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February 28, 2016

Fitbit Blaze review – CNET

by John_A

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.

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.

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, or roughly £135/AU$280 (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.

fitbit-blaze-30.jpgView full gallery
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.

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Fitbit Blaze next to similar-looking cousins: Apple Watch, iPod Nano with wristband, and 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.

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Blaze tracks steps, heart rate, sleep, stairs, and syncs with the same Fitbit app as always.

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. (Which 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 ten 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).

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