Microsoft’s Band 2 is a hybrid smart watch meets fitness band. The first thing I noticed as I put it on was its weight, beautiful curved screen and the clarity of the text displayed. It feels like a watch and a watch can be a useful thing, particularly if I can also check my calendar, text messages, social media alerts and news headlines on Engadget and BBC.
It is also a complete fitness band with an optical heart rate sensor, built-in GPS that measures your speed and distance and a barometer that measures elevation. The built-in GPS untethers me from my phone, which is a big bonus. Biometric data is tracked, saved and available on the band without having to carry my phone around and it then uploaded to my mobile via Bluetooth.
The Band 2 also has a few more tricks up its sleeve – it has a UV sensor, a sleep tracker, verbal reminders to text using Cortana (it has a built-in microphone) and data syncs to the Microsoft Health App that also connects with popular fitness apps and is available online.
Included in the box: Microsoft Band 2, USB Charging Cable.
Microsoft is one of the four big pillars of the tech world. They started in the 1970s building compilers, but hit the big time in the early 80s when selected by IBM to write an operating system for the PC – MSDOS and later Windows. They have branched out into many tech areas, including wearables.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
The Band 2 is aimed at a wide range of users with three band sizes (small, medium, large) and lends itself well for use by a large selection of people. It has a 48 hour battery life, fully recharges in less than 1.5 hours, can be worn in temperatures between -10 to 40 C (14F – 104F), at altitudes of -300 m to +4877 m and it is sweat and splash resistant (but not waterproof).
It has no dedicated accessibility features, but the AMOLED screen displays crisp, clear text in an easy to read font against a high contract background. It has an ambient light sensor and auto adjusts brightness, but it can also be set to low, medium or high by the user. I have some mild visual problems and had no difficulty reading the text.
It operates silently with no speakers and the haptic feedback (vibration) can be set to low, medium, how or off. There are two buttons on the side and the responsive touch screen is used with simple swipes and single taps. The reading speed is adjustable for time based text. The sensors are sensitive and accurately tracked walking whilst pushing a stroller, supermarket trolley or using a walking stick or crutches.
It is easy to set-up, pair and use for anyone familiar with apps, on-line accounts and digital devices. Step-by-step instructions are provided and even for those who need a little help with unboxing and set-up, once set up, using it is intuitive and simple. It can be worn on either left or right wrist, supports 11 languages and is compatible with Windows, Android and iOS devices although the level of fuctionality does vary slightly by OS.
It performs a variety of function as a smart watch, fitness band, sleep tracker and heart rate monitor.
I found it most useful as a smart watch and found it very convenient not to have to pull out my phone to check the time, the date, my schedule, text messages and a whole new world opened up through all the morsels of information it offered up. I pulled it out to show my daughter that it detected no UV rays on a rainy winters day. I check the weather, set reminders and with easy access to simple things like a timer and stop watch, I suddenly found great uses for them. I am sure some of the novelty value will wear off, but even then, I still really love its basic functionality, UV sensor and the ability to set quick reminders.
It is marketed and sold as a fitness tracker, but despite its 11 snazzy sensors, it is clearly a hybrid device that makes some sacrifices. I found it less useful for specific activities, but it did make it easy to monitor how much I do on a long-term basis. I wish the timer didn’t reset to zero after each use or it would have also made a great yoga device to let me know when to move on from one pose to the next through haptic feedback.
It is an excellent step counter (we haven’t extensively tested its accuracy by physically counting steps for comparison) and as someone with variable mobility with good days and bad, I found it invaluable to be able to monitor how much I have walked with or without a mobility aid – it tracked both well. When using a manual wheelchair it under reported what an equivalent number of steps would be but in our testing it did so consistently meaning that a wheelchair user could use it to monitor movement levels.
The elevation measurement is a great bonus not just for fitness – tracking elevation when cycling, but also to see just how many times I go upstairs and downstairs on any given day.
The activity tracker is invaluable. I set it to alert me of inactivity after 30 minutes and I haven’t had a marathon sitting down session since. If I am unable to take an activity break (whilst traveling or somewhere like the cinema or a meeting), I can still move and stretch whilst seated. I have tried other reminder systems, but as they are not on my wrist, I tend to miss the notifications.
It’s lowest point is as a sleep tracker, simply because it is just too uncomfortable to wear whilst sleeping. It is not so uncomfortable that it is impossible, but it isn’t a device I could wear every night. I am not an avid biometric data tracker, so it still worked for me as I was happy to wear it once a week or fortnight to check how well I am sleeping. I do think I wake up more though when wearing it because it is uncomfortable.
Heart rate monitor
The heart rate monitor is a great asset when exercising, but also for someone like me who experience symptoms connected to heart rate. I have generalized dysautonomia and Postural Tachycardia Syndrome and found it fascinating to see how my heart rate varies based on my fatigue and activity levels. It does not measure regular or irregular heart rate like a blood pressure monitor, but for conditions like POTS, it does a good job to alert the user to when their heart rate is speeding up.
The Band 2 is without a doubt beautifully designed and I think it is for the most part ergonomic to wear and use. It feels comfortable most of the time, just like an old-style watch, but it is uncomfortable during whole body or strenuous exercise and whilst sleeping, it is just too heavy, rigid and thick for these situations. The buttons are easy to access and press and the screen is highly responsive to touch and only requires simple gestures.
Fitness trackers can increase fitness efficiency significantly and the Band 2 has everything going for it to help make fitness easier to manage and maintain. It provides useful data, Microsoft has done a great job on the fitness software and the ability to set an activity reminder, record fitness sessions, measure step count and stair count all encourages a more active lifestyle without being intrusive.
It is relatively easy to set up and straightforward to use with an intuitive design, some user customization options but nothing complex and its layout follow user expectations.
Environment & People
The Band 2 has no specific environmental certifications. As a company, Microsoft is working towards lessening their environmental impact and have a clear environmental policy – read more on Microsoft’s official site here.
The Band 2 does not help or encourage users to be more ecologically minded, but in use it is neutral. It requires regular charging, but with a standard micro-USB charging capacity, a solar charger like the Waka waka power+ can be used as a more sustainable alternative on sunny days.
The Band 2 is available in the UK for £200 which compares very favorably to the most popular smartwatch – the Apple Watch which starts at £299. There Android smartwatch ecosystem starts at a lower price but if compare similar specifications the Band 2 comes off very well. Microsoft has also show that the Band 2 will be continually updated with a major software update since release last year and several minor ones.
Operating System: Windows, iOS, Android
Display size: 32mm x12.8mm
Display type: Curved AMOLED
Resolution: 320 x 128 pixels
Battery life: 48 hours (with average use)
Battery type: Li-polymer
Charger: Custom micro-USB charge cable
Operating temperatures: -10C to 40C (14F to 104F)
Maximum operating altitude: -300m to +4877m
Water resistance: Sweat and splashproof, not waterproof.
Left or right hand use
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Optical heart rate sensor
Ambient light sensor
Skin temperature sensor
Galvanic skin response
Supported mobile devices:
Windows Phone 8. update or greater
iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus with iOS 8.1.2 or greater
Android 4.4 or later phones with bluetooth
Warranty: 1 year limited warranty.
A device to pair it with – works better with a Windows phone, but compatible with iOS and Android.
Access to a PC for the Microsoft Health Web Dashboard.
The Microsoft Band 2 is an interesting device with a range of functions and its clear curved screen makes it a pleasure to use. It wears like a watch, which is fine for every day use, but it is uncomfortable to wear to bed or during some exercise routines like Yoga or Pilates. It is a generally accessible device that should work well for most mild to moderate health issues or impairments like reduced vision, hearing, dexterity or mobility.
It is a device that appeals to the generalist in me. I like to keep an eye on fitness stats and use electronic reminders on a daily basis to keep me on track at work, at home and away. The convenience of having a watch and fitness tracker in one to rely on works well for me and its bonus functions, like the UV sensor, is useful and not just for show. I don’t keep a close eye on any biometric data, I don’t regularly use fitness apps and the Band 2 helped me establish and maintain good habits and routines whilst also providing me with useful news, weather and updates from my schedule.
Highly recommended for generalists like me interested in maintaining an overview of all their data, both biometric and otherwise, all in one place.
The review is based on the Microsoft Band 2 kindly provided by Microsoft. First published on 12 January 2015.