4 things you won't like about Fitbit Blaze — and 3 you will

Fitbit's latest fitness tracker doesn't have any unique new features that set it apart, and as such, it's not a true Apple Watch rival. Blaze does have three compelling features, however, and one of them might surprise you.

fitbit blaze smartwatches smartwatch ces 2016
REUTERS/Steve Marcus

When Fitbit first unveiled its $200 Blaze "smart fitness watch" in January, many Fitbit fans — myself included — rolled their eyes. Fitbit stock took a dive after Blaze's debut. I even wrote a blog post that detailed three ways Fitbit missed its mark with Blaze

Three months later, Blaze reviews are mixed at best. And yet, Blaze is currently the No. 1 best-selling smartwatch on Amazon.

So is Blaze a belly flop, or a success?

I've been using Fitbit's latest wristband activity tracker for five days. Here's the verdict: Blaze has one surprising strength. It's a quality product, and some Fitbit users (or potential users) will appreciate it. Overall, I like the device, but it doesn't push the fitness tracking ball forward. And that's disappointing.

[ Find Fitbit Blaze on Amazon *What’s this?* ]

Let's get the bad news out of the way first.

4 things you won't love about Fitbit Blaze

1. Blaze doesn't have any new activity tracking features

In essence, Blaze simply repackages features and functions the Fitbit community already uses. Blaze's main new feature, FitStar, adds workouts right on the watch. These workouts are fine, but I wanted Fitbit to up its game with its newest device. More specifically, I'd hoped for actionable insights into activity data or more useful stats.

[Related: 3 reasons to buy Fitbit's new Alta band, and 2 reasons not to]

For example, I want to see how long I've been in my target heart rate zone while I'm exercising. However, Fitbit devices, and the majority of other activity trackers, don't provide this data until workouts are over.

2. Blaze is shaped like a stop sign

The Blaze device and the frame in which it sits have an ugly, blocky look, especially when compared to the Apple Watch. It's an improvement over the grayish-blah look of Fitbit Surge ($250), but that's a backhanded compliment. Thankfully, you can change the straps, and they're available in different colors and materials.

fitbit blaze

3. Blaze battery life is weak

Based on my experience with other Fitbit devices, I expected Blaze battery life to be less than Fitbit's stated claim of "up to five days" on a single charge. And I was right; in my tests, Blaze lasted for only two days before the battery ran out. During those two days, I used Blaze to record a total of two hours of exercise; I wore it at night for sleep tracking; and I kept its color screen's brightness level at "normal." 

To recharge Blaze, you must pop it out of its frame and snap it into the proprietary Fitbit charging dock. The first time you do, you'll probably wonder what Fitbit was thinking. (I did.) But you get used to it quickly, and popping the tracker in and out of the frame just takes a second or two.

4. Blaze clock faces aren't inspired

You can currently choose from four Blaze clock faces, but I really don't love any of them. I tried them all and decided the "Pop" face is the best option for me, mainly because I like the large clock numerals and one-tap access to steps, heart rate, and calories burned. But the clock face options are less than ideal.

blaze clock faces

3 things you'll love about Fitbit Blaze

1. Blaze heart rate tracking is accurate

I tested Blaze's heart rate readings during five different types of workouts: run, walk, elliptical, spinning, and treadmill. To my surprise, its heart rate readings were extremely close (within about 5 beats per minute) to the ones I got using Polar's H7 chest strap, which is often acknowledged as one of the most accurate consumer heart-rate trackers.

I also compared Blaze's heart rate readings to Fitbit Charge's ($150) readings and found the Charge numbers to be consistently low compared to Blaze and the Polar chest strap.

2. Blaze's on-screen interface is intuitive

Fitbit's developers did a good job organizing the various modes and information that are accessible on Blaze. For navigation, you swipe left to flip through screens, including "Today," which displays the current day's steps and other stats; "Exercise," where you can start tracking one of multiple workouts; "FitStar;" "Timer;" "Alarms;" and "Settings." The colorful screen also looks great.

3. Blaze gets benefit of GPS without the battery drain

Blaze uses your smartphone's GPS to map runs and capture stats, such as pace and workout duration. That means you must carry your smartphone when exercising to capture the data.

For some, this is a drawback. My friend Michelle Dodd, who runs Flower Power Sports, a company that offers triathlon training and coaching for women, says the lack of GPS "certainly won't help [Blaze] stand up to the competition ... As an athlete, I would lean toward a Garmin or another product that has GPS."

She raises valid points, but GPS is also a battery hog. If Blaze had GPS, you'd have to recharge the device more often. I always carry my smartphone when exercising anyway, so I can switch between podcasts and music, as well as for safety and convenience. So Blaze's lack of GPS, for me, is a benefit instead of a drawback.

Fitbit Blaze vs. Apple Watch

Apple Watch [ Find it on Amazon *What’s this?* ] is the elephant occupying this particular room. If you're torn between an Apple Watch ($350 and up) and Blaze, keep in mind that you can download hundreds of app extensions to add functionality to Apple's device. That's not the case with Blaze.

On the other hand, you cannot share Apple Watch activity tracking data with a community of friends for support and competition, and Fitbit's leaderboard is one of its most motivating features.

I recommend Blaze for the semi-serious athlete or workout junky who isn't interested in the Apple Watch, or any other smartwatch, and who wants to stay in (or join) the Fitbit community. (For more Fitbit buying advice, check out my Fitbit buyer's guide.)

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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