The Fitbit Blaze is strange mixture of different pieces of tech and design philosophy. It is, at its heart, a fitness band. But it looks like a certain smartwatch and it’s being sold as something of a fashion accessory.
Oh, and it all comes apart so it can sport one wipe-clean look for the gym and a separate one for wearing with your haute couture suit.
If simplicity and focus are the hallmarks of great design the Blaze should burn out fast. The weird thing is, it all kinda works and comes together in use.
What’s on your wrist
One of the selling points on the Blaze is the interchangeable strap system. It’s comprised of a metal housing for the actual device, which then connects to a strap that fits around your wrist.
The Blaze itself is a small square unit with a colour touchscreen on one side and a heart rate monitor on the back. It slips nicely into the metal housing and – just in you’re worried it will fly into the crowd during a hard tackle on the rugby pitch – it will not get out of there by mistake.
Once on your wrist, it’s very comfortable. We’re actually going to go out on a limb and stay it’s even more comfortable than it’s little brother the Alta. Even for those of us who hate wearing watches, it was bearable.
And the Apple Watch-ish look also means that the Blaze actually works in a formal setting. It’s just smart enough, even with the basic rubber band, to remain strapped on. We didn’t get a chance to try out any of the other straps, especially not the expensive metal one, but we can see some logic in Fitbit’s plan to have different bands for different occasions.
That’s not to say it’s a design masterpiece. The included buttons on the outside of the unit are really unnecessary, for example. While the single button on one side works great (similar to a home button on a phone) the two additional ones should have been left off. They’re assigned certain functionality which could have easily been accomplished with simple touches. The screen is plenty big enough for this and there’s no latency issues, but instead you’re forced to finger along the edges of the device and press buttons. I missed a a couple of calls because you can’t answer by tapping the big green on-screen button.
While what’s on your body is really well built and comfortable to use, the included charging dock isn’t. We haven’t come across plastic this cheap outside of China city. Getting the Blaze into the dock also requires the removal of the strap, so it winds up being a nuisance as well.
The only other big problem on the outside is the heart rate scanner. It uses insanely bright green optics to take your readings. If your strap isn’t tightened to absurd levels, the light will bleed out, so your wrist looks like a jazzed up Honda in Boksburg on a Saturday night.
This was a massive sticking point when we tried sleeping with it still on, and we had to remove it in a movie when the person next to use gave us the evil eye.
Finally, the battery. We actually got a solid five days of reasonable use. We didn’t any marathons, but put the watch through a fair workout. Even better, when we got the “battery low” signal on a Sunday, the Blaze was still alive and kicking when we reached the charger in our office on Monday.
What’s inside the Blaze
As a fitness tracker the most damning thing we can say about the Blaze is that… it’s just fine. As you’d expect from a Fitbit product, it does what a fitness tracker should do and tells you all your vitals in a pleasant dash. But it’s getting tough for even the mighty FitBit to stand out with exercise features now every watch can read your heartbeat and GPS location.
It has some standout features, we really loved the FitStar workouts which set goals based on past performance, but it’s not a reason we’d chose the Blaze above another wearable.
And the Blaze should be considered a smart wearable and not just a fitness tracker. Sure, it doesn’t have the same range of apps and notification supports as an Android Wear or Apple Watch, but you do get features such as notifications, calls and music control on your wrist.
But there’s a lot of stuff that really needs to be improved with this software. The alarms continually failed to wake us up, the notifications would be turned off and require a lot of manual steps to re-enable them if the phone was switched off or put into airplane mode, syncing times sometimes go on for ages, the gesture sensors are thrown for a loop when you aren’t orientated perfectly perpendicular to the ground… it’s all these little niggles and more that stops the Blaze from getting a solid recommendation.
When buying you also need to consider the R3 999 RRP and expensive straps to take into consideration. The lovely metal option, for example, costs half as much again at R1 999. But, there is a lot of good here too.
We’re sure there’s a large group of people who have been waiting for this blend of tracking and smart features, and we’re sure they’ve already gone off to buy one before reaching the end of the review. If you’re still on the fence, however, we hope we’ve managed to push you one way or the other.