In 2014, Microsoft dipped its toes into the fitness wearable market with the imaginatively titled Microsoft Band. Today, it is finally bringing the brand to the Australian market. If you're on the lookout for a new fitness/smart band, the Microsoft Band 2 is one of the main products you should be considering. Here's what you need to know.
This article originally appeared on Lifehacker Australia
What is it?
The Band 2 is Microsoft's second stab at a fitness band. The originally Band made its debut well over a year ago, but it was only available in the US and UK markets. This marks the first time Microsoft has officially offered a Band product in Australia.
Dubbed a "smart" fitness band or hybrid, the product falls somewhere between a fitness band and a smart watch -- much like the Samsung Galaxy Fit, Fitbit Force and LG Lifeband Touch. The main point of differentiation is the presence of an LCD screen which brings additional features beyond fitness tracking. This includes notifications for emails, texts and calendar alerts as well as controls for external music playback.
The trade-off is size -- it's a lot bulkier than traditional fitness bands like the JawBone Up. With that said, it remains pretty lightweight and won't in the way during exercise.
The Band 2's main claim to fame is probably its heart rate monitor which constantly runs in the background. It also comes with an inbuilt GPS; handy for tracking speed and distance when you don't have your phone on you. For sporty types, there are dedicated sensors for running, biking and golfing. In all, there are eleven different sensors that track everything from sleep to elevation. There’s also a UV monitor which seems tailor-made for Australians.
What can it track/monitor?
All the usual suspects are present and accounted for. The Band 2 tracks your heart rate, exercise, calorie burn and sleep quality. Like most other fitness bands, advanced feedback is provided via a mobile app dubbed Microsoft Health. From here you can dive into your stats, program workouts, set "wellness" goals and personalise the look of your band.
You get a bunch of additional functionality via the phone-controlled app, including guided workouts from leading fitness brands complete with video demonstrations, a detailed breakdown of your fitness progress via the Health Dashboard and summaries of your data for different dates and date ranges. There's also an option to integrate data with third-party apps such as RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal, among others.
Do you need a Microsoft phone to use it?
Microsoft's not that stupid. In addition to Windows Phone, the Fitness Band 2 supports Android (4.4 or later) and iOS (8.1.2 or greater.) You can also access the app via your browser. However, Windows Phone users do get some exclusive features including access to Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana. You can use Cortana to reply to text messages, take notes and set reminders via voice commands.
Is it stylish/comfortable?
I've been wearing the Band 2 since yesterday. I can confirm that it's definitely comfortable -- the silicone band sits snugly on the wrist without causing any itchiness, even when you're profusely sweating (the temperature hit 40 degrees yesterday.) To ensure a natural fit, there are three different sizes to choose from -- small (143-170mm) medium (163-185mm) and large (180-210mm). It's also durable thanks to the presence of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. (You'll probably want to take it off during kickboxing though.)
On the downside, the position of the screen does take some getting use to as you need to tilt your head to the side while reading. If you suffer from a dodgy neck you might be better off wearing the display on the inside of your wrist. This doesn't affect any of the functionality.
Whether it's "stylish" is more debatable. As mentioned above, the band is much thicker than a screen-free fitness band which can make it look odd if you have slender wrists. In addition, the colour scheme is very Microsoft: I suspect many users would have preferred a louder, funkier design. On the plus side, you can customise the background and colors on the LCD display to give it a personal touch.
Is it water proof?
Not really. Here's the official word from Microsoft: "Your Band is not waterproof. Light rain and hand washing shouldn’t harm it, but do not immerse your Band in liquids of any kind. Do not wear your Band while swimming or in the shower."
Bummer. If your exercise regime regularly involves swimming, you might want to look elsewhere.
What's the battery like?
Microsoft reckons you can get around two days of use in-between charges. I've been using mine for 24 hours and it's currently at 40%, so this seems reasonably accurate.
Does it use a stupid proprietary cable?
YES! This is the main thing that irks me about this product. Instead of Micro USB, the Microsoft Band 2 sports a unique charging port. This means you have to take extra care of your charger and ensure it never gets lost. Tch.
How much is it?
We'll be putting the Microsoft Band 2 through its paces in next week's LH Reviews section. Stay tuned!
Next Up: Which Fitness Band Should You Buy?