- Voice control
- Heart-rate tracking
- Battery life
With the smartwatch and fitness band markets booming, Microsoft created the Microsoft Band to create a fusion of the two. It finds an interesting balance in its hybrid status, but as a result it doesn’t quite stand out as being particularly great at any one thing; rather, it seems to float in the middle, being pretty good in almost all regards. The Microsoft Band brings new and exciting features to the fitness band market while spinning a stronger focus of health into the smartwatch market.
Look & feel
The Microsoft Band is made of a stiff, silicone material with a touchscreen display area and two function buttons. Unlike most fitness bands that have a centralized location for the internal tech components, the Microsoft Band has spread this throughout the band from apex to clasp. This gives the band a thinner feel in the display area at the cost of extra width and a generally stiff body that doesn’t ever really break in. Because of the extra width, it tends to snag on sleeves a bit more than your standard fitness band.
The unconventional dimensions are easy to adjust to after a few weeks. The 1.4” full color touchscreen display is bright, beautiful, and easy to read, even in sunlight. The touchscreen is very responsive, and the interface rarely lags as you swipe through the display. Although the band and bezel are not scratch-resistant, the screen itself is; even if it does hang below your sleeves, you never have to worry about scratching up the face.
The screen itself has Windows’ current Metro theming to it, which has proven to been a polarizing design across Windows devices. There are a couple of customization options that follow this. Through the app, users are able to change the theme color and the wallpaper of the home tile, which is a nice touch for anyone who craves options.
Performance & Features
- Wireless Sync
- Step counter
- Calorie counter
- Activity tracking
- Water resistant
- Meal tracking
- Sleep tracking
- Heart rate tracking
- Caller ID
- iOS compatible
- Android compatible
- Windows compatible
- Battery life: 2 days
Although Windows claims a 48-hour battery life, we were only able to get close to this in testing by disabling both GPS and push notifications. When we tested it with a GPS-enabled run and our push notifications active, it lasted just under 24 hours. While this is an abysmal standard in the fitness band category, it is about standard for the smartwatch segment. Thankfully, it only takes about 1.5 hours to fully recharge the band, so it isn’t too much of an inconvenience to charge it up during evening meals, showers, or unwind time at the end of your day.
The Windows Band is compatible with Android devices, iPhones, and Windows Phones; however, the Cortana personal assistant features are only available on Windows Phones. This is kind of hindering when considering the small percentage of the market Windows has in the smartphone segment; however, there are a few redeeming features for the rest of us. The band automatically syncs your phones push notifications, from Instagram and Facebook alerts to texts and emails.
From the home screen, you can press the action button to view the time, date, distance travelled, calories burned, heart rate, and steps taken that day. A simple swipe and hold action allows you to view battery life and whether you have heart rate monitoring and bluetooth connectivity on. The bluetooth indicator will be either gray to show that connectivity is on, blue to show that you’re actively connected to your device, or not on the screen at all showing that bluetooth connectivity is disabled. Having it disabled does improve battery life, but at the cost of having to sync your data later on in the day and not being able to integrate your notifications.
Swiping right from the home screen reveals action tiles. Very similar in design to the Windows Metro theme, the customizable tiles allow you to check your call and text logs, e-mails, and calendar information. There are designated tiles for running exercise, miscellaneous workouts, and sleep mode triggering. The running application allows you to start a tracked run with the option to toggle integrated GPS or run without it. Once triggered, not only does the screen show the duration of your run, but also the active calories burned and heart rate in real time. This in-depth, on-screen feature is really neat to have right on your wrist, and it also allows you to run without having to bring your phone along.
The Microsoft Band is one of few fitness bands that have active continual heart rate monitoring for more accurate calorie burn estimates, sleep tracking, and peak/resting heart rate averages. According to Microsoft, the heart rate monitor functions by monitoring in 2 minutes on/8 minutes off intervals, except for when in an “activity” mode when it runs for the duration of the activity. It also features a UV monitor, which will let you know how intense the sun rays are so you can sort of gauge the importance of sunscreen on any given day. While a fun little feature, we found ourselves forgetting about it quite often.
Although the Band does have sleep monitoring, it does not start automatically, but rather is toggled through the sleep tile + action button. After waking up, the band shows your hours and minutes slept, including information about your sleep efficiency, how many times you woke up in the night, and even how many calories you burned in your sleep. The fact you can access this without even having to reference the app is a refreshing change from the standard in fitness bands and is one of the positives of this hybrid mashup. You can also set alarms through the band instead of through the app, but the silent alarm has to be set manually each night. Because there is no recurring alarm function, we found it worked best for timing workouts and helpful reminders.
One thing Microsoft has done extremely well in the development of the Band is third party integration. The band can sync with standard fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper. What makes it different is its partnership with Gold’s Gym and Starbucks as well. Through the Golds Gym app, Microsoft says you can receive premium workout information right on your wrist; additionally, you receive a Gold’s Gym membership free for two weeks when you purchase through the Microsoft Store. For all you coffee lovers, the Microsoft Band allows you to actually sync your Starbucks Card to your band via the app and pay for your Starbucks order from the band.
Naturally, the Microsoft Band app has the same tiled Windows 8 metro look as the device itself. From the homescreen of the app, you can easily view steps taken, calories burned, manually entered activities and recent activities, and sleep information. The bottom of the page features a button that allows you to customize which tiles are featured on the band. The app is relatively intuitive and easy to use; however, we found that there was a serious problem with lag when going from one screen to another. This will hopefully be fixed with app updates in the future, but for now, it’s a serious issue.
Clicking on the steps tile brings up display graphs that show steps taken on an hourly basis, where you can also tap to see your corresponding heart rate. Your daily total distance travelled, active minutes, and total percentage accomplished of your steps goal is displayed below that. When viewing run data, a map pulls up with your GPS-tracked route, showing both your start and end points and how fast you were running on a snail-to-cheetah color chart. The metrics provided on runs is fairly comprehensive, detailing duration; calories burned, with separate counts for fat calories burned and carbohydrate calories burned; average pace; lowest, highest, and average heart rate; and ending heart rate. These in-depth details really show that Microsoft didn’t forget about runners when making this device.
For miscellaneous workouts, the activity history section allows you to review past workout sessions, which is particularly helpful in comparing your progress and checking for performance improvement over time. There is also a “Find Your Workout” section, which seems helpful at first but has very little lasting power. This section of the app allows you to pick a video of a workout to watch and follow along with. While interesting, we found it didn’t carry much real-world help.
In the sleep metrics section, you can find in-depth sleep stat analysis that matches Jawbone’s comprehensive set of metrics. With sleep efficiency, duration of sleep, how long it took you to fall asleep, how many times you woke up or were particularly restless, and how many calories burned while you were dozing, this comprehensive aspect is a real strength of the Microsoft Band.
- Voice control
- Heart-rate tracking
- Battery life
The Microsoft Band makes a valiant attempt at being a hybrid smart watch and fitness band, but unfortunately spreads itself too thin and winds up being not incredibly successful at either. Overall, it’s a neat gadget with interesting features that should especially be considered for Windows Phone owners due to its comprehensive Cortana functionality. Its hybrid status makes it fall a little flat compared to exclusively fitness-based trackers, and its laggy app is slightly off-putting. Despite this, the Windows Band does offer a great variety of futuristic features, decent GPS tracking, and in-depth metrics that might just be enough to make it a great purchase.