For a long time, my view of the Mi Bands has been that they're so cheap you might as well give them a go. They can give you a broad picture of how active you are, they're comfortable and the sleep tracking works.
The problem for Xiaomi is that fitness trackers, good ones, are getting cheaper and cheaper. So as it continues to add features to its line-up, here with the Mi Band 2 an OLED display joins heart rate tracking, its competitors slash the prices of their feature packed devices.
The Mi Band 2 is a slightly better wearable than its predecessors because it offers a screen to view the time and your activity throughout the day. But depending on how you get your hands on one, it's quite a bit more expensive than the originals. And Xiaomi hasn't actually made the activity tracking - the reason to buy it - much better.
Xiaomi Mi Band 2: Design & Screen
You get pretty much what you'd expect from the Mi Band 2's design and build. The default black model doesn't look especially pretty as the module is swallowed up by the cheap silicon (apparently anti sweat) band but both are solid enough. It's IP67 water resistant so you can splash it with water or shower with it though I took it off when I went kayaking recently in case I ended up in the sea.
I did manage to scratch the top of the OLED display pretty quickly after I started wearing it, though, which was annoying. Especially as it's supposed to be scratch resistant glass.
Wearing it opposite the $125.99 Fitbit Alta, it's actually slightly more comfortable and lighter and it's easier to secure too though the Fitbit is by far the classier finish. You can officially get Mi Band bands in black, orange, blue and green though we've already seen more colours around on the web.
The 0.42-inch OLED screen is pretty fuzzy, especially if you compare it to something like the Alta's display. Still, it does the job displaying the time, steps, calories burned and heart rate (no distance). It will come as no surprise that the auto screen turn on works only sporadically.
What is nice is the little touch sensitive button to control the display as it's not touchscreen. The whole thing has an anti-fingerprint coating but it's not really necessary. This is a quick, reliable way to interact with the Mi Band 2 and much more preferable to double and single taps on the Alta or a push of the Misfit Flash Link, say, which can be hard to tell if it's registered.
Xiaomi Mi Band 2: Tracking
In terms of tracking, let's keep this simple and start with the positives. The Mi Band's sleep tracking is good and accurate - the module automatically detects that you've gone to sleep, or woken up, and is a useful guide to how you're actually sleeping. (As for the deep sleep metrics, that's hard to tell if it's accurate so we'll leave that for a scientific test). Extras include the ability to set multiple alarms to vibrate to wake you up, a popular feature brought over from the first two Mi Bands.
As for the rest, Xiaomi says it has made both its step counting and heart rate tracking algorithms and tech more accurate. The activity tracking still isn't quite up to scratch but, interestingly in different ways to previous Mi Bands.
It struggles to auto recognise when you start running/working out and its idle alert wasn't as reliable as most devices with this function. For every day, though, the Mi Band 2 does give slightly closer results to more expensive trackers. Historically we've found the Mi Band 2 overestimates overall activity, tracking wrist movement as walking when it's not, but when we wore it alongside the Alta, we actually found that the Xiaomi was tracking lower by hundreds of steps.
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When I wore the Mi Band alongside the Casio Smart Outdoor, it got my active minutes pretty accurate over the course of a weekend of lots of stopping and starting island walks. But I noticed a couple of the timed sections in which I was definitely not moving.
So, a mixed picture but essentially I never quite came to rely on the Mi Band 2, a similar story to the first devices. Whether the motivation of knowing you've had a 10,000+ steps day compared to a couple of very low step days is enough for you for a cheap device is another question.
It also deals with estimated calories burned in a less useful way than say, the Alta which takes into account how many calories you burn even when not walking/running and gives you a running total. There's no GPS for accurate run tracking or any kind of extra features for runners so steer clear if you need this.
The heart rate monitoring is a headline feature and has been improved but even when taking resting bpm, the readings do jump about within seconds. And the data is presented in a useful way in Mi Fit. I wouldn't, and essentially can't, use this to stay in specific heart rate zones out on a run as it's not continuous. On the plus side, it did take a reading every time I scrolled through to that option on the Band 2's own display and it's much quicker than firing up the app with the Mi Band Pulse.
Xiaomi Mi Band 2: Extra features
The other main feature, apart from tracking, is smartphone notifications, but this is pretty hit and miss.
I tweaked the settings to get the Mi Band 2 to buzz when I had an incoming call or WhatsApp but essentially neither worked, which is actually worse than previous devices. This could be due to the Bluetooth connection being a bit patchy with my Samsung Galaxy or it could be a bug that needs to be fixed.
One more thought on this - I might not have got such a good battery life if this had worked properly.
Xiaomi Mi Band 2: Mi Fit app
At the launch, Xiaomi bigged up a new Mi Fit user interface but not a great deal has changed, at least so far. It's still more basic than the Fitbit and Jawbone apps. There's a dashboard showing the day's activity, last night's sleep, your most recent heart rate reading and when your last streak (of hitting targets) was. You can also manually track your weight in the app.
From each of these you can access daily, weekly and monthly graphs, apart from heart rate which is still presented as a list of readings with little context - essentially useless. As I said, the Mi Band struggles to auto detect when you start running but the app is designed to break activities up into 'walk' or 'activity' in a timeline under the graphs. You can view the times, steps, minutes, distance and calories though I couldn't find a way to edit or group these as you get on other apps.
Sharing stats within the app involved scanning the QR codes of your mates (no-one is going to do this) but there are also options to share your progress via social media - Line, Twitter (which takes you to a message), Facebook etc.
In terms of motivation, there's no insights as such but Xiaomi does try to get you moving more and thinking about your sleep by displaying your percentage e.g. my steps today so far are ahead of 13% of people but my sleep last night (I got a super early night) was ahead of 90% of people. That's right.
One last note on the app - it crashes constantly as you're using it (I was testing on Android). And syncing can sometimes take a second or two longer than I'd like.
Xiaomi Mi Band 2: Battery life
Here, Xiaomi trumps Fitbit but not, I should say, rival budget wearables. I've been using the Mi Band 2 for a week and a half now and its remaining battery, according to the Mi Fit app, is down to 24%. That suggests it wouldn't get to the claimed 20 days (more like 12 - 14) the way I've been using it but this will differ from person to person.
Still, for a device with a display that's fairly impressive. Essentially if you charge it once every week, you should never run out of juice.
It's not quite as no fuss as cheap trackers like the Withings Go, though - that has an E Ink screen to display the time and your progress and lasts eight months on a coin cell battery. The budget Misfit Flash Link, again, in theory lasts six months but if not, just swap out the battery.
- Light, comfortable
- Screen + good battery life
- Sleep tracking works
- Prices vary, hard to get hold of
- Still not a reliable tracker
- App doesn’t motivate
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