Microsoft Band Review


Microsoft Band review: Unlike any other wearable and uniquely yours
(Image: Microsoft)

Daily activity tracker, multi-platform smartwatch, GPS sport watch, heart rate monitor, and fitness coach. The Microsoft Band can be whatever you want and that is the real power of the Band.

I've now spent nearly two weeks with the Microsoft Band — read my first impressions — and it has secured a place on my wrist for the foreseeable future.

As a guy who covers the mobile space, I use smartphones running every mobile operating system; the Microsoft Band is currently the only wearable to work across Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. Come to think of it, I will have to test it with my BlackBerry Passport and the Android Microsoft Health app since my Pebble works through this approach.

Specifications

    Band material: Thermal plastic elastomer with adjustable-fit clasp
    Processor: ARM Cortex M4
    Display: 11mm x 33mm, 320 x 106 pixels, 1.4-inch TFT full-color display
    Sensors: Optical heart rate, three-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS receiver, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response
    Other features: Bluetooth 4.0 LE, microphone, haptic vibration motor, dust and splash resistant
    Battery capacity: Dual 100 mAh lithium-ion polymer batteries. Normal use rating of 48 hours
    Dimensions: 19mm wide and 8.7 mm thick, weight of 60 grams

One specification that concerns me is the dust and splash resistance. I sweat a lot when I work out and I regularly run in the rain in Washington State. I hope that the Band doesn't fail during these typical conditions and that it's practically rainproof.

You won't find many wearables with this much tech crammed into it and I just hope that long-term usage doesn't end up causing failures like I have seen a number of times on advanced wristbands like the Jawbone UP.

On the hardware

I provided a detailed walkthrough of the hardware in my first impressions article so I won't repeat that here. I will say that I continue to find the Microsoft Band very comfortable on my left wrist, so much so that I don't even notice it is strapped on most of the time. However, it is not comfortable on my right wrist where my outside upper wrist bone seems to be a bit more prominent.

As I stated in my last article, I highly recommend you put a screen protector on the Microsoft Band before you even start using it. I scratched up the plastic to the right of the display in the first two days. The screen protector actually covered up those minor scratches and the display looks fantastic with the protector in place.
I wear the Microsoft Band with the display face down under my wrist 95 percent of the time since it's much easier to view and interact with the Band in this position — even more reason to have the screen protector installed.
There have not been any issues with the hardware over the past two weeks. Heart rate monitoring has been spot on when I compared it to the Mio Link dedicated heart rate monitor while out running and in various daily activities.
The touch display is very responsive, the battery life matches Microsoft's stated expectations, and I have no complaints so far. The battery life takes a serious hit when you run with GPS and heart rate monitoring enabled.
I was able to kill nearly 50 percent of the battery on an eight mile run, so the Microsoft Band is good for recreational runners, but not for marathoners. Serious runners usually have advanced GPS watches with all kinds of metrics to track so it makes sense that Microsoft went for what the masses need.

Pros                       
  1. Exhaustive number of sensors           
  2. Support for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone    
  3. Capability to fill nearly any wearable role    
  4. Accurate heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking      
  5. Good price/value for functionality provided      
Cons
  1. Requires proprietary charging cable
  2. Notification acknowledgement not synced back to phones
  3. No desktop software and limited access to data

On the software

Again, I detailed the tiles and software interface in my first impressions article. One thing I wanted to clear up for you multi-platform users is that you do not need to reset the Microsoft Band to switch platforms. You may have to remove/forget the Bluetooth connection on your phone, but you should then be able to pair the Band up with another device. I switched between Android and iOS a couple of times this past week.

Microsoft Health
: The Microsoft Health smartphone application is a solid first product and I am impressed by the visual presentation of the collected data. It is a bit of a pain to have to jump out of the latest view of sleep/running/workout data, tap on the activity history, and then tap on an individual day to view the data. The step and calorie data views let you quickly toggle to a view of your week, which is helpful for tracking trends and setting goals for improvement.

An extensive amount of data is being collected by the Microsoft Band and synced to the Health database. However, the current app limits access to this data and I want to see a desktop or browser client to provide this access. For example, I have RunKeeper set up as a connected app and on the phones I can see a map of my route along with splits, heart rate data, and more. However, a very limited amount of this data is synced to RunKeeper. As a result, I still run with a phone so that I can capture all of this data and have it appear on my RunKeeper site. I know the data is there within Microsoft Health, but I just need full access to that data so I can leave the phone at home when I run.

Further thoughts on Android usage: I was very pleased to discover that the Microsoft Band can be set up as a trusted Bluetooth device on my Sony Xperia Z3. When the Microsoft Band is within Bluetooth range of my Z3, it keeps my Z3 unlocked. This handy functionality was first provided by Motorola on the Moto X, but is now found in many Android devices and is an excellent security option.

Further thoughts on workouts and coaching
: Microsoft provides a number of running, bodyweight, and strength workouts in the Microsoft Health app. Since I am not training for a specific run at this time and do not have access to any weights, I skipped the running and strength workout options. I have been traveling every week for three weeks and still have at least three more business trips before the end of the year. Thus, the bodyweight workouts are perfect for hotel room activities.

I selected a couple of these workouts and performing them with my Microsoft Band has opened up a whole new world of on-the-road training for me. After going for a morning or evening run, these workouts are perfect. After syncing and then selecting the workout, the Microsoft Band shows you which exercise to perform and then starts the countdown. The Band vibrates when each item is complete, then counts down the rest period while showing you which exercise is next. It was a joy to complete these workouts and is exactly what I have been looking for.

If you are unfamiliar with the exercise shown in the training plan, the Microsoft Health app has a quick video that shows you what it is along with the proper technique. My Microsoft Band is my new personal trainer, at much lower cost than an actual person, and can travel with me on the road.

Conclusion

Dedicated daily activity trackers, smartwatches, and GPS sport watches excel at their specific functions. The Microsoft Band compromises in each of these areas, as follows, but you won't find another product that can do it all as well as the Microsoft Band.

    Daily activity tracker
: These generally have battery lives from a week to six months. They can be placed on the wrist or other part of the body and should virtually disappear as they capture data.
    Smartwatches: Great smartwatches provide big colorful displays, sync up notifications for robust triage, and look like a watch.
    GPS sport watches: These athletic watches are waterproof, track hours of intense physical activity, and provide a significant number of metrics.

With tile selection, you can have your Microsoft Band focused on what is important to you. If you never go running or work out, then leave off those tiles. Some people may even want to have their Microsoft Band serve as a communications and social networking device with text, email, Twitter, and Facebook as their primary tiles. The great thing about the Microsoft Band is that you have the option to customize the experience and every Band will be unique to each person.

The challenge with wearing and using devices specific to these activities is having multiple devices that need charging and syncing. If you want to wear a wrist-mounted activity tracker, then you limit your ability to wear a smartwatch )unless you wear a device on each wrist). Carrying something like a Misfit Flash in your pocket along with a smartwatch makes some sense, but you still have multiple devices to manage. The Microsoft Band provides all of this functionality in a single device that will last you at least a day, usually two, unless you go out on a long run.

I personally have my Microsoft Band fairly balanced, but have to say that paying for Starbucks with my wrist is still one of the coolest things ever. Microsoft did a fantastic job with its first Microsoft Health wearable device and I look forward to updates and continued improvements in the hardware and health service.

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