Blog Post

First look at the Microsoft Band: A health tracker on steroids

I’m such a sucker for cross-platform devices and fitness trackers. So of course, I ran out to my local Microsoft Store last night and dropped $199 for a Microsoft Band. I’m glad I went right after work because the Microsoft Specialty Store at the King of Prussia mall only had a few in stock; all were size small, so it paid off for me to be a (relatively) skinny short person.

I’ll be using the [company]Microsoft[/company] Band daily and come back with a more comprehensive review but I can already see some things I like — and some I don’t — with Microsoft’s new wearable device.

Since I had my iPhone 6 with me last night, I paired it with the Band; of course, I’ll also try with an Android phone and a Windows Phone for two reasons. One, because the device works with them, which is great. And two, because some functions only work with certain platforms. Cortana voice search, for example, requires a Windows Phone 8.1 handset. And when working with the iPhone, you can’t reply to incoming text messages on the Band.

Microsoft Band incoming text

Design-wise, the Microsoft Band reminds me of the Fitbit Force (see disclosure below) I used to wear, although it’s more substantial, weighing 2.12 ounces. I often wear a watch, so the weight doesn’t bother me; some may feel otherwise at first. It has a rectangular display like the Samsung Gear Fit and an adjustable clasp so you can easily tighten or loosen it.

The heart rate monitor is behind the clasp and works whether you wear the screen on the top or bottom of your wrist.

Microsoft Band HR

There are only two buttons, and the Windows Phone-like tile interface is fairly intuitive to use by tapping and swiping.

Microsoft Band sensor and buttons

I’m already preferring to wear the Band with the screen under my wrist. Because the text and icons appear in landscape mode only, it’s easier to read the display that way. And if any sensitive information comes across the Band, people around you won’t be able to see it. It’s easy to customize the display colors, wallpaper and which information it shows; the display can always show the time or not if you’d prefer to save battery life.

Microsoft Band tiles

Pairing to my phone was quick and simple. There’s a Health app for your companion phone that lets you configure notification types, which tiles (apps) to show on the Band and in what order. For the iPhone, the Band simply uses the iOS Notifications system to shoot emails, calendar events, messages, incoming Facebook status and Twitter tweets. Any other types of notifications can be seen in a catch-all tile if you choose.

About those notifications: They’re generally one way only. When you get an email, for example, you can see about 120 characters of it on the Band. The only option — when paired with an iPhone, at least — is to dismiss the mail notification. You can’t reply, archive, or delete the mail on the phone from the Band. In this way, the Band acts more like a Pebble watch than an Android Wear device. And if you don’t dimiss the notification after reading it, I don’t see a way to go back and delete it later which seems odd, but fixable.

Microsoft Band email

I haven’t done any workouts or taken a run with the Band, but it appears very capable in both cases. You can download actual workouts and the Band will guide you through your sets and rest time. It also has a GPS radio so you can go for a run and have your route and pace tracked; the data can be synchronized to RunKeeper or MyFitnesssPal.

Band custom workouts

The continuous heart rate monitoring is very attractive to me and looks to be working well. At any time you can view your current heart rate, or you can see your rate over time, by day or week, in the Health app on your phone. This also works when sleeping as I tracked my sleep last night and could view my “good” and “bad” sleep along with my heart rate.

Microsoft Band sleep

In the short time I’ve had the Band, I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do, so I’ll incorporate it in my daily workflow for the next week or two and follow up with a full review. Microsoft claims the battery can last two full days, so I’ll have to test that.

I’d like to see Microsoft expand the functionality for a two-way data sync in the future as well as add wireless music playback, assuming there’s enough storage in the Band to hold a few hours of tunes. And of course, I’d love to see some way to perform voice searches without relying solely on Cortana; it’s a shame to see that little microphone hole there doing nothing unless I’m using a Windows Phone.

Still, I’m impressed overall. The Band is built superbly and the display is crisp. The basics (and then some) are there in terms of software and sensors, and the device works with multiple platforms so users won’t feel locked in on a particular companion phone. My first impression is that Android Wear has more “smartwatch” functionality if you use an Android phone but the Band is a better health tracker. I’ll circle back after more time with it to see if I still think that.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog.

23 Responses to “First look at the Microsoft Band: A health tracker on steroids”

  1. Thank you for this quick write-up, there didn’t seem to be anyone putting the sleep data up. It’s nice to see that MS has spent some time on this feature, as it is usually lacking on a lot of these bands as far as user-friendly data.

    I’m currently using a VivoSmart by Garmin. It’s a great “premium” band with excellent battery life (5+ days), and pairs with a variety of HR sensors. The one thing that it’s not good at is that the sleep data is useless, it’s just a graph. There’s no relevant data (wake events, deep sleep time, REM time, etc). Before that, I used a Polar Loop – good band, horrible battery life, useless sleep data, poor app development cycle.

    This MS band does seem compelling, if not over-featured. I would have preferred a curved display, but the price is right at $199 (the VivoSmart is $179 for comparison). I’m going to wait until Best Buy gets them (supposedly on Nov 7th, as MS Store has a 1 week exclusive) as they’re sold out at the only MS store here in town. I’ll be following along to see how your battery life turns out!

    And btw, for those who want portrait mode – I would reckon a guess that it will be coming in an update. A few other devices released with landscape mode only and got portrait after the fact. It’s something that can be fixed in software for sure. I’d suggest everyone use Microsoft Feedback and send them a note on it.

  2. I am also planning to return mine today. I got it on the first release day and after 2 days of wear, it remains uncomfortable to wear, snagging my shirt all day and awkward to read the screen orientation. The battery life seems to last for 2 days, which is fine, but it drains the battery life of my smartphone if I turn on the notifications. It does appear to charge quickly (~ 2 hours).

    The Band does NOT measure any temperature readings as you might expect with the spec sheet claiming to have body and ambient temperature sensors and perspiration sensors. After hours of speaking to multiple MSFT reps in the store, online and on the phone, most of them had no idea these sensors were included and the ALL stated clearly that there is NO way to measure temperature and NO plans to activate those features in the near future. Maybe a third party will figure out a way to use those sensors?

    It took 9 attempts to pair it with iPhone 6 and each morning, it seems to have lost its connection and I need to spend 30 minutes to try to get them to communicate to sync the information collected from my sleep.

    The screen is bright and clear, just a very awkward shape for me. The screen is much wider than my wrist (I am a medium build man). The screen is responsive, but it is not easy to scroll through all the tiles constantly to see the various readouts.

    A very interesting first generation product. It basically mimics the Basis B1, the Fitbit and the Pebble. Nothing really new or exciting added except a bright, clear screen. Not sure if the specs for the upcoming Apple product are any better as I don’t see any temperature sensors included to date.

    • microsoft is selling these devices withj an aim to upgrade the software over the next couple of years from what i gather, same as the last few os’s were experimental, i accept and expected that and enjoy the updates so no biggie (they will add full sensor implimentation, its crazy for them not to, but the support will not commit to user requests, they wouldnt be allowed to)

      …what im not impressed with is the clasp failing, its a bad design inside, easily fixed with a little work but it shouldnt break due to 1-2mm of sheet metal missing (aids in the device assembly, but it needs redesigning). thats going to cost microsoft badly in returns.

  3. Bearing in mind the GPS seems to hoover the battery life – pretty much as expected – is it possible to merge the data with another app? I’m thinking along the lines of using Strava on my iPhone to record routes and then merge that with health data from the band.

  4. Andrew Wilson

    Good evening, I have had my Band since release as well and unfortunately will be taking it back tomorrow. Primarily because right above the HR sensor next to the clasp the band has already started to separate from the clasp piece. I have only worn it for 2 runs and a nights sleep. 1 day!

    I am also returning it because I thought it was already integrated into Health Vault. I really enjoy an online web presence for my health data. Unfortunately, that isn’t incorporated into the Band. You cant even look at your HR in a 24 hour period. I guess I was spoiled by the Fitbit dashboard. I would have also would loved to see music control built in.

    For those that are interested, during my runs the HR monitor was very accurate. It has potential to be a great device but I think the practical aspects of the software are lacking. Obviously, this just hit the streets so hopefully there will be some maturing over time for the product.

  5. I purchased the band earlier today and used it for a few hours. I must say that any device who’s UI runs across the width of your arm instead of length is very hard to use.
    Turning the display side to the underside of your wrist helps a bit but it seems very easy to scratch the display during normal use if its facing down.

  6. Prashant

    Battery life in your day-to-day use? I just bought a Pebble, but I’d be happy to go get this if the battery life is decent. Even a few days will do. I hated the daily-charge requirement for Android Wear, I always forgot it at home on the charger, and realized it too late.

    • I haven’t had the device for a full 24 hours yet and it wasn’t fully charged. However, the battery if showing at more than half full right now. Microsoft says 2 day run time which is less than the Pebble for sure but this doesn’t look like it needs a daily charge.

  7. Thanks for the review, I’m very interested in the band and I have no Microsoft outlet in my city.

    I was wondering if the optical pulse tracker is actually effective while running? And, can you wear the band with the display facing out and still measure pulse?

    Also, does it have any GPS navigation features, like creating waypoints and uploading them, or navigating (with a simple distance and bearing) to a point?


  8. Thanks for your first take. Do you have to load any apps onto the band, or are they pre-installed? What I am asking is, how much of the fitness things do you loose if you never pair it to a phone?

    • Brian Johnson

      It comes with about twenty “apps” and you can have ten on at any time. I got one yesterday and did my first sleep monitoring. Went great with good data. I’m very impressed with how little battery it used. I really like the fit and comfort and its minimalistic look. So far, very happy with purchase. Was also very happy with the microsoft store. Set up like an apple store. My son played xbox one video games while my wife and I got our bands set up by staff. Great experience.