Microsoft's first wearable packs in plenty of features and is OS-agnostic, but it's hardly sleek or comfortable to wear
Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: Yes, Display size: 1.4in, Resolution: 320×106, OS support: iOS 7.1+, Android 4.3+, Windows Phone 8.1+, Battery life: 48 hours
Microsoft was conspicuous in its absence in the wearable technology sector, falling behind both Google and Apple while they concentrated on smartwatches. Microsoft’s focus was elsewhere, however; the company made health a priority, adding a wide range of sensors to its first wearable that helps set it apart from the Apple Watch and slew of Android Wear devices already on the market. The Microsoft Band might isn’t the most imaginative or attractive wearable, and it has since been superceded by the Band 2, which fixes many of the issues detailed below. However, the original still has its merits; most notably a reduced price now that its successor has arrived.
It’s certainly bursting with technology, too.
As well as the ubiquitous 3-axis accelerometer for counting your daily step totals, the Band has an optical heart rate sensor, UV, skin temperature and galvanic skin response sensors, and independent GPS. This means you can leave your smartphone at home when you go for a run or bike ride, then sync your data once you’ve finished. The UV sensor is more useful in warmer climates than the UK, where it frequently failed to detect any UV at all – a sign of our poor weather rather than the usefulness of the sensor. On a foreign trip to sunnier shores, the UV sensor would suggest the time I could spend in the sun before I was likely to burn.
There’s also a built-in microphone for Cortana voice control. Cortana lets you make quick searches, set timers or reply to text messages with your voice, but only on Windows Phone. The feature simply isn’t there if you pair the Band to an iOS or Android device. You also look a bit silly talking into your wrist, but no more so than anyone doing the same on an Android Wear device or Apple Watch.
DESIGN AND BUILD
The Band is technically water resistant, but you can’t even wear it in the shower; light rain is about all it’s built to cope with, which is disappointing for a fitness-focused wearable. The black rubberised band is definitely sweat proof, but the chunky clasp is rather unattractive, even for a fitness tracker. Microsoft intends users to wear the Band with the screen facing inwards, so it’s a shame the clasp isn’t much to look at.
You’ll need to measure your wrist carefully before picking one of the three available sizes too. The Microsoft Band is one of the most inflexible wearables we’ve ever strapped on, with a rigid wristband crammed full with sensors and a second battery in the clasp that leaves little room for wrist movement. Admittedly you’ll need to wear it fairly tight so that the optical heart rate sensor can get a reading. I had to remove it when sat at my desk, as it was simply too uncomfortable when typing.
The 1.4in display uses an LCD panel, which is less power efficient than an OLED screen would be. It’s easy enough to read outdoors, as viewing angles are excellent and the automatic brightness setting boosts the backlight, but we can’t understand why more wearable manufacturers aren’t using battery friendly OLED technology instead of LCD. Having used Samsung’s curved screen Gear Fit extensively, Microsoft’s flat display feels like a step backwards too.
For the most part it responds instantly to taps and swipes, but occasionally it mistakes swipes for taps and disables features like GPS that you’d rather leave on when exercising. The long, thin display works brilliantly with Microsoft’s tile-based UI, however, making it instantly obvious how to get in and out of each menu and in which direction to swipe. You can customise the location and colour scheme of the tiles using the companion app too.
Band might be a fitness tracker primarily, but Microsoft has also put the display to good use by enabling all kinds of notifications right to your wrist. As well as the usual call and SMS text alerts, you can also specify emails, Facebook and Twitter notifications, and general alerts from any other installed app.
Unfortunately dismissing notifications on your phone won’t dismiss them on the Band, unless you’re using a Windows Phone device. On Android and iOS, the number of missed notifications keep building up until you eventually dismiss them on the device itself. On Windows Phone, you can dictate responses or use a virtual keyboard to reply to messages without reaching for your phone.
|OS support||iOS 7.1+, Android 4.3+, Windows Phone 8.1+|
|Wireless||Bluetooth 4.0 LE|
|Battery life||48 hours|