Before the Fitbit Blaze was unveiled earlier this month, you couldn’t really consider the Charge HR or the Surge as a genuine rival to the Apple Watch. But that’s all changed.
Whichever way you slice it, the Blaze is Fitbit’s first smartwatch, even if the company flat-out refuses to call it such. It’s a fitness watch, got it? And regardless of how much the company wants to avoid comparison to the Apple Watch, the truth is that people only have one wrist for tech – and for many, it will be a choice of whether to buy the Watch or the Blaze.
That’s why we’ve compared specs and features in detail to see if the Blaze is set to be big competition for Apple’s first generation smartwatch.
Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Design
The Blaze is Fitbit’s best-looking device by some distance. The rugged elastomer plastic band has not entirely disappeared though, but there’s now a selection of different straps to give it a more smartwatch feel. It’s clearly taking an Apple-like approach to design with the option of metal and leather bands, which pop in and out enabling you to customise for different looks – if you fork out for the replacements.
If you want variety though, there’s only one winner here and that’s Apple. Along with offering the Watch in three distinct models (Sport, Watch and Watch Edition), the Apple Watch comes in two different sizes with a host of (unofficial) Watch straps and watch cases. If you like your smartwatches stylish, there’s even an Apple Watch Hermès Collection, but expect to pay a lot more for the pleasure of an Apple Watch with a designer strap.
Both watches have colour touchscreen displays, though they use different screen technologies. Apple employs OLED screen technology in two different sizes with a Sapphire crystal glass protection. The 38mm version has a 340 x 272 pixel resolution, while the 42mm model packs in a more impressive 390 vs 312 pixel resolution. Fitbit opts for an 1.6-inch LCD screen with 240 x 180 resolution and Gorilla Glass 3 coating to give it an extra layer of durability. By any metric, Apple’s tech is far superior.
In terms of navigation, the Blaze follows in the footsteps of the Surge, using two physical buttons on the right and one on the left. There is of course the touchscreen display as well, letting you swipe to view notifications or hit the buttons to view progress. Apple keeps navigation minimal and discreet with its digital crown that’s not not like a crown on a traditional watch. You can use it to open the app launcher, but a twist will let you zoom into apps which is handy for maps. There’s also the Force Touch-enabled screen, which means you can press a little harder to unlock more information from your apps.
If you care about having a waterproof smartwatch, you out of luck on both fronts unfortunately. Neither the Blaze or the Apple Watch is built for swimming, despite the Apple’s smartwatch being stamped with an IPX7 certified rating, which means it’s water resistant up to 1m for 30 minutes. They should both hold up for a run in the rain though.
Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Activity tracking
Fitness tracking is unsurprisingly the Blaze’s big play here, but there’s not a lot that’s radically different from what we’ve seen on Fitbit’s previous trackers. It’ll track steps, sleep, calories and there’s an optical heart rate sensor to deliver resting HR and active time.
In terms of other sensors, theres a 3-axis accelerometer, gyro sensor and an altimeter to track elevation. There’s no on board GPS, so you’ll have to rely on your phone’s GPS to track runs and hikes via a feature called ConnectedGPS (a renamed version of the old MobileRun). You do get sleep tracking though and it’s done automatically using the accelerometer to detect movement.
The Blaze can also track a whole host of activities and uses the recently introduced SmartTrack feature to automatically recognise what activities you’re doing. You now get on-screen workouts as well powered by Fitstar taking you through sessions one exercise at a time.
There’s still an abundance of third party app support here as well, so you can feed data from the likes of Strava, Endomondo and Weight Watchers into the Fitbit companion app if you don’t want to give up data from your existing health and fitness apps.
For the Apple Watch, activity tracking is certainly an area that needs some work, whether that’s through software updates or for when the Apple Watch 2 turns up.
Much like the Blaze, it has an accelerometer, gyro sensor and a heart rate monitor that uses flashing green LED lights to detect changes in blood volume. It’s a very similar to the way Fitbit’s monitor works. There’s no GPS here either, so you’ll need to piggyback on your iPhone if you want to track runs.
Apple’s Activity app is the focal point for activity tracking giving a snapshot of your day and giving you a nudge when you’re lagging behind the trio of targets for calories, active minutes and standing time. A step count is available on the wrist, but the rest are worked out automatically, and will be downgraded if you repeatedly fail to hit your target. At the moment, there’s no sleep tracking but there’s a strong possibility it could be added in the future.
To soften the blow, there’s a pretty comprehensive collection of fitness apps that are optimised for the Apple Watch, which means if you already use Strava, Nike, RunKeeper or the like, you’ll be able to continue on the Apple Watch. However, while there are plenty of apps, none bring much new to the table.
Clearly, the Fitbit ecosystem is better geared towards fitness tracking. While Apple’s app is decent, the lack of comparison, insights into health trends, resting heart rate data and proper workout recording means it still can’t hold a candle to the Fitbit, even if there’s little difference in the hardware.
Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Notifications
Smartwatches are billed as smartphone companions and that basically means reducing the need to dip into your pocket for your phone to check a text, see an email or you know, take a call.
Apple certainly does a better job of this than Fitbit does currently. With the Blaze, you’ll be able to do things like reject or accept calls, receive notifications from emails and control music playback. Where it’s lacking is the ability to handle notifications from third party apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter.
With the Apple Watch, you get all the notifications you could want including third party apps, plus you get the Glances (widgets) for small bite-sized bits of real time information from your favourite apps – and perhaps even more importantly, you can control which notifications you see.
To complete a barnstorming smartwatch performance there’s music playback control, and storage onboard to download music from iTunes/Apple Music for offline playback.
You can also answer calls from Apple’s smartwatch and use Siri too add appointments to your calendar, set an egg timer or finding out whether Sean Astin was definitely in the Goonies. (Yes, he was).
Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Battery life
This is one of the biggest debates surrounding smartwatches right now. How much battery life is enough?
If you want lots of staying power, there’s only one winner here and that’s the Fitbit Blaze. While the Apple Watch can deliver between one (38mm) and two (42mm) days of mixed use, the Blaze promises five.
That will of course depend on which features you use on a regular basis and whether you decide to crank up the screen brightness to the max. Without power-sapping features like GPS onboard, the Blaze is up there with the Pebble Time for stamina and that’s not too shabby.
Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Price
The Fitbit Blaze is available to pre-order right now for $199.95 from the Fitbit website and it’s expected to arrive some time in March.
For the Apple Watch, prices start at a significantly more expensive $349 but that can jump to anywhere near the $1,500 mark.
Fitbit Blaze v Apple Watch: Initial verdict
The gulf in price difference alone, even with Apple’s entry model indicates that these are two wearables playing in two very different playgrounds.
Fitbit’s new design is a welcome change, and for activity tracking fans its focus on fitness is a winner. But for feature diversity the Apple Watch is hard to beat.