SportsTech

Brilliant fitness tracker that's out of step as wrist bling

The Blaze aims to be the only smartwatch that fitness buffs need. As a fitness tracker, it's superb.
The Blaze aims to be the only smartwatch that fitness buffs need. As a fitness tracker, it's superb.PHOTO: FITBIT

Feature-packed wearable has good battery life but looks too geeky

Fitbit calls its new Blaze a smart fitness watch. It is a smartwatch that is aimed at fitness buffs and meant to be the only wearable they need.

Such a claim, though, makes me wary. For me, trying to be both a smartwatch and a fitness watch is like trying to be a fish that wants to climb a tree.

As a fitness tracker, the Blaze is superb. It tracks your all-day physical activities and automatically monitors your sleep.

Step-tracking was accurate and came within 3 per cent of my calibrated Fitbit Charge HR. On some days, both actually recorded the same number of steps.

Sleep-monitoring was spot on too. It accurately noted the time I fell asleep and woke up. It was also able to tell me how well I slept and when I got up for toilet breaks.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $318

    MATERIAL: Rubber wristband

    CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth

    WATER RESISTANCE: Rain-, sweat- and splash-resistant

    WEIGHT: 44g

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 2/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The built-in heart-rate (HR) monitor can track your heart rate the whole day, as well as tell you which training zone you are in during workouts. The HR readings did not differ much from my Apple Watch or TomTom Spark Cardio + Music GPS running watch.

The Blaze lacks built-in GPS, and relies on your smartphone's GPS to compute distance. On its own, it uses its built-in accelerometer to measure distance.

I ran with the Blaze disconnected from a smartphone and found the distance readings to be around 10 per cent higher compared with my calibrated TomTom Spark. Connected to a smartphone, the readings were only around 4 per cent more.

If you play sports or exercise for 15 minutes and more, it automatically recognises the sports and records the session. It was able to recognise my long walks but not my basketball sessions. Maybe I wasn't working hard enough.

However, as it only shows steps taken and calories burned but not distance covered, such data isn't very useful.

Fitbit recently acquired FitStar, a company that does customised workouts. It has incorporated three such workouts from FitStar into an app in Blaze.

The FitStar app is like a personal coach. It shows you animations of exercises like jumping jacks on the Blaze's 240x180-pixel colour touchscreen display, which you can then follow. It's a neat and useful feature. Hopefully, more workouts will be available in the future.

As a smartwatch, the Blaze fails to sparkle. Some might like it, but I find it too geeky-looking with its awkward stainless steel frame, black rubber strap (version tested) and black square main module. I wouldn't wear it for a formal occasion.

You also have to take the module out of its frame to charge. Charging requires a special USB cable that covers the module in a tiny box. It is a hassle to have to keep removing and putting back the module.

But battery life was great - five days, as advertised.

There are optional leather ($158) and metallic straps ($208) for use with the Blaze. I managed to test the leather straps and they were much more comfortable than the rubber ones.

The Blaze's display is not always on, like the Fitbit Surge. It wakes up when you raise your wrist. And it requires you to do so even during workouts. That's irritating.

On the bright side, the display is readable even under strong sunlight. When paired with your smartphone, the Blaze displays notifications such as incoming calls, text messages and calendar alerts. No WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger updates though.

The default screen shows time, and tapping on the screen lets you toggle through your steps taken, heart rate and calories burnt. You swipe sideways to get to other screens, such as Timer, Exercise and FitStar.

According to Fitbit, the Blaze is rain-, sweat- and splash-proof. This means you are not to swim or shower with it.

• Verdict: Think of the Fitbit Blaze as a fitness tracker with a big display, and it is brilliant. View it as a smart fitness watch, and you will be disappointed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'SportsTech Brilliant fitness tracker that's out of step as wrist bling'. Print Edition | Subscribe