iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration

Regular readers and viewers know I’ve become pretty attached to my iRobot Roomba vacuum. (Read my review of the newest iRobot 980 here, or the BraavaJet 240 mopping robot here to see why.)

This week iRobot announced it was making some pretty serious upgrades to the cloud connectivity of the iRobot app. You’ll remember from my Roomba 980 review that in the newer generation of robots you could control the vacuum from outside the home via the app and cloud, and that it has better ‘sight’ to find its way around your home and obstacles. Now the 900 series devices have mapping capabilities so you know exactly what’s getting cleaned and what’s not. Continue reading “iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration”

How to stream with an old TV (even without an HDMI plug!) Try Roku Express+

Is there a TV sitting in your basement that is basically obsolete? Wondering how you can stream today’s shows on that old TV?

When HDMI ports emerged years ago, allowing reliable strong digital connections from peripherals to TVs, many sets fell out of use as the popularity of HDMI-connected gaming consoles and streaming devices grew. But that also means that TVs without HDMI ports can’t connect to today’s streaming devices like Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast. But there’s now a reliable, easy way to get streaming TV on your old set.  Continue reading “How to stream with an old TV (even without an HDMI plug!) Try Roku Express+”

Fitbit Blaze Review

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The new Blaze (right) beside to well-worn Flex.

I’ve been a Fitbit owner ever since I bought my Flex. It’s been a staple for me, not so much because I’m a gym junkie, but because it sit at a desk for the vast majority of my day. I try to keep active and get in my 10,000 steps, and my Fitbit keeps track so that I can get in an extra walk, park at the back of the parking lot, or hit the gym when I get too sedentary.

I was excited to hear about the two new Fitbit models announced this year; the Alta and the Blaze, primarily because my Flex is starting to look a bit worse for wear, and because I feel like I’m ready for some new features. While I was instantly attracted to the Alta because of its slim profile and similarity to the Flex, I was a little less interested in the Blaze. It seemed big, bulky, dated-looking and boxy. Nonetheless I was willing to put it though its paces.

Getting started with Fitbit Blaze
To use the Blaze you’ll need the Fitbit App if you want to keep long-term stats. With the app downloaded, you pair the device to your phone.  While it took me a few tries to get it to connect to the phone, it was soon connected and ready to go.img_1456

The Blaze has an interesting configuration; it’s essentially two parts; the band (which is interchangeable, more on that below), and the tracker unit, a flat, square device just over an inch square and slightly thicker than an average watch.  The tracker pops out of the band to allow for changeover, and must be removed and placed inside a tiny box for  charging.

At first I thought this band would be heavy and bulky, but after less than an hour, I had already forgotten it was on my wrist. Really, it doesn’t feel any heavier or bigger than my original Fitbit Flex, despite the obvious size differences.

I also like that the tracker unit itself can be popped out of the band, and tucked into a sports bra, sock, or pocket. This was one of my favorite features of the Fitbit Flex; it allowed me to hide the tracker if I didn’t want to be wearing something obviously athletic and rubbery on my wrist for a nice night out or a formal event. While the accuracy of the device may not be as exact if it’s worn elsewhere since it’s been made to be worn on the wrist, in my experience it wasn’t off enough to throw my day out of whack. And besides, the better looking these devices get, the less likely we are to want to hide them anyway, right?

img_1454-1What Fitbit measures

Before we go too much further you may be wondering what a Fitbit will keep track of for you.

  • Sleep: both duration and quality
  • Steps, including number of steps and distance, and active minutes in your day
  • Activity: record activities from running to cycling
  • Weight: the app will chart your weight either manually, or automatically when paired with the Aria scale.
  • Calories: when paired with apps like MyFitnessPal, you can share food info and match it up to activity levels.
  • Water Intake: again, a manual input item but can help you keep track of if you’re drinking enough water
  • Floors Climbed
  • Heart Rate: Fitbit devices with heart rate monitoring will keep track of your resting and active heart rates.

Customizing your Blaze

Customizable watch faces are an option for the Blaze, but you can’t switch them up form the watch itself, like other bands. Instead you’ll need to do this though the app in ‘Account’ menu. Not intuitive but at least the feature is there. It takes about 15 seconds from the time you select a new watch face for it to update on the watchband.

By default your Fitbit Blaze adjusts brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. You can change the default in the settings.

You can set the Blaze to light up when you turn your wrist towards your face. I found this feature didn’t work as well as I had hoped. If I was taking a casual look, sometimes it didn’t recognize the gesture. If I was more deliberate about turning my wrist over and pointing it at my face, then it seem to work. But it took about a second before the display would light up. My experience with this feature was hit or miss.

Who’s the Blaze for?

Fitbit wants you to be clear; the Blaze is not for an elite athlete. The Blaze is for an average consumer who wants to do basic monitoring of fitness statistics, sleep, and activities while not looking like a track star. The Blaze is fashion and fun, with a fitness core. Fitbit suggests the more seriously minded athletes pick up its Surge device instead.

Basic operation
Alerts
A great new added feature of the Blaze is its ability to deliver notifications and messages right to your wrist. While I very much enjoyed getting a subtle buzz on the wrist when a text message or calendar alert popped up, this feature does have limitations. While you can read incoming text messages, you cannot respond to them. (At least not using my iPhone.) similarly, you can accept incoming calls, but you must have your smart phone with you as well, or you won’t be able to talk. While this may seem very limiting, the price point of the Blaze is far less than Apple’s watch, so you’re getting what you pay for if messaging and conducting business from your wrist is something you’re after.

Menus
By pulling down across the watch face, you get a menu which will allow you to turn notifications on or off, as well as play music if it’s connected.
Swiping up gets you a list of recent notifications such as calls, text messages, calendar alerts and more. These alerts will stack up and stay in the watch until you clear them.

Swiping right to left across the band will give you a series of other menus:

“Today”: The today menu will show you your fitness stats; such as steps, heart rate, kilometres traveled, calories, and floors climbed. To return back to the menu list, you hit the back button on the watch band.

“Exercise”: this menu allows you to register different activities like workout, elliptical, treadmill,  weights, bike, and run. You tap the exercise you are about to take part in and the Blaze will connect to your smart phone’s app to register the activity. Push play on the watch face to begin logging the activity, then stop it when you’re done. While technically Fitbit already knows when you’re doing some kind of exercise, having this connection to the app allows you to keep watch in real time on your statistics, such as distance or time.  When enabled, the Blaze will also use GPS tracking to follow your route on a run or a bike ride for example.

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One of the FitStar exercises.

“FitStar”: FitStar is a series of guided exercises that the band will walk you through. You can do a warm-up, or a seven minute workout. The watch band shows you a visual example of each short exercise, and a timer counts you down through it.
While three workouts are included in your Blaze’s software, if you want more options, you’ll need to buy them from Fitbit for a $46 annual fee.

“Timer”:   This gives you access to a countdown or stopwatch function.

“Alarms”: Here you can turn silent alarms on or off. But adding or deleting them requires your phone and the app.

“Settings”: A very simplistic version of the settings menu, here you can turn the QuickView feature on or off, adjust brightness, turn heart rate monitoring on or off, as well as shut down the device.

Accuracy

As I’ve written about previously, I very much like Fitbit  and choose it as my preferred activity band, because I find it extraordinarily accurate.

I’ve tried numerous bands and compared them both with each other, and done testing to see if the band accurately matches my steps, strides, and activities. Part of this accuracy lies in the ability to calibrate the Fitbit to your unique stride length, which is key for accurate tracking. (For more on how to adjust your stride length with Fitbit click here.)
No surprise then that the Blaze was just as accurate as my old standby Fitbit Flex.

Styling Options for Fitbit Blaze

With the Blaze, you have several options for wristbands. You can stick with a more traditional athletic wristband (“Classic”) which is made of rubber attached to the metal watch bezel, or there are also leather options in brown, grey or black. These bands will cost you about $140 and that’s on top of what you’re paying for the tracker. A gorgeous metal link watch band will set you back nearly $180. So while there are stylish options for making your band look less like a fitness accessory, and more fashion forward, they are not cheap.

Overall Review of Fitbit Blaze

One of the things I like most about my Fitbit Flex, is that it’s very subtle and still contains all the major tracking features I want. The Blaze is a whole different type of gadget for me, because it’s much larger, and more like a wristwatch then I’ve been used to wearing. But since this activity band also features heart rate monitoring as well as time display, it’s natural this device would look more like a watch them like a traditional activity tracker. It is bigger than I’m used to, but as I noted earlier despite its size and boxy shape, I quickly forgot I was wearing it, and didn’t feel that it got in my way or was overly noticeable.

I enjoyed the additional features, and definitely found myself checking in on my heart rate through the day. Having a built-in watch was a great feature, as is the notifications option. It was nice to get a subtle buzz on my wrist when I had a text message or alert.

In short, while I didn’t think I would be interested in this band as my go to activity device, I found myself liking it more and more the more I tried it. I could definitely see adopting the Blaze in my future.

Fitbit Blaze is available at Best Buy and London Drugs for $249. You can also get it from Fitbit’s website, or find more info there.

In the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing the new Fitbit Alta too, so check back for more info soon. Already a Fitbit Fan? Check out my Fitbit Apps you’ll LOVE.

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Charging your Fitbit Blaze