The Microsoft Band is the technology giants first real foray into the world of wearable health tech. It’s a tracker, it’s a smart watch, it’s a lot of things, but is it any good? Read on to find out…
WHAT IS TRACKED?
The Band is well and truly packed with trackers! It has GPS, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, capacitive sensors, skin temperature thermometers, UV & ambient light sensors, optical heart rate monitors, a microphone and a galvanic skin response sensor. All this means that the Microsoft Band really is a strong contender for the most comprehensive wrist-worn tracker around! Whether you’re tracking your steps, runs, cycles or just gym visits, there’s an host of options here for you.
With all these sensors and trackers packed into the Band, it’s not surprising that the device is pretty much spot on whether measuring your steps or more strenuous exercise. I tested and compared the Band when cycling (using the GPS function), walking (counting steps in a relatively short period of time) and also doing a more ‘gym’ style workout. In all experiences, the device appeared to track accurately and I can’t fault the Band for its ability to measure your activity level.
The Band uses the free Microsoft Health app (available on iOS, Android & Windows Phone) to sync and show you all your data in one place. I was not sure about the oh so very purple experience at first, but the app is actually rather good. It also offers the ability to edit the home screen to the order and information you want to receive on start-up, which always an appreciated feature and especially for a device that measures so much! However, the data summaries do feel a little basic and I’d like to see some more advanced analysis available within the app (although, to be fair that’s true of most of the health services I’ve ever seen!).
The initial set-up of the device is made refreshingly easy with the mixture of tiny touch-screen and two buttons. Getting the device up and running with the mobile app was also as simple as a few clicks and uses Bluetooth, as ever. The Band also allows you to receive all your email, message and other notifications from your phone (if you so wish) and these are actually shown very well and easy to set up. You can even calm down the purple with a change of background colour and also customise the order of the different on-device apps so your ‘cycle’ setting is close to the start if you ride to and from work (and want to track it!).
However, the fit is the place where the Microsoft Band really start to struggle. The wealth of sensors is great, but it makes the device feel very bulky on your wrist (even compared to my Pebble Time smartwatch it feels large). I also found the bulkiness made finding a comfortable width setting difficult, as the lumps and bumps never seemed to fit around my wrist (but this may be my wrists!).
I am regularly surprised and frustrated by the devices that use Bluetooth to sync and can’t seem to get it to work 100% of the time (or even 90% would do!). I’m happy to say that Microsoft have actually hit above many of its competitors on this front and I had very few issues syncing the Band. In fact, it even synced quite happily after the battery had completely died – although obviously it had no data for the time it was out of juice!
There’s no way around the fact that the Microsoft Band will last you about 48 hours on a full charge. It charges pretty quickly – lasting a day on about 30mins and a full charge taking about 90mins – but that doesn’t really make up for the need to plug it in every if you use it regularly. It’s better (or about the same) as Apple’s attempt, yes. But I expect a device like this this to last at least a week and with the size of it already I’d argue that throwing another bit of battery on is not great issue.
The Microsoft Band will set you back about £160 at the moment and for that you get a very accurate and varied tracker, with smartwatch features, albeit that’s a little on the bulky side. For the same price you can get yourself a FitBit Surge (on the tracker side of the market) or a Pebble Time (on the smartwatch side). So while I think it’s a fair price for the device and functionality you get, I can’t get over the size and comfort issues the Band has along with all those sensors!
Microsoft have clearly thrown everything into their first health/smartwatch device, quite literally! Sadly that means although there’s a host of functionality and the app offers strong support too, the bulky size and bad battery life really can’t be forgiven. Something that you’re going to wear every day need to feel comfortable and this just doesn’t. It also needs to last longer than a day or two, in my opinion, and again the Band fails. So while it’s a valiant first attempt, I’d wait for the second generation to see if they can fix these issues before investing £160 in a Band. Although if it fixed those problems, I wouldn’t mind seeing it available for a little more to be honest.