This isn’t the heralded Apple Watch challenger. It also isn’t even the big dog in Fitbit’s kennel. But the Fitbit Blaze is a properly good activity tracker that more than compensates for its shortcomings with a couple of wicked exclusive additions.

Fitbit Blaze: Hooked up

In terms of the product line, the Fitbit Blaze sits below Surge, losing out on GPS functionality in the process. But it gains interchangeable straps and is lighter and more comfortable to wear all day. Plus there’s a significant improvement in battery life over what we experienced with the super watch which died within a day of use.

It does all the same things like continuous heart rate tracking, activity tracking, step counting and sleep tracking. On the sports side you can load different profiles from the app like running, yoga and workout and the watch will recruit your phone’s GPS for distance and speed metrics. To set Blaze apart within its own product family and from competitors at its price point, Fitbit acquired the FitStar app. This endows the watch with the magical powers of on-device workout coaching. It’s a watered down version of the app that includes a dynamic warm up, the 7 Minute Workout and a cardio routine, but it will do the job in a pinch if you can’t get to the gym.

To be honest, I didn’t like the Blaze design when I first saw the marketing material and the CES press releases. But now I don’t quite mind it on my wrist. I’ll probably get a different strap in future. But only because I’m getting tired of adjusting it tighter every time I need accurate heart rate monitoring during a workout. Another concern is that the charging cradle is really a little box that the removable core unit (the black bit) goes into. Not the most convenient solution and certainly not the best option if you want to use it as a nightstand clock.

But then, this isn’t a smartwatch.

It’s a fitness tracker that can control music playback and serve call and message notifications to your wrist. Think of the smart features as added value and not the main event. And that’s really when the Blaze comes into its own. I got about two and a bit days out of the battery consistently with regular running and CrossFit workouts and really enjoyed it, but I keep going back to my Samsung Gear S2 because I’ve become accustomed to responding to text messages and checking the weather and my calendar on a watch. The Gear S2 is also waterproof, which gives me more peace of mind. Blaze is only rain and sweat resistant, not submersible. It’s an irritating oversight on Fitbit’s part.

The Fitbit Blaze is a full-featured fitness watch that does all-day tracking. And it won’t draw too much attention in a wide variety of social settings. You also get access to Fitbit’s ever-improving app. The company’s superior step-counting algorithm and have your activity data eligible for reward on most wellness programmes. Five stars for the Blaze, then.

Just the facts

Display: Touchscreen LCD
Sensors: Optical heart rate, Bluetooth (for app syncing and notifications), accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope
Price: R4 000, myistore.co.za

Test notes

All-day heart rate tracking gives a great overview of your fluctuations each day. I anticipated a cold by interrogating irregular heart rate readings. Be warned though, Fitbit have stated that this isn’t a health device. Its design does allow a lot of ambient light around the optical sensor, which will negatively affect readings.

 

 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.