The Microsoft Band Is a Great Fitness Tracker

…but not a great smart watch. I bought one of these devices last week having been told many times that it makes a great smart watch and will change the way  you use your phone and therefore your life will change forever. I’ve always liked the idea of a smart watch, as long as they aren’t too expensive, and as the Microsoft Band is only £145 on Amazon I decided to get one.

When researching the band I found myself confused; a quick peruse of the official web page will tell you the Microsoft aren’t really pushing it as a smart watch and more focusing on the fitness band side of things. You would have thought that the band would be advertised more as a smart watch considering the Apple Watch (or is it iWatch?). Microsoft could immediately put forward their smartwatch to show people their alternative, with very little effort. After all, it has basically all the  features of a smartwatch and is much better at tracking your heart beat and general exercise than the Apple Watch. I put this down to Microsoft, as usual, being a bit stupid with their advertising.

I got my band last Monday and started wearing it constantly. I enjoyed my time with it, but after a while, I started noticing some irritating problems. But first, let’s talk about some of the positives. My favourite feature of the Band is the sleep tracking. Before you go to sleep you simply have to tap the sleep icon and press the ‘Action’ button. I’ll bid you goodnight and the screen turn off. When you wake up, you press the action button again and the sleep tracking ends. Immediately it’ll tell you if you had a good night’s sleep, how many times you woke up, your resting heart rate and more. What do you do with this information? It’s up to you, but I’ve found it useful when people ask if you’ve slept well. You can give them some very specific information about your night’s sleep and even hand them a graph on your phone for them to see for themselves. I’m sure this gets old eventually.

I had optimal sleep that night!
I had optimal sleep that night!

Another feature I appreciated was the step tracking tool. You can set a daily goal for steps you want to be walking a day. Microsoft (I think based on my height, weight, and sex) recommended a daily step goal of 5000 steps a day. Sounds like a lot? It really isn’t. I achieved that goal by vaguely wandering around my house. I increased this goal to 8000 steps a day which was slightly more than I would be doing anyway. When you reach this goal the band buzzes on your wrist and congratulates you. It does work; I wanted to make the band praise me for being a great guy for reaching my goal, and 8000 steps sound like an achievement to me. If I ever get used to that goal, I can simply increase it even more. It encouraged me to find reasons to go out walking and add some steps to my count. In terms of accuracy, it’s pretty good, but not exact. I found that I could increase the step count by viciously waving my arm around in big circles. Somehow this doesn’t feel like cheating the system when the method requires such physical exertion.

My daily step count last week.
My daily step count last week.

The band does these fitness and health things pretty well. It can also track your golf games, bike rides, and runs. It also has quite a cool ‘Guided Workout’ feature, which basically makes the Band buzz and tell you when to move on to the next stage of your workout, then afterwards it’ll tell you stuff like calorie burn and peak heart rate. This would be great, but I’m not a fitness guy – I’ve never been to a gym or done a workout without being forced (I’m talking about school, not anything weird).

What it ain’t so great at is all the basic smart watch stuff. When I got texts my phone would buzz but my wrist wouldn’t, at least not until I’d read and replied to the text on my phone. I’d get a phone call and my wrist would do nothing. This is quite annoying because it makes you feel like you can’t actually trust it to tell you anything. I wouldn’t leave my phone on silent with the vibration off because I would definitely miss a phone call or a text message. When it does tell you about a phone call, text message or email, it pops up on the screen and buzzes, you dismiss it and then the icon concerning the notification will have a big number on it demanding you acknowledge the notification again. This became mildly irritating after a couple of days of it. It seems to forget when you’ve read a notification and when you haven’t.

Moving on to the actual hardware of the band, I have a complaint about the shape of the band. A band would normally be a circle which wraps around your wrist and it feels very comfortable. The Microsoft Band is a square. It’s designed with the heart rate monitor on one side and the screen on the other. Both sides are completely flat and reasonably wide. This makes you wait feel more like it’s had a vice attached to it, only a little bit more comfortable than that. This is something which you can bear for a while and eventually get used to. It would be so much better if the screen were curved just a little bit to fit over your wrist more comfortably.

I was amazed how quickly the band picks up scratches. In one week I looked after it pretty damn well and tried pretty hard not to scratch it, and it seemed to pick up scratches like nothing else. This is why the band comes with a screen protector already applied. It’s not a big problem; you can’t see the scratches on mine unless you’re looking very closely and with direct light, but that’s only after a week, what about a month, or even a year?

Some of that is smudged fingerprints.
Some of that is smudged fingerprints.

I suppose that’s it. I had fun with my band, but it’s not what I expected. I’d like it a lot if I were really into fitness, but I wanted a smart watch, and it just doesn’t fit the brief there. I’m serious, get this if you want a great fitness band, don’t if you want a smart watch. If you do want it, why not have mine? It’s on eBay right now! (Ends 20th of September 2015)

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