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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Microsoft Band - Review


Microsoft Band - Review

We are in the wearable era, as smart technology has become small enough to fit around are wrists. Wearables are available as smartwatches, activity trackers and many other form factors, but we are set to take a look at a device from Microsoft which hopes to give its user all the functionality they need - Meet the Microsoft Band.

[This review is still under development]

PROs CONs
  • Touch display with quick glance at relevant data
  • Compatible with Android, iOS and Windows Phone
  • Always-on heart rate sensor accurately measures calorie burn
  • Offers some smartwatch-like functionality
  • Heafty design makes it somewhat unconfortable to wear
  • Pricey for dedicated fitness tracker
  • Less than optimal battery life
  • Lacks proper water resistance

While wearable tech has been around for along time, Google's introduction of Android Wear was the first real step into making our watches smarter. Various manufacturers use Android Wear in their smartwatches, but it is restricted to Android users. Most recently Apple released the Apple Watch, which is an elegantly designed premium smartwatch. But once again, this is a platform specific wearable only usable by iPhone owners. The Microsoft Band is part of Microsoft's new vision to offer its services across all platforms. Whether you own a Windows Phone, iPhone or an Android device, your Microsoft Band is ready to work for you.

While Microsoft is better known for its software expertise with Windows and Office, the company also has some successful hardware products like its Microsoft Surface tablets, and the Xbox. The Microsoft Band is built on the expertise gained from these products aiming to aid you in your fitness goals while providing some smartwatch functionality as well.

Hardware

Design

The Microsoft Band chooses to mimic the general look of the fitness band, instead of the traditional wristwatch. The wearable is available in three different sizes, while black is the only color option you can choose. The Band features a thermal elastomer material that exudes a soft touch finish, with some metal accents.

Once you have select the size that suits you best, you can use the well designed clasp to adjust the Band for an even more perfect fit. The clasp is is easily adjustable and allows you to attach/detach the Band without any problem. The heart rate sensor is also located on the underside of the clasp, and glows a bright green when it is activated.

Ergonomically using this band is where things get tricky. If you wear it the traditional way, you will find that the flat nature of the display doesn’t conform to the slight curvature of your wrist. The position also makes it a little convenient to read the display. On the other hand, the Band seems to fit much better when worn the inverted way, where the display is positioned on the inside of our wrist.

The Microsoft Band comes its a proprietary charging port, which can be found on its underside. This is not common, as most fitness trackers utilize proprietary connections. Additionally, the connection on the Microsoft Band is magnetic, which allows you to get it connected to the charger without having to fumble for the port.

On one side of the Microsoft Band, you will find the only two buttons on this wearable. The larger one is used to power it on and off, while the smaller button allows you to cycle through the various actions. If you are a Windows Phone user, the smaller button can be pressed down for a period of time to activate Cortana.

The wearable packs quite a bit of heft, which is attributed to the various sensors it offers insider. In fact, the Microsoft Band packs more than what you’d find in other fitness trackers. You get a 3-axis accelerometer/gyroscope, gyrometer, optical heart rate sensor, GPS, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, Galvanic skin response sensor, and a haptic vibration motor. You also get Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, dual 100mAh Lithium-Ion batteries and a microphone.

Despite its solid construction, the Microsoft Band doesn’t share the level of water-resistant as some of its competitors. In fact Microsoft states that the Band is resistant to light rain and splashes, but not waterproof. This means, you cannot have your Band on when your are swimming or taking a shower.

Display

The Microsoft Band features a 1.4 inch TFT touchscreen display with a 320 x 106 pixel resolution. As we mentioned before, its disappointing that the display didn't come with a slight curve, as it would have helped with comfort. Still the display is quite detailed and bright allowing users to comfortably check their stats and look at the time, even on a sunny day.

That being said, the display is still very susceptible to scratches. So much so in fact that Microsoft actually gave a free Invisible Shield screen protector when they first sold the Band. If you are purchasing one of these wearables now, its recommended that you pick up a screen protector as well, to keep your device scratch free.

Connectivity

The Microsoft Band features Bluetooth 4.0 LE connectivity, and syncs all the data on the Band with its companion app and with the cloud. While keeping your Band and Phone connected would generally drain your battery faster, it will continue to offer call, sms and other notifications directly on your wrist.

Performance

The Microsoft Band offers a user friendly smooth performance overall, successfully tracking your steps, while the built-in GPS beautifully tracks your morning run. The heart rate sensor stays on consistently monitoring your burned calories whether your walking, running or working out.

The Band even features sleep tracking, which measures efficiency, differentiation between light and restful sleep, and also the amount of calories we burn as we sleep. Unfortunately the sleep mode has to be enabled manually, which is a shame, since some fitness trackers are capable of enabling this automatically. The other issue is that the Band is not the most comfortable sleep companion because of its bulk.

Battery

The Microsoft Band packs dual 100mAh batteries, but the immense number of sensors in this wearable takes quite a toll on them. Generally you can get around 2 days of battery life out of the Band, which is OK for a smartwatch, but falls short when compared to other dedicated fitness trackers which can last up to a week.

In any case, switching off the in-built GPS and keeping the Band unpaired from your smartphone when not in use are good ways to keep it powered longer.


Software

When you first power on the Microsoft Band you will be created to its homescreen, which displays the time and date. Clicking the smaller action button will allow you to cycle through the relevant fitness data.

Swiping to the left opens up additional tiles that allow us to view various notifications, the call list, launch Cortana, view calendar appointments, selecting workout routines, and much more.

When you press the larger power button, the display would switch off, but users can switch on watch mode to keep the Time always displayed on the screen in a low power dark mode.

Microsoft Health

Microsoft Health is the companion app for your Microsoft Band, and its available across iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Microsoft even offers Windows and Mac apps for desktop users so they can sync their Bands without a mobile device.

The Microsoft Health app offers a detailed and comprehensive look at a users activity, tracking steps taken, calories burned, distance covered, sleep, and other relevant workouts. Microsoft offers a consistent experience across all platforms, bringing their modern UI design style with tiles and live information.

Microsoft is really all about gathering as much fitness data from the Microsoft Band, where it’s all dissected and presented through numerical data and graphs in the app. An example of this is found in a workout summary, where the data gathered by the Microsoft Band is meticulously broken down to things like our average heart rate throughout the workout, calories burned in that time frame, and total duration time.

There’s even a section where we can browse through various workouts that can be programmed into the Microsoft Band. From cardio workouts to strength training, there’s a rich variety to give novice, intermediate, and advanced fitness folks some needed variety in their training. An area of opportunity, however, is the potential addition of a calorie tracking section – where users can input what they consume, to better have an accurate net calorie figure. And lastly, it would also be nice to include some sort of social-competitive aspect to the entire experience.

Conclusion

icon
iconThe Microsoft Band is clearly more than just a fitness tracker. While it may not be a full fledged smartwatch, it offers some useful smart features and some rich functionality. Windows Phone users will also be able to take advantage of the Cortana integration, which lets you do things like set reminders, ask for weather conditions, and even do some mathematical calculations.

Its $199.99 price makes it expensive for those looking for a simple fitness tracker, but its cross platform nature along with its rich functionality makes it a great wearable for a Windows Phone user who doesnt have access to Android Wear or the Apple Watch.

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