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Microsoft Band 2 review

Tom Morgan
11 Dec 2015
Microsoft Band 2 - display
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
200
inc VAT

Small improvements to the design (and big ones to fitness tracking) but the Band 2 still isn’t particularly comfortable to wear 24/7

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Specifications

Pedometer: Yes, Heart-rate monitor: Yes, Display size: 32x12.8mm, Resolution: 320x128, OS support: Windows Phone 8.1+, iOS 8.1.2+, Android 4.3+, Battery life: 48 hours

How do you differentiate your wearable from the Android Wear and Apple Watch competition? Microsoft tried to do it with a focus on health for the Band, a fitness wearable that also did a lot of what Google and Apple’s smartwatches could do. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but integrated GPS and a comprehensive companion app meant it had real appeal for tracking exercise routines. When the company announced a successor, I was hopeful it would improve on the original while retaining the features that made it so intriguing in the first place.

Microsoft Band 2 - on a man's wrist

Design

First impressions are positive. The original Band was never the comfiest wearable – in fact, the underslung second battery and rigid flat display made it so ungainly that I only wore it when cycling to and from the office; at all other times I took it off, as it got in the way when typing and struggled to fit under a shirt cuff. Microsoft has listened to its critics, and the sequel is much improved.

The flat touchscreen is gone, replaced with a curved OLED panel that better fits the contours of your wrist. It’s protected by curved Corning Gorilla Glass, too, which should prevent a lot of the scratches that appeared on the original model. OLED technology should mean better battery life than the LCD tech used in the original, but it’s still bright enough to see clearly in the daylight.

Microsoft Band 2 - heart rate monitor

The second battery returns, but it’s now built into the clasp rather than the rubber strap. This means the strap is much more flexible, so it’s more comfortable all round. The clasp mechanism hasn’t changed much either, but it is larger than before to make room for the second battery, UV sensor and charging pins. With two separate parts it was always going to be thicker than other wearables, but it’s just slim enough as to not get in the way.

There are still two physical buttons on the side, but now everything is finished in silver metal rather than plastic. It certainly feels like a more premium product, which is crucial if Microsoft wants it to compete with the Apple Watch or any Android Wear device.

Features

The original band was one of the most feature-packed wearables around, sensors included optical heart rate, ambient light, UV, skin temperature and galvanic skin response, plus a 3-axis accelerometer and GPS, among others. The Band 2 improves on this count with a Barometer for tracking elevation. However, the holes required for the Barometer and integrated microphone to function means the Band isn’t waterproof – just splash resistant. This will be a real shame for swimmers, as they won’t be able to use it to track their favourite form of exercise.

The microphone is only really useful for Windows Phone users, as you can’t use Cortana voice control when you’re paired to an iPhone or Android handset. It doesn’t work with Siri or Google Now, so it’s kind of a useless addition for iOS and Android owners. The first major firmware update for the Band 2 also added music controls, a feature that users had been crying out for - this works across platforms, not just Windows Phone.

Notifications are a big part of any wearable, and the Band 2 is no different. When paired via Bluetooth, the haptic motor vibrates and the screen illuminates every time you get an email, text message or call. You can also enable other notifications, including Facebook alerts, Twitter notifications, and any other apps you want to send messages straight to your wrist.

Pressing the Action button will display each word onscreen in quick succession, letting you read more of the headline, but mails are still truncated and there’s no connection between phone and band in terms of syncing; dismiss all notifications on your wrist and they will still be unread on your handset, regardless of operating system. It also ignores your phone’s quiet hours or Do Not Disturb modes; the Band itself has its own Do Not Disturb mode, but it’s annoying it doesn’t recognise this automatically.

The interface is mostly unchanged, with a series of simple icons representing messages, emails, calls, exercise, weather, alarms, sleep tracking and more, depending on what you’ve enabled through the companion app. It responds quickly to swipes and taps, but if you were hoping for a brand new look to go with the new hardware you'll be left disappointed.

Microsoft Band 2 - clasp

Battery life

If you don’t use GPS, the Band 2 should last for up to 48 hours between charges. On some days this was a conservative figure, but on others I was nearing 40% by the time I’d made it home. However, with GPS enabled, I was cutting it close after cycling to and from the office. That being said, it only takes around 90 minutes to fully charge, so a quick blast once you get home will give you enough juice to get through a night of sleep tracking. Doing the same in the morning while you get ready for work will get you through the whole day. It’s an improvement over the original, where I either had to bring the proprietary charger in to work, or only enable GPS for one leg of my cycle commute in order to last the whole day on a single charge.

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