Product Review: FitBit Blaze

Tags: smartwatch hardware review

Are Smartwatches Even Worth Buying?

My experience with smartwatches began with the original kickstarter funded Pebble which I received in March of 2013. Since then, I have considered smartwatches to be a useful accessory that I prefer to have with me as much as possible.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Massively useful while driving

While driving, I can monitor incoming texts, emails, and calls with a simple glance of my wrist. I essentially don't even have to take my eyes of the road since my wrist it just below my windshield.

  • Greatly relieves the burden of two-factor authentication

I enable two-factor auth on every account that offers it. This can be annoying, and slow down normal web usage, but that cost is significantly reduced getting an auth code is as simple as glancing at my wrist.

  • Saves time and minimizes distractions
Again, things that would normally involve me pulling out my phone to investigate notifications are reduced to quick glances. I can quickly ignore spammy calls, emails, or other messages that would have otherwise required me to pull my phone out. And while I'm happy to concede that this time-savings it minimal, I'm definitely the sort of person who ends up distracted by something unimportant whenever I find myself thumbing listlessly through my phones apps. By minimizing the number of times I feel tempted to even pull the phone out, I'm sure I'm saving myself from droves of silly social media posts in the long run.

FitBit Blaze Features

Those are the main benefits of smartwatches in general. So where does the FitBit Blaze fit in? Well it certainly has more features, but largely I don't find them terribly appealing. I'll go through them now:

  • Heart Rate Monitor

This feature is cool. At first. Ultimately though, the data produced by this sensor isn't useful to me 99% of the time. The scenario it is potentially useful is when I'm biking and I can use my heart rate as a metric to see how hard my body is working. But then again, can't I just, you know, feel how much effort I'm exerting? 

When selecting future smartwatch products to buy, I'll consider a heart rate monitor to be an unnecessary feature that I don't want to pay for.

  • On-screen workouts
This feature is laughably bad which is why it is particularly tragic how much focus FitBit has placed on it. Looking at your watch for guidance on your workout is not convenient. It's really that simple. At least for me.

Mayyybe the on-screen workouts would make more sense to you if you're the sort of person whose workout clothes and/or activities prohibit you from bringing your phone with you. Otherwise, workout guidance is just better suited to being a phone application. Putting it on my watch just isn't useful or convenient for me.

  • Multi-sport tracking and connected GPS

The one workout feature of the FitBit that I do like is for cycling. Much like while driving, it's much easier for me to check my watch for notifications compared to my phone. And I also get the added benefit of being able to see things like my elapsed time, speed, distance, and pace. This is an area that a smartwatch can really shine and I wish the Blaze worked harder to make it great.

The thing is, I actually greatly prefer my old Pebble watch when it came to tracking cycling workouts. It integrated with third-party apps, and best of all, it was painless to check during my rides. 

The Blaze trips over itself with its flashy color touchscreen and animations. Because of these, the screen can't stay on all the time or the battery life would be abysmal. Instead, you're forced to use things like gesture controls or to activate the screen using a button. The former is often awkward and error prone. I often find myself raising my wrist in a silly exaggerated movement just to try and wake my watch up so I can check the display. Clicking a button is the more reliable way to wake the screen up, but greatly diminishes the benefit of having a smartwatch in the first place. 

Checking the display should be quick, easy, and intuitive. For the FitBit Blaze, this is not the case.

  • Guided breathing sessions
A useless gimmicky feature I don't even care to go into detail about. Again, if you're into this sort of thing, why not just use a phone application? There is no benefit to having this on your watch.

Conclusion & Summary

For its cost, the FitBit Blaze does not even come close to being worth the money. In my opinion, the design team has gone off the rails by focusing on features that are much better suited to your smartphone and stand little to no benefit by being ported onto a watch interface. The greatest benefits of a smartwatch are sub-satisfactorily included on the Blaze and don't seem to be the focus of software updates over the 14+ months I have owned and used the product.

After FitBit acquired Pebble, I had hoped to see the FitBit Blaze absorb many of the features that made the Pebble great in my eyes. With the Pebble, I could create predefined text messages so I could send quick simple responses with the click of a button. I still can't do that with my Blaze.

With my Pebble, I could quickly and easily skip through songs playing on my phone, begin playing music through services like Pandora, and change volume. On my Blaze, the music menu is awkward to get to, often takes longer to connect than if I had just pulled out my phone, can't control volume, and can't launch other music services on my phone.

On my Pebble, I could create my own applications and download other custom applications made by others in the developer community. For the Blaze, there is no app store so you can't extend the functionality of your smartwatch. This is honestly the feature that I miss most about Pebble and probably the main feature I would look for in any future purchase.

As an aside, I'd like to add that my first Blaze actually got stuck in a reboot loop after 11 months of gentle use. I can say the tech support for this problem was good and I received a replacement free of charge since it was still under warranty. That said, I was almost disappointed to receive a new one because I had been looking forward to buying a different product.

I remain unimpressed with FitBit and their ability to produce quality smartwatches. In the future, I will be putting my money on a different company.