Microsoft MVP Logo

Yup, I jumped on the Microsoft Bandwagon and got a Microsoft Band one week ago. I wanted it earlier but had trouble finding it… but I got lucky! After failing multiple times to get one due to the stock issues around, I stopped in my local Microsoft store to preorder one and wait for it to arrive. To my surprise they had them in stock… apparently from some preorder people who never picked them up (idiots!).

I’m not going to do a full review of the band or include my pictures… plenty of those on the inter tubes. One of my favorites is by my friend Matt McDermott who’s got a pretty long post on his blog: I’m with the Band, the Microsoft Band. I agree with just about everything he said… but I’ll share a few additional thoughts here.

In early 2014 one of the few magazines I read religiously, WIRED, published a cover article on smart watches. They hired someone to do a concept for their January 2014 issue…. when I saw it I thought “THAT is how it should be done”. Then Apple announced their watch and frankly I was a bit bummed at the price and form factor. It was too much like a watch. I don’t want a replacement for my existing mechanical watches… I wanted a fitness band. That’s where Microsoft’s approach nailed it for me.

Context

I have a large Microsoft Band that fits great… I tried the medium and it was too small. My primary reason for getting it was for fitness (wearing on my runs), heartrate and health awareness (steps / day, sleep, etc). The other stuff like being able to see your email, text messages, calendar, Facebook, buy coffee at Starbucks… they are all just bonus features for me… but not the reason I got it.

I’m also on iOS (iPhone 5), not a Windows Phone.

TL;DR

I really like this device. From the hardware perspective I really like the device. It’s comfortable, the screen is a good size and I really like the adjustable latch so I’m not stuck with a one-size-fits all (ala Jawbone UP). Functionally, I really like how I can manage it wirelessly from my phone. The firmware on the Band is fine… I have some wishes, but no complaints. The software on the phone is fine… few complaints and lots of wishes. All in all, I’m very happy with the Band and looking forward to software updates from Microsoft.

Hardware

I’ve previously had a Jawbone UP band but since ditched it. Both my wife & I had one, but we had to get warranty replacements on them 3 times after a few months of use… it just wasn’t reliable so I gave up on it. No way to know how the Microsoft Band will stack up here until months go by.

The touch screen is very responsive unless you’ve got sweaty hands like I do when you run (more on that in a moment). The haptic feedback (vibration) is good but even on the highest setting doesn’t work for an alarm for me as I sleep right through it… but it does work just fine when using it as reminder alarm or timer when cooking.

I wish it didn’t have a dedicated charging cable, but I get why and I can live with it… just another damn cable to travel with. However the fact that the battery lasts for 2 days is awesome. I can attest to the life of the battery. I have a cable at my desk and plug it in every other day while I’m doing my morning work. I got another charge cable for out of the office (downstairs) that I use in the car or to give it a little boost on the weekend when I don’t spend time in my home office.

Let me get back to the fit & feel on your wrist. Does it get in the way? No, not really (that’s not a resounding ’no’, but let em explain)… frankly no more than any of my watches do (I’m a bit of a "watch guy").

Does it get in the way of clothes? Sure… it does with some things but no more than any of my watches do. There are some dress shirts or jackets I have where the cuff is too small for the Band, but like I said, so far its the exact same thing with my watches.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when I’m sleeping either… in fact I forget I’m still wearing it in the morning. I do like the fact that the screen is bright enough where in the middle of the night when you wakeup and can’t find your glasses, I can tap the button and use it as a very small and subtle flashlight.

When I’m on my laptop, I generally take my watch off and find I do the same for my Band. Why? I don’t like to have my wrist “altered” or have something rubbing/scratching up against the palm rest area. But I find I don’t need to take it off when I’m typing at my desk as I have a USB keyboard… here’s a shot of my desk setup from months ago for context. So no, it doesn’t bother me.

Software / Firmware

Like I said before, no real complaints here. Everything is just fine as far as at the firmware goes. I would like have a Dunkin Donuts app vs. the Starbucks app as I’m more of a DD guy… but that’s just me.

Another thing I wish is that there was a very high-contrast mode that you could turn on when running. I find some of the screens somewhat hard to read when I’m running at a decent clip (9 minutes/mile or so).

The thing that does need some work is the app on your phone that you use to manage it. I would like to be able to have a bit more control over some of the screens on my Band, specifically when running (more on that in a moment when I get to running). I also wish the data export from the app to some connected apps was better (again, more on that in a moment when I get to running).

Running

OK, now onto the real reason I got this. I currently run with my iPhone 5 for music, podcasts & to use Runkeeper to track my run (time, distance, pace, heart rate with my Bluetooth monitor, GPS, etc). When I run there are three things I always like to see on my phone: current pace, current distance & current heart rate. I’ve always wanted Runkeeper to let me tweak the screen as I get most of that but the heart rate has always been hard to see as it’s so damn small. I do like when I’m running in an unfamiliar place when traveling that I can create a route online and have Runkeeper tell me when to turn. I also like the audible updates during my run that tell me current pace & heart rate which I have it set to do at every half-mile mark.

What about the Band? So far I can’t completely abandon the above solution… I’m currently running with both tracking my run for now. I use Runkeeper as my “official record” but I use the Band to monitor my run DURING the run. I’ve been able to move my phone to a pocket as I use Bluetooth headphones, specifically the BlueAnt Pump that I love and highly recommend. I also drop the brightness of the phone all the way down which preserves the battery.

So far I’ve found the heart rate monitor on the Band to seemingly be more accurate than the one I currently use with my phone. I had a pre-op doctor appointment last week where they took my pulse. The Band was off by just one number (61 vs 62 bpm)… on a recent run when I was pushing hard Runkeeper said I was at 143 bpm but there’s no way as that’s a slow speed for me… however the Band said I was at 170 which is more of a “pushing” number for me (I’m usually a low 9 minutes/mile pace… at that time I was doing 8:45… there’s just no way I was at 143 bpm). The GPS is also very accurate and both the Band and Runkeeper agreed on the distance & pace.

However there are a few things I really want to see changed on the Band. When running it shows you current total time as a primary view, current pace & current total distance. You can pull down to see more information like your heart rate. For me though, I want the following:

  • primary in big text: current pace
  • secondary in smaller text: current heart rate
  • pull down screen: total distance, total time, current time of day

This should be configurable from the phone app. Let me have 3 slots on two screens and let me pick the data points.

Another thing that really sucks: the data export to Runkeeper. The two data points that aren’t sent to Runkeeper from Microsoft Health are the GPS coordinates of the run & the heart rate. Grr… get this fixed please! And give me a web portal to view the data on my Microsoft Heath data (apparently they are working on it now).

All this is software stuff… and stuff I know they are working on.

One thing that does suck is that the screen isn’t very responsive when you’re hands are sweaty or when the screen is wet. In my experience, no screen is… the Band behaves just like my iPhone screen. That’s too bad… I live in Florida and it's a bit humid here! Oh well.

[Update 11/29/2014] I just noticed thanks to Matt McDermott noticing that you can modify the data that shows on the screen when you're running from the companion app on your phone (go into the Manage Tiles and edit the Run tile) and you can also double tap the action button to cycle through the screens. Don't know how I missed that earlier!

Random

I do like when I’m walking around or driving, I can glance at my wrist to see who that call is from or that text message is from or that calendar reminder. Much better than pulling your phone out… especially when driving! As for not having quick responses to the text messages or Cortana because I’m on iOS, I don’t miss that a bit… personally I don’t use Siri so there’s nothing lost on me.

All in all, I’m very happy after a week and love the execution. I also love that Microsoft just saved me a minimum of $350 on a new Apple watch!

Comments powered by Disqus