The big photos in the Macy’s window sell a gorgeous device. It’s sleek and a perfect blend of class and 80s retro-aesthetics. The magazine spreads and the shots in internet ads and even the outside of the box concur: the Fitbit Blaze is a goddamn looker. Then you open the box and the device comes out and you cry because suddenly it is ugly-as-balls 2013 and Fitbit honestly expects you to wear that on your wrist?!
The Blaze is Tinder pretty. It’s gorgeous from afar and a hot mess up close. That’s where you can see how cheap the finish on the metal parts are and you can shudder while touching the sweat-resistant rubber wrist band. A leather band is available too, but it’s stiff feeling like a knock off purse—versus the more supple band found in a premium smartwatch like the Huawei Watch.
But the real offender isn’t the band or the metal cage. It’s the chunky little computer at the heart of the Blaze. Fitbit hasn’t reinvented the wheel with this style of fitness tracker—where a fat computer sits in a cage on your wrist. Instead they’ve gone back to something earlier and clunkier—like those cavemen who said “Nah man, square wheels are better.”
And this things is clunky. Its sits high on the wrist and looks like a Casio watch mated with your mom’s six-year old Android phone back behind the shed. But then they didn’t catch the baby when it came out? And it migrated into the electronics department at Target and took up with all the Apple Watch knock offs and it’s OLD ENOUGH MOM AND DAD. IT CAN DO WHAT IT WANTS.
It’s a shame this is such a fucking eyesore of a device because god damn, god damn, are the inner workings of this thing a delight. Chiefly it can go for days without needing a recharge. I started using it directly out of the box, with less than half battery life, and didn’t need to scrounge up the charger for more than 24 hours. The charger is as awful and toylike as the device itself, but the Blaze is still chugging along, more than three days after later.
Battery life has always been, and will continue to be, the primary weak point of wearables. Few people have really expressed the desire to charge their watch or their glasses or their pants like they charge nearly every other device they own. Things that get coated in a thin film of your sweat daily? Those are the things you don’t want to plug in at the end of the night. The Blaze’s epic battery life takes a little of the sting out of it being a chargeable wearable.
But the Blaze’s guts have one big problem. A problem that winks at you garishly whenever you take the watch off and blinks against your skin late at night when you’re trying to sleep. The Blaze has an optical heart rate sensor. Optical heart rate sensors have become increasingly popular with every wrist wearable that acts like it wants you to keep trim. They’re lurking there in the watches and the fitness trackers and sending out their little flashes of light to better measure the flow of blood just beneath your skin.
But optical heart rate monitors are notoriously bad at accurately getting a reading, and the best way to get that reading is to wear the wearable high up on your wrist like a...dork. You remember that kid who wore his t-shirt tucked into his sweatpants and was rocking velcro shoes in high school? That’s who you channel when you wear an optical heart rate monitor as science intended.
If you don’t wear one as intended you get weird results. Like the time I was enjoying a respite on the john and my Blaze said my heart rate spiked. My roommate suggested I immediately see a doctor and eat more fiber. A more fitness-savvy friend suggested I reposition the watch further up on my wrist.
The friend was right (I did enjoy a few days of broccoli just to be safe).
The Blaze’s heart rate feature—like the heart rate feature in every device that uses optical sensors—is more parlor trick than reliable data.
But FitBit’s proprietary watch OS is the real deal. Most smartwatches fall into two categories: Apple Watch OS or Android Wear. Samsung, Pebble—those guys are outliers and now they’re joined by Fitbit’s software. But where those work to compete with the big guys, FitBit is focused on doing just one thing.
Getting you ripped.
There are no confusing apps to struggle with. You will not be turning off your lights with your watch or navigating the mean streets of New York City with it. You will use it to watch how far you walk your dog, and how many steps you climb (also, presumably, you will use it to tell time).
There’s only a few “apps” to mess with. The Today app gives you all the above info and Exercise lets you time and track real workouts. The star of the FitBit show is FitStar. It guides you through a series of workouts designed to get you off your ass.
The Fitbit Blaze, with a small multitude of available straps and incredibly good battery life, wants to be the watch you wear all the time—in the shower, at the office, and on a run—and grab the market of people who want more than what the excellent Fitbit Charge HR offers, but less than the $300-plus entry level smartwatches like the Huawei Watch and Apple Watch. And if you want a fitness focused time piece for long jogs and extended bouts of gym rattiness, then the Fitbit Blaze is excellent. For the rest of us it’s an eye sore strapped to your wrist.
- 48-plus hours of battery life
- Handy FitStar workout routines
- Tracks when I drop a duece
- Seriously. Scroll back up and look at it. Would you want that on your wrist every day? No? Exactly.
- Price: $199.95
- Screen: Color Touchscreen
- Connectivity: Bluetooth-enabled; GPS via phone
- Heart Rate Sensor Type: Optical