Microsoft Band In-Depth Review

By on April 23, 2015

The Microsoft Band has been out a while in the US but as is Microsoft’s prerogative – they did the same thing with the Surface Pro 1 – it has only just landed in the UK. As is my prerogative, I decided I had to get my hands (or wrists) on one on day one. So I’ve now been playing with it for a couple of days. What do I make of it?

This is Microsoft’s attempt at a Fitbit-style health tracker merged with an Apple Watch-style smartwatch. Its closest competitor then is probably something like the Samsung Gear Fit but it’s way cooler than that.

Rather than straddling the line equally between smartwatch and fitness tracker though, the Band is definitely leaning more towards the ‘dedicated tracker’ side of things and is absolutely packed with sensors – moreso than pretty much any other device in fact.

Specifically, it comes with:

  • A microphone
  • A UV sensor
  • A continuous heartrate monitor
  • Galvanic skin response sensor (which measures skin conductivity thus telling Band when you’re wearing it)
  • Gyrometer
  • Accelerometer
  • GPS
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Skin temperature sensor

All of which collects data for you to enjoy via the built-in display or through a connected app on your Windows Phone, iPhone or Android device. In short, it provides very detailed tracking during workouts, runs, sleep and daily activity.

In terms of productivity, you get the ability to see notifications, calendar entries and incoming calls and to respond with pre-set text messages. Windows Phone users will also have access to Cortana and the ability to record voice memos and even respond to texts with an on-screen keyboard. You can also install apps on the device seeing as Redmond have released the SDK. I have ‘Pimp My Band’ which is how I got this cool ‘Deus Ex’ wallpaper on my ‘Me Tile’ (the homepage). There’s more available for Windows users right now though and even a Pong game! I’ll be developing for this myself soon and I’ll share any apps I create with you all.

The Device

When I first got my device I was disappointed because it felt too uncomfortable to wear. Turns out I had the wrong size and had to get one smaller. So if you’re buying one of these, make sure to try them on first or at least to carefully examine the guide that Microsoft supplies.

MicrosoftBand3

Once you get the right size it should fit quite tightly but there’s a neat clasp for adjusting it as you need to. It can be worn on either wrist as well as facing either inwards or outwards. This is pretty handy as it means you can change the way you’re wearing it depending on what you’re doing. I prefer wearing it on my right arm during workouts for instance and my left when I’m sleeping (because my brain is more used to having something on the left wrist and I find it less disturbing).

It’s relatively comfy though it is fairly large. If you’re typing you’ll have to hover your hands over the keys – though technically you should be doing that anyway. I wore it when I wrote this review so obviously it’s serviceable.

Having the screen on the inside is actually a cool way to wear it though as it means you can check notifications/the time without looking rude.

Overall, it’s just about comfy enough to wear all day and it doesn’t really get in the way during workouts. I wore it while working out with a punch bag earlier even and didn’t find it interfered. The screen looks nice even if the rest of the band is a bit uninspiring. I actually like that it isn’t trying to be a fashion accessory though – it’s understated enough that I can wear it like a bracelet and still have my nice watch from my fiancé on my other wrist without looking odd. This was actually one of the big reasons I chose this one over something like the Fitbit Surge.

Getting notifications is… sort of useful? It means I’m less likely to miss an important text which is handy and it does prevent me from getting my phone out my pocket so often. I like having my calendar on here too. The alarm/timer is also sort of handy as is checking the weather. Other than that though, I think it’s mostly Windows Phone users who will get the most out of this as a productivity device. That said, Cortana is rumored to be coming to iOS and Android soon, so maybe we’ll get in on that action soon?

Oh and you can also pay for coffee at Starbucks with it…

Fitness Tracking

What this is really about though is fitness tracking and that’s what the Microsoft Band does, really, really well.

In the past I’ve been using the Jawbone UP as well as S-Health on my Note 4. The Band is way superior to those thanks to the built-in GPS, constant heartrate monitoring and excellent app.

squat

Of course the Microsoft Band acts as a pedometer and counts your steps as you expect from these devices; but what it also does is to measure your heartbeat regularly meaning you can see how your steps taken affect your heartrate.

If you’re going for a run, you switch on ‘run mode’ and it will record your heart-rate even more frequently as well as mapping your route on the in-built GPS and even measuring elevation. This all then syncs immediately with the Microsoft Health app on your mobile device of choice and lets you check everything when you get home. You can see your pace at various points during the run, you can see heart rate mapped against your speed and elevation and you can thereby set goals, see what’s getting you most worn out and more.

The Health App is great but what’s actually even better is the ‘Dashboard’ where you can view all this information in more detail through your browser.

When you do a workout meanwhile you can select that mode and it will measure your heartrate and calories burned during the training. This is great for something like HIIT and is motivating while you’re doing a session. You can also see how long you’ve been working out which I also find quite handy.

band-heartrate-workout

This sort of detail is great and the ability t measure calories burned based on movement and heartrate gives you a much more accurate final score. It’s a refreshing break from trackers that only ‘count’ walking and running as exercise.

Also interesting and unique is the option to go through ‘branded workouts’. These instruct you on which exercises to do and then use the gyrometer and accelerometer to count your reps and guide you through the session. Big names like Gold’s Gym have workouts on there, so if you’re looking for ideas this is a pretty cool feature. If you have an Xbox One with a Kinect then it can also work with Xbox Fitness apparently!

boxing

During sleep you get your movement and heartrate monitored which together gives enough information to ascertain whether you’re in light or restful sleep. You can see how often you woke up and you can see what your resting heartrate is.

One downside is a conspicuously absent ‘swim’ mode however, which is due to the fact that the Band is water-resistant and not waterproof. This is alarming as it means I’ll need to buy another expensive gadget when the inevitable Band 2 comes out.

The accuracy of the heartrate monitor is also something that is a little questionable with varying reports. Generally it seems the consensus is that this sensor is good for a wrist-worn device but not as accurate as a chest strap. Your luck with it might also depend on your skin pigment and the visibility of your veins. I personally had no problem and the numbers corresponded with what I would expect and what I know about myself. As long as the device is consistent I see that as being the most important point.

Conclusion

It’s all very cool overall though and the plethora of sensors means you get a lot more information than you would from another device. What I’m most excited about though is the future updates that are no doubt in store. Already Microsoft has been listening to users and adding new features like a ‘bike mode’ and they keep talking about how they’re going to be making better use of all the information in future.

For instance, right now you can use the UV sensor to see whether you need to wear sun-cream but in the future you could potentially see how the amount of sun outside is affecting your heartrate during runs. The galvanic skin response sensor is currently only being used to measure whether or not you’re wearing your band but apparently it can sense stress by sensing changes in the conductivity of your skin. And as more developers come on board there’s generally a ton of potential here which I’m excited to see fulfilled.

Note: Microsoft have just announced that on the 27th of April we’ll be getting more integration with other apps, the ability to see our stats against averages for our height and weight, VO2 max data, and tools to monitor how long it is taking us to recover, when we’re at peak performance in the day and how our fitness is improving over time!

Overall, the Band is a neat little smartwatch but a great health tracker. It could be a bit smaller and it would be nice to take it swimming but other than that it’s pretty much top of its class. The question is whether or not you really need a health tracker at all. To that I would say certainly not but they’re definitely fun and useful for motivating yourself and for learning more about your own body. Any bodybuilder knows the importance of ‘instinctive training’ and of knowing how the next workout is going to affect their body and their growth. For those who haven’t developed this intimate knowledge of their own body and capabilities, biofeedback via some form of health tracker is definitely a very useful way to develop this and to test the effectiveness of new workouts. For fitness enthusiasts meanwhile, seeing stats and measuring progress is a highly rewarding process, even if you can get a little anal about it.

Also I love it because I feel like a superhero with a dial on my wrist…

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Also Check This Out…

Below is my heartrate for the other day. The first peak is when I did a workout, the second is when I went to the Avenger’s premier and got to see the cast. In the background you can see my steps as I looked for a spot then headed home. Pretty cool how you can see your condition tracked through the day then map that against what you were doing at the time!

Screenshot_2015-04-21-22-39-21

 

I don’t know of any other fitness tracker that can do this to this extent and it potentially makes the device useful for treating anxiety and other problems. It’s also just a lot of insight and this is with a ton of sensors currently not yet being used to their fullest. Like I said, I’m excited to see where they end up going with this!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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