I’ve had the Microsoft Band for nearly 24 hours now, and here’s my quick impressions. In that time, I ran a half marathon and did a little hiking to give it some fitness testing. I also used it around the house. After more use, I’ll post a full review.
Quick Positives List
- Watch mode is quite nice (always displays the time with reduced screen brightness)
- You can multitask while tracking a run, assuming you pause the run first
- Heart rate monitor is awesome
- UV sensor is handy, haven’t tested it much though
- Fits snuggly while running
- Composing/sending texts with Cortana works just like with the device
Quick Negatives List
- Using Cortana turns on the phone’s screen, even when in your pocket!!
- Touch screen doesn’t work well when fingers are sweaty
- Can only view most previous run/workout on the watch
- No hiking or biking options, must use “Run”
- Replying to text messages doesn’t offer replying with voice
[-] Device Requirements
So the box says that you simply need Windows Phone 8.1 to use the Microsoft Band… however, that’s not entirely true. You need 8.1.1, or “Update 1”, in order to actually use it. Without Update 1, you won’t be able to use Cortana, you won’t have a Facebook Messenger tile, Email tile, etc. So sign up for that developer preview and get your phone updated. I have the Lumia 925 which had official Cyan, and after updating to the DP Update 1, everything finally worked as expected. It sounds like it also works for Icon users running 8.1.1, but I don’t have any actual experience with that.
[+] Running with the Band
It feels quite nice jogging with the Band. Definitely a lot better than carrying a phone in your hand. The watch is only barely noticeable… probably similar to a standard watch. The heart rate monitor is awesome… I loved seeing that my average heart rate was about 165 while jogging, since it provided me with instant feedback about how hard I was pushing myself.
The “Run” tracking optionally uses GPS to track the miles you run. Microsoft says the Band should last 5 hours using GPS… I had it tracking GPS for nearly 3 hours (6.6 miles jogging, a little 1.5 mile hike, and 6.6 miles jogging back), and about half of that time I even had the screen on. I was just below half battery when I got back (they don’t have a percent anywhere, sorry). So it seems like Microsoft under-promised if anything, which means you definitely should be able to track a GPS run for 5 hours! Hikers, however, would find this unacceptable, since most hikes are longer than 5 hours.
[-] Two types of activities: “Run” and “Workout”
When I was ready to start my little hike, I reached a point of confusion… I’m not running, so I shouldn’t select “Run”, right? But “Workout” doesn’t give you the option to track GPS, meaning I wouldn’t know how many miles I hiked.
Thus, if you’re doing anything where distance matters (hiking, biking, walking, etc), you select “Run” despite how unintuitive that sounds. “Workout” seems to be for things that don’t involve distance, like rock climbing, lifting weights, doing pushups, yoga, etc. I would definitely prefer if the Band had a “hike” option for tracking your activity, since it could categorize my activities instead of everything being lumped into “Run”.
[+] Viewing running stats while running
This one took me awhile to figure out… to view your current min/mile pace, you swipe down from the top on the current run tracking screen. You can also view the current distance you ran there. The normal running screen shows you how long you have been running for, your heart rate, and the number of calories you have burned on the run. You can pause and resume runs by tapping the action button.
[-] Viewing past runs
Unfortunately, the Band only lets you view your most recent run. To view the other runs, you have to have your phone with you, and open the Microsoft Health app. That’s a disappointment to me, but it’s not a deal breaker and isn’t that critical.
[+] Multitasking while tracking a run
Say you want to measure the UV levels while tracking a run… you can! You first have to pause your run, but typically that shouldn’t be an issue (few people would want to keep running while interacting with the watch). Once paused, you can click the back button to go to the home screen, and then select the UV app and measure away. When you’re ready to keep running, simply open the run app again, and click resume. You can also turn off the screen while tracking a run to save battery (by default it stays lit until you press the screen on/off button).
[-] Sweaty fingers, not the Band’s friend
After my run, using the Band was quite difficult. It didn’t seem to like the fact that there was some sweat on my fingers. It was difficult to get the touchscreen to respond correctly to scrolling swipes. It makes me wonder what using the device in the rain would be like…
[-] Cortana turns your phone’s screen on, even in pocket
This is the biggest issue with Windows Phone and the Band. Despite your phone being in your pocket, using Cortana on the Band will force the screen on your phone to turn on, showing the Cortana app. You can’t send a text message, check the weather, or find out how many calories a pizza has without your phone’s screen being lit up. It’s stupid. And a huge flaw in the Band (or a flaw of Windows Phone, whoever is responsible).
[-] Replying to text messages doesn’t let you use voice
Even though Cortana exists, the Band stupidly doesn’t let you reply to a new text message via voice. It simply lets you choose between some pre-generated responses. If you want to send an actual reply, you have to hold the action button to start Cortana, and then you have to execute the entire procedure of sending a new text message (that means you have to say the person’s name even though it should know you’re replying to them). This is clunky and frustrating. Hopefully an update fixes this.
[+] Notifications are handy
I’m sure everyone who’s owned a smartwatch has already experienced this, but this is my first time with a smartwatch. Getting notifications on my wrist is extremely useful. I love being able to have my phone in another room, and yet still see what someone texted me. That brings up another thing, the Bluetooth range is quite good! It easily stays connected across our 4-bedroom medium sized house. I haven’t tested the limits of the range, but that is definitely sufficient for most people.
Overall, I’m loving the Band so far. I’ll continue to use it for another solid 5 days and then post a full review. I still haven’t slept with it yet, we only met yesterday 😛