Review: Microsoft Band 2 – still flawed, but has great software

Microsoft Band 2

Microsoft Band 2
7.25

Design

6/10

    Ease of use

    8/10

      Use of information

      8/10

        Motivation

        7/10

          Pros

          • Better design than original device
          • 11 sensors
          • GPS
          • Extensive analysis with Microsoft Health

          Cons

          • Short battery life
          • Automatic sleep tracking needs improvements
          • Relatively high price

          The original Microsoft fitness band came out in the latter part of 2014. It was packed with sensors and included tracking of steps and activity, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, estimated calories and kept tabs on sleep – all displayed on a decent colour touchscreen display.

          The device also included GPS connectivity – something that Fitbit Charge HR and Jawbone UP3 do not. Additionally, the Microsoft band featured some unique technology such as a UV sensor to remind you to put on a sun cream and a sensor to give you a galvanic skin response measurement to let you know when you are feeling stressed.

          With an impressive spec sheet that would rival any of the big fitness tracker players you would expect the band to be a winner. Ultimately however, the device was a big letdown in the looks department featuring a flat, chunky design, sitting on the inside of the wrist. A wearable device that does not sit naturally on your wrist and is actually uncomfortable to wear, is fundamentaly flawed.

          The Redmond, Washington-based company has come back for round two. It has now released the second generation of its fitness band which represents a considerable improvement over the original device. This comes with a $50 increase on its predecessor’s initial cost of $199.99.

          Design
          Ease of use
          Use of information
          Motivation
          Overview

          View technical specs


          Design

          Microsoft Band 2 features  a curved display and scratch-proof Gorilla Glass 3 display making it something you would like to wear, rather than the clunky, unattractive device it replaced. The AMOLED screen is larger, at 32 x 12.8mm and a 320 x 128 resolution, or 255 pixels per inch (ppi), whereas the older Microsoft Band’s TFT display measures 33 x 11mm for a 320 x 106 pixel count, or 247 ppi.

          The screen is bright and vivid. It is effective in registering touches and swipes. Improved responsiveness makes the display feel akin to a smartphone touchscreen. Understandably, Microsoft didn’t feel the need to include a screen protector with the device this time around, as the device is less prone to scratching due to the improvements.

          Microsoft Band 2 reviewGone are the hard edges of last year’s angular Band. The rubbery band that extends from the screen is soft, flexible, durable plastic that feels smooth on the skin. However, it is still wider when compared to many other fitness bands. You can wear Band 2 so that the screen is positioned on the outside of your wrist, or on the inside. We are not huge fans of wearing it on the inside as it feels rather awkward.

          The home and action buttons are in the same spot underneath the screen. One triggers the backlit display and gives you a view of the time of day, while the other starts and stops recording an activity. The buttons are less resistant than on the original device, and depress more quickly and easily.

          The chunky metal band clasp is pretty much the same adjustable one found on the first generation device, except it’s larger and silver. Hidden in the clasp is the battery. The clasp also houses the UV light sensor which can tell you how likely you are to get sunburned, and it gives you advice on how to avoid it.

          Though the 2015 edition of the band is unlikely to win any design awards, it is definitely less clunky than its predecessor. But not by much. Despite all these improvements, the design still feels a little bit uncomfortable to wear, especially to bed.

          Even with the sleeker design, this year’s Band squeezes in all 10 sensors included in the first device, with the addition of a new sensor for tracking elevation. According to Microsoft, the heart rate sensor has also been improved. The full list of sensors includes:

          1. Optical heart rate sensor
          2. 3-axis accelerometer/gyro
          3. Gyrometer
          4. GPS
          5. Ambient light sensor
          6. Skin temperature sensor
          7. UV sensor
          8. Capactive sensor
          9. Galvanic skin response
          10. Microphone
          11. Barometer

          Finally, the new band can test your maximum volume of oxygen (VO2 max). Microsoft says it is the only gadget on the market that can do this. You will however have to do a handful of intense cardio workouts before it starts recording this. Your body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise is the VO2 max. The higher your VO2 max is, the easier it is to workout longer.

          VO2 max, Microsoft says, “is the most precise measure of overall cardiovascular fitness.”

          The Band 2 lasts about two days on a single charge via its specialized USB charge cable, which Microsoft Band 2 reviewmagnetically snaps onto the back of the band’s buckle. if you’re the type to go to the gym every day, its battery life generally dishes out 1.5 days from a full charge, less with GPS switched on. It takes about an hour and a half to fully charge the device.

          The Band 2 isn’t waterproof but remains dust and water resistant. With the IP67 rating, it can stand temporary immersion in water at a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes. In reality, however, Microsoft refrains users wearing the Band while swimming or in the shower. It is fine though with heavy sweat, washing your hands, and running in light rain.


          Ease of use

          The software that is running in the Band 2 is pretty much identical to its predecessor. This is not surprising as Microsoft has gradually improved the original software over the year through updates. This means that the screen is comprised of Windows tiles and apps, laid out in a row. This is an original concept and one that has not been replicated by other fitness trackers.

          There are however subtle improvements with how it works. For example, the original device showed tiny progress bars at the bottom of the step and calorie screens to show daily progress. The new band now displays a prominent progress bar that takes up the bulk of the screen while a text overlay shows steps taken or calories burned. There are many other examples of subtle improvements in the software, both visual and  functional.

          Microsoft Band 2The Band 2 populates most of the relevant information directly on its display, so you’re not tied to checking it out on your smartphone. Use your mobile device to load tiles, rearrange or delete them. Press the power button to see the Me Tile, which is the home screen on your Band. You can then swipe sideways to slide through your various tiles. You can choose more than 10 of these tiles including: steps, calories, sleep, runs, UV light exposure, workouts, etc.

          You can also include some tiles which function as smartwatch functions such as messages, notifications, calendar, mail, Facebook, twitter, weather, etc. The improved display greatly helps with notifications, which are much more prominent than they were in the original device. The band also features a subtle vibration to provide you with notification alerts. Again, you can customise which notifications will make your wrist buzz. Rather surprisingly, the Band works with any brand of phone: iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone.

          The Microsoft Band 2 automatically and continuously tracks some stats such as steps, sleep, heart rate, calories burned, and stairs climbed. You can see the tallies right on the device. Tap a tile to view its contents. For example, you can tap to see the progress you’ve made toward your goals, view indicators such as your heart rate, miles walked and ran, calories burned and floors climbed.

          Or you can open the phone app to see more detail. For much more detail, head off to the web interface. There you will see an immense amount of graphs and stats which you can delve into, including your historical data.

          The tracker also monitors your sleep. You can then analyse and compare your sleeps over time to see how well you’re restoring your resources. The band will show you your sleep restoration, sleep efficiency and number of wake-ups to find out how well your body restores its resources during sleep.

          Microsoft Band 2 review

          However you are supposed to tell the Band when you are getting ready for bed, and when you have woken up. While this takes only two button presses, most sophisticated sleep trackers are offering automatic sleep tracking these days. In fact, the Microsoft Band can also do auto detecting too – its just that its not great at figuring out your sleep times. Which means you are better off pressing the buttons manually. The Band can also act as a silent alarm, waking you by vibrating on your wrist.


          Use of information

          View summaries about your step counts, workouts, and sleep quality directly on the band. When you want a quick summary of your daily steps or sleep quality, review your latest data in the Health app. When you want to get more from your workout data and better understand your fitness level, the Microsoft Health web dashboard helps you go deeper.

          The Band tracks everything from running to mowing your lawn to golf – whatever gets you moving. There’s a generic exercise “tile” you can tap to record another type of workout, like yoga or weight lifting. You can also load pre-set workouts or even customize your own workout in advance.

          Microsoft Band 2 review

          Using Bluetooth, the Band then syncs your data to the Microsoft Health mobile app, which displays your most recent workouts, how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned organised by daily activity, how much you’ve slept, and more.

          Head off to the web for much more detailed information. What is your average daily calorie burn? What was your resting and peak heart rate today?  You can delve into a lot of detail on the web interface and it is quite addictive.

          The table below shows an outline of information available on the mobile app and on the web interface.

           
          Mobile
          Web
          Track steps: Get daily and weekly step count summaries.
          Calories burned: Review summaries of your calories burned on a daily or weekly basis.
          Run: See a map of your route and review summaries of your performance.
          Exercise: Review summaries of your exercise session.
          Sleep: Review summaries of every night’s sleep and find out how restorative your sleep is each night.
          Guided Workouts: Review summaries of your workouts and save your favourites so you can find them again easily.
          Golf: Review your scorecard, and analyse your fitness benefits and game stats.
          Bike: See a map of your route and review summaries of your performance.
          Comparative insights: Compare daily steps, daily calories, peak and resting heart rates, sleep data, and more with peers you choose.
          Add connected apps: Connect and sync your favourite fitness apps with your Microsoft Health data, including MyFitnessPal and more.
          Observations: Analyse your run, bike, golf and sleep quality data for even deeper insights into your fitness and health.
          Best performances: See all your bests at once. Your best calorie burn and your farthest run and bike ride are just a few examples.
          VO2 max: Get a measure of your current cardio fitness.
          UV exposure: Know your total time spent exposed to UV index of 2 or higher during your run, bike ride or golf game.
          Workout Planner: Build custom Guided Workouts that include reps, distance, and more, and download them to your Microsoft Band.
          Export your data: Export your workout data to Excel.

          As mentioned, Microsoft Band works with Windows Phone, Android, and iOS devices. Microsoft’s device also partners and connects with a number of other apps including Runkeeper, MapMyRun, Strava, Lose It, MyFitnessPal, MapMyRide and MyRoundPro for golf. There are also some non fitness related apps such as Starbucks and Uber.


          Motivation

          Microsoft Health has become a decent platform for monitoring your health and fitness. Using your Band 2 data, Microsoft gives you access to easily-understandable summaries and charts of your health and fitness gains, as well as personal, valuable insights. In a way, it feels as if Microsoft has thrown all these sensors into the device to showcase the power of its Health platform.

          The software guides you to improved wellness by translating your daily activities, exercise and sleep quality into easy-to-understand charts that show you your progress in meeting your goals. You can for example get insights into how your daily steps and calorie burn compare to others, how your workouts are impacting your fitness, and if you’re getting enough quality sleep. With each use, the algorithms calculate your metrics to let you know what you can do to achieve your goals.

          We do feel however that more could have been done with the 11 sensors included in the device. The data that the band collects, should really helps the user more actively, coaching and observing. The Moov Now device, which has far fewer sensors is able to translate your exact movement into real-time coaching, both through audio and on screen, and advise you whether you are performing your exercises correctly. Perhaps something we will see in Microsoft Band 3?


          Overview

          The verdict

          The Band 2 is without question a more premium version of the original device. The design is better (no difficult feat…), more sensors have been included, and the software has received subtle improvements.

          In a way, the device sits uncomfortably somewhere between a fitness band and a smartwatch – but one with more sensors than anything else on the market today. Perhaps, Microsoft could have designed a smartwatch and gone into competition with the Apple Watch?

          You can get other fitness trackers that do similar things but at a lower price. Fitbit Charge HR, with nearly a $100 lower price tag – does many similar things quite well. Although not in same detail or with the same number of sensors as the Band 2. Fitbit Surge is also a worthy competitor. Then there are the dedicated sports-watches.

          What you do get with Microsoft Band 2 is a device that provides you with a comprehensive health dashboard, a whole lot of sensors squeezed into it, and something that doesn’t look too bad or fit too uncomfortably on your wrist.

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          Microsoft Band 2
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          With further subtle improvements in the design, better battery life, more active coaching, and perhaps a lower price tag – Microsoft could have a winner on their hands. As it is today, this is a decent device, albeit slightly on the expensive side, that will help you gain many insights into your health and fitness.

          View technical specs

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