Xiaomi's Mi Band line of fitness wearables packs many of the desired features of a fitness tracker into a small and affordable package. The latest model, the Mi Band 2, becomes the first to feature a display. Can Xiaomi keep the device feature rich, while also remaining affordable?
In recent years the electronic wearable device category has taken off. In 2016 alone industry experts believe that this market will exceed €25 billion, with almost €10 billion of that coming from the fitness devices and smartwatches.
Xiaomi entered the fitness market with the original Mi Band in 2014, a small simple tracking device that could be worn on either wrist as a bracelet or around the neck as a pendant. While tracking your activity, the statistics could be viewed and assessed on your smartphone using the Mi Fit companion app.
This year, the Mi Band 2 keeps the simplicity of the original model and updates the product with a small 0.42-inch OLED display. The display is activated with a flick of your wrist to display the current time, while a touch key can be used to cycle through statistics on the device: steps, distance, calories, current heart rate and battery meter. The display is clear and bright in daylight and darkness and the fingerprint resistant coating helps avoid smudges and obstructions on the glass.
The tracker on the Mi Band 2 is essentially a small oblong device that fits snugly into the included rubber wrist band. As with previous models it can be worn on either wrist, with the screen facing inside or out. This design helps with the water resistance of the device, it is certified IP67, which means that it is dust tight and can essentially withstand being in one metre of water for up to thirty minutes - so could be used for tracking heart rate on a short swim. Although we didn't test it with that, it did survive showers, rain and washing the dishes.
The wristband was comfortable and light to wear, flexible and you often could not tell it was there. The button to close the strap was sometimes difficult to close one-handed, but when you got used to it that was no longer a problem
However, as the tracker is the small central part of the band, it must be popped out of the wristband every time the device needs to be charged. A small USB charger is included with the device, although we found it difficult at times to pop the Mi Band 2 device out of the charger.
Luckily this is not something that you will have to do very often, compared with other fitness devices. We wore the Mi Band 2 for a full week on a single charge, the device also knows when you are not wearing it and will switch to a power saving mode that can last (according to Xiaomi) up to 20 days.
It is widely acknowledged that the heart rate tracker in Microsoft's Band 2 is among the most accurate optical heart rate monitors on the market. We really liked that device in our review earlier this year. When testing heart rate with Xiaomi's Mi Band 2 we found that it sometimes locked onto the heart rate quicker than Microsoft's device and often matched the reported heart rate or was close enough (about 1-2 bpm) on first lock and corrected quickly to match the device that costs more than five times the price.
As a pedometer, we found it quite accurate and that it wasn't possible to fool the device by shaking it to add a few extra steps to help you meet your goal for the day. Based on the data that you have entered in the Mi Fit app, the device would convert your steps to distance travelled. Mi Band 2 will detect your change in pace and switch to tracking your activity as running rather than walking.
The calorie counter attempts to use your steps data with heart rate among other data to approximate the number of calories that you have burned that day.
Fit and Smart
Fitness is about more than burning calories and distance travelled, sports science indicates that recovery is as important as exercise to your health and wellbeing. Mi Band 2 will detect when you are asleep and help provide statistics on the length and quality of your sleep, breaking out deep sleep from light sleep and the number of times you woke during the night.
The strength of a fitness device is all about the data that it can provide to you, and while the display is a great addition to give you an overview of your current data for today, it is the companion app that will show you most about your activity. Mi Fit does an excellent job of providing access to your statistics and your improvement over time.
The Mi Fit app is available on Android and iOS, and allows for additional notifications to be displayed on your phone when used with these devices (call ringing or message notifications). Certain Android handsets can also be unlocked with the Mi Band 2.
Although there are social aspects of the app, the majority of these were to compete with friends on We Chat, a popular social network in China.
Although no Windows Mobile client is available, there are a number of third-party alternatives that provide detailed access to your statistics and configuring the device.
We really liked the Mi Band 2. We weren't expecting much from a device that costs less than €30, but the heart rate monitor almost matched a device that costs many times more and the pedometer was good at tracking the distance travelled.
The trickiest part with the Mi Band 2 was to do with popping the device out of the charger and the small charger that could easily be lost. The wristband was difficult at first, but with practice became easier.
As with all fitness devices, the Mi Band 2 is an excellent support to your own fitness programme. It will help you get a baseline for your own fitness and help you to improve or maintain that over time. If you had ever been considering a fitness device, but could not justify the price of the mainstream devices, we could easily recommend the Mi Band 2 as the fitness device to be your starter.
Heart Rate monitor: Gave the more expensive Microsoft Band 2 a good run for it's money
Comfort: Light and easy to wear, it doesn't really get in the way
Simplicity: The small display and button does everything they need to, and it does it well.
Cost: For under €30, there are so many features packed into this device.
We didn't like
Charging: Although this is only every 7-8 days, the small charger and trickiness popping it out of the charger made this a cumbersome process.