The original Microsoft Band didn’t manage to create that hard-to-forget impression on the wearable tech market. In fact it was only “fondly” remembered for the poor fit and slow upgrades. A year on, Microsoft has returned triumphantly with an improved Microsoft Band 2. The new activity tracker looks sleeker and boasts more advanced training features compared to its predecessor. I had the band for a week and here’s what I have to say.
- Better fit compared to the original Microsoft Band
- Easy to use clasp; can operate with one hand
- 24/7 activity tracker. Tracks steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and heart rate
- VO2 max estimation
- Gorgeous and sensitive display
- Vibration enabled for alarms
- Downloadable workout and running programmes
- On board GPS and 10 other sensors
- UV sensor
- Detailed sleep metrics
- Smart notifications
- Individualised sleep, activity and workout advice.
- Customisable screen display
- Detailed analysis, workout creator, comparison on Microsoft Health web dashboard.
- Display hardly visible under bright sun light
- 2 days battery life, less when GPS is activated during workouts
- Can’t add friends on platform
- Fit uncomfortable
- Limited 3rd party compatible apps
LOOK AND FEEL
While the curved display does add that hint of sophistication to an otherwise mundane looking wristband, the Microsoft Band 2 looks unassuming until the display comes on and blows you away with that AMOLED.
The original Microsoft Band was thick and ill fitting in all aspects; it made you wonder what Microsoft was thinking when the product was released. You’d be happy to hear that the Microsoft Band 2 has improved in terms of fit but it still takes getting use to. I’ll come to that in a bit. The band material is thermal plastic elastomer silicone vulcanite (TPSV).The AMOLED display is gorgeous and instantly responsive. Indoor visibility, shaded or low light conditions really brought out the best of this display; colours were crisp and vibrant. It was actually bright sunny days that reduced this technological miracle to a mere vibrating band. Out under bright sunlight, I had to peer hard or cover the display to see effectively. This is with the brightness set to “High” mind you. I reside in Singapore where the days are pretty much hot, humid and hazy as of recent.There are only 2 buttons. One calls up the screen while the other acts as the “start” or “action” button. Swiping to access menus is responsive and instantaneous.
The optical heart rate sensors are housed on the inside of the band and Microsoft has advised on a tighter fit during activity tracking where ambient light is likely to cause inaccuracies in heart rate monitoring. I’ll come to that in a bit.The clasp design is clever and allows slight adjustments while the band is worn, even with one hand. I tighten up when I’m going for my 10 minute walks and loosen the fit again when I’m back at my desk. It’s easy. The clasp is also where the galvanic skin response sensor and UV sensors are located.One of the most talked about improvement of the Microsoft Band 2 is how the fit has improved over the original. It has but there’s plenty of room for improvement. The device is made in such a way the tightening is not distributed throughout the entire band like a normal watch but only at 2 points; where the optical sensor and the galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors are located. The tighter I went to ensure more accurate HR readings during workouts, the more uncomfortable I felt at the wrist.
If I could sum up how I felt about the fit in one sentence, I’d say it was a relief to remove the band.Charging cable is proprietary and plugs into a standard USB port. The charging port on the clasp clicks easily to the magnetic charger port.
FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION
GPS pick up is fast at less than a minute for most of the sessions I tracked. There were days I had to wait for more than five minutes before I gave up and started running while the Microsoft Band 2 tried to pick up the GPS signal in the back ground.Regardless of the activity, you’ll still receive the same stats shown on the Microsoft Band 2 display screen. The user can choose up to 7 stats from a list of 9 to be displayed on 2 screens; main and drawer display screen. Double pressing the “Action” button cycles through the 3 primary stats on the main screen. These are the available stats that a user can customise using the Microsoft Health app.
- Average pace
- Elevation gain
- Heart rate
- Instantaneous pace
Once the session is completed, the summary can be viewed on the band. I found the tracked stats lacking and in no way comparable to dedicated sports GPS watches. For example, I couldn’t manually record laps; lap is auto counted and is in the form of per km or per miles.Distance is spot on. I was able to test that on a running track where I jogged for 2.4km followed by a cool down walk of 400m, totaling 2.8km. The Microsoft Band 2 tracked the workout as 2.84km.Microsoft uses the Nokia HERE maps and instead of a usual running route superimposed on a map, the company adds a speed indicator of sorts. The pace of the activity is relative to that particular session only. So at periods when you’re faster, the route will appear red in colour.
During periods where you’re slower, the route will turn blue. It further adds a snail icon for the slowest lap and a leopard icon for the fastest lap when you access the split timings.On another seperate day, I ran about 7.5km to see what other metrics the Microsoft Band 2 can throw up. At the end of the run, I could see the route and calories burned which was further categorised into fats and carbs. My guess is, my maximum heart rate is estimated based on my age and the calories from fats or carbohydrates is then categorised based on my work intensity. You can also see the barometer tracking the elevation gains and losses.
There’s a lot of information which Microsoft did not do a good job elaborating. If you look at the ending HR, you’ll see HR of 157 at 1 minute followed by 138 at 2 minutes. That’s how much my HR was at 1 minute and 2 minutes after the run even though I’ve stopped recording on the Microsoft Band 2.
For those of you who are not aware, the fitter you are, the quicker the HR drops or recovers after being elevated. In the example above, I’m not as fit as I thought myself to be. There are a few school of thought on how to estimate fitness from HR recovery rate. Microsoft goes even further to recommend recovery time and also cardio benefits.The mobile app does a great job in summarizing the workouts using graphs. In the example above, you can see the pace, heart rate and elevation graph easily.
There is supposed to be a VO2 max estimation score that will only kick in after at least 5 runs or bike workouts at a relatively high intensity. As of publication, I have yet to receive a VO2 max score. I’ll update as soon as I receive one. All tracked data can be further examined on the Microsoft Health
Optical heart rate sensor
I know there are a lot of you keen on the results of the heart rate measurement so here it is. I didn’t find the optical heart rate sensor exceedingly accurate. I tested the Microsoft Band 2 HR measurements against a chest worn Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart heart rate monitor and this was what I got. The Microsoft Band 2 recorded higher peak heart rate and average heart rate. The plotted graph showed a flat and consistent effort during the run though that wasn’t the case as recorded by the Polar H7.
If you’re particular about heart rate readings, I wouldn’t recommend the Microsoft Band 2.
Daily activity tracking
The Microsoft Band 2 will track your daily activities in the form of steps, distance, calories burned and floors climbed. You can easily access the tracked stats in app where you can view the progress for the day and the week.Here you can see the calories burned tab where the calories burned throughout the day is charted with graphs. The most active day is highlighted when you switch to the week view.
The UV sensor will kick in during activity tracking or when manually activated. The UV sensor needs to be facing the direction of the sky and it takes just a couple of seconds to get a readings. You’ll receive advice on the current levels of UV and also the necessary precaution you can take.
While the feature is neat, it has been more novel than actually practical. In Singapore, UV levels usually peak in the afternoon when it’s the hottest and nobody exercises then due to the heat. Most of the people I know will go running in the morning or evening when it’s cooler; coinciding with lower UV levels. In that manner, there’s very little use of the UV sensor in our context.
This feature is unique to the Microsoft Band line of devices. I’ve yet to see another smart device that allows the user to download such a wide array of workouts and running programmes. Choose from Microsoft, Gold’s gym, Benchmark WOD and Starting Strength just to name a few. The user can take the time to browse for a suitable workout and then have that workout downloaded to the band.The band does not count reps nor does it provide audio cues to move on the the next set. What it does is display the workout on the screen and upon completion, the user press the “Action” button to move on to the next item on the programme. The programmes usually contain videos on how to execute the exercises properly.
The workouts are pretty comprehensive and and usually offer individualisation for people of differing fitness levels in terms of body workouts or gym and running programmes. I personally thought this is Microsoft Band’s unique selling point and there should have been more publicity regarding this feature.
While it doesn’t have the wealth of apps like Android Wear or Apple Watch Series 2, the Microsoft Band 2 performs competently as an extension of your smart phone device. You can see notifications from messages, phone calls, mobile apps including Whatsapp and calender.You’ll not be able to reply or send short pre-set responses from the band though. It serves strictly as a second screen and nothing more. Popular mobile apps like Facebook and Twitter get their own tiles. A pen icon also meant the tile is further customisable.Also you can add up to 12 tiles on the Microsoft Band 2. The order can then be rearranged from the mobile app. There are 3rd party tiles and at the moment, it seems American Football rule Microsoft’s tile gallery.
Did you know the Microsoft Band 2 will work from -300m to 4877 m in terms of maximum altitude? It’s unlikely anyone of us will push the band to its limits by scaling the likes of Mont Blanc which stands at 4809m. The inclusion of the barometer was based on user feedback from the original band when stairs climbed were not recorded as a daily activity stat. You can easily see this stat on the Microsoft Band 2 or within the app under “Steps”
There are 2 ways of sleep tracking; automatics and manual. During automatic sleep tracking, the Microsoft Band 2 detects when the user is inactive and commences sleep tracking. Yet it is only in manual sleep tracking that the “sleep restoration value” is indicated. These are some of the tracked sleep metrics:
- Restful and light sleep
- Number of times woken up
- Time to fall asleep
- Resting heart rate and calorie burned.
Golf is big on the Microsoft Band 2. Unfortunately I don’t golf and didn’t manage to give this feature a detailed try out. Nevertheless I feel it’s only proper to tell it as it is. You could download courses from around the world onto the Microsoft Band 2.What you can then access is some quick stats on par level and total meters of the course and the Microsoft Band 2 will essentially track your number of shots on course. You can read more details here.
Customisable screen display
Battery life is advertised as 48 hours but with both brightness and haptic vibration set to “High” and daily heart rate monitoring turned on, that seemed unlikely during this review. The unfortunate thing is I actually had the band turn off on its own due to low battery life during my sleep. I thought I had about a quarter battery life left but I actually didn’t.
There were actually suggestions on the Microsoft Band help forum to indicated battery percentage rather than just a battery icon. Well you can actually see the amount of battery left in percentage form but you can only get that when you plug the Microsoft Band 2 to charge.
The Microsoft Band 2 isn’t water proof. The occasional rain or sweat should be fine but it shouldn’t be worn into the shower or be immersed into liquid of any kind. In a nutshell, it’s IP67 certified.
In built microphone for Cortana
Cortana support is for Windows Phone for now only. The in built microphone allows the use to speak to Cortana by pressing and holding the “Action” button. For the remaining 97% of the world who are on iOS and Android platforms, no such luck.
3rd Party app compatibility
Compared to when the original Microsoft Band was released, there hasn’t been a substantial increase in the number of 3rd party compatible apps. As of publication, these are the official connected mobile applications:
Microsoft Health Web Dashboard
There’s a web dashboard that contains all the information you can find within the mobile app plus more. 2 main feature makes this a must visit item on the Microsoft Health web platform.The “Comparisons” tab allows you to select the demographics in terms of gender and age and you can see where you stand in terms of step count, calories burned, resting heart rate, peak heart rate and much more!Also, instead of downloading pre-set workouts from the mobile app, you can actually go about creating your own workout which can then be downloaded to the Microsoft Band 2. Also the web dashboard offers much more detailed analysis of your tracked stats.
Ambient light sensor
The ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness of the display screen when set to “Automatic.”
Galvanic skin response sensor
The galvanic skin response (GSR) sensor tells the Microsoft Band whether you’re wearing it so it adjusts how activity is monitored. For example, daily heart rate reading is ceased.
MICROSOFT BAND 2 IN A NUTSHELL
The Microsoft Band 2 has a few improvements over the original band yet the premise is the same; an all encompassing smart activity tracker. I had fun exploring all the functions and am truly amazed with what Microsoft has managed to squeeze into the fitness device. After a week, I’ve grown to appreciate the little things such as individualised advice, great web dashboard and even the clasp that can be worn using one hand only!
There are a few shortcomings though. The Microsoft Band 2 has limited smart notifications and GPS workouts can’t compare to those from dedicated GPS sports watch like the Forerunner 25 or Polar M400. Also full Cortana functions only work on Windows devices, and the AMOLED display, while gorgeous, falls flat under bright day light. Finally the fit still needs to be improved.With that being said, the Microsoft Band 2 is clearly one of the more formidable and feature-packed activity tracker on the market now. If gym workouts, running, cycling and even golf are part of your keep-fit regime, then the Microsoft Band 2 is clearly made for you.
If you’re keen to buy the Microsoft Band 2 ($249.99), you can get it from Amazon.com where there’s usually a small discount and free delivery depending on where you reside. Also any purchase you make on Amazon.com by clicking the links on this site helps to fund the running of this site, so thank you.