As an early Christmas gift, my partner purchased a Microsoft Band for me. Apparently I was quite excited and I was talking about all the news and information coming out shortly after its release. I was intrigued due to the Band combining fitness tracking with some features that I was seeing out of smart watch products. After using the device for several months, I thought I would share my opinions on the features and also some of the drawbacks in using the device.
For some time now, I have been monitoring the growing field of fitness trackers and smart watches. Unfortunately I have not seen many favorably reviewed products that merge the two features successfully, either due to poor battery life or inconsistent activity tracking. My Fitbit Ultra has served me well for years in monitoring my basic activity patterns; however, I have been less concerned with exact step measurements and more in tracking the increase or decrease in my activity levels. This usually provided a useful impetus to get off the couch and be more active when I saw my activity level was dropping. The idea of leaving my cell phone in my pocket and receiving text and email alerts through a watch was very appealing. The Microsoft Band encompassed these features that I desired and with a wealth of additional sensors, could also provide more useful information.
Here is a list of the sensors on the device and how I have used them:
Optical heart rate monitor: This feature helps in monitoring heart rate during activity and help in determining sleep patterns. It seems fairly accurate, but can take some time to lock onto your heart rate and I think Microsoft could provide better guidance on what wrist placement will provide the best reading.
Accelerometer/Gyrometer: This sensor monitors activity and also monitors during sleep to determine restful sleeping periods. When wearing the Fitbit Ultra and the Band at the same time, these provided very similar step numbers.
GPS: This sensor is turned on manually when you start a run, walk or bicycle ride to conserve battery life. This has been one of my favorite features to leave my phone in a secure pocket or even at home when going on a short walk, yet still capture location and speed information on runs and bike rides. It syncs well to the app once it sync with the phone app to display the path and speed of your workout.
Microphone: I have not used this sensor since it is only available for use on Windows Phones and Cortana. I would like to see it support Google Now or Samsung Voice so this feature is not lost on Android users; however, I am intrigued by reports of users with Windows Phones and how useful the Band is in these scenarios.
Ambient Light Sensor: This feature works well to change screen brightness and conserve battery usage.
Galvanic Skin Response: This tells the device when you are wearing it, so it knows to turn sensors on and off.
UV Sensor: Since I received the gift during the fall and have not seen a lot of bright sunshine throughout the winter, I have not seen a lot of use out of this feature. It is supposed to tell you the UV conditions and how long it will be until you experience a burn if you leave your skin exposed.
The Band takes some time to get used to, due to the odd shape of the device; however, after several weeks, I missed having it on my wrist when it was charging. It is comfortable while sleeping and can be adjusted quickly with the sliding clasp depending on your activity level. The charging times are short and the device last approximately two days with moderate use. My only complaint of the battery life is the low battery warning alert is too close to the device turning off. Occasionally I will get the notification after lunch at work and by the time I’m home, it will have shut off completely. The plug is a magnetic proprietary cable so purchasing additional cables could be pricey for home, work and travel use. Perhaps a firmware upgrade could provide a notification menu option to choose when to alert the user.
The Band has provided useful fitness tracking, although the information is currently locked into the Microsoft Health app which is not very useful in looking at usage patterns. The information is there, but for long term tracking of trends, it would be useful to see this information available on the web. This functionality was announced at launch where Microsoft Health is supposed to be linked to Microsoft HealthVault. However, as of the time of this post, this feature is surprisingly unavailable and the last post to their Twitter account mentioning this is from October:
Thx, @ChilmarkHIT. Soon, you’ll be able to sync your Microsoft Health data to HealthVault. We’ll release details over time, so stay tuned!
— MicrosoftHealthVault (@HealthVault) October 31, 2014
A huge drawback is the information sharing capabilities which are limited to a few partners at the moment; I would love to have all this information shared with the variety of health services I use. Having my FitBit Aria scale data in the same place as my Band activity and sleep history could provide useful insights. Otherwise, the app also provides the ability to modify the tiles you see on the Band and their order. A variety of tiles are available on the Band which can be customized through the app. These include various notification tiles for Calls, SMS and Mail, which are very useful in keeping your phone in your pocket and keeping up with important notifications. There are also informational tiles like Weather, Calendar, Finance, Facebook, Twitter, etc. These are nice although scrolling on the small screen can become a nuisance if you activate too many tiles. You can also reorder the tiles from the app.
The device has been fairly durable, I am mindful of swinging my arms around since I wear it on the outside of my wrist, as it is easier to see notifications and the time. Also performing desk work, having the device on the inside of my wrist would cause the screen to rest on my desk. It is advised to use some sort of screen protector and the <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00P1ZM29G/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00P1ZM29G&linkCode=as2&tag=crashcarrcom-20&linkId=HHJ546FNASHCXNGI”>ArmorSuit Military Shield</a> fits well and has provided the durability to the screen I need when it gets bumped in a doorway, etc. My initial Band had an issue where the clasp stopped catching and I read that the fix was fairly simple to reseat the spring in the clasp; however, I wanted to make sure it didn’t reoccur and called support. They shipped a new band within a couple of days and I have not experienced the problem since.
Overall I am very satisfied with the Microsoft Band and the features it offers. I believe software and firmware updates can clean up some of the missing features that you would expect from this type of device. If you have any experiences with the Band or questions, I would love to hear from you!