X

Fitbit Blaze review: Fitness-infused watch that's more likable than you'd expect

Fitbit's first crack at an everyday fitness smartwatch is mostly a success

Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

See full bio
7 min read

My wife said to me, "I want a fitness tracker that's a watch. Can you get one for me?" I know there are lots of options. But I'm not sure a lot would be up her alley. There are almost-normal watches that have some basic fitness in them, like the Withings Activite Pop. There are super-powered smartwatches that do some health tracking but need lots of charging, like Apple Watch. And there are dedicated fitness watches for runners.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg
7.7

Fitbit Blaze

The Good

Comfortable design; a large, readable display; good-looking accessories; solid four-day-plus battery life; works with iPhones and Android phones.

The Bad

It's wide; pop-out design for band-swapping and charging feels clunky; can't shower with it; baked-in Fitstar workouts don't do much.

The Bottom Line

Fitbit's first real smartwatch gets a lot of things right, including comfort, features and price, but it's not a slam-dunk design for everyone.

Then there's Fitbit.

The Fitbit Blaze is the company's first major attempt at making an everyday watch. It's somewhere between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, and picks a little from both. It's a similar idea to what other companies like Garmin already have, but with Fitbit's software. And it costs $200/AU$330, or roughly £135 (it has a variety of bands and accessories that can make it look nicer, but also run up the price).

I wore one for a week. Would it be my ideal combination watch and fitness tracker of choice? Well, it comes really really close.

Editors' note (August 29, 2016): Fitbit will soon be pushing a software update to the Blaze that delivers new digital watch faces and adds third-party phone notifications and reminders to move. New band accessories will also soon be available. Prospective buyers should also note that Fitbit also unveiled a new watch-like Charge 2 fitness tracker. Apple, meanwhile, is expected to announce an updated Apple Watch as early as September 7. We'll update this review with impressions of the software update and competitive landscape soon.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

At first I thought: I don't want to wear this

The Blaze aims to look attractive. It is, sort of. But a lot of the Fitbit Blaze's design feels weirdly retro, like a first-gen smartwatch or something vaguely '80s. Someone at work called it a "DeLorean on your wrist." It also has an angular Diesel watch-like look. The sharp corners and wide screen aren't for everyone. I'd say the office was pretty split on it. Some thought it was surprisingly lightweight and looked great, and others said it wasn't their style at all.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg

Fitbit Blaze seen next to its similar-looking cousins: the Apple Watch, an iPod Nano with wristband and the Pebble Time Steel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I wasn't wild about it at first, but after taking off the Apple Watch and riding solo with Fitbit Blaze I found it met most of my needs. It's not a bad design, either. And it's extremely comfortable to wear. The whole package reminds me a bit like the Basis Peak (if you're a smartwatch nerd, you might remember). Peak tried to be a fully automatic fitness watch. Its one-week battery life and always-on screen made it really convenient. Fitbit Blaze feels similarly convenient, but it doesn't have an always-on screen. The Blaze's finicky LED touchscreen blinks off after just a few seconds, but at least it lights up when you raise your wrist or tap.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg

Like other Fitbit products, the Blaze tracks steps, heart rate, sleep, stairs and syncs with the Fitbit smartphone app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Then I thought: This isn't much different than a regular Fitbit

The Blaze tracks steps, stair climbing, heart rate and sleep automatically, just like our current favorite fitness tracker, Fitbit Charge HR. It also adds a large color touchscreen and side buttons, which can let you start and stop workouts plus get stats mid-session like heart rate, pace, etc. It comes with four fitness watch faces, which are all a little easier to read than the Charge HR's super-tiny display. And it can work as a stopwatch or timer.

The Blaze has a few small "smart" functions: it gets texts, shows incoming phone calls and calendar reminders. It can control music playback from your phone with a mini-remote on the screen. But that's it. (Thankfully, messages can be silenced.) It can buzz you with silent alarms, too, for wake-up calls. Is that enough? I missed the extra messages, hooks and some apps of the Apple Watch. But I don't always need them. After a couple of days, I learned to do without them. For someone who hates the idea of a smartwatch, Fitbit Blaze might be just enough of a balance.

In fact, most of the Blaze's features are pretty similar to the more expensive Fitbit Surge, except the Surge has an always-on black and white screen, and also has built-in stand-alone GPS. By contrast, the Blaze needs to sync with the GPS on your phone to track runs. This means you need to have your phone with you -- something serious runners sometimes don't like to do.

I like that the Blaze records "active exercise" when it senses you're working hard for over 10 minutes. After each day, much like Apple Watch and other trackers are starting to do, I could get a better sense of how sedentary I was (or wasn't).

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg

Exercise tracking is a lot easier on Blaze than Charge HR.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Suddenly I realized, I'm still wearing it

The difference is the feel, and style. Blaze fits pretty well on my wrist, actually. I can see stats a lot better. The Blaze pops in and out of its included elastomer and metal band, and can be used with alternative leather and steel-link ones. It costs $30/AU$50 for extra elastomer bands (which is roughly £20), $100/AU$170 for leather bands (around £70) and $130/AU$220 for metal links (£90). I tried a review sample steel link band, which felt like similar things I've seen for Pebble and other smartwatches. But it's weird to keep popping the little iPod Nano-like Blaze in and out of things, and sometimes I felt like I was pushing so hard I worried I'd break it.

One week in, the Fitbit Blaze has found a place on my wrist. I miss Apple Watch for its much more hooked-in messages, weather, phone calls and Apple Pay. But this isn't so bad: it feels so comfortable, and I forget it's there. It's very wearable. But only one of the four fitness watch faces feels good enough for everyday use. I hooked in my Withings scale with a Fitbit-Withings account link-up. That's Fitbit's advantage: it's pretty hooked into most things you'd need, including nutritional tracking.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg

There are four watch faces, all of them displaying fitness a bit differently.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best thing: its fitness watch faces

The Apple Watch doesn't have any dedicated fitness watch faces, but Fitbit does and they're great. I'd still like better design for the four that are included, but the ability to get quick, at-a-glance steps, heart rate and activity goal info makes this feel like a convenient tool.

Next best thing: its battery life

The Blaze gets around four days on a charge. That means I don't have to worry about recharging the battery daily, mostly. I can sleep with it. (But I can't shower with it: Blaze isn't made for that, just like all other Fitbits). Some trackers do better, but for an everyday watch it's better than the average smartwatch.

Not so hot: awkward charger

But when it gets time to charge the Blaze, I have to deal with the absolutely bizarre charger. I pop out the Blaze from its band and stick it in a little cradle. Why not just make a smaller magnetic charger clip, like the Pebble Time does, or nearly any other smartwatch? I have no idea. But I like having the less-hassle, longer-battery idea for a wrist tracker.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg

No comment.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Just plain weird: on-watch workouts

Fitbit acquired Fitstar, a company that creates customized workouts, last year. Fitstar appears on the Blaze in the basic form of three pre-installed workout sessions. What you see, if you start one, are a series of timers along with on-screen instructions of what to do. Knee lifts! Jumping jacks! Cats and cows (I have no idea).

I was left to try to replicate these during the timed bits, until a buzz told me to look for my next set of instructions. I winged it. I didn't know if I was doing anything correctly. Fitbit Blaze can't sense if you're doing anything right...it just offers timers. Maybe Blaze will be able to load up workouts that a trainer helps you create in the future, giving a quick reminder shortcut on your wrist. That would be great, but the Blaze can't be a trainer substitute. Not for me.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg

Fitbit Blaze and its bands.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are too many Fitbits

Here's something bizarre: the Fitbit Alta, Fitbit's other brand new, fashion-oriented but less-expensive fitness band debuting alongside the Blaze, lacks Blaze's heart rate tracking. But it has get-up-and-stand notifications that encourage a little hourly movement, which Blaze doesn't have yet. (Fitbit says stand reminders are coming soon to Blaze, at least.)

Alta and Blaze both can track activities and even exercise sessions automatically, as well as steps and sleep. They both get notifications from your phone. But then, there are six other Fitbits currently being sold. They all do different things, too. I couldn't even begin to guess which one to buy if I was visiting Fitbit's website. The answer for most people, still, is Fitbit Charge HR.

Blaze comes close to being even better, and to some people it might be. But the hardware feels a little too clunky, and the software too limited. It's a bit basic. That's the idea, I get it. But as regular watches get smarter and smartwatches get better at fitness, where does that leave Fitbit? Somewhere in the awkward middle, I'd say. But at $200 in the US -- versus $300 to $400 for Apple Watch -- it might be a reasonable compromise for those in the market for a good-enough smartwatch with decent fitness tracker capabilities.

If you want a watch that does fitness and don't want a weird-looking fitness tracker, Blaze might be the perfect Fitbit.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpg
7.7

Fitbit Blaze

Score Breakdown

Design 7Battery 7Performance 8Software 7Features 8