Wednesday , March 29 2017

Review: Fitbit Blaze And Fitstar


It is tough at the top of the heap. Even with every second company producing a fit band Fitbit continue to remain at the pinnacle. Last year in an attempt to combat the intrusion of the connected smartwatch into their domain they released the Fitbit Blaze that was a combination of a fit band and a smartwatch.

Then to create their own comprehensive ecosystem they recently introduced their own fully featured personal training app that ties in nicely to their 2 top-end devices, the Fitbit Blaze and the Fitbit Charge 2.

After offering to test out and review Fitstar, I decided why not do it with a Fitbit Blaze and see for myself the level of integration between the two.

Hardware

I reviewed the Fitbit Charge 2 last year and was impressed with the hardware in it. If Fitbit were unable to get the hardware on a fit band right after doing it for so long what hope does anyone else have? The smartwatch is new territory for Fitbit though.

Let’s start with the watch face. The display itself is a 1.66-inch, 240 x 180 pixel, colour touchscreen LCD covered with Gorilla Glass 3. The face is reminiscent of the coloured Pebble watches. Massive bezels with a small, square display in the middle. Is it a bad thing? Not entirely, but considering the physical size of the watch face I expected the display to be larger. The display, while small, was adequate for its purpose. It may be basic but does everything it needs to well, and in colour. Most images and interfaces on the watch are mostly black with a small splash of colour.

The display is easy to see in daylight which is often the biggest downfall of many smartwatches and phones but kind of essential for a watch that is designed to be used as a fitness aid.

The build quality is solid and feels mid to high end. There are three buttons on the watch itself, of which one is an on and back button and the other two are for use within certain training regimes. They do not feel that sturdy as they are attached to the back/watchface cradle and are designed to push into the sockets for those functions on the removable watchface.

Inside the watch is Bluetooth 4.0LE, an optical heart rate sensor, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, vibration motor but NO GPS chip. For a fitness watch that is meant to be top of their range I would have expected a GPS chip. Instead it uses the GPS on your phone so you cannot go phone-less on any runs.

I used the Blaze with heart rate sensor on all the time just to check battery life. It lasted around four full days wearing it 24/7. The problem was that it ran out of battery in the middle of the day because although Fitbit have finally included a battery meter on the watch itself (inside the menu items pages only though) it is tiny and does not show you the percentage of charge left on it. If you get this watch, do not leave it to chance. Charge it every 2-3 nights just in case. The reason for that is the charger is a proprietary charging cradle that would be annoying to carry around all the time.

Even the best watch in the world is useless if it is uncomfortable or keeps falling off in my opinion. The Blaze I tested came with the standard “flexible, durable elastomer material similar to that used in many sports watches, and includes a surgical-grade stainless steel buckle and frame” and also a fairly expensive leather band as well. The elastomer material band was actually my favourite band as it was extremely flexible and shaped well to my wrist.

The leather band was less comfortable at this although it did look a lot better and stylish. It may have been that the leather band is brand new and needs time to loosen up but in my time with the watch, I preferred the elastomer one. Different colour elastomer bands and the leather one can be purchased seperately. If you want to wear one with a suit or a dressy outfit then the leather band fits well with that use case.

Although the watchface sits into its cradle, the bands attaching to this cradle are interchangeable. They appear to be a standard 22mm band that could fit in if you also had the correct sized watch pins. The buckles on the bands were extremely strong and solid and are the standard watchband buckles that Fitbit went back to using in the past 12 months.

The watch is NOT waterproof but instead water resistant, just like the Charge 2 so do not wear it swimming and try to avoid getting it too wet.

Software

There are two sections parts to a review of the Fitbit software for the Blaze — the software on the watch itself and the associated syncing software on the phone.

The syncing software on the phone is nearly exactly the same as it was for the Fitbit Charge 2 review last year except the dashboard has changed to allow more information to be viewed with a single glance. It is well laid out and although it does not follow the Android design guidelines, it is not an ugly app. There are very iOS-style shortcut buttons down the bottom of the display which is disappointing for such a big company that surely would have enough resources to build an Android app correctly.

My main bugbear with fit bands in general is their lack of interaction and integration with the notifications from a phone. The Blaze does these better than nearly all other fitness watches/bands I have tried. Within the Fitbit app, you can select the apps from the phone that you would like to receive notifications for on the watch. Every app I threw at it worked. Although Fitbit say they do not support the Pixels yet, I had no issues syncing it with my Pixel XL.

The software on the watchface itself is incredibly basic and although there is a touchscreen, there is very little touch screen interaction when operating the software. Notifications can be viewed by swiping up to clear them. If you do not clear them as you go (ie. ignore them) they build up and although there is a clear all button to tap, it is located all the way at the bottom of the notifications and can take a while to swipe down to to find. If you have a long Telegram thread to read that you haven’t checked for a while, it can take a while to scroll all the way to the bottom to get to the clear all button.

The is NO ability to reply to any notifications on the watch which is a pity. I suspect that functionality may be beyond the simplistic nature of the OS that Fitbit employ on the Blaze. Notifications can be turned off on the watch, as can the actual watch (which is actually unusual for a Fitbit).

The watchface has seven home screens — front screen/clock, Today, Exercise, Fitstar, Timer, Alarms and settings screens. These are navigated using a swipe of the display. These are how you access the software on the watch. They are fairly self-explanatory but I thought I would address one massive omission by Fitbit — interval training.

Interval training has proven to be the most effective way to exercise to lose weight, to train for running long distances, short distances, cardiovascular fitness — everything basically. The smaller, less expensive Fitbit Charge 2 has interval training included in its list of exercises but the Blaze does not. I am a massive fan of interval training and usually use an interval training app for my cardio workouts and my pre-carb up circuit training on a Saturday afternoon. It was thus a massive inconvenience to not have it in the Blaze.

There are a heap of top notch interval training apps for Android Wear but not one for the Blaze. Searching through the Fitbit forums sees a multitude of complaints regarding this dating back to when it was first released nearly a year ago but there has been no movement in the area from Fitbit and it is a big disappointment.

The other screen I am going to mention is the Fitstar screen, which is the main reason for doing this review:

Fitstar

On the watch there is only three options under the Fitstar menu — warm it up, 7-minute workout and 10 minute abs. While this is meant to change considering the type of workouts you are performing it did not change for me the entire time. I never once did a 7-minute workout and sounds like a US infomercial IMO but it stayed in the Fitstar menu. It would be nice if this learned what you had done previously and what it thought you would be doing next. Maybe I need to use it more for that to happen.

The Fitstar app on the phone itself is well designed, following Google’s app and Material Design guidelines. The front page is a dashboard showing your progress for the last week suggesting workouts for example “if you want more cardio”. The app learns from your last workout and how you coped with the difficulty of it (based on your feedback of each exercise). The hamburger menu has the following items:

  • Dashboard
  • Your Personalised Session
  • Freestyle Sessions
  • Programs
  • Profile
  • Settings

Programs is where you choose a program that is designed to reach your goals and fit within your schedule. There is Get Lean, Daily Dose, Get Moving and Get Strong, This helps the app design the workouts required to reach your goals and fit within your schedule. If you want to do something different from what Fitstar recommend you need to use the Freestyle Sessions.

Freestyle Sessions basically lists all of the available workouts within the app — 44 of them. They range from a basic 7 minute workout to a 30 minute Mudder Mayhem workout. This doesn’t seem to be many workouts but I am assuming that more are on the way as more people use it.

The workouts themselves are only basic workouts that do not involve any equipment whatsoever. They are all bodyweight exercises but that in itself is not a bad thing. A gym and/or equipment is not always required for a good workout. The workouts are set out well and some of the exercises may seem obscure to some but if done properly they are effective.

How do you know how to do them? They have excellent videos that first show you the exercise before you do it and then the person in the video does it with you while the display/app counts down the time/reps. Once the exercise is done a screen pops up to ask you how easy it was etc. This sets the tone for future workouts. Once you have done that it moves onto the next exercise.

The workouts, if downloaded at full resolution look great. It will only download at full resolution over WiFi. You have to enable non-WiFi download within the settings menu.

What about music I hear you ask? Yes, you can listen to their terrible music or you can have your own music play in the background by selecting that option within the app. The app will turn your music down when it needs you to hear instructions etc and back up after. It’s an impressive integration that I found very handy as I hate pop music. There is one addition that I thought was amazing — Chromecast support. Working out inside? Cast it to your TV and do it with a massive display.

What didn’t I like about it? No weights. I know why they didn’t have weights workouts as all weights are different and it’s harder for people to perform exercises properly and are more prone to injury when using weights.

So who is Fitstar for then? It’s for the people who like to workout at home, the park, the beach etc. On holidays when you don’t have access to a gym. When you don’t have time to get to the gym for a workout. When you are just starting out. These are not designed for the more experienced trainer but if you are an experienced trainer the workouts can be a nice addition for the times when you just need a quick workout.

Would I recommend Fitstar to anyone? No, not just anyone. You can always try the free trial and check it out if it suits you but if you think your use case fits into one of the above scenarios then it could be perfect for you. If you want to spice up your home workouts these are great but if you are looking for something to turn you into Mr (or Miss) Australia then this is not for you — although the cardio sessions can be very intense.

My advice is to just give it a go. The app is great and the workouts are not only well designed in a Googley Material Design sense but also in a personal trainer sense. They guide you as you perform a workout so if you are a beginner this is perfect for you. The videos of the workouts are fantastic and well worth at least checking out. Fitbit and Fitstar have a great product here. Hopefully they can improve the integration with their fit band devices (Can you say extensive, popular, fitness ecosystem?) and continue to improve the selection of workouts within the app itself as it evolves over the years. If they do that, they could be onto a winner with Fitstar.

Anyone can sign up to Fitstar for $12.99 per month or for a yearly fee of $62.99. Fitbit users get their first three months free when they signup at the Fitstar website. The Fitstar app itself is free to download on the Play Store and worth a look.

The Fitbit Blaze was a bit disappointing as it did not support my main use — interval training. If interval training is not for you then there is nothing wrong with it. It handles ALL notifications I threw at it and has quite a few other useful functions. The battery life was amazing which is expected from fit bands these days.

The Blaze can be purchased from the Fitbit Website for $370 or from your usual fit band retailers. JB Hifi have it on sale this week down from the usual price of $288 to $229 for the blue band version and they are including a black band as well. This is a really good price for a fit band that does so much more than many other fit bands. The leather band will set you back around $169 from the various retailers. There are other accessories available for the Blaze and if interested check out the Fitbit website before shopping around for a good price.

It is tough at the top of the heap. Even with every second company producing a fit band Fitbit continue to remain at the pinnacle. Last year in an attempt to combat the intrusion of the connected smartwatch into their domain they released the Fitbit Blaze that was a combination of a fit band and a smartwatch. Then to create their own comprehensive ecosystem they recently introduced their own fully featured personal training app that ties in nicely to their 2 top-end devices, the Fitbit Blaze and the Fitbit Charge 2. After offering to test out and review Fitstar, I…
Value For Money
Build Quality
Watch Software
Phone Software
Battery Life
Connectivity

User Rating: 3.7 ( 1 votes)
 

Scott Plowman   Senior Associate

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