This fitness band offers GPS, tracks heart rate, sun exposure, elevation, and sleep to help you achieve your optimum health.
The Microsoft Band 2 is a sleek looking tracker with silver metal accents that add some pizazz to the dark gray band and black display screen. Although the Band 2 has a modern look, all of the built-in functionality makes it a bit bulky. I’m a petite woman, and size makes a difference in whether a band is comfortable for me. If you’re an average-sized person, it probably won’t be a huge consideration for you.
The graphics displayed on the band include the time and a variety of “tiles” you tap to get a read on various metrics the band tracks, such as number of steps, various workouts, sleep, your UV exposure, and notifications from your phone. The graphics are easy to see and understand, and the tiles can be rearranged to display in an order that works best for you. The associated Microsoft Band app (previously the Microsoft Health app) is loaded with easy-to-understand graphics and displays. The longer you wear the band the more data you accumulate and the more detailed the graphs and charts become, giving you a wealth of information you can drill down into if you choose.
The band and your phone need to be within about 30 feet of one another to communicate. You’ll get a notification if you’re out of range. Conveniently, you don’t need to be in range of your phone to track your activity. The band will store details of your workout and then feed them to the app on your phone when you’re within range again. The band is compatible with Android, iPhone, and, of course, Windows phones.
The Band 2 displays information in a horizontal fashion, which I find awkward. (To be fair, many bands have this same display setup.) If you look at your wrist like you would with a watch, the display is vertical. Microsoft’s solution is to turn the band on your arm so the display is on the inside of your wrist. This does make it easier to read, and puts the clasp on the outside of your wrist. This works well because the UV sensor is in the clasp and is better-exposed this way to the condition it’s measuring (sunlight). The drawback is that the clasp becomes the dominant visual feature. This is OK if you don’t care how it looks, but the appearance is pretty industrial. It’s clearly a fitness band, so if you’re headed out to a cocktail party and want to make a fashion statement you might want to leave it at home. The band only comes in one style. Other colors and styles are not available.
Comfort and wearablity
The clasp fastens by sliding one side into a groove on the other side, making it easy to put on and adjust for comfort. However, the width of the band meant I had to wear it higher up on my arm. As with all bands that track your heart rate, it’s important for the band to be snug so the sensors have good contact with your arm, especially when you’re working out. I didn’t find this to be very comfortable, and I thought the band was generally bulky and heavy and not especially comfortable for 24/7 wear. Of course, you’ll want to take it off in the shower or if you go for a swim — the band isn’t waterproof.
In addition to the features that come built-in with the band and associated app, third-party apps compatible with the Microsoft Band are available that specialize in cycling, running, weightlifting, and golf, along with a few consumer apps such as Starbucks and Uber.
When you pair with apps like MyFitnessPal and MapMyFitness, the combination gives you loads of data you can really roll up your sleeves and geek into.
Email IM and notifications
No matter how clear the graphics of the latest device, for many trackers the small screen means small type that can be hard to read for some people. The Microsoft Band 2 has tried to address this by having the option of seeing your notifications one. word. at. a. time. I didn’t find this to be particularly useful. I like being notified that something is coming in, but chances are I have my phone so I can listen to music if I’m working out. If I’m expecting a message, I can simply read it on my phone.
There are many opportunities to tag existing friends through Facebook or create new groups with the app to help you stay motivated and connected, and if you’ve connected to third-party apps like Strava or MapMyFitness, you’ll have additional opportunities for social interactions that can help keep you motivated to reach your fitness goals.
The Band 2 can run on a single charge for approximately 4 days, depending on what functions you use — GPS tracking in particular sucks a lot of juice out of the battery. A convenient battery icon on the band shows you how much of a charge you have left. The band recharges quickly — you can get the juice you need for the rest of the day in the time it takes to shower and have breakfast before heading out for the day.
Maps and GPS navigation
Because the Band 2 has built-in GPS tracking, you can use it to map your routes for outdoor activities such as running and cycling. If you’re a golfer, there are a couple of compatible apps you can use to track different aspects of your game that also take advantage of the GPS functionality.
The Band 2 has a barometer as one of its features. It’s is supposed to help with things like stair tracking, but, similar to other bands, I didn’t find the stair tracking on the Band 2 to be accurate. Other tracking metrics work better, and there are plenty, so you’re not likely to suffer a data shortage.
The band has a number of built-in exercises it tracks automatically — yoga, weightlifting, elliptical, stairclimbing, and rowing — or you can create up to five custom labels of your own. The custom labels use generic heart rate algorithms, so accuracy may vary depending on what you’re doing.
If you don’t mind working out with your phone nearby, the Microsoft Band app has the option to download guided workouts from partners such as Gold’s Gym, Muscle & Fitness, and Shape Magazine, among others. You can see a short written overview as well as the entire workout presented in short videos you can review pre-workout, or bring your phone and follow along. (Bonus tip: you don’t need to have an actual band to download the app and take advantage of the free workout routines!) You can also build and customize your own workouts within the app.
A nice feature is the ability to download the workout to the band itself, which will guide you by showing the name of each exercise, in order, with the correct weight and number of reps. This capability eliminates the need to bring your phone unless you want to listen to music during your workout — if so, the band offers music controls when paired with your phone.
Software ease of use
Unfortunately, the Microsoft Band software isn’t compatible with operating systems earlier than Windows 10, so I wasn’t able to download it to my PC to evaluate it. That was disappointing, and something to keep in mind if you are keen on using your PC to review your data.
There are also some cool functions that are only available if you have a Windows phone — namely the ability to respond to notifications right from the band. Although you probably won’t miss this (especially if you have your phone with you), having those functions available no matter what kind of phone you have would distinguish the Band 2 from most other fitness trackers.
This first and, so far, only fitness tracker from Microsoft is a good initial offering. It will be interesting to see what improvements Microsoft makes to future iterations of this robust initial offering.
December 20, 2016