[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]
Microsoft’s newest fitness wearable is now on sale but is it a substantial improvement over its predecessor?
Microsoft really believes that wearables are the future. They’ve banked quite heavily on fitness devices with lots of sensors and the band 2 is their next iteration of this. Retailing at £199, it’s by no means cheap but offers more sensors than any other device currently on the market. The main question is, has it solved the issues that plagued the original?
OS Custom Windows Phone OS
Number of Sensors 11
Screen 1.26 x 0.50 inches
Resolution 320 x 128 pixels
Dimensions 159 x 78 x 7.3 mm
Battery 48 hours
[highlight color=#336699 ]Design[/highlight]
The first Microsoft Band was pretty awkward to wear, feeling more like a gauntlet than anything else. This new model has improved things significantly, though it’s still far from comfortable. The new curved OLED screen and flexible strap helps to make it fit around your wrist better, giving a tighter and snugger fit, but the constricting nature is still there. There were times where it felt like I wasn’t wearing anything and others where it was becoming a literal nuisance. The huge bulge on the locking mechanism at the bottom of the band is a particular area of annoyance, as it contains the battery and digs into your wrist when you lean on anything such as a table or work-surface. In fact, even as I type this it’s busy pressing on my wrist, making movement quite difficult. I also have concerns over the long-term build quality of the product, as the back of the metal screen appeared to get scratched up pretty quickly at the sides after only a few days of solid use. That seems a little cheap considering this device retails for £199 in the UK.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Performance[/highlight]
The 32×12.8mm OLED screen won’t win any awards for its image quality but it’s still more than functional enough, with clear text and a decent brightness levels. The ambient light sensor is also a nice touch, helping the battery life to stay within Microsoft’s estimates.
Despite our attempts, Microsoft has been extremely quiet on what’s inside the Band 2. The first version didn’t exactly seem to struggle in the performance field and it’s much the same here, with a smooth and fluid experience. It pairs to your device via Bluetooth and does so quickly with the Windows Phone app. Android and iOS can be a little temperamental but it’s much better than the first version. The standout feature with the Band 2 is of course it’s plethora of sensors, of which there are 11. This is only one more than the original band, though the added barometer is handy for cross-country travel and vertical climbing. The ability to download workouts directly to the band still remains, which an excellent feature that saves you lugging a smartphone to the gym.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Software[/highlight]
The Microsoft Band 2 runs on a very simplified OS that shares its design themes with the Windows Phone operating system. In terms of the overall navigation, little has changed between this and the first version. Two buttons are present on the bottom side of the device, one for locking/unlocking the screen and the other a more general purpose action button. Apps are represented by tiles and can be accessed by swiping horizontally across the screen. Most of the information shown on the Band itself is incredibly basic, with emails showing in a stripped back fashion and only the essential fitness data available.
Where the device really comes into its own is with the dedicated Microsoft Health service, where you can literally look at every minute detail of your average day. The partner app is your gateway to goals, gains and pretty much every aspect of your own personal fitness. Seeing a detailed infographic breakdown of your sleeping patterns is a pretty eye-opening experience, as is the ability to view calorie burns on an hourly chart and track performance. This experience is further enhanced on the Microsoft Health website, which takes things even deeper. If you’re a true health fitness buff, it’s hard to complain. For mortals like me, it was all a bit too much.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Battery[/highlight]
The battery on the Microsoft Band 2 is pretty average by smartwatch standards and manages to get through a day of solid use or two days of light usage. Microsoft’s claim of two days is pretty honest, though if you’re busy sending messages, answering calls and tracking your workouts with GPS, you’ll be lucky to reach the morning without juicing up the battery. Thankfully, it makes little difference as the device fully charges in around 15-20 minutes. Pop in the shower after a workout and by the time you get back, the thing will be topped up and ready to go.
A proprietary charger is included in the box which features a magnetic induction cable that snaps to the clasp on the back. It’s a little bit annoying to use at first but soon becomes second nature. Just make sure not to lose it, as you’ll have to cough up £15.99 for a replacement. There’s also no wall wart in the box, meaning you’ll need to search around the house for a spare USB plug if you want to charge it; a little inconvenient.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
For sheer hardware, the Microsoft Band 2 is still the ultimate fitness wearable with masses of sensors and some excellent software. Unfortunately, it’s also pricier than its predecessor and doesn’t necessarily offer any new killer features to justify the hike. The design is still dodgy and the battery needs improvement; two points which we think are pretty important for a fitness wearable to get right. You’re on the right track Microsoft, just keep heading for the finish¦