We Tried Fitbit's New Smartphone-Friendly Fitness Trackers
~smarts vs. style~
The Blaze is a slimmed-down smartwatch, an intro smartwatch for people who don't want to drop more money on something with a complete set of functions. Unveiled in January, it can do all the basic Fitbit stuff (count steps, measure heart rate, tell time), plus some more visual stuff (like its own built-in workout app).
The Alta, on the other hand, only has the most basic Fitbit stuff (minus heart-rate tracking), plus alerts for texts and calls. Unlike the Blaze's color display, the Alta's is black and white. It tracks your sleep and counts your steps in an ultra slim Jawbone UP-esque form. It went on sale in February.
Are the new Fitbits worth the upgrade? Which one is better for you? Should you get a fitness tracker at all??
Since the Blaze and Alta hit the market early this year, they've each sold more than 1 million units. We wanted to see if they were worth the hype, so Fitbit sent us a Blaze and Alta, on loan for the purposes of review.
The Blaze has a very large, square watch face.
The Blaze's hardware is a bit plastic-y. The charging snap-on box enclosure feels especially light and cheap.
The Alta is sleek and light, but its screen is problematic.
STEPHANIE: On the Blaze, I really liked that there were exercises available right on the watch (in addition to basic activity-tracking features), as a fast and easy way to do a few crunches in the morning.
But I didn't like how you had to have your phone with you to track GPS when you run (unlike Fitbit's Surge [$250]).
The Blaze can track your heart rate – but damn, those lights are bright AF.
NICOLE: The Alta has all of the basic functions of a fitness tracker you'd expect. It's got step counting, sleep tracking, and calories burned. Because it has a larger display, it shows call, text, and calendar alerts too.
The Alta has a new feature called "Reminders to Move." I found the move reminders too persistent (and somewhat annoying), but could see how it could help someone lead a less sedentary life.
Reminders to Move is a feature that will notify you if you haven't taken 250 steps within the hour. The bracelet will vibrate and display how many more steps you need to meet your 250 goal.
I work at a desk job and usually, it's not a reasonable time to move when I get the reminder, so I completely ignore it. But a lot of people I've talked to seem to like the extra push to walk around and stay active and you can turn them off in the app.
I really liked a feature called SmartTrack that automatically recognizes what kind of exercise you're doing.
Another one of my favorite Fitbit features is "active minutes," which actually motivated me to challenge myself.
Active minutes are available on every Fitbit device, from the $60 Zip to the $250 Surge.
A goal of mine is focusing on shorter, more intense cardio workouts versus longer, slower workouts during which I'm barely exerting any effort (and mostly wishing I was eating a giant pile of fries) — and a recent study proves that quick, arduous exercise can boost fitness just as much as a longer run, if not more.
This is why I worked really hard every day to up my "active minutes," which Fitbit awards after only 10 minutes of continuous moderate-to-intense activities. I like that Fitbit stresses that intensity is key — it's a great reminder not to check out during my workout.
The Alta specifically is missing an altimeter to measure altitude (e.g., stairs climbed) and heart-rate tracking (which is a bummer if you prefer non-step activities like yoga).
STEPHANIE: I liked seeing texts and call notifications. Of course, you can't send texts or calls, which you can with the Apple Watch as long as you're OK talking to your wrist.
One frustrating thing I realized with the Blaze is that you need your phone for a lot of things, like changing the watch face or setting alarms.
If your phone is around anyways, it's probably fine to just use your phone as an alarm.
Another thing I noticed is that when I traveled, the time change on the Blaze didn't update until I opened up the Fitbit app and let it sync.
NICOLE: I liked getting buzzed for incoming calls (the vibration is very quiet) but most of my texts were cut off, forcing me to open my phone anyway.
I will say that the Alta is super effective as an alarm if you have a different wake-up time then your partner.
It's comfortable enough to wear asleep, and the vibration is muted enough to not disturb your bed bud.
STEPHANIE: I liked the Blaze more.
NICOLE: I liked the Alta much better.
You might be wondering: Do I even need a tracker? Will it make me fit AF?
Steps aren't the be-all, end-all solution. Since Fitbit can track sleep and food intake too, you get a more comprehensive look at your health, which can be a good starting point for weight loss. However, you'll also need to look closely at what you're eating and the type of exercising you're doing, which means doing some of your own research. Here's an amazing resource for everything you need to know about body fat.
If you're already active and want to get even fitter, you'll need to work to incorporate more "active minutes." The workouts in the Blaze's FitStar apps are pretty basic, so you should supplement them with these quick running workouts, or these intense bodyweight exercises — and having a tracker won't guarantee that you'll reach your goal, but can be a good way to keep track of what kind of exercises you're doing. Since many of those exercises aren't step-oriented, you'll also want something with a heart tracker (like the Blaze), which means that the Alta won't cut it.
Ultimately, if you're looking for a fitness tracker to, you know, track long-term trends, the most important advice we can give you is get a device you'll actually wear.