When Microsoft launched the first Band, it crammed in a ton of useful features. The wearable tech delivered almost every fitness-related function that consumers want, but it ended up a bit clunky. This time, Microsoft rolled out its younger and improved brother, the Band 2.
With intentions to fix up the issues the original Band came with, Microsoft did a swell job with its next-generation wearable, which has a pretty good shot at encouraging consumers to use the Microsoft Health software.
Straight off the bat, let's get right to the design. Compared to its predecessor, the Band 2 is a bit less bulky and a lot more comfortable to wear. Microsoft opted for a smoother and more rounded band, leaving out the hard edges that the Band came with. It uses a dark gray thermal plastic elastomer material, which feels pretty nice on the wrist, even though it might get a bit sweaty underneath. It's not waterproof, but it's water resistant, as it can survive a "temporary immersion in water at a depth of one meter for 30 minutes," according to Microsoft.
"When I'm wearing the Band 2, I no longer feel like I'm under house arrest. Microsoft's first-generation Band had a flat screen and chunky design. The Band 2, however, has a curved display that wraps gently around your wrist, and truly looks like a high-tech device," Mike Prospero of Tom's Guide writes.
The Band 2 has a 1.26 x 0.5-inch AMOLED display with a 320 x 128 resolution, which is marginally higher than the 320 x 106 resolution in the original Band, and it's covered by a small sheet of Gorilla Glass 3. With an improved CPU, transitions on the device are noticeably smoother. The screen's brightness can be set to Auto, and the Band 2 will adjust using its UV light sensor. But the brightness can also be set in three fixed settings: low, medium or high. However, under sunlight, the screen won't be as clear as users hoped.
"I also found the display to be a tad dim in direct sunlight, even with the auto-adjusting brightness enabled," Mark Hachman, senior editor of PCWorld, says.
Joining in the group of sensors that the original version came with is a barometer, which measures elevation. In total, the Band 2 will be packed in with 11 sensors: heart rate, gyrometer, accelerometer, ambient light, UV light, skin temperature, capacitive, galvanic skin response, mic, GPS and the aforementioned barometric sensors.
"It was and remains one of the most comprehensive approaches I've seen to mobile health tracking, and it represents a very valuable sort of thinking. Just counting steps is fine and all, but traipsing around gets so many bodily systems working in unison that it would be a shame not to gather all that extra context," Chris Velazco of Engadget says.
As for its software, the Microsoft Health app can connect to third-party apps, including Strava and Runkeeper, to name a few. This is good news for fitness enthusiasts, as the Microsoft Health app doesn't offer diet tracking. Also, the Band 2 uses Bluetooth to sync the most recent data to the Microsoft Health app.
"Unlike Apple Watch, which requires you to have an iOS device, Microsoft Band welcomes everyone to the health-tracking party. It works with Windows Phone, Android, and iOS devices, which makes sense if the software is the main draw here, not the Microsoft-specific hardware," The Verge's Lauren Goode writes.
Regarding notifications, the Band 2 works nicely, as it gently buzzes the wearer when a text message, email, phone call or other messages from installed apps arrives.
"This is actually a pretty neat feature — a sort of early warning system for phone notifications — and while it doesn't justify a Band 2 purchase, it's a nice perk," Paul Thurrott writes on his website.
Also, Cortana pairs well with a Windows phone, but since the virtual assistant is not available on the iPhone, iOS users might not get everything out of the Band 2. In terms of battery life, the Band 2 can last for up to two days and needs about an hour and a half to fully recharge, but apparently, it does not live up to everyone's expectations.
"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," Valentina Palladino of Ars Technica says.
Priced at $249, the Band 2 is $50 more expensive than the original Band, which is $199.
Overall, the Band 2 is in many ways improved and closer to the health machine that Microsoft had in mind, as it's pretty easy to use and encourages wearers to achieve their fitness goals.
"I liked knowing how far I was walking daily, and felt like wearing the Band 2 inspired me to walk even more than usual. I felt as though the step/mile counts I logged were largely what i expected, knowing the distances to my normal haunts," Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet puts it nicely.