Microsoft Band 2 review: It’s been less than a year for us Brits, but Microsoft is re-entering the world of activity tracking with the Microsoft Band 2. The company’s second crack at a sensor-packed wearable for those serious about fitness.
Take a look at any of the reviews for the first-generation Band and one thing will keep popping up – the fact that it was a little too big, bulky and clunky to wear all the time. Luckily whilst the Band 2 promises to be an all-round improvement, it looks as though a particularly strong focus has been placed on reworking its design.
When Microsoft unveiled the Band 2, two key points were pushed out on stage; it couldn’t be too rigid in any direction and it had to curve around the wrist. The engineering team have, for the most part, achieved these goals.
It’s the company’s first wearable with a curved screen, so it’s more naturally suited to wrapping around your wrist and the battery packs have all been consolidated into one module, meaning the straps retain greater flexibility allowing for greater mobility.
It’s still one of the thicker trackers out their, primarily down to the sheer amount of tech Microsoft has packed inside, but it’s an unmistakeable improvement in both aesthetics and comfort.
Whilst the Band 2 comes in three sizes, the adjustable clasp will need to be tweaked on occasion, depending on the activity you’re doing, which can be a bit of a nuisance. The metal also marks surprisingly easily and as it doesn’t feature a microUSB port for charging, this is also where the proprietary connector magnetically snaps in line with the charging contacts, which is a little inconvenient.
One of the big differences versus a lot of activity trackers is the Band 2’s relatively large display. Gone is the flat glass and ‘shoulders’ jutting out from either side; the Band 2 boasts Gorilla Glass over a curved 328×128 AMOLED panel.
It’s a bright, colourful, crisp display with great viewing angles and thanks to the curved glass, reflectivity is seldom an issue too. Corning’s handiwork has ensured that ours has stayed scratch-free after solid daily use over the last few weeks and the only real shortcomings are its thick bezels and the unresponsive auto-brightness (checking it at night can hurt your eyes if it hasn’t dimmed it ahead of time).
The original Microsoft Band was one of the most feature-packed trackers on the market when it launched and the same can be said for its successor. This time around, the boys in Redmond have added in a barometer to measure altitude for you hikers out there, bringing the sensor count to 11.
Browsing the main UI you’ll find dedicated activity-tracking modes for running, cycling, general workouts and golf – which is the newest member to the party, but should you choose to, you can also opt for guided workouts with a wealth of free downloadable plans on offer including some from known brands like Gold’s Gym.
Beyond its primary purpose as a fitness tracker, there are other tools at the Band 2’s disposal too. Amongst the myriad of sensors on board it can track UV levels to ensure your skin doesn’t suffer from overexposure to those harsh rays, you can receive notifications from social platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as calls, messages, your calendar and email.
Customising the experience, adding workouts and synchronising data to the cloud all take place via your mobile app of choice. Microsoft was smart to ensure that the Band 2’s companion Microsoft Health app was available on Android and iOS as well as Windows Phone, opening it up to a much larger audience.
The tile interface is pretty fixed, with no option for portrait orientation (akin to the Samsung Gear Fit) however, you can rearrange, add or remove tiles and apps, change the theme colour of your band and the wallpapers, all from a single menu from within Microsoft Health. You can also customise your profile for more accurate data, view activity history and find both workouts and golf courses this way.
It does a great job of expanding on the simplistic UI of the Band 2 itself, gives you greater control over the data the Band is picking up, lets you augment the experience with third-party offerings from the likes of Starbucks and Subway and helps you connect your band to apps like RunKeeper if you so choose.
With all those sensors and a colour screen you’d expect a massive battery to keep things powered up and although the strap is a little still bulky, the dual 100mAh cells (one for fast charging, one for greater longevity) are relatively small (in capacity) and unobtrusive. Microsoft quotes around 48-hours battery life, but we consistently managed three days and two nights per charge, with sleep tracking and notifications set to ‘always on’.
This certainly doesn’t make it the best for battery life in the business, but when you weigh that up against its skill set, it’s still pretty impressive. We just wish we didn’t have to carry that proprietary charging cable with us all the time.
The two main factors that eat into the Band 2’s longevity are whether you use watch mode (screen always on or on rotation of your wrist to display the time) and whether you switch on GPS tracking during your runs/cycles/hikes. The latter has the biggest affect on battery, but is also arguably useful for keeping tabs on distances covered and your routes.
Battery aside, actually navigating around the band feels fast and fluid enough, and the sheer amount of data it’s able to capture and relay is pretty staggering too. As well as being one of the few wearables capable processing your VO2 max (a good indicator of cardiovascular fitness), Microsoft has also ensured that you have an significant level of control over your personal fitness data thanks to the robust Microsoft Health experience online. You can even export the data in a number of file formats for use as you see fit.
As with its predecessor the Microsoft Band 2 straddles the worlds of activity tracking and smart wearables rather well. It offers perhaps one of the most robust experiences compared to other fitness-centric devices like the Jawbone UP3 and Sony Smartband 2, but also adopts a focused take on the smartwatch.
The design is also a significant improvement over its predecessor’s, even if it still feels big and bulky – a symptom of its sensor-rich innards. We’re not all that surprised by the £199.99 price tag, which places it at the upper end of the activity tracker price scale, but for those who really like the idea of the quantified self, there are few better options out there.