Microsoft Band, now available to pre-order in the UK and Ireland [UPDATED: Pre-orders now shipping]
Microsoft may have inadvertently created a sleeper hit when it released the Microsoft Band wearable device. It arrived without any fanfare in the middle of the night, without any press release or warning, with availability only in certain physical Microsoft stores in the US. You would think that Microsoft almost didn't want anyone to notice.
People noticed. The limited stock that made up the original release was quickly sold out and demand has been high ever since. It took a few months before Microsoft ramped up production and had a second wave of stock available - with those who registered interest getting first refusal.
Now, Microsoft feel ready to open the device up to the rest of the world, mostly.
In the United States retail outlets like Best Buy and Target will be receiving stock of the wearable. In the United Kingdom shops like Currys PC World and O2 will be stocking the device, the Microsoft Store UK and online retail giant Amazon.co.uk will be selling the device from mid-April. Of most interest to Ireland will be Amazon and PC World / Currys as the stock available in the UK stores is usually available in the Republic of Ireland branches.
Retailing at £169.99, the Microsoft band is an interesting device because it looks to avoid entering the Smart Watch market. It doesn't want to go head-to-head with the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices like the Moto 360 or LG Watch Urbane and therein lies the beauty of the device.
As soon as you consider a device a 'Watch', your mind has certain expectations of how it will look and what you can do with it. However, if you consider the same device as a Smart Band or an accessory then you can shift those expectations and do a lot more with the device.
The first thing Microsoft did right with the band is to make it OS neutral. Where the Apple watch requires an iPhone and Android Wear requires an Android handset with which to pair, the Band works with iOS, Android and Windows
Second was not calling it a "watch", it is a Smart Band that also happens to tell the time as one of its functions. This goes for the section of the market that may be interested in fitness devices like Fitbit or Garmin run tracking GPS watches.
The next part of the Microsoft Band that they got perfectly right was by throwing the kitchen sink at it, while maintaining about 48-hours 'normal' usage with a single charge, unlike other certain devices that will require charging after less than a day.
So, what have Microsoft packed into the Band. Deep Breath and …
24-hour heart monitor
UV Monitor (built-in UV sensor)
Optical heart rate sensor
Ambient light sensor
Skin temperature sensor
Galvanic skin response
1.4 inch (320 x 106 pixel) Full Colour display
Bluetooth 4.0 (Low energy) support
Haptic vibration monitor (for vibration alerts)
Facebook (including Messenger)
Do not Disturb mode
Quick Read (for text and e-mails without having to scroll)
Timer and Stopwatch
Cortana integration (Windows Phone only)
Virtual Keyboard (Windows Phone only)
Starbucks integration (so you can pay in Starbuck from a Starbucks card, without needing your wallet)
Watch mode with Timer and Stopwatch functionality.
That's what the band can do today. Microsoft also recently released a Software Development Kit that will open up what developers can do with the band, which means that the device on your wrist may be an entirely different device in a few months.
With the Band, one size does not fit all. It comes in three separate models depending on your wrist size: Small (39mm), Medium (41mm) and Large (49mm). The correct fit is important to ensure that all the sensors connect correctly. A handy sizing guide should help you to judge the correct size before you buy.
We will be watching the Microsoft Band closely to see how it fares in Europe and especially how it fares against the Apple Watch, which goes on sale shortly after the Band in the UK and Ireland.
[UPDATE 15. April 2015]
Microsoft and Amazon have started to ship Microsoft Band to those who pre-ordered. On Amazon the popular Medium and Large sized versions are out of stock already and expected to be back in stock over the next few weeks. The Small version is still available.