, I saw that Target had them available. I purchased two online for store pickup, and we drove up to grab them 30 minutes later. Upon getting home, we took them out of the box and set them up!

The Details

Let’s get in to the details. Remember, I’ve never had a Fitbit device before, so some of this may come as no surprise to Fitbit “veterans.”

Physical Appearance & Design

My impression when I first pulled it out of the box was that it’s a nice looking device. Some reviewers have mentioned they don’t like the look or that it’s an “outdated” design, but I don’t really understand the criticism (of course, they compare it to the Apple Watch, which I find boring). I was also happy to see it didn’t look as big on my wrist as I was expecting, though it is still pretty big.

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The Fitbit Blaze is beautiful, in my opinion!

I got the purple (Plum) band in Small. I used the Fitbit band sizing tool before buying and it seemed accurate. Compared to the images on the Fitbit site itself, the purple is true to color.

The frame is a matte silver metal. The Blaze unit itself pops out of the frame for charging. It pops out the back, so there’s no worries about it being pushed out by your wrist. It holds the unit in place quite firmly, so it shouldn’t pop out on its own while not being worn either.

A small thing I really like is the loop that secures the band, so the excess isn’t flopping about and getting caught on things. It has a little nib that goes in the holes on the watch band so it won’t slip out. I’m very thankful for it considering this was a constant problem for me on the Withings Pulse (even to the point of the clasp itself coming lose and almost losing the watch).

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Fitbit Blaze on my wrist for scale.

Comfort

Despite being a little large (though a bit less so than expected), I find the Blaze to be pretty comfortable to wear. I wear it all day and night! Just be sure to keep it clean, as per the instructions, to keep it that way.

Because of the way my wrist is shaped, I find it much more comfortable to wear on the inner side of my wrist instead of on top of my wrist. Fitbit recommends the top of the wrist for accurate heart rate monitoring, but it doesn’t seem wearing it this way is a problem (though results may vary from person to person).

Customization & Accessories

Currently, the Blaze offers 4 different clock faces:

  • Original: Displays an analog clock with your steps progress around the circle, and your current heart rate at the bottom. Tap to toggle between heart rate, mileage, calories burned, floors climbed, steps, and date.
    fitbit_faces_original
  • Pop: Displays the time in large fat numbers at the bottom, and your progress to your steps/calorie goals at the top. The heart in the top-middle animates while it’s picking up a heartbeat. Tapping changes the full screen between time, steps, heart rate, and calories burned.
    fitbit_faces_pop
  • Zone: Displays the time in large numbers and heart rate in small numbers. Tapping changes between date and heart rate. The screen’s background will change color based on heart rate.
    fitbit_faces_zone
  • Flare: Displays the time and date. Dots appear around the screen for each minute of the hour so far, which will flare out in a line with more/bigger dots depending on your activity that minute. I currently use this face, because it’s pretty…though not as much when you’re sitting in a desk at work. 🙂
    fitbit_faces_flare

The Blaze comes standard with one wristband in black, blue, or purple. You can buy replacement standard bands (without frame) for about $30. These standard wristbands are made of an elastomer material, which is a kind of flexible, almost rubbery material (apparently latex-free, for those with sensitivities).

On the more expensive side, for $100 you can buy a black, tan, or grey leather band + frame, and for $130, a stainless steel band + frame. These seem quite pricey, but I suppose that is the world of fashion. There’s also some 3rd party bands out there (use at your own risk, I’d say). In any case, I’m just fine with my default band!

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • All Data Available on All Clock Faces: The Flare clock face doesn’t do anything when you tap it, and Zone only shows heart rate/date. Ideally all clock faces should be able to toggle between all the metrics. Even better? The user could select to hide certain metrics through the dashboard (for example, I’d only want to scroll between date, steps, and heart rate, while others might enjoy other metrics).
  • Remember Current Face Display on Wake: For example, on the Pop face. If you have it currently showing steps and the screen turns off, when you turn it back on it will show the main clock screen again. It would be nice if it stayed on steps!
  • More Clock Faces: I’m not that picky, but more options is always a plus!

Screen & Navigation

The screen is very nice. Vibrant, crisp, and bright. The touch is responsive, even after putting a screen protector on it (even though it has Gorilla Glass, it felt necessary as a wearable). It has 4 brightness modes: Dim, Normal, Max, and Auto.

There are 3 options to wake the screen. The first, and my preferred option, is to press any button. You can also double tap the screen, which I’ve found isn’t always reliable. If you have the Quick View option turned on, you can lift your wrist like you’re looking at a watch (not an option for me, as I wear it inside my wrist).

The navigation is something to get used to.  You swipe right/left to change pages:

  • Clock: Displays the selected clock face. This is the default/home screen.
  • Today: Tap to display today’s stats/progress (Steps, Heart Rate, Miles, Calories, Floors Climbed).
  • Exercise: Select an exercise to track.
  • FitStar: Select an on-screen workout to do.
  • Timer: Select stopwatch or countdown.
  • Alarms: View and turn on/off alarms.
  • Settings: Allows changing a few settings: Quick View, Screen Brightness, Bluetooth, Heart Rate, and Shut Down. Other settings can be found in the app/online dashboard.

Once on the page you want, you tap the screen to enter the “app.” To exit, you press the left-side button. If you press the left-side button again, it will return back to the clock screen.

On the clock screen, you can swipe down to see music controls and turn notifications on/off, or swipe up to see notifications. If you want to see these things on other screens, you can hold down the right-side buttons.

The right-side buttons can also control certain on-screen buttons. For example, if you’re using the stop watch, you can play/pause the timer by using the bottom-right button, and reset the timer with the top-right button.

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Remove “Today” Title Screen: Requiring that you tap to open Todays stats seems like an unnecessary step. There’s no tapping or left/right swiping actions on this screen otherwise, so they could make it so swiping from the clock goes directly to this screen. Then you can swipe to go directly back to clock or to the exercise screen instead of having to press a button, then swipe.
  • Infinite Carousel: The pages have a beginning and end. If you want to get to settings, you have to scroll all the way through, instead of just swiping right from the clock. A small inconvenience, but one easily fixed.
  • Rearrange Apps: This isn’t really a big need. It’s not like there’s a lot of screens to go through. But it would be nice to rearrange things. For example, I would bring the stopwatch closer to the front. This could also include hiding apps. Rearranging could be done on the dashboard, then applied next time you sync.
  • More Use For Buttons: Currently the right-side buttons don’t really do too much. It would be great if these could be used in place of swiping to navigate. For example, the top button scrolls through the screens, and the bottom button opens them.
  • Option to turn off “Tap to Wake”: I accidentally tap my screen often, which causes it to turn on. It’s especially startling at night. I’d personally like to have the option to turn this off, as you can with Quick View.
  • Adjustable Screen Awake Time: Currently the screen stays on for a very short period of inactivity before going back to sleep. Being able to adjust this setting up to 30 seconds would be helpful.
  • Larger Screen Brightness Range: The lowest brightness is still way too bright for in the dark. The brightest seems fine for day time, so more range downwards would be nice!

Battery Life & Charging

Fitbit advertises “up to 5 days” of battery life. This seems to be fairly accurate. I’m getting at least 4 days depending on activity, though I never let it fully run out. Once it says it’s low, I charge it that night while I shower and get ready for bed.

Charging is a bit slower than I’d like, but it’s no more than advertised. It can take up to a couple hours. Personally I use a wall USB charger rather than plug it in through my PC, so I may be charging a bit faster.

The Blaze comes with a charging “dock”. You pop out the unit from the wristband, place it in the dock and close the cover, then plug it in to a USB port. I think I would have preferred it to be able to be charged without removing it from the frame. Also, would be nice if it used a micro-USB plug instead of some proprietary thing (especially considering we have cats who enjoy chewing on cords).

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Battery Percentage Display: Currently, the app shows battery levels of Full, Medium, Low, and the device itself shows a battery icon. I’d really like to be able to see the actual percentage of battery remaining, especially on the device, even if it was in the settings/info page.

Activity Tracking

It’s no secret that Fitbit is the biggest fitness band brand out there, and it seems for good reason. It’s done a great job so far in tracking my steps all day, and does a decent job of automatically figuring out what type of exercise I’m doing with it’s SmartTrack feature.

I like the Exercise feature for manually tracking specific activities. It currently supports 18 activities, of which you can choose up to 7 at a time to be available on your device. I use it to track our larger walks. Doing this gives a set of screens to scroll through: clock, distance, pace, average pace, heart rate, calories burned, and steps. It’s nice to see what you did for a workout, separate from the rest of the day, and in real time. After ending an exercise, it shows you your summary.

The Exercise feature also connects to your phone’s GPS to map the route if you so choose. You can also set up Run Cues in the dashboard so your phone will call out when you reach certain distance or time intervals (by default, 1 mile). Not having on-device GPS may be a deal breaker for some, but I try to always have my phone while I’m out and about. You never know when you might need it in case of emergency! (I know a lot of runners don’t like to carry their phone with them, in which case I’d recommend the FlipBelt to carry it in, rather than leaving it behind).

In the dashboard, you can select a goal to be notified for: Steps, Distance, Calories Burned, and Floors Climbed. When you reach your selected goal, it vibrates, and the next time you turn on the screen it plays a cute little animation (nice that it waits so you don’t miss it)! Once you’ve reached all the goals for the day, at the bottom it says “Wow, that’s a lot of green!” It’s a small thing, but it’s a nice recognition of your achievement.

fitbit_today
“Today” goals. Nailed it!

I’ve had a couple issues, which I can’t really fault Fitbit for. First, running or walking in place at my desk doesn’t get picked up very well, due to my wrist being static on the desk while I type. Second, as with all these devices, it uses atmospheric pressure to determine the floors you’ve climbed. While more accurate that my Fit Meter and Withings Pulse, it still sometimes doesn’t count quite right if I run up and down the stairs.

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Reminders to Move: It’s been mentioned that this will be added in a future firmware update, but I’ll mention it here anyway. A little push to get moving when it notices you’re stationary for a while would be helpful, so you don’t look up at the clock at work and say “Ack! I haven’t gotten out of my chair in 4 hours!” Of course, it should keep in mind the below suggestion of Sleep Times, so it’s not reminding you to move while you sleep!
  • More Goal Reached Notifications: Currently it only vibrates/celebrates when reaching your selected goal. It would be nice to get a little buzz for every goal, and the animation for just your main goal. Then again, why limit it? Give us checkboxes for “vibrate” and “animation” for each goal on the Dashboard, so we can choose what for and how we get notified!
  • Driving Mode: Sometimes it picks up some steps while driving. Adding a toggle where it will not count steps while it’s on would be great! Perhaps it would automatically turn off if it detects excessive movement.
  • Option to Change Units for Altitude: Currently it shows “Floors,” which is a bit abstract considering staircases come in different sizes. Most of the “floors” I’ve climbed have really just been hills. I’d rather it just show feet climbed. Floors doesn’t make sense for outdoor activity!
  • Run Cues for Walking Activity: Currently, Run Cues only work for Running. It would be great to get this functionality for the Walking activity as well!

Heart Rate Monitoring

At first, I wasn’t sure about the heart rate monitor. It seemed a bit sketchy when it was picking up a “heart rate” while it wasn’t even on my wrist. It does stop if you put the device down. It will start trying to track when it detects movement, assuming you have it set to “Auto.” You can turn monitoring on/off as well.

That said, the thing is made to be ON my wrist, and it seems to track pretty reliably. I can’t say for sure if it is tracking the right heart rate, but the fact that it increases when I walk, more when I run, and goes down when I start resting, gives a good enough pattern for the average person. For someone who’s much more in to fitness, or needs a tracker for health conditions, a chest strap or some other “professional” equipment would probably be a better bet.

Only issue here? The lights on the sensor are REALLY bright, and can light up the room at night if you bend your wrist just right. Not much can be done here, but something to consider if you want your heart rate taken over night. Might consider getting a cloth wristband/wrap to place over it at night, if it’s a big issue.

On Screen Workouts (FitStar)

Update 4/2/2016: I’ve now tried the warm-up and 7 minute workout. They’re not bad! I did have an issue with accidentally skipping an exercise, because the wristband I use bumped the buttons on the side. The other issue was that because the vibration is a bit light, I didn’t realize the exercise I was doing had ended, and ended up missing the illustration for the next, leaving me to guess from the name. Lastly, some of the longer exercise names get cut off rather than going to a second line, or doing a text scrolling animation (which made it harder to guess that one exercise).

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Custom Workouts: Would be AWESOME to be able to make a custom workout, where you can choose up to 20 of the already-included exercises, and choose the duration for each (maybe give options for multiples of 30 seconds, up to 2-3 minutes). This would be done in the dashboard and synced to your device so you can use it at any time.
  • Pause on Workout Illustration: If you need to pause the workout (to drink water or just take a quick breather), you have to wait until the exercise actually starts. I’d think it would be better to be able to pause it on the illustration screen, and keep the animation going in case the user has paused to get a better idea of what the exercise is (though should be possible in both).

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Original: Unfortunately, I haven’t made any use of this so far, other than looking at it briefly.

You can select a warm-up, 7 minute workout, or 10 minute abs workout, and it will guide you through the workout. It starts with a quick 10 second silhouette animation to show you how to do the exercise. Then it vibrates to let you know to start. After you’ve done the exercise for the allotted time, it vibrates twice to let you know to check the screen for the next exercise.

The idea of a basic guided workout is pretty awesome. The illustrations it provides seem clear enough to understand the exercise. But 10 seconds of illustration, especially when you’re just finishing up the previous exercise may be too short. In any case, I look forward to checking it out more!

Timer Features

The timers are pretty basic, but a Stopwatch and Countdown timer are certainly a welcome feature on any watch device. But there is still room for a bit of improvement:

  • Stopwatch “Laps”: Being able to press a button to indicate you have finished a lap. This seems like a pretty big oversight for a fitness watch. Especially when you have a nicely sized touch screen to view a list of your lap times after you’re done!

Silent Alarms

This is one of those features I didn’t know I needed in my life until I had it. I love it! The gist of it is that you can set up alarms, and your wrist will vibrate at those times. It’s a nicer way to get woken up than loud sounds, or reminders at work without annoying others.

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Alarm Length: Currently it only cycles through a few sets of pulses, then automatically snoozes. It happens very quickly. Would love to be able to have it go on for 30 seconds-1 minute, especially for if I’m really focused on something.
  • Natural Wake Alarm: Since the device tracks sleep cycles, it could theoretically figure out a good time to wake you up. Let the user set a time, and it would wake you up at an optimal point in your cycle before that time.
  • Heavy Sleeper Alarm: For the user who’s always turning off their alarm or pressing snooze without actually getting up. This alarm wouldn’t turn off until you got up and walked a decent amount of steps (maybe have an auto-shutoff after 5 minutes).
  • Vibration Strength: Being able to set light, medium, and maximum vibration, rather than a single default, would be great.
  • Vibration Patterns: Similar to how you can set patterns on your phone, it would be great for this device. Especially one that starts low and increases to max, so it’s not as startling!
  • Alarm Messages: Right now the screen always says “Look alive!” Would be nice to set custom messages if you’re using it for daily reminders.
  • Set Alarms on Device: Currently alarms can only be set in the app or web dashboard. You can turn on/off existing alarms, but not set up new ones on the device.
  • Snooze Duration: Currently, an alarm that was snoozed will occur again after 9 minutes. It would be nice if this could be adjusted anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Everyone has different needs.

Sleep Tracking

Along with the fact I rarely feel rested, I’m told I snore, and there’s precedent for sleep apnea in my family. So, I’ve recently been pretty interested in sleep quality. My Withings Pulse required I turn on sleep mode. I always either forgot, or was too lazy. Our Sleep Number bed’s Sleep IQ has been disconnected since we got a new internet provider, and also it wasn’t always great at properly detecting bed usage. So, the automatic sleep detection on the Blaze is great to have. I can now get nightly data!

At first it was showing I was getting a solid 8 hours of restful sleep, with little restlessness. After setting sleep tracking to sensitive, it’s showing I get only 4-5 hours of restful sleep. It sure feels like it! I’m not sure how to use this data yet, but I do find it interesting.

The only issue I have with this feature itself: because it is automatic, it sometimes assumes you’re sleeping (or restless) when you’re not, such as laying in bed watching TV/reading, or while it’s charging. Luckily, entries can be edited or deleted in the app.

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Charging Detection: I shouldn’t have to go in and delete entries. It knows when it’s charging, so it shouldn’t think it’s on my wrist and that I’m sleeping!
  • Sleep Times: Allow the user to set their normal sleep times in the app. The band would only look for sleep during those times. If no times are set, it tracks automatically as it does now.
  • Sleep Override: Along with the above, include an override button on the watch itself if you’re about to go to sleep at an abnormal time and want to track it. As it does now, any excessive activity will automatically turn off sleep tracking.
  • Sleep Time Screen Options: An option to make it so the screen will not turn on during sleep times unless the left-side button is pushed. This would prevent Quick View or screen tapping from turning on the screen while you’re trying to sleep. I know I mentioned ability to turn off Quick View/tap to wake, but this would make it so you don’t have to toggle them off every night.

Smart Features

The Blaze is advertised as a Smart Fitness Band. Unfortunately, many reviewers have taken that to mean it should fully function as a smart watch. I don’t believe the Blaze was ever intended to really compete with things like the Apple Watch. First and foremost, it is a fitness watch, and I’d say it does a pretty darn good job of it.

The “smart” features include Call, Text, and Calendar alerts, as well as music controls. For iOS users, they can also answer and decline calls (though you still have to pick up your phone to talk). I think these features are fine, and they seem to work well. I’m not really sure what other “smart” features are really needed in a watch that I can’t just pull out my phone for anyway. May of the features on smart watches seem impractical and better done on the larger screen of the phone itself.

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Decline Phone Calls (Android): I don’t really see the point in answering with your watch, but sending people to voicemail from your watch can be pretty handy. Hopefully they expand this feature to Android in the future.
  • Additional Notification Sources: To be honest, this isn’t for me as I appreciate the very basic call and text notifications. But, I know some people other apps as their main texting apps (Whatsapp, Facebook, etc). I would say we should be able to set up any and all notifications from our phone to get sent to our watches, even games (with the ability to mute whatever apps we wish).
  • Quiet Hours: I have Quiet Hours on my phone, but not everyone does. Being able to set hours where you won’t receive notifications on your watch would be helpful, rather than manually turning them on/off.

Fitbit App/Dashboard/Platform

The App and Dashboard are both much more user friendly than previous things I’ve used, and have a nice clean look about them. The graphs are all easy to read and have great data. Withings looks pretty nice, but it’s a bit hard to navigate, and a bit buggy. The Fit Meter connects to Wii Fit U, with no online dashboard/mobile app companion (oh, how I wish it did!).

fitbit_dashboard
Fitbit Dashboard in browser. Nice and clean! Obviously not tracking my water….

I love the social and game-like features Fitbit has included. You can add friends, and challenge them to see who can do the most steps in a day, the work week, or the weekend. Or, slightly less competitive, is challenging people to simply meet their step goal. They also have personal badges you can earn for daily and lifetime achievements (steps, floors climbed, weight loss, etc). I hope they add more of these in the future, and maybe even tie them together (e.g. a badge for winning challenges)!

I haven’t really explored the dashboard in depth, but I will say there’s a couple things I’d like to see:

  • Challenges: Currently, you can only create, accept, and see any information about challenges through the mobile app. It seems strange for them not to be available through the website.
  • Cumulative Steps: On the graph which displays your steps for the day, it currently shows the amount of steps you made during a certain time period. It would be nice if it showed, in parentheses, how many total steps you had made up to that point as well.
  • Measurements: A way to track other measurements than weight! The best would be being able to put in custom areas of measurement (waist, hips, bust, neck, arms, thighs, etc.)

Using my Fitbit

Getting a Fitbit has increased my activity by a huge margin. I thought I loved my Withings Pulse, but after looking back at the 66 weeks of recorded data, I’ve realized I HAD the device, but I wasn’t really USING it. It didn’t motivate me. I didn’t do the greatest in making sure to wear it. In those 66 weeks, there were 8 weeks with 0-1 days of recorded data, with an average of 5.3 days per week. Admittedly, some of this may be from data loss due to forgetting to sync it as well.

Here’s the really important part…. My highest recorded step count while using my Pulse, by pretty a large margin, was 7,956. My average over the 349 recorded days was pitiful 2,934 steps. When the recommended amount is 10,000 steps per day, that’s not looking great.

I’ve now had my Fitbit Blaze for 21 full days. In this time, my average steps are OVER 9,000! Last week I decided to challenge myself to hit all of the goals Fitbit set for me for 7 days straight. My average steps was 13,050 steps! Take a moment to compare those numbers with the ones from the Pulse. The difference is HUGE. I won’t always be as active as I was last week, but the improvement is definitely there (average for the week before was still over 10,000).

Conclusion

Switching to the Fitbit platform was probably one of the best recent decisions I’ve made. The device actually MOTIVATES me for some reason (even before friends started sending me the fun daily step challenges). While I had already started working out more this year, it has definitely helped even further these past couple weeks. I WANT to walk more. I’ve even walk in place at my desk while at home. Some nights I don’t stop walking until it’s time to head upstairs to get ready for bed (gotta catch up after a long day of sitting at an office job)!

The Blaze itself, while not perfect, is a fantastic device, and I could definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in a fitness watch. For me, it has already been well worth the price tag.