Fitness

Road Test: Fitbit Blaze

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Having recently done a comprehensive review of the new Fitbit Alta HR, I’m pretty well versed on what Fitbits are all about and how useful they are when it comes to increasing awareness of our daily health and wellness habits.

Fitbit provided me with their Fitbit Blaze to put it through its paces for a road test and I must confess, I’m such a fan of the Fitbit Alta HR after reviewing it that this higher end tracker has a lot to live up to in order to compete with it. Read on for my thoughts on the Blaze!

The sales pitch

The Fitbit Blaze is second from the top of their range of wrist trackers, categorised as a ‘smart fitness watch’. Rather than just having swipethrough visibility of your key all-day activities as most of the trackers do, it has a menu showing your day’s activities (Today), workout options for tracking such as spinning, yoga or weights (Exercise), a series of mini workouts (Fitstar), breathing exercises (Relax), a stopwatch and countdown timer, up to eight different alarms, and a settings screen.

Some of its key functions include:

  • Multi-Sport tracking – The ability to specifically track different types of activities rather than recording all exercise in the same way and having to modify it in the app later.
  • Guided breathing sessions – Basic 2 or 5-minute sequences that help to slow and even out your breathing which add an holistic touch of mindfulness that may be useful in stressful moments or when you just feel the need to slow down and take some time out.
  • Fitstar – Three options for guided interval training workouts.
  • Cardio fitness level – Visible from the ‘Heart rate’ tile in the Fitbit app, there’s an estimate of your cardio fitness score (or VO2 max) and cardio fitness level that rates your ability from poor to average based on statistics recorded and personal information. Note: V02 max is traditionally measured in a lab environment so that’s why this is just an estimate.
The look

The Blaze has the only high-res colour touchscreen in the Fitbit range which looks great. It has an octagonal face which is quite large, and as I have a relatively small wrist and typically tend to wear smaller watches, this took a bit of getting used to even with the small sized straps fitted. I can understand why they sell slimmer bands as an alternative accessory.

Your standard Fitbit Blaze is available with a stainless steel frame and durable elastomer straps in either black, blue or plum (see image above). You can also choose from two special editions – black/gunmetal stainless steel, or pink/22k gold plated with a slimmer strap. There are bands and frames that can be bought separately to change the style of your Blaze including leather (you can see the black option below) and metal links.

As for the clock face, the Fitbit app lets you change the appearance of the device itself though I’d love to see some more options available. Choosing one that suits your purpose is actually pretty important; I found it best to use a digital clock (i.e. not the analogue clock face in the image below) that’s large and easy to see at a quick glance. If you choose to not specifically track your exercise activity, the last thing you need when you’re out for a run or in the middle of a spin class is difficulty trying to read your watch.

fitbit blaze

Getting it set up

Like so many high tech products these days the box doesn’t come with much; there’s a small USB charging dock, the Fitbit watch, warranty info and a website URL to help you with the setup.

To charge the device, you pop it out of the frame and insert it into the cradle. I did have some issues with the initial charge at first; it’s supposed to only take a few hours to fully charge but after more than 24 hours in the dock (which was plugged into a PC) it was still flat. I Googled the issue and found many other users had experienced a similar problem, sometimes getting new units sent out under warranty. However, I refused to believe that it was a dud fresh out of the box and successfully managed to charge it by plugging the dock into a USB wall charger we already had. Subsequent charges have been fine via the PC.

I’d already had the app installed on my phone from the Fitbit Alta HR trial, and after connecting the tracker via bluetooth, the Blaze was just added as a second device. Interestingly at this same time there was a firmware update for the watch so improvements are continuing to be made.

The website shows battery life should last up to five days; I typically had to recharge around day six, however, this would vary depending on how much I was using it for workouts (as opposed to just everyday use).

fitbit blaze

The Fitbit app

You download the same app for all Fitbits in the range and its available on Android, Apple and Windows so this section is essentially a repeat of the Alta HR review. The Fitbit app gives you a dashboard to help you monitor your progress to date. The basic startup screen (which can be edited depending on what you want to view) shows your step count, kilometres travelled, calories used up, and how many minutes you’ve spent in purposeful exercise activity. The only difference the Blaze adds to these all-day activities that are tracked is how many floors you climb.

Other options include exercise goals (how many days per week you want to exercise), your previous night’s sleep analysis, hourly activity (a start target of 250+ steps per hour), your heart rate, weight loss progress, water intake, and food intake. The food intake connects to a database of pre-entered foods so that you can track your diet for a more holistic approach – while this database isn’t as good as that of some other apps, you can add your own options into it and scan barcodes from food products (though this function still hasn’t worked for me yet).

There are also challenges you can create or take on which are great if you want to compete against your friends, family or work colleagues, sample workouts to up your fitness level and step count, a place to add your friends who also use Fitbits, and a settings area to change what appears on your watch screen along with various other functions including the silent vibrating alarm.

Heart rate awareness

I’d been trialling the Fitbit Blaze for a week and then fell pregnant – one of the first signs that showed up (well before a pregnancy test confirmed it) was that my reliably stable resting heart rate jumped up by around 10bpm overnight and stayed there. Like the other heart rate trackers made by Fitbit, it uses PurePulse technology which involves green LED lights on the back of the device that periodically flash, reflecting off the skin and detecting changes in blood flow.

With the multi-sport tracking feature you can set it to a screen that focuses on your heart rate which can be helpful during a workout. It would be great if you could set target heart rate ranges which is currently not an option – it’s visible in the app but only after you have completed a workout. However, at least if you know what you’re aiming for the heart rate feature can help you keep an eye on where you’re at. This has been particularly useful for me being pregnant as I’m used to pushing myself during workouts and I can use the heart rate tracker to make sure I’m not overdoing it.

The sleep tracking function

This was one of my favourite functions on the Alta HR that is also present on the Blaze; if you wear your Fitbit at night while you sleep, it uses your heart rate to detect how long you’ve slept and breaks it down into the cycles of key sleep stages: awake time (when you randomly wake up during the night), REM (important for memory and mood), light sleep (promotes mental and physical restoration), and deep sleep (helps with physical recovery and aspects of memory and learning).

This can help you figure out if you’re getting enough sleep, how good the quality of your sleep is and whether something is triggering you to wake up at certain times.

The only problem as I’ve mentioned previously is the size of the watch as I just didn’t find it that comfortable to wear throughout the night. Now that I’m pregnant it’s recommended to sleep on your side – more specifically your left – and as I wear watches on my left wrist this always meant I had that same wrist under my face. This perhaps might not be much of an issue if you’re a back or stomach-sleeper, but I found myself swapping back to the slimmer profiled Alta HR at night when I wanted to track my sleep during most of the trial period.

Fitstar

fitbit blazeA feature that’s different about the Blaze is Fitstar: three simple, short, interval training workouts that are displayed on the device itself. You can choose from:

  • An eight-minute warm up sequence
  • A seven-minute workout involving 13 bodyweight exercises such as push ups, squats and planks
  • A 10-minute ab workout with a range of exercises aimed at targeting your core

Silhouette people are used to demonstrate each exercise and you can keep an eye on your heartrate while you’re training. This is essentially a watered-down version of ‘Fitstar Personal Trainer’ which is a series of online dynamic workouts you can download on your smartphone, tablet or computer.

As a personal trainer who places a lot of emphasis with my clients on alignment and technique, features like this scare me a little when it comes to individuals who are beginners to exercise or may need specific guidance to ensure they don’t get injured. A nifty little feature though if you are a relatively experienced exerciser and need some inspiration for a short resistance training session.

I do a lot of interval training with my clients – with HIIT and tabata being popular training methods at the moment, I would love to see a customisable interval timer on this where you could specify your own work and rest intervals along with how many sets you want to do.

Hitting your 10,000 step target

I mentioned this in my Fitbit Alta HR review but given many people buy Fitbits for their pedometer function it’s important to go back over this here too. Since the 1960’s, the 10,000 steps target has been used for a variety of pedometers and fitness trackers which suggest this should be the minimum we should be doing for general health. The idea actually has non-scientific origins, however a number of more modern research studies have used it as benchmark and seem to think it’s a good idea.

Even though the fatigue from first trimester pregnancy has derailed my high step counts over the past few months, prior to that as a personal trainer, yoga teacher and mother to an active toddler I still struggled to achieve the 10,000 step target if I didn’t got out for a purposeful walk for at least 20 minutes each day. From my previous trial of the Alta HR, here are some rough step counts to give you an idea:

  • 10 to 200 steps – A 60-minute yoga class
  • 600-900 steps – A 45-minute spin class
  • 5,000 steps – A 50-minute brisk walk around the suburbs
  • 6,000 steps – A whole day’s step count from sitting down on a mat most of the day at a yoga course studying, only going for walks at break times
  • 6,000 steps – A whole day’s step count from being indoors on a rainy day chasing around a toddler
  • 16,500 steps – A full day trip walking around the zoo plus a spin class

fitbit blaze

Other stuff

Some additional useful things include:

  • With the Alta HR, the alarm had to be set within the app. However, the Blaze lets you set up alarms from the device itself. As someone who often forgets to set my alarm until I’m already in bed and almost asleep this can be really handy.
  • I still love the silent alarm which causes the tracker to vibrate without making any other noise. I’m a pretty heavy sleeper and it wakes me up every time, which is great if you need to get up earlier than the rest of the household but normal alarms tend to wake others up with you.
  • The notifications screen is more advanced on the Blaze than the Alta HR when connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone. Rather than just having a text message/emails etc. scroll across the screen; it forms a list of notifications that you can individually dismiss as you read through them.
  • The Blaze is capable of music control when connected to your smartphone. I had to check out the Fitbit website to help set this up, but turns out it’s pretty simple. You go into the settings on your Fitbit and set Bluetooth Classic to ‘pair’ (on my Android phone this involved re-pairing it in the Bluetooth menu). Once connected you can open a music app on your phone and play, pause, go back or forward through your tracks using your watch.
The cons

The size and shape of the Fitbit Blaze may make it a little uncomfortable to wear for people with smaller wrists or for some activities such as yoga (which requires more movability around the wrists) and the sleep tracking function.

I’ve really struggled with following interval-based workouts on phone apps in the past as you inevitably end up pausing the sessions to figure out the exercises you’re supposed to be doing which disrupts the flow of your training session and can become frustrating. While I do love the idea of the Fitstar mini-workouts and the fact that they’re on the watch itself rather than on your phone, they’re a little basic, much shorter than my typical workouts and I’m unlikely to use them in the future – though perhaps that’s just because I’m a personal trainer and I’m used to creative programming for variety!

To sum up

As the Fitbit Blaze is priced starting at $369.95 (special edition versions are $419.95), it’s likely to be for the more serious fitness enthusiast or athlete. There’s a lot of great features available and the all-day activities tracked through the Fitbit app are fantastic for providing an overview of your health and fitness which can help you monitor progress and make adjustments.

For more information on Fitbits, visit www.fitbit.com/nz/home.

Product provided for review by Fitbit

Images / NZ Real Health

Ange is a personal trainer, yoga teacher, wife, and mother (with second bubba on the way!) based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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