Microsoft Band 2.0: Big steps forward mean you just might ditch your trainer – Ars Technica

The original Microsoft Band was impressive when it debuted last year. It had a colorful touchscreen display, built-in GPS and heart rate monitors, and guided workouts—proving that a fitness device could be smarter than a simple step-counter or time-tracker. But it was far from perfect; you could barely use those features because of the Band’s awful, uncomfortable design.

Yet here we are, in an era of elegant Surface Pro 4s and Surface Books, and now we also have an elegant Microsoft Band. The new $249 device boasts an improved design, making it a more “wearable” wearable, new sensors that detect floors climbed and UV exposure, and an online dashboard for Microsoft Health where you can create your own workouts. As a hybrid fitness device with many smartwatch-like features, it’s hard to put the Microsoft Band into a (figurative) box. But Microsoft knew what it needed to fix the second time around—and what was best left untouched.

A much-needed design upgrade

The original Microsoft Band was hamstrung by its design. The Band was rigid, angular, and difficult to wear, but Microsoft has improved the situation with an all-curved design and a flexible, soft-touch band. The main module, housing the 320×128-pixel AMOLED display, now curves to better fit the natural shape of your wrist, while the silicone-like band hugs your arm comfortably. On the display’s edge sit the device’s only physical buttons: the power button, which can also turn off the display quickly, and the “Action” button that selects certain options on the screen.

The band’s clasp retains the same pinch-and-slide mechanism as the original. I wasn’t a fan of it in the first Band and I’m still not a fan of it now. It’s difficult to secure with one hand, especially at the tightness you prefer. When closed, the clasp portion of the Microsoft Band measures nearly half an inch from top to bottom. Since I wore the Band with the display on the underside of my wrist, the clasp portion sat on the top of my wrist and just looked weird.

The design does have a practical purpose, though. On the pinch part of the clasp is the Band’s UV sensor, which measures the amount of sunlight when you’re outside so the Band can advise you to put on sunscreen. The underside of the slider part of the clasp holds the galvanic skin sensors, which measure the electrical resistance of the skin during exercise.

Speaking of sensors, the Microsoft Band has a lot of them. In addition to fitness tracker essentials—tri-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, and barometer—the Band also has ambient light, skin temperature, and capacitive sensors, a microphone, built-in GPS, and a continuous optical heart rate monitor. GPS will be crucial for those who frequently run or bike outdoors, while the optical heart rate monitor takes pulse readings throughout the day and during exercise to show you peak and average heart rates. Each time I measured my resting heart rate, readings hovered between 70 and 80 bpm, which is the measurement I’m used to seeing from other devices. While I wore the Band alone during workouts, the heart rate monitor typically hovered between 125 and 135 bpm during peak exercise and never jumped around too much.

Unfortunately, the sensors—especially GPS—can drain battery life like crazy when in heavy use. Microsoft claims the Band gets up to two days on a single charge, and I found that to be true with little GPS use. If you don’t use the GPS at all, you should get an extra half day out of the Band (which only takes about an hour and a half to charge fully).

The Microsoft Band has one of the most extensive sets of sensors in the market, even when including the Apple Watch and fitness band competitors like the Fitbit Surge. However, rather than focusing on quantity, quality and use cases are most important when considering sensor-rich devices like this. Not only do the sensors have to work and work well, but you should be getting as much use out of them as possible. Someone who needs to be careful in extreme sunlight will appreciate the Band’s UV monitor, but not everyone will feel the need to use the feature on a daily basis (or at all).

One of the biggest issues in the first Microsoft Band was its pairing and setup process. Many users experienced difficulties pairing the Band to iOS devices and then felt frustration when told the Band wasn’t connected. It appears that Microsoft made things a little better the second time around. Although I mainly used the new Microsoft Band on a Windows Phone, I did pair it to my iPhone 6 first. Connecting via Bluetooth was fine and I completed the setup process until the very end when you’re prompted to open Microsoft Health to continue. I opened the app and it didn’t seem to recognize my Band was around.

I was able to fix this by disconnecting the Band from my Bluetooth and restarting the setup process. The second time it worked perfectly. When I went to pair the new Band with a Nokia Lumia 830, I made sure to unregister the Band from my Microsoft Health account, sign out of the account on my iPhone 6, and disconnect the Band from Bluetooth before starting the pairing process on the new phone.

You’ve got a lot of fitness options


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