Why You Should Get Microsoft's New Fitness Band
The Band can help boost your health, but isn't flawless
The hotly anticipated Microsoft wearable fitness gadget known as the Band is out now, and after wearing it for a week, I’m getting hooked.
Some context: I recently joined a gym and started doing serious cardio and weights for the first time in ages. So I was open to a wrist-borne fitness tracker after years of largely ignoring such products.
My timing may have been right, since the Microsoft Band is shaping up to be one of the best such gizmos in its price range ($200). Though a smidgen dorky-looking, it is jam-packed with features — including a bunch of advanced sensors that measure everything I do.
(MORE: The Truth About Fitness Apps and Devices)
5 Reasons I Like Microsoft Band
Here are five reasons I think it might be a keeper:
1. It works with almost any modern smartphone. Microsoft, an underdog in the phone space, had an incentive to make the Band compatible with Apple and Android handsets, as well its own Windows Phone smartphones. (Sorry, BlackBerry users.) I had no trouble linking my Band to my iPhone 6 using Bluetooth and Microsoft’s Health app.
Some stuff, like voice input, is Windows Phone-only, but for the most part Microsoft is making the Band a truly universal device.
2. It has a ton of sensors. I will have to use the Band longer to gauge their accuracy, but these sensors are exciting because they have the potential to document my world and my interaction with it in lots of useful ways.
Among others, the Band incorporates a heart-rate sensor, a UV sensor to gauge sunshine exposure (something you won't find on the upcoming FitBit Charge HR), a skin-temperature sensor and a galvanic-skin-response sensor for gauging emotional-stress levels. Users don’t have full access to every sensor yet, but Microsoft is working on that.
The Band also has GPS support (unlike the new FitBit), meaning you can track outdoor-workout routes with just the wrist device and leave your bulkier phone at home.
(MORE: Five New Gadgets to Make You Healthier)
3. The Band monitors and measures your workouts. Press a button on the device before you start exercising and it will keep track of everything you do. It looks at your sleep patterns, too. Press that button before you doze off to learn how well (or how poorly) you slumbered.
The Band handles more basic stuff, too, like setting step and calorie-burning targets and keeping track of how well you meet those benchmarks. I received an 'attaboy' message to let me know I met my steps goal for the day.
The Band provides limited exercise guidance on its own, but its companion Health app is brimming with enough workout information to keep you active and engaged for years.
4. It works with other fitness apps. If you are a MyFitnessPal or RunKeeper user, you are in luck. You can log in to those fitness- and nutrition-tracking services from within Microsoft’s Band app to consolidate your health data.
Microsoft is promising support for more and more such services over time, as well as for fitness devices made by other companies. The Jawbone fitness-tracker maker is already on board.
5. It does more than health stuff. The Band is versatile with an attractive (but minute) touchscreen for accessing your smartphone’s recent e-mails, texts and phone calls along with calendar items, weather forecasts, Facebook, Twitter and more. You can even link a Starbucks card to your Band and then use the gadget to pay for your lattes.
The 4 Downsides
The Band is not perfect. I can already tell it has four gotchas, though these are hardly in the dealbreaker category:
1. It’s hard to read stuff on it. The Band’s display is bright and beautiful, but its small size makes e-mails and other detailed information difficult to read. Portions of e-mails get garbled at times.
2. It has a nonstandard charger. Like the popular Pebble smartwatch, the Band’s USB cord for charging has a special way to attach that means you are in trouble if you lose the cable. A standard micro-USB cord won’t work.
I had the Band for only a few hours when I lost track of its cable and panicked. I didn’t lose it … but I do misplace stuff, and I’ll probably lose the Band cable at some point (bet on it).
3. Did I mention the dorkiness? The Band’s physical design is, well, weird. Its display is a long, straight rectangle that rests oddly on the curved wrist.
The device does not work well with the screen located on the top of the wrist, where a standard watch would go, since that positions the display incorrectly for comfortable reading. It works better on the underside of the wrist.
While I can't say the Band is the most comfortable wrist device in the world, I'm getting used to it.
4. It isn’t waterproof. The Band will take a bit of splashing, but can’t be submerged. That's too bad, since the Pebble is waterproof.
Julio Ojeda-Zapata is a technology journalist and occasional author. His latest book is The Mobile Writer. Find him at ojezap.com and follow him on Twitter @ojezap.