Microsoft Band is powerful but confusing, and before you can even start tracking your activity there’s so much to learn. So here’s a quick rundown of the things you need to understand to use this new fitness tracker most effectively. The basics, if you will.
Note: This article is excerpted from my free e-book, Microsoft Band Field Guide, which you can download in PDF, ePub and Mobi formats from the Field Guide Books web site. Thanks for reading! –Paul
Your Band doesn’t have an Internet connection of its own. Instead, it uses the Microsoft Health app on Android, iPhone or Windows Phone—or the Microsoft Band Sync app on Windows or Mac—to push the activity and health data it collects into the Microsoft Health online service.
These apps work a little differently. The Microsoft Health mobile apps sync wirelessly with Band, using Bluetooth, and will do so over time automatically, though you can always run the app to make sure the data is up to date. The desktop sync apps require a USB connection to the computer, and will only sync data while the device is connected to the PC, and thus not on your wrist. But the Band is also charging while it’s connected to the computer.
Tip: If you’re not seeing up to date information on your Band, or in the Microsoft Health app on your smart phone, Microsoft has a useful web page for troubleshooting sync issues.
Microsoft claims that Band gets up to 48 hours of battery life, but in my experience with the default settings, real-world battery life is closer to 24-30 hours. So my advice is to charge Band every day if possible. Indeed, the more often you charge Band, the less you’ll need to charge it each time. So it makes sense to develop a daily routine.
I recommend charging Band each day while you’re taking a shower, during an hour or so of downtime at work each day, while eating breakfast, or during some similar regularly-scheduled event. Or, if you’re not using the Band’s sleep monitoring functionality, simply charge it each night when you’re asleep.
Depending on your habits and schedule, you want to consider purchasing a second USB charging cable from the Microsoft Store. It costs $19.99, and lets you keep one charger at work, and one at home. Or if you travel a lot, you can keep the spare in your travel bag. This is important because Band really does need to be charged regularly; you won’t be able to go even two days without charging.
Microsoft Band uses a tiles-based user interface with a Start strip that pans horizontally past the screen’s edge. You navigate through this UI using touch: You can tap items onscreen to trigger some action, or pan using a swipe gesture similar to that found on smart phones. Indeed, the tiles and Start strip used by Band are very loosely based on similar conventions found in Windows and Windows Phone, and if you’re familiar with Microsoft’s other mobile platforms, Band will seem very familiar. Regardless, it’s very easy to use.
The initial and default view you see on Microsoft Band is a special full-screen tile called the Me tile. This tile displays a clock prominently, plus a less prominent tracker, with the default being steps. So when you press the power button on the Band, you can quickly see the time plus your preferred tracker at a glance.
You can perform a number of actions from the Me tile:
View the Band’s battery life. Drag from left to right on Band’s screen and hold to view status information about the Band’s battery life, heart rate monitoring, and Bluetooth connection.
See stats about the current tracker. Tap the tracker to the right of the clock to view more detailed stats about that tracker.
Change the preferred tracker. Press the Band’s action button to cycle through the available trackers: steps, date, distance traveled, calories, and heart rate.
View your tiles. Swipe from right to left on Band’s screen to view the other tiles. These tiles are square and are one-third the size of the screen, and you can have up to 12 tiles, plus the Me tile, on your Band. You can configure which tiles appear on your Band, and in which order. This is discussed in the next section.
To open a tile, tap it. What you see will depend on the tile, of course, but some basic actions apply to each:
Back. You can go back to the previous view by tapping the Back button on the left side of the screen.
Scroll. You can scroll through information displays in tiles such as Calendar and Mail by swiping vertically on the screen.
Select. You can select onscreen items like buttons by tapping them.
Trigger an action. Press the Band’s action button to start an action.
Don’t worry if this sounds a bit vague right now. Each available tile is described in more detail in my free e-book, Microsoft Band Field Guide, and if you’re familiar with any smart phone, you should find the UI easy to master.
Just by wearing Microsoft Band, you can automatically track a wide range of useful data that helps to give you an overall picture of your health and fitness. This data includes:
Heart rate. Band uses a light sensor found on the inside of its strap to continuously monitor your heart rate and provide an ongoing view of how things are going. (You may occasionally see its green light come on during measurements.) You can disable this functionality if you’d like, though I don’t recommend doing so as this feature is one of the key reasons to use Microsoft Band.
Steps and distance. Band tracks how many steps you take and estimates the distance you travel each day. You can also create a daily steps goal as part of your fitness plan and view your steps taken and distance traveled throughout the day and week.
Calories burned. Band tracks the calories you burn based on the activities you perform. You can also establish a calories goal as part of a broader fitness plan and view your calorie burning throughout the day and over the course of the week.
Not coincidentally, your current heart rate, steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned are always available next to the clock on the Band’s Me tile: Just tap the action button to cycle through these trackers—and the date—to see how you’re doing right now.
Optionally, you can also enable UV (ultra-violet) light tracking. This requires you to enable the UV tile—see Configure and arrange the tiles on your Band for more information—and can help inform you when it might be time to get out of the sun.
Band can also track a number of other health and fitness-related data points, including exercises, guided workouts, runs, walks or bike rides (including, optionally, a record of the paths you run), and even sleep. These activities are all described in Microsoft Band Field Guide, and I will of course be writing more about them here on this site as well.