- ‘Pebble Mode’ is a superb addition
- Band design is much-improved
- Battery life is still excellent
- Lack of GPS is a real nuisance
- Accuracy in some areas is poor
- Missing features on global edition
Its name may have changed from 'Mi Band' to 'Smart Band' since it was first released, but Xiaomi's budget fitness tracker line shows no signs of slowing down after nearly a decade at the top.
And while the bones may remain roughly intact from the previous generation, this latest model - the Xiaomi Smart Band 8 - features an overhauled design and some ingenious run tracking smarts that are instant head-turners.
Even with just these two core changes, the Smart Band 8 appears to be one of the most significant upgrades in years - and that's before considering the cheaper price tag, slightly bigger battery, and refined screen.
As ever with this breed of affordable fitness trackers, though, rarely is the experience a wholly polished and recommendable one.
So, we’ve been living with the latest Xiaomi tracker to find out exactly how it stacks up.
Price and competition
The Smart Band 8 not only has to face up to an improving field of trackers - featuring devices like the Fitbit Charge 6 and Huawei Band 8 - but also a much stronger internal competition than what earlier editions were met with, thanks to the Pro version of the Smart Band 8.
That all-important price is a little more reasonable this time around, at least.
We were critical of Xiaomi’s price hike for the Smart Band 7, but things have returned - somewhat - back to budget realms with the global edition’s £49.99 price tag.
It's not quite as cheap as the Huawei Band 8, then, but it is still a fraction of Fitbit’s Charge 6, which retails for $159.95/£139.99.
Design and screen
Much of the change that Xiaomi has delivered in the Smart Band 8 is present in the outer design, and this is the biggest factor in giving the tracker a fresh feel.
Gone is the long-standing unibody design of older Mi Bands/Smart Bands, and in its place are now the more typical slot connections on each end.
This relatively major change has also been achieved without much change to the dimensions of the tracker itself. The Smart Band 8 is slightly longer and wider, but it's also a shade thinner than its predecessor.
Thanks to a few attachments from Xiaomi, like the pendant (shown below) and running clip (more on this later), this pill-shaped tracker is now much more versatile, too.
And largely thanks to being able to see that shiny metal frame, the look has now elevated far above previous generations.
It’s not just the case that’s been improved, either. The display, despite being the same 1.64-inch size and 192 x 490-pixel resolution as its predecessor, can now reach 600 nits of brightness.
This is a welcome bump that helps visibility in brighter conditions, but the real key change to the display is the refresh rate being upgraded from 30Hz to 60Hz.
It means swiping through menus and viewing graphics and stats is much smoother - and much more in line with what you would see from a smartwatch with a much loftier price tag.
Features, OS and ecosystem
Xiaomi's Mi Band/Smart Band trackers are generally very limited when it comes to the smart experience - and nothing much has changed in this regard for the latest edition.
This isn’t necessarily a negative, though. You can’t have it all at this price point, after all, and the few smarts present here actually work very well.
Notifications may be a little cramped on that 1.64-inch display, and you still don’t have the ability to really do anything with them other than view, but they are at least customizable through the Mi Fitness app and come through reliably.
The same is true for the widgets, which can be tinkered with quite extensively in the companion app on Android or iOS. These make navigating through the tracker and finding quick bits of info - the current weather, for example, or controlling music playback - much friendlier than sifting through text-heavy menus.
Xiaomi’s proprietary OS is also very zippy - a feeling that's is aided by that bump-up in refresh rate we referenced earlier.
And while this does add some polish to the operating system, we should say again that there’s still very little in terms of smart features to get excited about here.
Support for contactless payments, a smart assistant, and big-name third-party apps are all lacking, so you’ll have to graduate to a smartwatch (or more expensive tracker) if these features are a priority.
Fitness and sports tracking
Considering the Smart Band 8’s budget price tag, Xiaomi is very ambitious when it comes to fitness tracking. Unfortunately, in most cases, it fails to deliver a reliable view of your activity.
The omission of GPS continues to be a bit of a killer, and means you’ll have to take your phone with you if you want any kind of reliable distance data. And even then, we’ve found this to be pretty poor - distances are often underreported and location trails in the app are essentially non-existent.
In terms of the pure accuracy of tracked data, the picture feels pretty clear: sometimes the data is within a solid enough range to trust, but a lot of the time it’s miles off our established baselines or what other devices register.
Xiaomi also continues to mimic plenty of the more advanced insights you’ll find on Apple and Garmin devices - such as training load, recovery time, and VO2 max - but none of these are really anything close to being useful.
For example, we’ve run 30 miles in a week with the Smart Band 8, alongside two gym sessions and five hour-long walks, yet our training load is still considered ‘Low’.
An hour-long, aerobic run will see the Smart Band 8 advise taking the next 63 hours off to recover, meanwhile, and tag the workout as mostly anaerobic despite an average HR reading of 153.
Sometimes this kind of mistake happens when personal details - weight, age, or height - haven't been entered, and therefore have a knock-on effect on HR zones, but this isn't the case here.
And other times these kinds of metrics improve in accuracy after a few weeks of wear, but nothing within the app seems to suggest this is the case.
There are thankfully some insights that are a bit more useful, though, and they generally come from when the device is instead attached to your running shoe.
With a simple switch in the app (and the help of an attachment sold separately), you can transform the Smart Band 8 from a wrist companion into a bonafide running pod.
And the results are surprisingly pretty good. The big downside here is that you’ll still need to set up a workout from your phone and take it with you on your run, but the data does seem to have some value.
After you end a workout, the breakdown in the Mi Fitness app will include your footstrike pattern, as well as graphs relating to ground contact time, flight time, flight ratio, and impact force.
Cadence and stride length are also there, but these two insights are also available - though less accurate, in our testing - when tracking from the wrist.
As shown in our example above, all the data seems within a healthy range of the wrist-based Running Dynamics info available from our Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2), which, considering the incredible price difference, is impressive stuff.
The battery drain from using this mode is also very low, though we should say that we did have one instance of the Mi Fitness app draining our phone of 45% battery in 15 minutes when tracking through Pebble Mode, so it’s also not entirely infallible, it seems.
Heart rate monitoring
Naturally, you won’t be able to track your heart rate during workouts if you have the Smart Band 8 in Pebble Mode, but you can see this data if you have it on the wrist as normal.
And, as we’ve found with recent editions, the data is just about accurate enough to get by with.
On our test runs, we’ve found that the heart rate readings don’t react too well to fluctuations in real-time - even when the pace is relatively steady.
And, generally, the Smart Band 8 will report slightly higher average BPM figures than what we tracked on both Garmin and Whoop, though the maximum reading is actually fairly reliable.
As shown above, all three devices registered a maximum reading of around 170 BPM on one test run, while the average reading was 4BPM higher than Garmin and 8BPM higher than Whoop - both much more in line with our effort.
The positive here for the Smart Band 8 is that we didn’t encounter any glaringly incorrect data, in which the heart rate readings never got going or spiked way too high, as is sometimes the case with cheaper devices.
So, for those who just want a basic view of their effort during workouts, we think it can still be useful.
The Smart Band 8 is certainly nothing of a health tracking powerhouse. Like with its smart features, though, you do get access to the odd handy inclusion.
The main obstacle to overcome here is the fact that Xiaomi annoyingly disables features like blood oxygen by default, which means you can end up, like we did, spending a couple of days wondering when your data is going to show up.
Once you dive into the settings of the Mi Fitness app and toggle them all back on - to the detriment of battery life - they are at least generally pretty reliable.
SpO2 readings never dipped below what we would expect to see from our blood oxygen data on other devices - between 95-99% - and resting heart rate data was similar.
We should note, though, that resting heart rate figures are always gathered slightly differently between manufacturers.
Some, like Garmin and Oura, simply take your lowest heart rate reading from sleep, while others, like Xiaomi and Apple, instead look for your lowest reading when you’re in an awake and inactive state.
Interestingly, the Mi Fitness app will still point out your lowest HR from a particular 24-hour period, as shown above, and this was always very in tune with our Oura and Garmin.
The Smart Band 8 is also capable of high and low heart rate notifications, though this is another feature that you’ll have to turn on manually.
It’s not a bad array considering the price tag of the tracker, but we would suspect Xiaomi expands things to include the likes of respiration rate and temperature tracking over the next couple of editions.
For now, you’ll have to look elsewhere for more advanced health data.
Like with some health features, the Smart Band 8’s more advanced sleep monitoring is turned off by default, which means you’ll initially only be given very basic data.
This splits your night’s sleep into either light or deep sleep, though this expands to include REM sleep and heart rate monitoring (leading to more accurate sleep stage information) after you enable the setting.
Despite that annoyance, the Smart Band 8 is a good sleep tracker.
It was able to consistently register when we fell asleep and got out of bed (as demonstrated below), and sleep stages - once you turn on advanced monitoring - can roughly stay in line with Oura’s gold standard tracking.
Confusingly, though, it almost always never records any 'awake' time, which does skew things.
Aside from that, the only other difference between the Smart Band 8 and elite sleep trackers is the level of sleep-related insights, such as nighttime blood oxygen averages and heart rate variability.
There is, at least, breathing rate data available - again, you’ll have to find this and turn it on in the companion app’s settings - though this is still in beta. And when we did turn this on, nothing appeared in our sleep reports.
So, all in all, like with much of the Smart Band 8 experience, sleep tracking is solid if not outstanding.
The Smart Band 8’s battery capacity doesn’t take the same leap forward as we saw with its predecessor, but it is still bigger - and you can expect the newer device to be fairly long-lasting.
In its condition out of the box, with most of those power-intensive features turned off, as we mentioned above, the battery drain is very minimal. Typically, we saw it lose around 5-7% per day, which roughly equates to Xiaomi’s estimate of 16 days.
However, anybody looking to get anywhere close to the most out of the Smart Band 8 will want at least a few of these features enabled, and that’s naturally where things begin to decline.
With the always-on display enabled, alongside more advanced sleep tracking and blood oxygen data turned on, that battery drain increases to around 20% per day. This isn’t too far away from Xiaomi’s estimations, and, overall, is pretty good going for a device like this.
For those planning to use the device in Pebble Mode, we should also note that our tests found that you’ll only lose around 5% of battery per hour of running.
And if the battery is low and you're seeking a bit of juice to get you through the day, charging speeds are also rapid. Our test unit managed to shoot from 10% to fully charged in around 45 minutes.
Should you buy it?
While we’ve seen previous Smart Band devices barely change from their predecessors, the Smart Band 8 offers some genuine reasons to get excited.
Especially if you’ve previously been put off by the lack of polish in the design, or you’re a runner who craves some more advanced insights, the Smart Band 8 is even worth an upgrade from the previous generation.
There are always going to be compromises at this price point, but the core experience here - coupled with those headline changes - ensures that you’re still getting great value for money. It remains one of the best pickups for those in need of a budget fitness tracker.
How we test