Microsoft Band 2 Preview

Posted on October 8, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft-Band with 0 Comments

Microsoft Band 2 Preview

I’ve been a Microsoft Band user since the first device was soft-launched last year, and I’ve followed the subsequent software and services improvements with quite a bit of interest over the past year. This week, however, we learned about the new Band 2 hardware, which features an elegant new body and new capabilities. So I’m set for the next year as well.

You may recall that I’ve spent the past month or so performing an interesting experiment in which I’ve replaced my Windows phone, a Lumia 930, with comparable Android (Moto X Pure Edition) and iPhone (6S Plus) handsets in order to more intimately experience life on the other side of the fence. (Naturally, I use Android and iOS regularly, regardless. But what I wanted to see was whether I could deal with a Lumia-less existence.) What I haven’t really mentioned, however, is that this experiment also involved replacing my favorite wearable, Microsoft Band, with the leading competitors, too: Motorola’s new Moto 360 and Apple Watch, upgraded with watchOS 2.

I see the value in all of these wearables, though in the case of a smart watch—like the Moto 360 and Apple Watch—it’s more convenience than necessity. The key things I like about these devices are mostly tied to notifications. Both will buzz your wrist when a text message or other important communication comes in, and both let you respond to these things in useful ways, including even elaborate voice-to-text responses. And Apple Watch’s big strength, to me, is it’s hourly notification to stand up for at least one minute. These things are not necessary, but they are useful. And they are most certainly not toys.

I still prefer Microsoft Band, however. And the reason is simple: Band is, first and foremost, a fitness device, and that is my real focus and concern when it comes to wearables. Unlike Android Wear/Moto 360 and Apple Watch, Band is bristling with accurate, data-colllecting health sensors, and it includes useful components, like a GPS, that the others lack. Band does of course also work with email, calendar, text messages, phone calls, Facebook, and some other useful things as well. But the split is 80/20 on the health/productivity sliding scale, and it just lines up nicely with my own needs.

Of course, the original Band isn’t perfect. The device is bulky and heavy, and awkward to wear. It seems to be attracted to doorways and walls, and I routinely lumber Frankenstein-like into them, Band-first, scratching its surface and marring the device. The Band uses paint on some strap parts, leading to ugly peeling that reveals the whiteish surface underneath, further marring the look. And my original Band came apart at the clasp, leading me to wonder about its durability.

Worse, while Band—and the related Microsoft Health service—collect more data than a secret NSA eavesdropping installation, it does precious little with it. Microsoft often boasts of the “insights” one can learn from all this data collection, but neither Band nor Microsoft Health (on your smart phone or on the web) does a freaking thing to help you figure any of it out. The original promise, that Band would proactively advise you about improving your health, has never once come to fruition in any meaningful way. It can’t even tell you to stand up once an hour, which is inexcusable.

band2-01

With the new Band 2, Microsoft has fixed most of the physical/form factor issues with the original device. And it has retained and enhanced its core functionality, though that promised proactive guidance remains a promise. (I’m now told this willhappen within the next year, but given my disappointment around this functionality over the past year, I will remain defensive on this topic until it really happens.)

So. Physically, Band 2 is a tiny bit thinner and is less bulky than the original Band, though it remains quite a bit more bulky than competing fitness bands like Fitbit. This may remain an issue for some people, especially smaller women.

The most obvious visual change is its new form factor: Where the first Band had an awkward, squared-off top area for the screen, the Band 2 is curved, with a curved screen, and it both looks better and fits more naturally on your wrist. Helping matters for me in particular, each of the sizes (S, M, and L) are a bit bigger than before. So it actually hangs a bit loosely on my wrist (I use the largest size), something I don’t get to experience very often. (With Moto 360 and Apple Watch, I use the last possible sizing hole for the clasp as I have big wrists.)

band2-02

The screen isn’t just curved, it’s also bigger than before and I find the resulting larger font sizes to be a wonderful addition. The screen is just gorgeous, and it’s wrapped in Gorilla Glass 3 for protection. We’ll see how well it holds up in my abusive daily use.

The wrist strap is now made of a flexier, more comfortable material. The clasp is bigger and seems stronger. (My own Band broke at the clasp, so maybe this new clasp fixes whatever I issue mine experienced.)

Band 2 retains the original 10 sensors from the original device—optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response and microphone—and adds an 11th, a barometer, for measuring up/down changes as on stairs. There are also some changes to the existing sensors. For example, UV is always on and is on the clasp now.

Battery life is unchanged: It’s rated at 48 hours, which is only accurate if you don’t use the GPS. Then, the rule of thumb is daily charging. But the battery placement is different, and big batteries no longer add to the bulk as before.

Speaking of which, the charger is different now, and that’s too bad: The original unit was smaller and was very easy to attach. The new, larger unit now attached to the clasp, and not under the screen. I’m not sure yet if it’s as easy to attach and use, but it’s bigger than before.

Band 2, like its predecessor, also works nearly identical across Windows phone, Android and iPhone handsets, though of course there are a few unique Windows phone features, including Cortana compatibility. I don’t believe anything has changed there, but we’ll see.

Flicking through the UI, I don’t see any major changes, though again the bigger screen really improves matters. I don’t know if the Microsoft Health app on phones is being updated, but Microsoft did announce that a Windows 10 universal app is coming, which is nice. Today, we need to use the web version of Microsoft Health on PCs.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with Band 2. The price is $250, which seemed steep to me at the time. But if you compare that pricing to Fitbit Surge or far more expensive devices like Moto 360 and Apple Watch, it makes sense. More soon.

 

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