Microsoft Band review

Approximately one week ago I bought a Microsoft Band from UK. Microsoft Band is a wearable device, a smart band. It is much like a smart watch, except that the screen is a rectangular shape, hence the name. It also packs a lot more sensors than other smart watches out there, here is the list of all of them (more details can be found here):

  • optical heart rate monitor
  • Accelerometer/Gyrometer
  • GPS
  • Microphone
  • Ambient Light Sensor
  • Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensors
  • UV sensor

The need to record

The reason I chose the Microsoft Band is that I am an avid runner. But I am also a data freak (e.g. my personal meteorological station) and I always wanted to record my runs (accessible on MapMyRun). Now with the smart phone, this is a bit trickier, as it is cumbersome to run with the phone. Approximately two years ago I bought the FlipBelt, which enables you to store phone/keys/wallet, you name it into the belt. It was OK, but it was tiring always taking the phone out of the belt when starting exercise, and the movement of the phone made it sometimes uncomfortable. This was precisely the reason I stopped using it and just went running without recording my runs.

Now with the advent of the wearables, it is finally possible to get a small device to record exercises. After reviewing what the market currently provides I decided to go with the Microsoft Band, as it packs GPS as well as optical heart rate monitor and the plethora of other sensors. But the first two were the main reason.

After reviewing what the market currently provides I decided to go with the Microsoft Band, as it packs GPS as well as optical heart rate monitor and the plethora of other sensors.Jernej Jerin

Microsoft Band from the front left

Microsoft Band from the front left

Design

As you can see from the photos, the design is quite “industrial”, which is fine with me as I am more of a functionality before design guy. In this photos we can see default state of the Microsoft Band, i.e. when the user is not interacting with it. I have only recently discovered the so called Watch mode in Settings, otherwise the screen turns completely off if the user is not interacting with it in a few seconds. I have yet to find out how much will this affect the battery life. More about the battery life in the following section.

Microsoft Band from the front right

Microsoft Band from the front right

The mechanism for fastening around the wrist is a interesting one. Microsoft decided to use the sliding clasp which is great for quick adjustments. User just presses the two buttons simultaneously and slides the clasp back or forth.

Microsoft Band sliding clasp

Microsoft Band sliding clasp

The device contains the power connector below on the interior opposite side of the screen. It is important to notice that some users reported problems with rash/bumps. But this is no exception to the Microsoft Band. Other wearable devices also have the same issues for a minor group of people. It seems, that some people have an allergic reaction to the materials used or even worse, their perspiration contains all kinds of fluids which react with the material. Especially the last one could be the case with the fitbit devices, as it was reported that the person’s perspiration can enter into the charging port of the device. That is why I recommend that after each exercise, the user should take the 91% rubbing alcohol and clean it around the charging port.

Microsoft Band charging port

Microsoft Band charging port

On the opposite side of the sliding clasps lies the optical heart rate sensor, which emits a bright green light when it is active.

Microsoft Band optical heart rate sensor

Microsoft Band optical heart rate sensor

Battery life

The battery life of a wearable device is even more important than for mobile devices. The device can last up to 48h as specified by Microsoft, but only if you don’t interact with it a lot and certainly do not use GPS. When GPS tracking is enabled, I have found out the battery would ran out pretty quickly, that is in a couple of hours. Also if watch mode is enabled then it will also consume battery faster, but not by a lot. There are also some settings to change the reading speed, but I have not played with them to see how the battery life would be affected.

Wearing it

The user should definitely first check the sizing guide to chose the size that is appropriate for their wrist size. Because I have small wrists, I have chosen the small version. For the first couple of days, I did have a strange feeling, but then I got used to it. Maybe that is because it has been long since I wore a watch and I was not used having something on my wrist for an extended period of time.

Wearing Microsoft Band in default state

Wearing Microsoft Band in default state

Wearing Microsoft Band in activated state

Wearing Microsoft Band in activated state

When I am not exercising I loosen the clasps a little bit, so that it is not so tight as can be seen below. During the exercise, I like to wear it more tight, as it otherwise moves around too much.

Clasps adjustment when wearing

Clasps adjustment when wearing

Functions

Now to my personal most important part, which is functionality. As I have stated above, I was looking for a device to track my exercises, especially running. The device comes preloaded with existing tiles (apps) for workouts (e.g. running, cycling, unguided workout, guided workout), communication notifications (SMS, email, Twitter) as well as tile for weather, settings and sleep tracking.

Heart rate

Heart rate locked

Heart rate monitoring

The user can check its heart rate by selecting the first item in the menu (the one with time and the number of steps on it). It takes a few seconds for the device to get a lock on the user  heart rate. I cannot say much about the accuracy as I have not compared it with other devices. There are some complaints on the web about it, but again some users are reporting that it does not deviate from chest strap monitors that much.

Locked heart rate

Locked heart rate

Number of steps

The number of steps is pretty accurate and it counts or better say sums by two, when two consecutive steps complete. I did not check if the reported distance matches.

Running app

The running app and the GPS work fantastic. Albeit it took longer time for GPS to get a lock for the first time, now it locks pretty fast in a time range of 3-5 seconds. But I have yet to test it on cloudy days. Also I always start my run out in the open, without any obstacles between me and the GPS satellite.

After pressing action button, it starts recording the run. The app shows time, distance, pace and the heart rate. You can pause it anytime you want, but it does have an annoying bug. Every time you pause it, if you do not interact with the band and let it go to default mode, it will finish the exercise. Quite annoying as it happened to me several times now.

Running results

Running results

Guided workouts

What I also love about the Band are its guided workouts. User can download them from the companion Microsoft Health app, which I will cover in the next section. As of writing this post there are 128 workouts available, ranging from strength and bodyweight to running and biking. What makes me excited about guided workouts is the feedback user receives during the workout. For example, I downloaded the 30 Minutes of Intervals, which is an Intermediate difficulty and it has the following plan:

  1. Warmup – Jog for 5 minutes
  2. Circuit – 8 rounds of:
    1. Run for 2 minutes
    2. Sprint for 30 seconds
  3. Cooldown – Jog for 5 minutes

What makes me excited about guided workouts is the feedback user receives during the workout.Jernej Jerin

The Microsoft Band gives you haptic feedback when each round or part of the round ends. It also displays the countdown timer and other information. What I love is the haptic feedback, as I do not have to even look at the band itself to know when to change from running to sprinting.

Guided workouts

Guided workouts

Sleep

Getting used to sleep functionality can be a tough one if you are not used to wearing anything on the wrist when it is bed time. But I did manage to get past the initial uncomfortable stage. Now I track my heart rate and sleep pattern every night. The following graphs are then produced in the Microsoft Health dashboard for a sleep, that occurred on Sunday, June 14, 2015:

Sleep chart

Sleep chart

Heart rate chart

Heart rate chart

Keep in mind that the sleep chart is not accurate, as I was certainly not awake between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. I think that Microsoft produces this chart based on heart rate and movement detected by the accelerometer and gyroscope. Which means that if you move a lot during your sleep, then the it will show that you were awake.

Services and third party apps

As I have mentioned, there are services, official apps and third party apps available. First we will cover the official service, Microsoft Health.

Microsoft Health

Microsoft Health is a cloud base service as well as a stand alone app for mobile phones and tablets. Now the mobile app does show graphs for current day and overall week, but for more complete information user needs to go to the web based Microsoft Health dashboard. Here we can find summaries and graphs for each day for all supported activities.

Microsoft Health dashboard.

Microsoft Health dashboard.

 Band Sensor monitor

Currently Microsoft has not yet exposed all the sensors that are available. But there are third party apps that do that. For Windows Phone there is Band Sensor Monitor, while the Android has MS Band Sensor Monitor. At first I thought the app is from the same publisher, but keep in mind that they are different. Now I have only tried Android version and it works as expected, but compare to Windows Phone version it does look it packs much less features.

Unband

This is for all you hackers out there that want to get a hold of the data. Now from this source we can see that most of the data is immediately transfered to the Microsoft Health cloud service. The Unband app for Microsoft Windows lets you export all that activity from the Microsoft Health cloud service and much more. The source code is also available on GitHub.

Developers

Currently there is some information available on how to develop tiles here. I also recommend to watch the video from Build 2015 on Channel 9, which contains useful information about what kind of apps we developers can build.

Conclusion

I think the Microsoft Band is a great device with a lot of locked potential, that will certainly be unleashed in the forthcoming updates from the Microsoft. Also the Microsoft Band 2 is already planned to release later this year so hopefully customers will get a more polished device without the current quirks.

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