After spending 2015 watching Apple Inc. (AAPL) go from no skin in the game to dominant force in smartwatch sales, nipping at Fitbit Inc’s (FIT) heels as the overall wearables market leader, Fitbit announced its answer to the Apple Watch: the Fitbit Blaze.
Billing the Blaze as “a fitness watch that’s as stylish as it is smart,” Fitbit tried to position the new product as being a more adept fitness tracker than the Apple Watch, offering both fashion appeal and key smartwatch functionality.
That’s an approach that is frequently described as “smartwatch lite” and investors weren’t exactly thrilled by the Fitbit Blaze announcement, driving FIT shares down 11%.
Is the Blaze a letdown in actual use, though, or was Fitbit smart to avoid taking on the smartwatch gang head-on? Is Fitbit’s approach the right blend of fitness tracker, function and style to be competitive in 2016?
Read our Fitbit Blaze review to find out.
Fitbit Blaze Review: A Fitbit With Color, Touchscreen and Premium Bands
Fitbit has been the market leader for wearables for a reason. Its software and ecosystem — which includes app partnerships and its own Aria smart scale — are top notch and its fitness trackers offer long battery life and smart design.
With the Fitbit Blaze, FIT tackles the sore points that left its fitness trackers seem like ancient technology compared to the latest crop of smartwatches that also incorporated health tracking capabilities.
So the Blaze offers a full color touchscreen display that’s surrounded by a fashionable metallic frame — a big change over the plastic trackers with simple OLED screens. It’s being offered with a variety of interchangeable bands, including premium Luxe leather and stainless steel options.
The Fitbit Blaze offers the minimal functionality expected from a smartwatch: capable of receiving text, call and calendar notifications, as well as controlling music.
Despite adopting the smartwatch look, the Blaze still retains all the core fitness tracking capabilities that Fitbit users expect while also offering an impressive five-day battery life and keeping the starting price below $200.
Fitbit Blaze Review: Smartwatch Lite …
The biggest challenge the Fitbit Blaze has to overcome is the fact that it truly lives up to the “smartwatch lite” label.
Physically, the Blaze looks like a smartwatch. It has a big, color display, offers a selection of clock faces and it gets notifications from your smartphone.
But compared to true smartwatches like the Apple Watch or Samsung’s (SSNLF) Gear series, the Blaze is severely lacking in functionality. You can’t actually respond to those notifications and they’re limited to call, text and calendar — no Facebook (FB) updates.
And speaking of Facebook, the Blaze doesn’t offer the third party app support that’s helped make smartwatches popular. You can’t glance at your wrist for map-based directions, restaurant recommendations, movie screening times, to review your Twitter (TWTR) feed or to check the weather forecast.
FIT has partnered with FitStar and includes its workout app pre-installed on the Blaze, but users can’t download and install apps of their choice.
Push notifications, music control and lots of fitness functionality. That may be enough for Fitbit purists, but anyone who buys a Fitbit Blaze expecting it to be a smartwatch will be sorely disappointed.
Fitbit Blaze Review: Specs
- 1.25-inch, 16-bit color touchscreen LCD display at 240 x 180 pixel resolution
- 0.82-inches thick
- Lithium-Polymer battery rated at up to 5 days
- PurePulse optical heart rate sensor, altimeter, 3-axis accelerometer
- Vibration alarm
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Includes Blaze tracker, choice of wristband (black, blue or plum standard with optional Luxe premium bands), metal frame and charge cable
- Compatible with over 200 iOS, Android and Windows devices
- MSRP $199.95 (optional Luxe bands range from $99.95 to $129.95)
Fitbit Blaze Review: Conclusion
Compared to a traditional Fitbit tracker, the Fitbit Blaze is a welcome option. It offers the expected features including activity and sleep tracking, while replacing the utilitarian look of previous models with a more stylish and colourful look.
It also incorporates key smartwatch features in the form of notifications and alerts. And for many users, this may be enough. Especially when the Blaze is thinner, less expensive and has a longer battery life than a traditional smartwatch.
It’s also platform agnostic, unlike the Apple Watch (for example) which can only be used with an iPhone.
However, Fitbit is now competing against smartwatches that offer virtually the same fitness tracking capabilities, while letting users completely customize the experience by installing apps at will.
So while the Fitbit Blaze is an excellent fitness tracker and will find fans in Fitbit owners who want a little more than their Charge HR can offer, the Blaze is no smartwatch replacement. If you buy one expecting a cheap entry to the smartwatch world, you’ll be disappointed.
This leaves FIT without a true answer to the Apple Watch and other smartwatches. As the popularity of these devices surges, there’s a real risk Fitbit will be left behind as a producer of niche products. That’s why FIT trades at less than a third of its 2015 high and why the Fitbit Blaze largely failed to turn that investor scepticism around.
As of this writing, Robert Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.