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Microsoft Band Review

Microsoft Band Review With all the hype around a certain watch by a certain brand of a fruity variety recently, it would come as no surprise if you’d failed to hear about the launch of the Microsoft Band. What is this Microsoft Band? I hear you ask! Well I’ve been wearing it for 3 weeks now and I’d still find it difficult to give a definitive answer to that question. Is it a smart watch? Not exactly, although it does have elements of one. Is it a GPS sports watch? It can be used as one but no, that’s not it’s primary function. Is it a life/fitness tracker? Well… kind of. The Microsoft Band is certainly feature packed and offers a myriad of tools and technology. However, this being a running website, we tested it from a runner’s perspective in both a training and race setting. Could a Microsoft Band replace your Garmin? Let’s see… Microsoft Band Look and Feel Microsoft Band Microsoft Band in the box When ordering a Band, you are offered a variety of three different wrist sizes. A a quick wrist measurement, I opted for the medium. The first thing you notice when you put it on, is that you notice that you’ve got it on. It’s very obviously there and the ends stick out enough that to wear the Band under my shirt at work, I had to roll up my sleeves – the cuff wouldn’t fit over it. The heart rate sensor is slightly raised too which digs in a little after a while. There was one occasion where I was wearing it at night for sleep tracking and woke myself up when it caught my ear! As far as I’m aware the colour options are Henry Ford style; you can have any colour you like as long as it’s black. In terms of the build, it feels robust and you can tell a lot of thought has gone into the separate sections. I like the clasp too, which is intuitive and easy to wear and remove the Band. The display is bright and customizable. The ’tiles’ can be switched around, added or removed through the Microsoft Health App. The one major problem that I had with the Microsoft Band when running was the direction of the display when on my wrist. Usually, when you twist your arm slightly to tell the time on a watch the watch face is the right way up upon twisting. Twist your arm whilst running to look at the Band and the display is on its side, causing you to contort your arm and head to try and read what it’s saying. Microsoft Band Technology Microsoft Band with Heart Rate Sensor visible This is surely the best thing about the Microsoft Band as it’s absolutely jam packed with features. The paradox here though is that this multitude of tools makes it difficult to know what the…

Microsoft Band – The Verdict

Technology
 
Comfort
 
Look / style
 
Connectivity
 
 

Great start!

A fitness tracker so laden with features that it’s almost a smart watch. Let down by reliability issues and comfort but will do the job for tracking your run.

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Rob Murray
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Rob Murray

Rob is a self confessed running geek, obsessed with all things related to the sport, whether road, track or triathlon.
Rob Murray
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Microsoft Band Review

With all the hype around a certain watch by a certain brand of a fruity variety recently, it would come as no surprise if you’d failed to hear about the launch of the Microsoft Band. What is this Microsoft Band? I hear you ask! Well I’ve been wearing it for 3 weeks now and I’d still find it difficult to give a definitive answer to that question.

Is it a smart watch? Not exactly, although it does have elements of one.

Is it a GPS sports watch? It can be used as one but no, that’s not it’s primary function.

Is it a life/fitness tracker? Well… kind of.

The Microsoft Band is certainly feature packed and offers a myriad of tools and technology. However, this being a running website, we tested it from a runner’s perspective in both a training and race setting. Could a Microsoft Band replace your Garmin? Let’s see…

Microsoft Band Look and Feel

Microsoft Band

Microsoft Band

Microsoft Band in the box

Microsoft Band in the box

When ordering a Band, you are offered a variety of three different wrist sizes. A a quick wrist measurement, I opted for the medium. The first thing you notice when you put it on, is that you notice that you’ve got it on. It’s very obviously there and the ends stick out enough that to wear the Band under my shirt at work, I had to roll up my sleeves – the cuff wouldn’t fit over it. The heart rate sensor is slightly raised too which digs in a little after a while. There was one occasion where I was wearing it at night for sleep tracking and woke myself up when it caught my ear!

As far as I’m aware the colour options are Henry Ford style; you can have any colour you like as long as it’s black.

In terms of the build, it feels robust and you can tell a lot of thought has gone into the separate sections. I like the clasp too, which is intuitive and easy to wear and remove the Band.

The display is bright and customizable. The ’tiles’ can be switched around, added or removed through the Microsoft Health App. The one major problem that I had with the Microsoft Band when running was the direction of the display when on my wrist. Usually, when you twist your arm slightly to tell the time on a watch the watch face is the right way up upon twisting. Twist your arm whilst running to look at the Band and the display is on its side, causing you to contort your arm and head to try and read what it’s saying.

Microsoft Band Technology

Microsoft Band with Heart Rate Sensor visible

Microsoft Band with Heart Rate Sensor visible

This is surely the best thing about the Microsoft Band as it’s absolutely jam packed with features. The paradox here though is that this multitude of tools makes it difficult to know what the Band is for specifically. Features include; heart rate monitor, GPS tracking, UV sensor, weather updates, Facebook, Twitter, text and email notifications, Bluetooth and sleep tracking. You’ve also got calendar access, step counting, calorie counting included so it’s a pretty comprehensive suite of tech.

Sensors are:

  • Optical heart rate sensor
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • Gyrometer
  • GPS
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Skin temperature sensor
  • UV sensor
  • Capacitive sensor
  • Galvanic skin response
  • Microphone

The most important two sensors for runners are probably the heart rate sensor and the GPS. The major downfall of the Apple Watch in my opinion (as a runner) is the omission of GPS so it’s a definite bonus point for the Band.

I wore the Band for several training runs, alongside my regular TomTom Cardio Runner on the other wrist for data comparison. The GPS was almost exactly the same, to the metre and the heart rate monitoring was within a few beats of the heart rate monitor I was wearing separately.  The GPS did take around one minute to lock on but this is not a long time compared to other watches I’ve used.

Microsoft Band clasp

Microsoft Band clasp (foreground) and charging dock (right)

When it came to testing it in a race I took the plunge, left my TomTom at home and wore just the Band throughout. It started well, with the GPS signal locking on quickly – I pushed ‘start’ on the whistle and off I went. As I ran, it became apparent that at racing speed it was pretty near impossible to twist my arm and head to the angle required to read the display without losing my footing or veering into the verge, so I gave up on that after a couple of kilometres.

Note: if you can find a way to read the display whilst running then it’s great. Brightly coloured even in direct sunlight it shows the key data such as distance, time and pace.

Conveniently, for the narrative of this review, the race went downhill at the end… as did my experience of racing with the Band. As I crossed the finish line I stopped it, went to collect my trophy and went back to the car. As a massive running geek, of course the first thing I went to do was upload the data from my watch to the Microsoft Health app. But it had frozen! No matter what I did, I could not ‘end’ my run, it had only paused when I crossed the finish line and the touch screen was now completely unresponsive. Perhaps I need to press the start/stop button again? I thought. Well that only restarted the session and as I was now doing 60mph in a car (as passenger) you can imagine what that did to my race stats! This running geek was NOT happy!

Never mind, I thought, it’s only a little addition at the end. I’d previously linked my Microsoft Health app with my Strava account, with the idea being that anything uploaded to MS Health would be pushed out automatically to Strava. One benefit of Strava is the ability to crop runs, so I thought I would just do this. Well to-date, I still haven’t been able to get any of my Microsoft Band activity to sync to Strava.

Microsoft Health

iPhone App

Microsoft Health iPhone app

Microsoft Health iPhone app

The Microsoft Band is cross compatible with a number of platforms and devices; you don’t need to have a Microsoft phone. So I downloaded the app to my iPhone and this is surely the greatest triumph and highlight of my Microsoft Band experience. Over the years I have used a lot of fitness tracking apps, with Strava being my current go-to app.

Microsoft Health provides a really well designed experience on both the app and the desktop experience. After a couple of tries the Band did begin to automatically sync activities to the app. The app itself is well presented and allows you to access your activity data (runs, sleeps, etc), all displayed in a user-friendly way.

Desktop Version

Microsoft Health desktop version

The Microsoft Health desktop version is even better as it allows you to really drill down into the stats. Having been for a run it gave me all the usual stats; distance, time, pace and heart rate. It also created a Nike Plus style heatmap to visualise changes in pace. The feature I can’t quite work out is the ‘fitness benefits’… These seem to be based on the assumption that you’re trying to become fitter by getting faster with every subsequent run, but this isn’t always the case with running. Yes we want to get faster, but this is done through a combination of speed work, intervals, long slow runs and recovery runs. A lot of the training benefit comes from slow running and rest periods, which might not be the conclusion Microsoft Health comes to. I need to give this section some more testing.

In general though, I really like the obvious thought that has gone into making MS Health a useful, easy to use tool.

Microsoft Band Summary

As Microsoft’s first forray into the wearable technology market this is a good start. On its own, the Band itself is let down by the sheer discomfort of wearing it, although the features and multitude of sensors that contribute to this bulk are excellent in themselves. The Band does have the feel of a first draft or prototype. I’ve enjoyed having that level of technology on my wrist but I would beg Microsoft to make three crucial changes in the next generation:

1) Make it more ergonomic – if it could just be a little slimmer and more flexible that would be great

2) Change the orientation of the screen – so when you’re doing an activity, you can actually make out what the display says without twisting your neck.

3) Make the software on board the Band more reliable – there’s nothing more frustrating than finishing a run, getting a PB (PR) and the recorded data being wrong, freezing and/or not connecting to Strava.

The Microsoft Health software is excellent, with both the app and desktop versions performing well; proving good insight and ease of use. Here Microsoft have created a piece of software that has all the component parts needed to support future models and versions of the Band and its successors.

So to answer the question posed at the beginning, could the Microsoft Band replace your Garmin? Technically, with its built-in GPS you could use this as your next running watch and at an RRP 0f £169.99 ($260) its in a similar price range to post entry level GPS watches. You can buy the Microsoft Band on Amazon here: Microsoft Band Medium

 

 

 

 

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Author: Rob Murray
  • Ryan

    I’ve used the band for several months while training. On my longer more intense runs (generally 10+ miles), the screen does become completely unresponsive, which I believe is due to the excessive sweat / moisture. In each case, after completing the run I stop it using the buttons, but I push the middle button to turn off the screen. If I wait a few hours before trying to sync it (so it dries off), I haven’t had any issues. It is a pretty major bug for a fitness tracker, but is still the best overall tracker I’ve used.

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