With the advent of smartwatches, barebones activity trackers from the likes of Fitbit might seem like a relic of the past. Well, Fitbit must have thought so too. Today, the company that built its riches from those very same activity trackers is unveiling the Fitbit Blaze, a real bonafide smartwatch that's much more advanced than anything Fitbit's ever done. It comes complete with a color touchscreen, interchangeable watchfaces, a slim design and lots of different strap designs. But unlike most of its rivals, it won't support a slew of apps and it has a proprietary OS, not something like Android Wear. Instead, the Blaze pares down the typical smartwatch functions to the bare necessities of call management, text and calendar alerts plus music controls. The rest of the watch is dedicated to the feature that Fitbit knows best: Fitness.
Gallery: Fitbit Blaze | 7 Photos
Gallery: Fitbit Blaze | 7 Photos
Indeed, the Blaze ticks off all the major must-haves for a premium fitness tracker. It has Connected GPS (that means you'll still want the phone with you) so you always know your pace and how far you've walked or ran. It has a continuous heart rate monitor so you know to maintain the right heart rate when working out or simply to get a better idea of heart health over time. There's a multi-sport mode that gives you performance stats for all kinds of activities like biking, weights or yoga. A "SmartTrack" feature automatically recognizes what kind of exercise you're doing and records it in the Fitbit app. Like other Fitbits, the Blaze also has a sleep tracker and has an alarm that will gently vibrate to wake you up.
But what's particularly interesting is the integration with FitStar, a personal training app that offers step-by-step workout guides (Fitbit acquired Fitstar last year). Right on the watch, you can get detailed instructions and animated guides for the three most popular FitStar workouts, which are 8-minute Warm It Up workout, the 7 Minute Workout and 10 Minute Abs. And that's all without needing a smartphone to be nearby or to have the app installed on your phone.
The Blaze is compatible with "more than 200 Android, iOS and Windows mobile devices" according to Fitbit. It connects via Bluetooth and, as we said earlier, lets you handle the basic smartphone notifications like incoming calls (which you can accept and reject right from the watch), texts and calendar alerts. There are also on-screen controls for your phone's music player, which is handy when you're running and need to ramp it up to "Eye of the Tiger" for that last mile. Fitbit says the watch should have a battery life of up to five days.
Last but not least, there's the Blaze's style. It has an interesting modular design that lets you swap out the tracker into different frames, which are in turn connected to different bands. The default strap is made out of a "high-performance" elastomer ideal for workouts, but you can trade up to premium leather or stainless steel options, which are $99.95 (£60) and $129.95 (£90) respectively. Both leather and steel options also come paired with stainless steel frames. The elastomer bands are available in black, blue and plum (they're $29.95/£20 each if you want to get them separately), while leather options are in black, mist grey or camel.
As for the price? Well, it starts at $199.95 (£160) and is available for pre-sale starting today at Fitbit's online store. It'll then be available in several major retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Brookstone, Dick's Sporting Goods, Macy's, Sports Authority, Target and Verizon. Indeed, starting February 20th, you can visit select Best Buy locations to try it out yourself before it finally hits global retail shelves some time in March 2016. Lucky for us, the Fitbit Blaze will also be on the show floor here at CES, so stay tuned for our hands-on with it later this week.