Wow. The Microsoft Band 2 is actually awesome!
Microsoft Band 2 Review – Better than a Fitbit, on par with the Apple Watch
So what’s the deal with the Microsoft Band 2? Can it hold its own against other wearables from Apple, Fitbit and Android Wear? The surprising answer is…yes! We’ve been using this product for the last 2-3 months and have grown to like it. This is the first piece of Microsoft hardware that we’ve reviewed on this site/channel, and the Band 2 has significantly raised our low opinion of Microsoft (our low opinion of Microsoft of goes all the way back to the BSOD debacles of the early 2000’s). In fact, the Band 2 feels more polished than some of the Android Wear devices we’ve used.
Its unique design took a bit of getting used but physically; it is an impressive piece of hardware. From a fitness standpoint, it’s better than anything that Fitbit has, from a day-to-day use perspective, its as useful as the Apple Watch and isn’t as annoying to use as Android wear. For the most part, out of the box, the Microsoft Band 2 is that rivals the Apple Watch. The only place that the Band 2 falls entirely on its face is the lack of apps.
For our Micosoft Band 2 Review, we’ve given it a score of 4.1 Eh’s out of 5. It has the same score as the Apple Watch (Gasp!) and does much better than anything that Pebble Offers as well as the Moto 360. From a fitness perspective, it isn’t not as functional as the Fitbit Surge but definitely better than the Charge HR and Fitbit Blaze. If you want to see a side-by-side comparison of all the the wearables that we’ve reviewed, check out our comparison tool!
|Microsoft Band 2|
(out of 5)
|Top Buy Buttons|
- Compatible with both Android and iPhones
- Tracks fitness activities better than Fitbit Charge HR, Surge and Blaze
- Easy to wear
- Better battery life than Apple Watch
- Buckle is thick, gets in the way sometimes
- Poor app store
|Potential Problems||Potential Problems:|
- None that we found
- Easy to adjust (Better than anything Fitbit)
- Bright AMOLED screen
- Buckle is the thickest part of the device
- Buckle scraps against whatever your wrist is resting on
|Battery Life||Battery Life (2.5/5):|
- 2 day battery
- Water resistant
- Scratch resistant against keys and coins
- Syncs with both iPhones and Android phones
- Limited to 8 apps/tiles
- App store is lacking
- Guided workouts are changed via web (not app)
- Touch enabled
- Buttons are fairly easy to use
- Viewable in direct sunlight
|Information Display||UI (5/5):|
- Notification system is simplistic
- Reading information on band takes a bit of getting use to
- Guided Workouts feature isn't terribly useful
- UV sensor
- (Lots of other sensors that we felt were important to list)
- Useful but not habit changing
- Inactivity monitoring
|Bottom Buy Buttons|
Design – It look smaller but it’s not
Regarding design, the Microsoft Band 2, doesn’t look bulky but is. It takes a bit of getting used to. The Band seems to wear well as the rubber portion of the band is very scratch resistant and appears to have the ability to heal itself from minor scratches. The bulk of the Band 2 is very noticeable at the bottom of the where the buckle is as its thicker than the top part of the device. The buckle at the bottom of the Band will show wear and tear easily as its constantly scraping against whatever you’re laying your hand on. The buckle also houses the UV sensor, but as you can see, its recessed slightly and hasn’t been scratched up during our review period.
Wearing the band can sometimes get annoying. The thickest part of the band isn’t at the top, its at the bottom which was something I had to get use to. It makes the Band very noticeable on my arm, especially when typing on a flat surface.
Despite the bulk, the buckle is actually one of the best parts of the Microsoft Band 2. We love how easy it is to put on and adjust which is something that we can’t say for the Fitbit Surge, Charge HR, and Blaze. The simple adjustability is great during workouts (especially if you use workout straps). If it’s too lose, you can easily make the Band smaller, to make it larger, you press the sides and taking it off is as simple as lifting the buckle.
The AMOLED display is top notch when it comes to displaying information. It puts the blocky LED’s of the Charge HR and e-ink screen of the Pebble Time’s to shame. The face of the Microsoft Band 2, after our usage period, doesn’t show any scratches.
When it comes to durability, from our average usage, the battery will last approx. two and two nights and maybe one workout. A full charge only takes 1.5 hours which means if you’re low a battery a quick charge will most likely get you through the rest of the day..
In terms of sensors, the Microsoft Band 2 has sensors to count steps and flights taken, a UV sensor, GPS, heart rate sensor and four other ones on their site that seem quite minor. When it comes to the accuracy of the sensors, its hard to say how accurate everything is but we’ll elaborate on that in the fitness section below.
Fitness – In the gym
The Band 2 is a nice fitness activity tracker. It comes with GPS, so if you’re one of those people who like to draw shapes on maps while you run, you’ll feel right at home with the Band 2. This Microsoft wearable only has two activity tracking options which seemed odd to us at first but really, is the “Yoga” setting on the Fitbit Surge really that different from the Elliptical setting?
At the beginning of the review, we said that its better than anything Fitbit has and most of it has to do with the heart rate sensor. The Fitbits work great for exercises with a lot of stationary/gradual movements but if you’re lifting weights, the constant up/down of your arms means that the Fitbit doesn’t sit in the “optimal” area of your hand, so the heart rate sensor readings are off. In our experience, the Fitbits tend to underestimate the heart rate during our workout sessions.
The Band 2 doesn’t have this issue as it shows your HR changing but it seems to overestimate what your HR is going to be but the moment you slow down, it drops. For example, in the photo below, on the last set of a GVT (German volume training), the Charge HR showed 69 BPM’s and the Band 2 was 168 which is a little more believable given that Aaron could feel his heartrate in his eyeballs.Now this optimistic outlook on my HR results in higher calories burned per workout but the overall daily caloric count isn’t higher.
In general, the Band 2’s health data was different than the Apple Watches and Fitbit Charge’s. The Band 2 and Apple Watch health data where similar whereas the Fitbit was higher than both.
Now one of the standout marketing fluff features is the Guided Workouts which, from our perspective are quite useless. There are several pre-loaded workouts that you can choose from and you can load custom workouts through the web interface. We were initially excited at the UI because it looked like Microsoft had figured out rep tracking but they didn’t. You have to manually go through each exercise which means you can’t swap exercises mid-workout depending on machine/weight availability.
During workouts, the screen of the Band 2 was always on which might be a big deal if you’re timing your exercises. The Apple Watch’s face only comes on when you raise it/touch it which is another nuisance to deal with when you’re getting your sweat on.
The last thing about fitness is sleep tracking. The larger battery allows you to track a couple of nights of sleep without charging the Band 2, and it provides you with “efficiency” readings. We can’t say for sure how accurate or what the sleep tracking indicates as what Aaron felt was a restless night of sleep resulted in a 92% efficiency.
One of the drawbacks of the Band 2 is the AMOLED screen because it is brightness. Forgetting to put the watch to sleep will result in a bit of night blinding/getting smacked by whoever you’re sharing the bed with.
For fitness logging, the web portion of the Microsoft Health is awesome. In fact, its way better than the dashboard that Fitbit offers because it tries to go a little deeper into the data. It doesn’t just spew out all the numbers the device collects; it attempts to make a bit more sense of it all which is important when you’re attempting to live a slightly better life.
Functionality – Reading text vertically takes getting use to
When it comes to everyday usage, the Band 2 is decent. As we mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have the strength of an App Store like Android Wear and Apple Watch does but if use devices straight out of the box, that won’t matter. If you did want apps, you get to choose from 4 non-sport score apps. We found the Subway the most useful of the batch because its lists out the calories for six subs (we’re joking). For those who are fitness-minded and use other services to track your fitness, Microsoft does allow you to attach the Band 2 to those services.
Notifications aren’t as annoying out of the box (unlike Android Wear). You have to turn on the notifications tile before you start receiving alerts which in our opinion, is a nice way to do it instead of having the device annoy you the moment you put it on. You are somewhat limited to how much you can do with the Band 2 as you are restricted to 8 tiles which means you have to pick and choose which tiles to show. We found that 8 was enough and the only time we had to move tiles around was when we tried other apps (like the Subway app).
One of the things you will have to get use to is reading text vertically. It took Aaron a few days to get used to it, but you will learn to stop cocking your head every time you get notifications. The screen may be small, but if you can’t read a notification that is a little longer, the Band 2 will play back the entire message automatically on the screen.
By default, the screen only activates if you press the button but you can turn on a setting that allows it to turn on when it detects your wrist being raised. The Band 2 has a touch screen and two physical buttons. Navigating through the menus is done through the screen while selecting a menu requires the use of a button. There is a bit of color customization with the Band 2, but that’s about the limit of the customization.