The Microsoft Band 2 Review: For Fitness Tracking and Productivity

By on December 3, 2015

I was a big fan of the first Microsoft Band but I have to admit that people had a point about the design and ergonomics… in that it had neither. Now Microsoft is back with the Band 2, so how does it fair this time?

The Story So Far…

The original band was packed with a whopping 10 different sensors, had very insightful software to help you make heads and tails of all that data and had some cool productivity features to boot. It could track steps, calories, sleep, running, cycling, weight lifting and even golf as well as guide you through workouts. At the same time, it would show you notifications and run a few third party apps (including a media controller).

It all made for some of the most useful fitness tracking I’ve ever experienced.

To recap, the sensors included were:

  • A microphone
  • UV sensor
  • Heart rate monitor (for continuous tracking)
  • Galvanic skin response sensor
  • Gyrometer
  • Accelerometer
  • GPS
  • Ambient light sensor
  • And skin temperature sensor

This was all beautifully coalesced to provide some really cool tips, observations and insights. It could tell you your VO2 max for instance (which is pretty novel) as well as show you your heartrate during key life events (like when I met Robert Downey Jr.).

Sadly though, it was also pretty much square and actually almost painful to wear at times. In particular, the large clasp would often get in the way when typing.

Anyway, enough with the history lesson. The Band 2 sets out to solve those practical and aesthetic limitations while at the same time introducing some additional neat features. For the most part, it accomplishes those goals pretty well.

The Look and Feel

The most obvious changes since the original Band are definitely in the looks department. Notably, the device now has a Galaxy-Gear-Fit-style curved display meaning it follows the curvature of your wrist giving it a much nicer look and feel. The screen also looks noticeably bright and – importantly – now features a thin layer of gorilla glass to help it fend off scrapes and scratches (something else the original wasn’t all that good at). I’ve already scraped my Band 2 along the wall in Prett and it’s looking good as new. You are welcome.

microsoft band 2

Meanwhile, the actual band part of the Band has also had an overhaul. Instead of being rigid, bulky and square, the band now actually feels like a watch strap and is made from a more flexible rubber-like material that’s a lot more comfortable.

Band2The clasp on the other hand is still a little bit of an issue. It’s still thick and bulky and it still gets in the way a little when typing. I find it’s okay if I wear it a little further down my arm on the left but it does feel like improvement could be made here. That said, I’m someone who types reams of content every single day and I don’t find it a deal breaker, so you probably won’t either.

In terms of the on-board software, this is still pretty much the same software from the Band 1. That’s a good thing, because the software was pretty neat to begin with. And actually it has been given a little extra polish in the UI department with nicer animations and some extra color for the buttons.

One other thing I’ve always liked about the Microsoft Band is that its design lets you wear it on either wrist, facing either out or in. This is a cool feature because it means I can wear it on my right arm with the screen facing in to make it look like a bracelet. And that means that I can still wear my really nice watch when I’m going somewhere and I want to look smart. This was actually a big deal for me.

Overall it looks and feels great but I do wish the clasp was thinner.

Band 2 for Health Tracking

Health tracking wise, this is basically the same device as the Band 1 but with two upgrades to the sensors. The first is that you now also have a barometer for measuring elevation, something that the Band uses to tell you when you’ve ascended a flight of stairs. That’s, kind of interesting I guess? I’m thinking they have more planned for this, as the elevation was already measured during runs using the GPS (and I believe cadence).

The other change is that the UV sensor is now continuous during exercise. So instead of actively taking readings, it will now tell you when you’ve had enough sun and need to whack on the sun cream.

Other minor tweaks include the introduction of a smart alarm that wakes you when you’re in a light stage of sleep to reduce inertia (grogginess). This works better than others I’ve tried, such as the Jawbone offering. Allegedly the heartrate monitor is also slightly more accurate this time around, though not so as you’d notice.

weights band 2

So again, this isn’t a huge leap forward…

But as with the UI, it doesn’t need to be. The original Band was great as a fitness tracker and the data it collects really is interesting and encouraging. I love using it for runs in particular, where I can get a breakdown of my pace, distance, calories burned and splits. Now I attack my runs with some kind of logic and I’m enjoying them a lot more as a result. I often find myself racing myself to beat my best split and I’m less inclined to skip a run now there’s a record of it being kept.

I pretty much never do plank, but it looked good for a photo...

I pretty much never do plank, but it looked good for a photo…

The guided workouts are also useful and interesting for me. I like to use my own home-made training plans for weightlifting but I do like mixing it up so every now and then doing something like ‘lunge tabata’ adds a fresh challenge for a workout. Today I was waiting in for a parcel and couldn’t go out to the gym or for a run, so that was the perfect solution.

But while Microsoft hasn’t updated the Band 2 that much on paper, what’s impressive is the way they have been iteratively improving the feature set of the Band 1 since its release. Honestly the Band’s capabilities have improved a ton since day one, as have the app and the website. The Golf tile is new since the launch of the Band 1 (even though it’s apparently not that accurate) as is the automatic sleep detection for when you forget to tell it you’re dozing off.

More exciting for me is the option to make my own guided workouts to sync to the Band and take with me to the gym. Another useful update is the ability to delete and rename data. That means I can call a workout something useful if I want to refer back to it later and it means I can delete a day when I lend my Band to a friend (which I occasionally get asked to do).

I’m confident that Microsoft is going to continue updating and adding to the Band and I’m excited to see what comes to it next. There are a ton of sensors on the device that currently get very little use. How about using that ambient light sensor as part of the sleep monitoring for instance? Or maybe using the galvanic sleep response and heart rate to give us some feedback regarding our stress? I’m also half expecting Microsoft to teach the Band to recognize specific movements at some point soon.

Things that were sadly missing in this update were a boost to the battery life which is still around 2 days or less if you use the GPS and water proofing. It’s splash proof but sadly you can’t take this swimming.

Productivity Features

In terms of productivity features, the Microsoft Band 2 is more powerful than you probably realize.

The most basic capability is an ability for the Band to receive incoming notifications such as texts, e-mails and even WhatsApp messages. This is handy as it means you don’t have to get your phone out your pocket when you get an e-mail, which in turn helps you be ‘more present’. That’s the official line but in all truthfulness, I’d say that’s actually true.

If you have a Windows phone then you can also use the Band to respond to texts and use Cortana. And actually, the on-screen keyboard has also now come to Android, so if you’re an Android loyalist like me, you can actually type out responses to text on the Band 2. This is a cool and potentially useful feature and the keyboard is far more accurate than you expect it to be.

band pose

The real power of the Band though comes in the form of the third party apps. I recently installed ‘Tasker for Band’ onto my device and that lets me use it to control the excellent ‘Tasker for Android’. Tasker is a phone automation app so that means I can use my Band to perform pretty much any action I want to on the phone. I have a ‘find my phone’ button which will turn up the volume and then play an alarm, I have a ‘call Hannah’ button which automatically calls my wife and I have a ‘turn off phone button’ which I can use to shut down my phone when people have stolen it in a bid to tease me.

You can also create your own Microsoft Band apps without any coding skills by basically setting up an RSS feed. This is handy if you want to get updates about whatever weird hobby you’re into on your wrist.

Final Verdict


So basically, the Band 2 is already a nifty device when it comes to productivity and health but it also has potentially to keep growing and potentially do some incredible things. That’s pretty much how I concluded my review of the first Band and so far, the Band brand has been delivering on that promise.

 

To conclude this article then: I was right. Yet again.

Also: the Microsoft Band 2 is a pretty good fitness tracker.

 

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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