$199 Fitbit Blaze goes after Apple Watch crowd

LAS VEGAS—The latest device from popular fitness company Fitbit, the $199 Fitbit Blaze is basically a cross between the Apple Watch and Fitbit Surge.

The Blaze boasts basic smartwatch features like push notifications and calendar alerts, a colorful touch screen, and swappable leather and stainless steel bands. You also get fitness-tracking features like continuous activity, heart rate, and sleep monitoring, onscreen workouts, and five days of battery life. It's not a giant leap, and without built-in GPS feels a bit like a step back, but Fitbit fanatics—and there are many out there—should find the Blaze upgrade-worthy when it hit stores in March.

Fitbit bands like the Charge HR are already discreet and stylish, but the Blaze aims to be even more customizable and fashionable. It looks a lot like the Apple Watch, with a rectangular Gorilla Glass-covered, 240-by-180-pixel resolution color touch screen. The screen size is 31.75mm diagonally with a display area that measures 25.38 by 19.035mm. You can customize the display with different watch faces.

The Blaze emphasizes personalization, so you can pop it out of its frame to go from a workout-friendly, sweat-resistant elastomer strap to a more stylish leather or stainless steel link band—though you will have to pay extra. The $199 Fitbit Blaze will come with a black, blue, or purple elastomer strap while the premium bands will sell separately as accessories. Leather bands come with stainless steel frames available in black, camel, or gray for $99.95, and the stainless steel link band and silver frame will cost $129.95. So if you want the metallic look, you will need to spend more, but it's still a good deal considering the Apple Watch Sport starts at $349.

Classic fitness-tracking features return. The Blaze will come with multiple sport modes, including aerobics, basketball, bootcamp, bicycling, hiking, running, soccer, tennis, weight training, and yoga. Each workout will be accompanied by specific real-time performance stats on the display followed by a summary of the workout at the end. Interestingly, the Fitbit Blaze has automatic exercise recognition, which could be great for forgetful types, although judging by my experience with the Withings Activite Steel, not always reliable.

The most disappointing thing about the Fitbit Blaze is the lack of built-in GPS. Runners will need their phones with them if they want real-time stats like pace, distance, and mile splits. However, you will be able to view heart rate tracking on your wrist, so you can view the intensity of your workout and maintain it. Active minutes, calories burned, stairs climbed, and sleep can also be automatically tracked by the Fitbit Blaze, though it won't be able to detect different levels of sleep. You can set a silent alarm, too, which you can dismiss or snooze by tapping the screen.

Thanks to integration with the Fitstar app, which Fitbit acquired last year, the Fitbit Blaze can also act as a personal coach. Similar to the Moov Now, workouts like Warm It Up, 7-Minute Workout and 10-Minute Abs will appear right on your wrist, without the need for a smartphone. Each workout comes with an animated image. This feature looks like a fun, worthwhile addition since most people (like myself) can be clueless when it comes to actual workout regimens.

Speaking of worthwhile things, Fitbit Blaze will only send specific, carefully curated notifications to your wrist, including calls, calendar alerts, email, and texts. You can accept or reject calls and scroll through complete emails and text, or turn off notifications complete with a Do Not Disturb option. You can control music, too, with basic play, pause, and skip buttons and volume adjustment.

The Fitbit Blaze will be compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows devices. But will you want to replace your Fitbit Charge HR or Surge for the Blaze? If you're a runner in need of GPS, you will probably want to hold onto your Surge, which can also deliver basic call and text notifications to your wrist. If you want a full-featured smartwatch experience complete with an app store, you'll want the Apple Watch or Motorola Moto 360 Sport, which includes GPS. But if you're upgrading from the Charge HR or previous Fitbit devices, the Blaze should be on your radar.

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