Using the Microsoft Band

There is certainly something to be said about simple, and the Band’s user interface is postively simple. With a curved touch screen and just two buttons, navigation and interaction is quite easy. The user interface is based around the OLED display, so you are looking at a lot of high contrast white text on black backgrounds, which not only showcases the amazing contrast of OLED, but also reduces the power consumption. The user interface runs at around 30 Hz, so there is some noticeable jitter to it, but nothing that is too distracting on a low powered device.

Really the user interface starts with the initial pairing. When you first power on the Band, it quickly walks you through downloading the Microsoft Health app on a smartphone which is then used to pair the device and do all of the configuration. Very little is done on the Band itself, which is the correct way to do this since it’s not something that has to be done often, and a smartphone is much easier to accomplish tasks on. Once paired and set up, all interaction with the Band starts by pressing the on button to wake the display.

The home screen defaults to showing the date and time, and you can configure the background image through the Microsoft Health app itself. You can easily toggle this main screen to display other information as you would like, and the Band remembers where it was left, so you can have it always showing steps, distance, calories, stairs, or heart rate. The toggle is done with the action button, which is used for pretty much all functions. If you slide the display slightly to the right, you can see the Bluetooth connection status, heart rate monitor status, and battery status. The rest of the user interface is available by sliding the display to the left. Here will be a list of all of the tiles that you have added, and in the order in which you want.

To go into a tile, you just tap it on the screen. Interactions within an app on the Band all consist of a combination of the touch screen and the action button. To start the sleep tracker, you open it and press action to start the activity, or you can slide to the left to see information about the last time the activity was used. If an activity ever has an actionable task, there will be an arrow flashing on the display pointing towards the action button. It’s very easy to get around in the Band, and very easy to have it do what you would like. I think all smartwatches struggle a bit with user interaction due to their very small size, but I’m pretty happy with how easy it is to navigate and use the Band.

You can even do more complex tasks. If you get a text message, you can press the Reply button on the screen which will prompt you with a choice of how to reply. You can send a canned message, you can use the on-screen keyboard, or you can use Cortana to send a message. The on-screen keyboard is handy enough, and it is actually surprisingly decent at accuracy considering your finger is almost the size of the entire keyboard. If you want to send very short messages, you can use it, but it’s not much good for long responses, which are much more easily accomplished with your smartphone. Cortana works just as well as it does on the phone with speech recognition, and makes it a lot easier to send longer messages if you don’t mind talking to your wrist.

If you want to go for a run, you just open the running tile and press the action button. You’ll be prompted to turn on the GPS, and that’s it. Once you are done, slide the display to the left and choose End Session. The Band, being focused more on fitness than something like the Apple Watch, is completely capable of doing all of the work for tracking your run without the assistance of your phone. The built in GPS enables accurate distance tracking, as well as mapping out your routes (as long as you stay above ground).

The Band has some other cool features too, which are new to this version. The first is auto-rotate for the clock, which is as obvious as it sounds. You can set the clock to display when you turn your wrist, and you have to set the Band up so that it knows how you wear it. You just pick inside or outside, and left or right wrist. When the clock does come up, it’s just the white text on the black background. This avoids any unwanted bright lights flashing on your wrist if you were in a movie theater, and it saves a lot of power because when you enable auto-rotate, the clock is going to come on a lot more often than otherwise. This is very similar to the Glance functionality built into many Lumia phones.

They also added a smart-wake function. When it is enabled, and the Band is used as an alarm clock, it will wake up when it starts to feel the user waking up on theirown, up to thirty minutes before your alarm is to go off. This will apparently make you less groggy, since your body was already starting to wake up already. Luckily this is optional, since I don’t think everyone would subscribe to this even if it is based on sleep studies.

The other new feature is a UV alarm, which will let you know if you’ve had enough sunlight, and to warn you to put on some sunblock. This is not something I’ve had a chance to test out yet, since it’s winter now and daylight is already fleeting, but as someone that burns quickly, I would appreciate this in the summer.

Overall the Band has been a very easy device to wear and use. Accessing the tiles and functions on the Band are very easy to do, and the UI has been well thought out. Performance from the Cortex M4 processor is enough that it never feels sluggish, and even the on-screen keyboard is serviceable. I’d like to see some more work done on the sleep function though. The Band seems capable of knowing when I am asleep, so it would be nice if I would not have to enable the function when I’m going to sleep, and then disable it when I wake up. This is a minor issue, but would make the sleep function quite a bit better since it’s very easy to forget to turn it on before you go to sleep, and as easy to forget to turn it off when you wake up.

Introduction and Design Features, Exercises, and Notifications
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  • finbarqs - Thursday, December 3, 2015 - link

    I've had the Band 2 since day one, and I've been using it on a daily basis. I Crossfit about 5-6 times a week, and I also like to do hikes as well as golf. Here's my take on it, having used GPS and regular workouts on a daily basis -- as well as using some of the features the band offers:

    1. Heart Rate inaccuracies. Sometimes at the peak of my workout, it would claim my heart rate would only be about 140-150 bpm, when I literally can feel my heart pounding out of my chest. However, on a medium run, it jumps to around 170+. Keep in mind, these are just glances during a workout. However, at the end of a crossfit workout, it would say I would've burned approximately 500-600 calories within the hour. To me, it sounds kind of high probably about 5-10% higher than I would expect it to be.

    2. Sleep Tracking/Smart Alarm- Microsoft claims that the there are different stages of how we sleep, and the band 2 (and band 1) tracks this. Apparently, (on average) it takes me approximately 8 minutes to fall asleep, and I would wake up 2-3 times during the night with an average of 5 hours of light sleep and 2 hours of deep sleep. The band's "Smart Alarm" feature will wake you up on a 'light sleep' through it's vibration feature so that we may wake up feeling refreshed rather than being completely groggy. -- It kind of works I suppose. But I am addicting in reading my sleep patterns...

    3. Pedometer is somewhat inaccurate.

    4. Battery life on this thing will last 2 days without GPS -- which brings me to my next....

    5. GPS - First time it took literally about 5-10 minutes to lock. By then, if you're on a timed workout, you've missed quite a bit of your workout. However, after the first initial lock, the other times it took me less than 1 minute to lock GPS. The battery life on the GPS seems to be better than what I've come to expect: I thought perhaps I would get 4 hours on a full charge, however when I played golf over the holidays, I had about 45% battery life, and I used the golf app (pretty cool). Lasted me until Hole #13 -- 4-5 hours in before it completely died on 45% charge. I'm guessing with GPS will probably last you 8-9 hours. -- This is probably important for a lot of you. The GPS is pretty cool - it shows a map and a trail of where you traveled, along with stats of your run: For example, it'll show the first half of your run that you've averaged 6-7mph, while the 3rd half 3-4mph, and the last stretch another 6-7mph (they show a cheetah lol)

    6. If you crossfit, you can load benchmark workouts and it'll guide you through the workouts with time. It'll also give you some tabata workouts as well too.

    anyways, it's flawed, and I've considered returning it for the more expensive Polar watch, but so far, it's been pretty decent with some inaccuracies. I will say that I was afraid to bring this watch to the tough mudder though... I have washed my hands with the watch on (I think it has the same water rating as the apple watch)
  • juliabrown943 - Thursday, December 3, 2015 - link

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  • milkod2001 - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    I rather buy Casio watch with calculator
  • thedeezus - Tuesday, December 29, 2015 - link

    As a band 1 & 2 owner i can say the battery life is almost 2 days. If you use gps its more like 1 day and that would be 4-6 hrs gps tracking and then charging when you get home. Imo the one thing i dont like about the band 2 and its a small complaint is the clasp, i wish it had less flat angles, not a deal breaker for what it does and as of this post it has music controls for windows phones.
  • lighthouseav - Monday, January 4, 2016 - link

    I got the Band 2 back in November and have been using it ever since. I had tried the first Band but it felt like a handcuff whenever I rolled my wrist. I love the feel of the new Band 2. I wear to the inside of the wrist. The strap closure has just enough movement between clicks to adjust so that the Band 2 is firm to the skin but not pinching.

    I use this with a Windows phone (on a free phone after rebate deal with my new carrier - and I needed a new phone). So I get all the supposed benefits of Windows - which to my simple understanding adds Cortana. I think all other aspects including the voice reply to texts etc. is supposed to work with other operating systems. Can't say though since I have Windows phone.

    But I will say I don't talk to it as much as one could - it doesn't always pick up my speech well. I sometimes wonder though if that is because the mic is set to the lower button side of the band when you have it on. Maybe they are trying to avoid all the outside noise if it were placed to the upper edge - but that would seem to be the better position.

    You can also reply to texts by tapping the "Reply" underneath the text message and tapping one of the preset replies ("I'm driving" "I'll call you back") and you get to customize one or two more). You can also reply by typing your reply on the tiny keyboard - and I have done all three. It takes some practice to get efficient on the keyboard because it is so small a keyboard but I have been very happy - other than it autocorrects and I can't seem to find a button or box to stop that on the Band. It may exist and I haven't found it - so acronyms and slang get some uncomfortable corrections at times. And although your texts and email may be tiny - you can hit the "action" button and it will scroll your message word for word in larger character size so you can read. The speed is adjustable in 3 (?) settings to get it comfortable for you.

    The "haptic" vibration notice for incoming calls, texts, emails and other notices is fine, although when I'm moving or busy I don't seem to notice all of them. I sometimes use the timer/alarm setting and that is great. I did have a morning wake-up alarm set that worked for a while but then in my love of all things sleep - I believe I grew accustomed and now my body doesn't acknowledge the alarm on low haptic setting. I can raise the level if I really need it but I wonder about battery usage.

    On the other hand having texts/emails and incoming call notices pop up on the inside of my wrist when I'm in a meeting or some public setting is very helpful (idents caller by name if the number is in your contacts - at least I think it is only if in your contacts list). I have had a few text comments timely directed at me as I was in the middle of a discussion. And those call, text and emails stay on your band until ... well until you act to get rid of them - see "Peeves" below. But it means if you miss the notice or the vibration you haven't missed the particular notice. When you look at the Band it will show a number on each tile that indicates how many of that particular notice you have not yet viewed - phone tile 2, text 3, email 1 - when you finally look at those notices the number disappears.

    On a side note - your friends who think they are cute can send rude texts that also pop up at untimely moments when your wrist is exposed to third parties. Or if you are getting calls from a competing company, someone wants to hire you away or the like??? If the name is in your contacts that name shows on the band. So watch out.

    Battery usage: I use the gps only for cycling and turn it on at the start and later, off, after done riding and IF I remember the gps is on. I have done longer rides up to 6 hours and still have 35% or more battery rating - but that is starting from a full charge. To prevent the shower dousing I am trying to train myself to stick this on the charger when I get up so I rarely go a day without topping off a charge. Since I use it as my watch I get it back on after shower and changing. So it is the rare shower douse day where I go more than a day without charging - but I have.

    Water resistance - as I noted, the fit is good but it is so good I tend to forget I have it on. I have worn into the shower multiple times before I realized it was on and remember it is water resistant not waterproof. So it has gotten 15 - 30 seconds of shower dousing multiple times and no issues so far. It has not been fully immersed at any time.

    I am a cyclist who had been using an on phone app mapmyride free version which doesn't provide much detail in the free version. Using the Band 2 it links to mapmyride and now gives me all the detail in mapmyride I didn't see before. I have to step out from my house a bit ( as in further out on the driveway - not houses away) before I get a GPS lock but after that all seems good: time, distance and route all match what I used to get with the phone app and is accurate as to the roads/offroad I ride. It is nice to now see the speed, elevation and heart rate details throughout the ride that show up in the new graphs that I never got before. I say nice, but disconcerting - no more lying to myself about how fast I was going up the hills or in sprints. Every now and then I do see an odd blip on speed details that only shows up through the graphs as a sudden spike - it may be a brief loss of gps. And as much as I like the elevation concept, although all my rides start and end at the same place my elevation rise and drop - it gives both as cumulative numbers - never equal out at the end. I may be missing something but to my simple mind if I start and end at the same place my rise should equal my drops.

    Heart rate? I can't say how accurate it is because I haven't compared to other devices. But it appears to work in a "relative" sense, meaning it shows increases where I know I was pushing hard, it shows decrease when I'm relaxing and the average seems about right for my age and exercise. I don't really ask for more than a relative knowledge.

    The display works great for me - you can set the watch function to be off or to pop on when you move the wrist. I use it to pop on when I move my wrist. I have "old" eyes - as in my arms aren't long enough to get regular watches out where I can focus on the little numbers or the little hands. This I can read easily without glasses and since it pops on at night I can check time easily in the dark.

    Sleep: Again, I am fine with relative information. I have it set to autodetect and it seems fine enough for me. It confirms I wake up a lot and probably don't sleep as much as I should. Accuracy - really no idea of percentage accuracy but good enough for what I want to know. Although it did show up I nodded off during a big conference - I hadn't realized how long. Luckily I wasn't a speaker.

    I haven't used it with a programmed workout which you can do apparently.

    Information tiles. The Band 2 has a variety of touch tiles available and you can pick and choose and arrange to your heart's content. I have some I thought I would use (news, UV) that I rarely use... but still you have the option.

    The new music controls: I love that they exist but the control seems simply to be turning on the music linked to your phone, pausing the song, controlling the volume, and allowing you to go forward or back in the song list. Great! Which song list? I don't know... you get no indication. It may be that it simply picks up with whatever playlist you were last using on the phone. It may be that it just grabs into your music files randomly. I really can't say. But it works to turn it on. As long as you like the music you have on your phone what does it matter?

    I would also love waterproof as opposed to just resistant (would make triathlons workable) but maybe with the number of sensors that others don't have (sorry apple watch etc) maybe it isn't possible.

    Longer battery life - we all want to avoid chargers longer but really the current works for my uses.

    Syncing with the phone and clearing data off the band. The text and email and other notices you see on the band? You won't see a "delete" button or option on any screen of the Band. Nor will you see a "delete" or "clear Band" option in the app you use on the phone. To use the band you have to use the Microsoft Health app on your phone. It has a sync/refresh icon at the top of its list of options above "Home". But it appears that refreshes information FROM the band - not the other way around. And what I mean is all those text messages and emails etc. that appeared on your Band, will still be on your band. At some point your phone will sync with your email account and that eventually seems to filter down to the Band - but there doesn't appear to be a built-in option in the Band or in the Microsoft Health app to simply clear the Band.

    On the other hand there is a third party app "Clear My Band" which allows you to clear your Band of all the categories you wish - the app allows you to use "on" or "off" settings for most of your tiles on the Band. You have to use it from your phone but you set it up and when you want to get rid of the Band Notices of texts, emails, calls etc you just bring up the app and hit the button. They are off your Band - that does not delete such info from your phone or email account - just off the Band. Microsoft should include something like this in a software update to its app.

    So other than synching, clearing data and iffy mic pick-up (maybe my issue alone) I love this version of the Band.

    It works as a big numeral watch which my old eyes love and actually was one of the reasons I went for it. It also allows me to see and act on text/email/call notices in places where I can't have my phone out (on the road, in meetings, etc.) and does all my fitness tracking to an accuracy level that works well for me.

    I have read reviews talking about the "flaws" but in my estimation this does enough things well in one device that I don't believe there is a comparison to be made to replace it. You could get better devices to do some but not all of the things it does. So - swiss army knife comparison. If you want one thing on your wrist to do a lot of things this is it. But for any one or two tasks there probably is a better tool to fit that request... you just may have to grow more arms to hold each.
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