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We Tried Fitbit's New Smartphone-Friendly Fitness Trackers

~smarts vs. style~

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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).

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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.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

STEPHANIE: It's comfortable to wear, but the face of it is very wide. It's a little too square and stop sign–looking for me. I also have a small wrist, so it looks disproportionate.

Blaze bands come in a variety of colors and materials. The default is silicone rubber, and the premium options are metal ($100) and (genuine) leather ($130). Nicole and I were big fans of the "mist gray" leather strap.

NICOLE: The watch is too aggressively "masculine" in my opinion (as in, it's not clear that it was made with all genders in mind). Because it's so square, it looks like a tiny television on your wrist. When I dressed up in something more formal, it was almost jarring to have on.

The Blaze's hardware is a bit plastic-y. The charging snap-on box enclosure feels especially light and cheap.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

Every time you want to charge the Blaze, you have to pop out the watch face and place it in a charging cradle. There are no magnets to help guide the watch into place, so it slides around precariously until you snap the lid shut.

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The Alta is sleek and light, but its screen is problematic.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

STEPHANIE: I really like how thin it is, and how much the Alta looks like a bracelet. It was light and didn't get in the way, but I've had trouble getting the screen to turn on when I want it to. Sometimes nothing happens when I tap, even when it's slow and deliberate. It's kind of inconsistent.

NICOLE: The Alta is sleek. It doesn't feel cheaply made, and I loved that the leather band was so soft. It might be the most comfortable wrist-bound wearable tech I've ever tried. Apparently double tapping the bottom of the screen may be the most effective way to turn it on, but I wish the display was less cumbersome. Premium bands are available in leather ($60) and metal ($100); we liked the leather one in graphite (there's also blush pink).

It also doesn't make noise against the desk when you're typing, which is a huge plus, and is actually comfortable to wear when you sleep.

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.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

The exercises are provided by FitStar, a popular personal training app. There's a guided seven-minute workout, an ab workout, and a simple warmup. I really liked having my vital stats, like heart rate, at a glance, too.

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]).

Fitbit

Unlike other GPS watches that use satellites to track your location, the Blaze uses something called "connected GPS." Here's how it works:

The first time you run with the Blaze, you need to bring your phone with you. Fitbit can then estimate your stride length based on that run’s data. After that first run, it’ll be able to calculate your distance and pace even when you aren’t using GPS via your phone, but we're not sure how accurate it is. If you're focused on things like mileage and stats for training, you should bring your device along for complete accuracy.

The Blaze can track your heart rate – but damn, those lights are bright AF.

Jeffrey Barron / BuzzFeed

Like the Fitbit Charge HR and Surge GPS watch, the Blaze can measure your heart rate. Knowing your heart rate is key if you're trying to burn a lot of calories or you're training using target heart-rate zones.

One thing to note is that wrist-worn heart-rate trackers are typically regarded as less accurate than chest-worn monitors. Chest straps are positioned close to your heart, snug against your skin, which is why they may give you a better reading. For wristbands fit is very, very important. To get better accuracy, the watch needs to be very tight on the wrist.

That being said, both Consumer Reports and Wareable found that Fitbit devices are more or less accurate. During higher intensity workouts, however, the BPMs (heartbeats per minute) were less accurate.

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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.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed

SmartTrack, which was introduced in November 2015, is available in all of Fitbit's newer devices (the Alta, Blaze, Charge HR, and Surge).

Before SmartTrack, you had to first select the exercise on your tracker or the Fitbit app, then press start to get an accurate reading for calorie burn. The tracker can now recognize when you're biking, running, doing the elliptical, participating in a high-movement sport (like soccer or tennis), or doing an aerobic workout (like a bootcamp).

I liked that it automatically took my morning bike commute into account!

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).

Fitbit

One thing I like about the Blaze over the Alta is its heart-rate sensing capability. Heart-rate trackers recognize active minutes for activities like weightlifting or yoga, so you're still rewarded for doing non-step-based exercise.

Also, don't get any Fitbit trackers if you're expecting to use it while swimming! They *still* aren't waterproof.

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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.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

My phone is *always* on mute, and I am notorious for never picking up calls. Having the notification on my wrist helped a LOT.

The texts, however, were always cut off — and scrolled horizontally because of the limitations of screen size, which means that you need to angle your wrist in a weird way if you want to actually read the text.

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.

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STEPHANIE: I liked the Blaze more.

Jeff Barron / BuzzFeed

I don't really know if there's a customer who's deciding between the two because they're so different. But I liked seeing texts in full. I liked having heart rate. The display is nice and clear. Plus, it turns on quickly.

Overall, the Blaze worked better. I liked the in-watch Fitstar exercises! Would I buy it? If I did want a smartwatch, it's a good way to go. Before the Blaze I wore an Apple Watch, so I had certain expectations of what I wanted the watch to do, but it's sufficient if you just want a good way to see texts and calls on your wrist.

NICOLE: I liked the Alta much better.

Fitbit

In truth, it's the only wearable I could see myself wearing every day. What I like about the Alta versus other non-heart-rate bands (like Jawbone's UP) is that it has a display to see the time.

I was impressed by both of the devices' battery lives (over a week). The trouble with smartwatches like the Apple Watch is that you have to charge them every night. You only have to charge the Alta (or Blaze) once a week. But ultimately my pick is the Alta because the Blaze is too big and bulky for small wrists. The Alta, on the other hand, is slim and sleek.

I also enjoy the simplicity of it. It's so lightweight and the leather band is so soft that I hardly notice I'm wearing it. Plus, the stainless steel band (pictured here) is glam AF if that's what your ensemble calls for. It's definitely an upgrade to the Fibit Flex.

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.

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