Fitbit are releasing two new fitness trackers so we attended a launch event in London to try them out. Joining their line-up is the Fitbit Alta, a new fitness band that’s stylish and has some interesting new features; and the Fitbit Blaze, a more capable fitness watch that might give Android Wear and the Apple Watch a run for its money.
The people at Fitbit wanted to make sure we tested the devices properly so they had some activities planned for us. After picking up some healthy snacks we got to business using trampolines and stationary bikes. There was a machine that tests reaction times and the gamers inside us told the others to step aside.
The Fitbit Alta is the newest model that’s only trying to be a fitness tracker. It’s not a smartwatch but it does have features that begin to blur the distinction. We were told it would easily last 5 days on a single charge, including tracking your sleep. The screen’s clock can be customised as can most of the device itself. It’s probably the best-looking Fitbit wearable so far.
For the £99 base price you get a standard plastic strap available in several colours, but there will be leather and even metal straps available. Some of the leather straps make the Alta look a lot less like a fitness gadget and more like something you could happily wear both at the gym and out for dinner, which is important as the device is designed to function all day.
The Alta has an unobtrusive screen that you can interact with by tapping. It vibrates to remind you to move if you’ve been stationary too long, it can track your sleep, and it automatically recognises some activities when you exercise. What we particularly like about the Alta is that the screen shows text and calendar alerts from your smartphone. You can’t interact with these (e.g. reply to a test) like on a smartwatch but having a glance at the info and vibrating reminders might be all you’re really looking for in a smartwatch anyway.
Fitbit’s new fitness watch was possibly the highlight of the event, if not the free smoothies. The Fitbit Blaze is something that sounds redundant on paper; it’s more than a fitness band but less than a smartwatch. However, trying it out gives us the impression that it could be the best solution for a lot of people. It does everything you expect from the Alta and other fitness bands like counting steps and reminding you to move now and then, but it sets itself apart with strong connectivity features and more advanced workout options.
The Blaze can read your heart rate and connect to your smartphone’s GPS, which makes it much more useful for runs and cycling while the Alta is geared more for everyday fitness tracking. We wore the Blaze while trying out the activities Fitbit had planned for us and found that the heart rate monitor seemed promising. The heart rate monitors on wearables are rarely 100% accurate but Fitbit does seem to closely match standalone sensors in our experience.
The colour touchscreen looks great and has plenty of room for navigation without dominating your wrist like some smartwatches do. Besides the usual activity tracking you can also see on-screen workouts for things like abs exercises. The screen shows brief instructions on how to do the exercise then starts the timer. This could be a great feature in the gym and the watch vibrates to tell you when to stop or change form so it’s unobtrusive.
The most interesting features of the Blaze are what might make some people turn away from a full Android or Apple smartwatch. By swiping down on the home screen you can control your smartphone’s music. This works for whatever app you’re playing so it can control iOS Podcasts, for example. Swiping up from the home screen shows a list of your most recent text messages. Like the Alta, you can’t reply to these using the watch. If you want to speak into your watch to reply and download new apps to do various advanced features, an Android Wear or Apple smartwatch is probably better for you. But if you just want a watch that has great fitness features but also lets you glance at texts and control music, then the Blaze is more than capable and considerably cheaper than the decent smartwatches on the market. It’s also lighter and less bulky than the best smartwatches.
The Blaze starts at £159 and includes a standard plastic strap. The straps easily detach and can be replaced with leather and metal options that are sold separately. The face of the Blaze actually pops out of its frame with some pressure meaning you could even have several straps ready for use and just switch the main component between them. The screen won’t be sold separately but we were told there might be options to get just that part if it’s damaged and customer support are helping out. In our experience Fitbit’s customer support is very accommodating and one of the best.
Find your fit
We liked what we had to see at the launch event and it seems Fitbit are looking to continue leading the way with their fitness straps. The Alta is probably one of the best everyday fitness trackers available as it looks good and it’s far more intuitive than something like the UP24. The Blaze stands out as a great fitness watch that steals some of the most useful features from full smartwatches without overcomplicating itself.
If you want to get your hands on one of these new models then you won’t have to wait long. The Fitbit Alta will be released in early April and can be pre-ordered now. The Fitbit Blaze was released a few days ago and can be purchased at the Fitbit website.