Features and Exercises

Microsoft has packed a lot of fitness features into the Band 2, making it one of the most comprehensive fitness wearables around. In addition to the myriad of sensors, they offer the standard features in a fitness wearable like tracking your runs, steps, calories, distance, biking, and a generic exercise option. The latter increases the heart rate tracking frequency and calculates calories burned during any exercise, like weights or yoga. All the information gathered is then sent to the cloud via the phone app, and can also be accesed on the phone. 

Running

As you’d expect, the Band will track running. It features a built-in GPS, which can be enabled when starting a run which means that you won’t need your phone at all in order to accurately track runs. This gives it a leg up over a smartwatch that isn’t as focused on fitness.

Biking

Similar to running, you can use a Biking app to track rides. The GPS can be used to plot the route, as well as see speed, distance, and elevation.

Guided Workouts

The Band can be used as a pseudo-fitness coach as well, with guided workouts which can be downloaded from third parties, assuming they have joined up with Microsoft Health. Right now there are 106 different workouts listed in the Microsoft Health Dashboard from Benchmark WOD, Gold’s Gym, Starting Strength, and Microsoft. The workouts can be customized after they have been downloaded to personalize them, and once one of them is activated, the Band will give you a timer and an activity to complete, and the haptic motor will alert you when the current activity is done. If you finish the reps before the time has expired for an activity, you can press the action button to move to the next activity.

Goal Setting

As with any fitness band, you can set daily goals for steps and calories. Out of the box, the Band has a modest 5000 steps, and calculates calories based on your sex and weight. These can be tweaked to bump up the challenge.

Golf

The Golf tile is pretty interesting if you are an avid golfer. You can download courses to the Band using the app on your phone. Once downloaded, the Band will leverage GPS and its many sensors to not only give you information about the course, such as distance to the front, middle, and back of the green, but it can also calculate drive distance, and work as an automatic score card. The Band can sense your swing, and it will know if there is an impact with a ball, so practice shots don’t matter. As someone who enjoys golf, I think this would be a great tool to track your game. Microsoft partnered with TaylorMade to bring the courses and experience of the company to golf. For those that are maybe not pros (like me) you can also factor in gimmies and mulligans.

These are just the built in functions, so they are available out of the box to all Band owners. The Band is also able to have apps downloaded to it from the store. The selection varies by which smartphone OS you have, with the majority being available for Windows Phone users.

Notifications

The other aspect of the Band is for notifications. This is one of the obvious use cases for wearables, and since they tend to be tied to our smartphones they serve as an easy way to move notifications from your pocket to your wrist, where they can more easily be looked at. The Band handles notifications with a haptic motor, which buzzes on your wrist. The intensity can be adjusted on the Band itself through the settings tile.

For basic notifications, the Band works fine. Notifications can be adjusted to be disabled on an app by app basis, so you can allow through most of what you want only. If you get an email, you can quickly see who it’s from, and you can read the message too, or by pressing the action button the Band will turn on reading mode where each word is displayed on the screen quickly, which makes the font larger and you don’t need to scroll. You can also limit emails to those from a pre-approved list, which is very handy if you get a lot of unsolicited email.

That’s about where the notifications end, at least for me. Microsoft has some work to do here to make these more useful, and to provide the functionality where it makes sense to use the Band for this rather than get out your phone.

The first, and biggest issue, is that the notifications themselves are truncated. If you get an email, unless it’s a very short message, it’s going to get cut off. To read the entire email you have to use your phone. This may sound like a nit pick, but it’s especially inconvenient when there is only one or two words left on the email that didn’t get moved over to the Band. When you can’t see the entire message, you start to question why are you getting notifications on your wrist.

The next issue with notifications is that there is no sense of notification sync between the Band and the Lumia 930 phone I had it paired with. If I read a text on my Band, that same text would still be sitting as an unread text on my lock screen. Clearing all of the notifications on the Band does nothing on the phone. Perhaps this is by design to avoid accidentally missing notifications, but it got tiresome. The reverse is also true. If I clear all of the notifications on my phone, they will still be on the Band. There is no “clear all” option so you have to go into each tile and clear them individually, which gets tedious. The Band is missing that real connection where it makes it feel like an extension of the phone. Instead, it feels like it’s just yet another place that I need to deal with notifications, which takes away a lot of the enjoyment.

My final issue with notifications is that the Band ignores them when my phone is in Quiet Hours or Driving Mode, and I get notifications on my wrist during these times. You can put the Band in do not disturb mode itself, but once again, it feels like it is less of an extension of the phone and more of a separate entity all together.

When you set the Band to sleep mode, it thankfully does disable notifications, however once you say I’m awake, you may get some of them that have been queued while you were asleep. This in and of itself is not that bad, but I use my smartphone as an alarm clock, so shortly after I tell the Band that I’m awake after my alarm has gone off, I’ll get a notification on my wrist that I had an alarm set for 6:00am. Except it’s not 6:00am anymore and I’m already up, so please, just stop.

It may sound like I’m being harsh on the Band, but after wearing it for about a month now, the notifications have gone from interesting to a burden. It doesn’t need to be this way, and adding something to your person to help with a task should not then make the task more complicated.

Using the Microsoft Band Battery Life, and Microsoft Health
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  • finbarqs - Thursday, December 3, 2015 - link

    I've had the Band 2 since day one, and I've been using it on a daily basis. I Crossfit about 5-6 times a week, and I also like to do hikes as well as golf. Here's my take on it, having used GPS and regular workouts on a daily basis -- as well as using some of the features the band offers:

    1. Heart Rate inaccuracies. Sometimes at the peak of my workout, it would claim my heart rate would only be about 140-150 bpm, when I literally can feel my heart pounding out of my chest. However, on a medium run, it jumps to around 170+. Keep in mind, these are just glances during a workout. However, at the end of a crossfit workout, it would say I would've burned approximately 500-600 calories within the hour. To me, it sounds kind of high probably about 5-10% higher than I would expect it to be.

    2. Sleep Tracking/Smart Alarm- Microsoft claims that the there are different stages of how we sleep, and the band 2 (and band 1) tracks this. Apparently, (on average) it takes me approximately 8 minutes to fall asleep, and I would wake up 2-3 times during the night with an average of 5 hours of light sleep and 2 hours of deep sleep. The band's "Smart Alarm" feature will wake you up on a 'light sleep' through it's vibration feature so that we may wake up feeling refreshed rather than being completely groggy. -- It kind of works I suppose. But I am addicting in reading my sleep patterns...

    3. Pedometer is somewhat inaccurate.

    4. Battery life on this thing will last 2 days without GPS -- which brings me to my next....

    5. GPS - First time it took literally about 5-10 minutes to lock. By then, if you're on a timed workout, you've missed quite a bit of your workout. However, after the first initial lock, the other times it took me less than 1 minute to lock GPS. The battery life on the GPS seems to be better than what I've come to expect: I thought perhaps I would get 4 hours on a full charge, however when I played golf over the holidays, I had about 45% battery life, and I used the golf app (pretty cool). Lasted me until Hole #13 -- 4-5 hours in before it completely died on 45% charge. I'm guessing with GPS will probably last you 8-9 hours. -- This is probably important for a lot of you. The GPS is pretty cool - it shows a map and a trail of where you traveled, along with stats of your run: For example, it'll show the first half of your run that you've averaged 6-7mph, while the 3rd half 3-4mph, and the last stretch another 6-7mph (they show a cheetah lol)

    6. If you crossfit, you can load benchmark workouts and it'll guide you through the workouts with time. It'll also give you some tabata workouts as well too.

    anyways, it's flawed, and I've considered returning it for the more expensive Polar watch, but so far, it's been pretty decent with some inaccuracies. I will say that I was afraid to bring this watch to the tough mudder though... I have washed my hands with the watch on (I think it has the same water rating as the apple watch)
    Reply
  • juliabrown943 - Thursday, December 3, 2015 - link

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  • milkod2001 - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    I rather buy Casio watch with calculator Reply
  • thedeezus - Tuesday, December 29, 2015 - link

    As a band 1 & 2 owner i can say the battery life is almost 2 days. If you use gps its more like 1 day and that would be 4-6 hrs gps tracking and then charging when you get home. Imo the one thing i dont like about the band 2 and its a small complaint is the clasp, i wish it had less flat angles, not a deal breaker for what it does and as of this post it has music controls for windows phones. Reply
  • lighthouseav - Monday, January 4, 2016 - link

    I got the Band 2 back in November and have been using it ever since. I had tried the first Band but it felt like a handcuff whenever I rolled my wrist. I love the feel of the new Band 2. I wear to the inside of the wrist. The strap closure has just enough movement between clicks to adjust so that the Band 2 is firm to the skin but not pinching.

    I use this with a Windows phone (on a free phone after rebate deal with my new carrier - and I needed a new phone). So I get all the supposed benefits of Windows - which to my simple understanding adds Cortana. I think all other aspects including the voice reply to texts etc. is supposed to work with other operating systems. Can't say though since I have Windows phone.

    But I will say I don't talk to it as much as one could - it doesn't always pick up my speech well. I sometimes wonder though if that is because the mic is set to the lower button side of the band when you have it on. Maybe they are trying to avoid all the outside noise if it were placed to the upper edge - but that would seem to be the better position.

    You can also reply to texts by tapping the "Reply" underneath the text message and tapping one of the preset replies ("I'm driving" "I'll call you back") and you get to customize one or two more). You can also reply by typing your reply on the tiny keyboard - and I have done all three. It takes some practice to get efficient on the keyboard because it is so small a keyboard but I have been very happy - other than it autocorrects and I can't seem to find a button or box to stop that on the Band. It may exist and I haven't found it - so acronyms and slang get some uncomfortable corrections at times. And although your texts and email may be tiny - you can hit the "action" button and it will scroll your message word for word in larger character size so you can read. The speed is adjustable in 3 (?) settings to get it comfortable for you.

    The "haptic" vibration notice for incoming calls, texts, emails and other notices is fine, although when I'm moving or busy I don't seem to notice all of them. I sometimes use the timer/alarm setting and that is great. I did have a morning wake-up alarm set that worked for a while but then in my love of all things sleep - I believe I grew accustomed and now my body doesn't acknowledge the alarm on low haptic setting. I can raise the level if I really need it but I wonder about battery usage.

    On the other hand having texts/emails and incoming call notices pop up on the inside of my wrist when I'm in a meeting or some public setting is very helpful (idents caller by name if the number is in your contacts - at least I think it is only if in your contacts list). I have had a few text comments timely directed at me as I was in the middle of a discussion. And those call, text and emails stay on your band until ... well until you act to get rid of them - see "Peeves" below. But it means if you miss the notice or the vibration you haven't missed the particular notice. When you look at the Band it will show a number on each tile that indicates how many of that particular notice you have not yet viewed - phone tile 2, text 3, email 1 - when you finally look at those notices the number disappears.

    On a side note - your friends who think they are cute can send rude texts that also pop up at untimely moments when your wrist is exposed to third parties. Or if you are getting calls from a competing company, someone wants to hire you away or the like??? If the name is in your contacts that name shows on the band. So watch out.

    Battery usage: I use the gps only for cycling and turn it on at the start and later, off, after done riding and IF I remember the gps is on. I have done longer rides up to 6 hours and still have 35% or more battery rating - but that is starting from a full charge. To prevent the shower dousing I am trying to train myself to stick this on the charger when I get up so I rarely go a day without topping off a charge. Since I use it as my watch I get it back on after shower and changing. So it is the rare shower douse day where I go more than a day without charging - but I have.

    Water resistance - as I noted, the fit is good but it is so good I tend to forget I have it on. I have worn into the shower multiple times before I realized it was on and remember it is water resistant not waterproof. So it has gotten 15 - 30 seconds of shower dousing multiple times and no issues so far. It has not been fully immersed at any time.

    I am a cyclist who had been using an on phone app mapmyride free version which doesn't provide much detail in the free version. Using the Band 2 it links to mapmyride and now gives me all the detail in mapmyride I didn't see before. I have to step out from my house a bit ( as in further out on the driveway - not houses away) before I get a GPS lock but after that all seems good: time, distance and route all match what I used to get with the phone app and is accurate as to the roads/offroad I ride. It is nice to now see the speed, elevation and heart rate details throughout the ride that show up in the new graphs that I never got before. I say nice, but disconcerting - no more lying to myself about how fast I was going up the hills or in sprints. Every now and then I do see an odd blip on speed details that only shows up through the graphs as a sudden spike - it may be a brief loss of gps. And as much as I like the elevation concept, although all my rides start and end at the same place my elevation rise and drop - it gives both as cumulative numbers - never equal out at the end. I may be missing something but to my simple mind if I start and end at the same place my rise should equal my drops.

    Heart rate? I can't say how accurate it is because I haven't compared to other devices. But it appears to work in a "relative" sense, meaning it shows increases where I know I was pushing hard, it shows decrease when I'm relaxing and the average seems about right for my age and exercise. I don't really ask for more than a relative knowledge.

    The display works great for me - you can set the watch function to be off or to pop on when you move the wrist. I use it to pop on when I move my wrist. I have "old" eyes - as in my arms aren't long enough to get regular watches out where I can focus on the little numbers or the little hands. This I can read easily without glasses and since it pops on at night I can check time easily in the dark.

    Sleep: Again, I am fine with relative information. I have it set to autodetect and it seems fine enough for me. It confirms I wake up a lot and probably don't sleep as much as I should. Accuracy - really no idea of percentage accuracy but good enough for what I want to know. Although it did show up I nodded off during a big conference - I hadn't realized how long. Luckily I wasn't a speaker.

    I haven't used it with a programmed workout which you can do apparently.

    Information tiles. The Band 2 has a variety of touch tiles available and you can pick and choose and arrange to your heart's content. I have some I thought I would use (news, UV) that I rarely use... but still you have the option.

    The new music controls: I love that they exist but the control seems simply to be turning on the music linked to your phone, pausing the song, controlling the volume, and allowing you to go forward or back in the song list. Great! Which song list? I don't know... you get no indication. It may be that it simply picks up with whatever playlist you were last using on the phone. It may be that it just grabs into your music files randomly. I really can't say. But it works to turn it on. As long as you like the music you have on your phone what does it matter?

    Peeves:
    I would also love waterproof as opposed to just resistant (would make triathlons workable) but maybe with the number of sensors that others don't have (sorry apple watch etc) maybe it isn't possible.

    Longer battery life - we all want to avoid chargers longer but really the current works for my uses.

    Syncing with the phone and clearing data off the band. The text and email and other notices you see on the band? You won't see a "delete" button or option on any screen of the Band. Nor will you see a "delete" or "clear Band" option in the app you use on the phone. To use the band you have to use the Microsoft Health app on your phone. It has a sync/refresh icon at the top of its list of options above "Home". But it appears that refreshes information FROM the band - not the other way around. And what I mean is all those text messages and emails etc. that appeared on your Band, will still be on your band. At some point your phone will sync with your email account and that eventually seems to filter down to the Band - but there doesn't appear to be a built-in option in the Band or in the Microsoft Health app to simply clear the Band.

    On the other hand there is a third party app "Clear My Band" which allows you to clear your Band of all the categories you wish - the app allows you to use "on" or "off" settings for most of your tiles on the Band. You have to use it from your phone but you set it up and when you want to get rid of the Band Notices of texts, emails, calls etc you just bring up the app and hit the button. They are off your Band - that does not delete such info from your phone or email account - just off the Band. Microsoft should include something like this in a software update to its app.

    So other than synching, clearing data and iffy mic pick-up (maybe my issue alone) I love this version of the Band.

    It works as a big numeral watch which my old eyes love and actually was one of the reasons I went for it. It also allows me to see and act on text/email/call notices in places where I can't have my phone out (on the road, in meetings, etc.) and does all my fitness tracking to an accuracy level that works well for me.

    I have read reviews talking about the "flaws" but in my estimation this does enough things well in one device that I don't believe there is a comparison to be made to replace it. You could get better devices to do some but not all of the things it does. So - swiss army knife comparison. If you want one thing on your wrist to do a lot of things this is it. But for any one or two tasks there probably is a better tool to fit that request... you just may have to grow more arms to hold each.
    Reply
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