Microsoft Band 2: Review
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, with the Band 2 available in Ireland, we thought it about time that we took it through its paces and compared it to the original.
The original band was released almost as a proof of concept, a reference device for connecting to the new Microsoft Health service.
It was packed full of sensors. It was practical and everything worked, but it was not pretty and not especially comfortable for longer periods of time, but you got used to it.
The Band 2 looks to address all of these and add some more.
Starting with design, the Band 2 has certainly been thoughtfully redesigned. The battery in Band 1 was previously in the strap, and meant that the strap was rigid and fairly inflexible. The Band 2 moves this into the clasp, making the strap much more comfortable to wear.
The screen has been changed from a flat TFT screen to a slightly larger, curved OLED screen - the brightness and clarity of the display is immediately noticeable. Gorilla Glass is used to protect the display in the Band 2, which should negate the need for a Screen Protector - an essential for the Band 1.
Overall the styling of the Band 2 is much more thought out, and looks less like the prototype that the Band 1 really was.
Some changes are a mixed blessing, the Charging Port has been moved from the underside of the sensor on to the strap. This prevents problems that existed before where salt from sweat could build up and interfere the charger from connecting correctly and prevent the Band from charging. It also connects more securely, saving you from thinking your band is charging only to discover the charger was not fully connected - as happened occasionally with the Band1. Also, the clasp can sometimes feel a little loose when closed.
In addition to the externals, the internals have been addressed - a slightly faster processor, a bit more memory and an extra sensor. Somehow Microsoft have fit an eleventh sensor into the tightly packed frame of the Band. A Barometer is used to estimate the number of stairs that have been climbed during the day.
Since launch, Microsoft have continually added new features and functions to the Band 2 by software update. By contrast, Band 1 owners have been entirely neglected in terms of updates since the Band 2 launched.
These features include:
GPS Power Saver: Using this method, the GPS receiver will update less frequently and can increase battery life during a run or cycle by up to 4 hours. The results to track your run are still quite accurate using this method.
Auto Pause: When you're out for a run and have to keep stopping and starting at traffic lights or for other delays, the Band 2 will now stop tracking your run and restart it when you are moving again so that red light doesn't kill your calculated average speed when cycling.
Friendly Competition: You can link your Microsoft Health account with your Facebook account and compete with your friends. There's nothing wrong with a little healthy rivalry to keep you going.
More Tiles: The Band 2 can now display up to 20 tiles
Music Controls: Double-press the power button and the Band will display simple music controls (Play / Pause, Fast Forward and Rewind), if you swipe left it will increase the volume and a swipe right will decrease the volume.
Granular Phone Notifications: Rather than spewing every single notification from your Phone to the Band 2, you can configure which notifications you would like to receive from the Health app on your phone.
More Text in Notifications: The Band 2 can show more text in a notification than before, including Emojis and Asian fonts, where these previously appeared only as blocks.
How is it?
Coming from a Band 1, it is much lighter and comfortable on the skin when worn. It has less of that GPS Tracker (a la Neal Caffrey in White Collar) feeling. The screen is fast and responsive to touch, it can be clearly read in daylight and the many personalisation options mean that you sort your tiles or apps just how you like them.
Going for a run or a cycle with GPS for the first time will take about 45-60 seconds to get a GPS lock, but after that it will do a good job of remembering your location and generally be quicker for subsequent runs. That said, we have noticed that after each software update that the first run will again take that 45-60 seconds for a lock. Luckily, you can start your activity without GPS and it will do a good job of estimating your route on the map.
You can configure the main activity screen to show the stats that you want most (such as Heart rate, overall activity time, current pace, average pace) and there's an off-screen 'drawer' for secondary stats that you might want to drag down and see once in a while during your activity.
The Band 2 is only half of the equation, when paired with the Microsoft Health app, it allows you to analyse your data and compare against your peers and help highlight to you areas that you could improve or where you are doing well.
The main positive that I can add about the Band 2 is that it has helped me to run 'free'. Before running with the Band 2, I would always have gone out with a phone strapped to my arm and music playing. I couldn't understand why you wouldn't want to have music playing while running, it helped to keep time and pace.
As it turns out, it didn't. I used to over exert myself when running to a fast song or slow down when the tempo dipped. Running with the Band 2, I have noticed that my pace is more consistent and I can feel the world around me and know that I am running the best I can.
That, it seems, is one of the goals the Band 2 achieves perfectly. It sets you free from other tech and let's you just get on with what you want to do.
The Band 2, when initially announced, did not strike us as a necessary upgrade over the original Microsoft Band. Sure it was supposed to be a bit neater, with a larger curved screen and an additional sensor, but was that worth it.
After spending the last two months using the Band 2, we can wholeheartedly recommend it to those looking for a new Fitness Band and even a Smart Watch. The new features and presentation that Microsoft have added just keep improving the device and adding useful features you didn't know weren't there.
As an upgrade, that's a different question. The extra comfort and features of the Band 2 are compelling, but at the current price in some retailers at over €300 it would be difficult to recommend. Although, shopping around online can perhaps net you one for under €200 and it becomes easier to upgrade.
What we liked
The screen: Bright, colourful, animated and tough.
The design: More comfortable, better thought out.
The updates: coming fast and furious, the updates improve the Band on an almost monthly schedule.
The support: perhaps the best decision Microsoft made was to make the Band compatible with iPhone, Android and Windows Phone.
What we disliked
The battery: Perhaps because of the brighter screen or the extra functions, whereas the Band 1 could last comfortably (without using GPS) over 2 days, the Band 2 feels that it needs to be charged every day. Quick charging mitigates the main worry, but a longer battery life would help relieve any anxiety.