Microsoft Band 2 review

Microsoft's sequel certainly impresses on paper but can we live with the design?

Microsoft officially lifted the lid on the new Microsoft Band 2 fitness tracker at its Windows 10 Devices event back in October.

The Microsoft Band 2 boasts an updated design, curved AMOLED screen and additional features. On paper, it has the specs and features to blow its activity band competition out of the water. But so did the original Microsoft Band – and we gave that one of the lowest review scores ever on Wareable.

So does the sequel address the failings of the first Band? Read on to find out…

Microsoft Band 2: Design and comfort

It was design, not features, that let down the previous Microsoft Band. And while the new device has enjoyed a substantial rethink, it's still not the slickest, or most comfortable activity tracker to wear.

It definitely looks cooler - a kind of hybrid of the first Microsoft Band and the Samsung Gear Fit - but it's still a chunky monster and, compared to its rivals, looks a lot more 'gadget' than 'accessory'.


It's thicker than its older sibling and, while the battery compartment is now out of sight at the back, behind the clasp, it's anything but subtle. It sticks out ridiculously far and every so often digs right into your wrist.

Microsoft claimed it has listened to feedback from consumers and had attempted to eliminate rigidity in the strap for extra comfort. However, we've tried wearing the Band 2 on both the inside and outside of our writs and, even though the design isn't as solid as the original, it's not flexible enough to be comfortable for long periods of time. We're glad the straight edges are gone but we're afraid Microsoft has, again, served up somewhat of a dud in the design department.

Microsoft Band 2: Display

The curved display is nice though. It' a 32 x 18mm, 320 x 128 pixel AMOLED one covered in Gorilla Glass – that's a ppi count of 255 and all-in-all, it's a comprehensive improvement on the TFT panel found on the original.

It's also a world away from the monochrome displays of many of its rivals and it makes the Band 2 much more of a smartwatch hybrid (more on that later) than anything offered up by Garmin, Fitbit, Jawbone and co.

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The display is responsive, easy to read in all lighting situations and, as you'd expect, simple to use, as it utilises a Windows-esque tile approach that works really well on the thin horizontal based screen.

You fire up the screen by pushing the main button underneath (a basic clock only visual is also on offer) and then swipe left for your chosen tile arrangement, that you can tinker with in the companion app. There's a few colour themes on offer and you can also personalise the metric you see next to the clock – steps, floors, calories, heart rate, date and so on – by pushing the secondary button.

Pushing your selected metric brings up the activity screens and again, it's just a case of swiping along to catch up on the stats. It's a simple setup but one that feels very natural, even the first time you put the Band 2 on.

Microsoft Band 2: Daily activity tracking

The Microsoft Band 2 has a feature list to make its rivals jealous but there's also basic daily lifestyle tracking on offer too. In terms of accuracy, the step counter was pretty much on the money – if maybe a touch more generous than our Fitbit Charge HR.

As we always say though, all step counting and calorie burn calculations are estimates based on algorithms, so it doesn't really matter if it isn't exactly in line with a competitor's measurements. What's important is consistency and the Band 2 did have that – although be sure to tell it what position and what arm you're wearing it on for added accuracy.

The sleep tracking on the Band 2 offers metrics such as duration of sleep, your efficiency percentage (time spent sleeping divided by total time), how many times you woke up, how many calories you burned while sleeping, how much of your sleep was 'restful' and what your heart rate was.

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However, as mentioned, comfort isn't of the highest order with Microsoft's sequel and, in all honesty, we just couldn't sleep while wearing it so can't really comment on the results.

For your daily activity and sleep tracking breakdown you can view them on the device itself but for more detail you'll need to fire up the Health app.

Microsoft Band 2: Running and training

Let's ignore the fact that running with the Band 2 on isn't all that pleasant as it sticks into your wrist and, instead, focus on the fact that it's super accurate and offers up a host of handy metrics on the go.

We tested the Band 2 over seven runs between 5 and 16km, against GPS running watches from Adidas and Polar, and the biggest discrepancy was 190m on a 10km run. And that was by far the most abnormal result; on the 16km run, according to the Band 2, the Adidas miCoach SmartRun clocked 15.97km, so only 30m out. That's pretty great.

Plus, the display is so good (and you can personalise the three metrics shown) that it's easy to follow your performance on the go – the split time buzzing alerts are also a neat addition.

After a run the metrics are broken down in the Health app and a GPS route is plotted so you can check exactly where you've been. As a activity tracker / running watch hybrid it certainly lives up to its billing – and rivals the likes of the Polar M400 – although the GPS connectivity does hammer the battery. You'll get a 2-hour half marathon out of it, but probably not a 4-hour full one.

Microsoft Band 2: Workouts and training

New features on the Band 2 include a barometer for measuring elevation (great for climbers and hikers) and the measurement of VO2 max for running and sports, which will enable users work out their exertion and assist you to recover properly from hard training sessions in the Microsoft Health app. It's not as scientific as wearing an oxygen mask, obviously, but it's nice to see your performance levels change over time.

Like the original it comes packed with guided workouts that are built right into the Band and you can build your own too and sync them from the app.

There are programs and workouts from the likes of Gold's Gym, Shape and Men's Fitness, and a wide range of activities and sports on offer; although it is all a bit manual and basic. Your Band doesn't talk to you, it will simply tell you that you should be doing 10 reps of burpies for example and you'll need to keep looking at it to see what you should be doing next.

Heart rate monitoring is on board and, while we found resting heart rate to be pretty accurate compared to a chest strap, during workouts it did throw up some odd readings. It wasn't inaccurate every time but it wasn't reliable enough either.

Microsoft Band 2: Golf watch

Back in June, Microsoft teamed up with TaylorMade to offer original Banders (Bandits?) GPS-powered golf features and even the most critical Band-basher had to applaud. There's no way a Fitbit or Jawbone device can offer that, after all.

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The golf features are a big part of the Microsoft Band 2 setup as well, with the Golf tile playing a prominent part of the main app line-up.

The premise is simple: like dedicated golf smartwatches, or the multi-sport Garmin Vivoactive, the golf features on the Microsoft Band 2 extend to distance to the pin (front, middle and back of the green) and scorecard keeping, which is apparently done automatically with the Band even able to tell the difference between a practice swing and a proper shot.

However, in practice it's nothing to get excited about. Firstly, you have to manually sync the course you want to the Band from the Microsoft Health app on your smartphone. Although it has access to tens of thousands of courses, it doesn't store them on the device – as it does on most dedicated golf watches like the excellent TomTom Golfer. That's not really that big of a deal if you've got a good data signal but if you're out in the middle of a field (and most golf courses are in the middle of a field) with limited coverage, it's not a perfect scenario. You could, of course, sync before you leave home but who's that organised?

The next issue is that, unlike dedicated golf wearables, using the Band 2 on the course creates hassle, rather than being automatically and intuitively helpful. Distances to the green are only shown with a push of a button (and a 4-5 second wait) and it takes around 30 seconds to register you're on the next hole. Not ideal on a busy course.

Also, heaven forbid one of your drives strays onto a parallel fairway (as happens to 99.9% of amateur golfers on a round). If so, the Band 2 gets super confused and offers you absolutely no assistance at all. And don't expect any help with your short game or wedge selection. Once you're within 30 yards you simply get told "<30". Exactly.

The automatic shot tracking? Forget about it. It's not even close to working. We've tested it loads, using many different band to wrist positions and it just doesn't play ball.

After a round, the Health app will give you a nice scorecard and stats like calories burned and heart rate data. None of the golf data will be correct but that's by the by. If you sync up with TaylorMade's myRoundpro platform, you'll also get detailed maps of your shots, and an analysis on your performance. Which would be awesome, if the aforementioned golf data wasn't absolute nonsense.

All in all, just forget the Golf tile exists and definitely do not by the Band 2 instead of a proper golfing wearable.

Microsoft Band 2: Smartwatch skills

Back to the Band 2's strengths now and, unlike the likes of the UP3 or the Charge HR, the Band 2 holds its own quite well in the smartwatch stakes.

There's no extra apps like Tizen, Android Wear or watchOS – what you see is what you get – but you can play around with what tiles you see on the display and the order that they are shown.

You'll get incoming call alerts, text notifications, email and calendar updates and social media alerts from Facebook and Twitter. However, like the first Band, there's no third-party support as such so all of your notifications – apart from those listed above – get lumped into the Notifications tile, which is a bit annoying.

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Cortana is on board for workout reminders, guided workouts and smartphone notifications (emails, texts, calendar alerts and so on) on the wrist – but only if you're paired with a Windows phone.

Microsoft Band 2: Microsoft Health

Another area where the Band 2 excels is the ever-improving Microsoft Health platform. The desktop version, available through your browser, is particularly impressive offering a ridiculous amount of data based on the Band's recordings.

Similar to the Apple Health and Google Fit, Microsoft's platform wants to be a one-stop-shop for all your health and fitness data; drawing in information from not only from Microsoft wearables and phones, but from third-party hardware and apps as well.

Partners such as RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, Strava, Jawbone and MyFitnessPal are already signed up and the company is planning further collaborations.

Within Microsoft Health you can search for, build, and sync workouts, check out trends (day, week, month) based on your recordings, take a look at your personal bests and check out your GPS routes. You can also compare your own metrics to other people in your age / BMI / and activity level bands.

It's still very much a work in progress but it's streets ahead of what we've seen from Mountain View and Cupertino.

Microsoft Band 2: Battery life

Battery life for the Band 2 is touted at 48 hours of 'regular' use and we found that to be about right - although it will take a pounding if you tap into the GPS features.

A typical use case is: remove from charger in the morning before work, wear all day checking notifications and then go for an hour run in the evening with GPS on. That'd use about 70% of the juice. Basically, you're charging daily if you want to use it as a run assistant.

The new Band is water resistant but not water proof - so rain running is ok, showering is not.


Microsoft Band 2
By Microsoft
The Microsoft Band 2 is miles better than the Redmond company's first effort. But that's not saying much. Again, it's the design that lets it down again. Yes, it looks nicer and yes, it is a little bit comfier but you still feel like you've been handcuffed while wearing it. The feature list is impressive and many aspects work really well though not everything is as it should be (we're looking at you Golf tile). The battery life also scuppers you a little bit for anything above 'casual' tracking. We applaud Microsoft for trying, it really is trying to be innovative in the activity tracker space, and the Health suite is coming along nicely, but its wearable is still not entirely wearable. Third time lucky?

Hit
  • Impressive feature list and app
  • Smartwatch skills
  • Great display
  • Multi-sport support and GPS
Miss
  • Uncomfortable design
  • Golf features are terrible
  • Battery life is mediocre
  • Not waterproof

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