BY CAT PERRY
Earlier this summer, I posted a fitness tracker review video that attempts to give hard proof of which fitness wearables can stand the test of accuracy and overall usefulness. But there
was one brand beyond Apple Watch, Fitbit, Jawbone, Withings, etc., that was not on the scene yet that needs mentioning: the Microsoft Band, a fitness tracker/smart watch hybrid that's gotten a lot of things right.
True, the household-favorite brand is somewhat known for chasing its competitors. So although, you may be skeptical, especially because it's not flashy, nor did it come out with much hype, this fitness wearable you've never heard of may be just the one you need.
How does it perform? What does it offer? What's it got that nothing else has? Are you getting the most bang for your buck with it? Short answer: You're gonna love this smart watch-fitness tracker, but like all other fitness bands, it won't be perfect (see very bottom for Upsets)—but for $200, it's pretty
The Out-of-the-Box Experience: Just like with any tracker, you have to set up an account. This one involves a brand new Microsoft Outlook email account that, if you don't have
one by now, you'll probably never use, but it's just a formality to set it up. That process is pretty easy.
It then can pair with your iPhone, Android, or Windows phone, or iPad (or other tablets) via Bluetooth, which is where it gets interesting: Any alerts that you have on your phone, such as calendar(s), Twitter, Instagram, email from other accounts, texts, What's App, and more, your Microsoft band can alert you to. So all the pertinent info you need is now on your wrist. Plus you can get the weather and of course multiple fitness tracking modes (running, biking, weightlifting, and sleep). And it has built in GPS, which is key for Strava, MapMyFitness and similar apps.
All you have to do is make sure your phone is set to alert you and, with the phone's Bluetooth and the Microsoft Band's Bluetooth on, this is a smooth, addictive connectivity you don't get from many other trackers. It's what makes the Microsoft Band a tempting hybrid between smart watch and fitness tracker.
Ease of Use:
This band got a direct comparison with my other fitness tracker, the Basis Watch, which I got two years ago and have used more religiously than any other tracker I had (mainly thanks to it's looks pretty good and because it seemed fairly accurate, although in the grand scheme of fitness trackers and watches, it's not got comparatively very basic metrics). But the Microsoft Band seems like an upgrade, even from the current generation Basis Peak, which got "smart" with a recent firmware upgrade.
The smooth inner band on the Microsoft Band doesn't chafe or pinch, and it's narrow enough to not feel like very much at all on your arm. Plus the clasp that secures it is supersturdy, and I don't have to worry about it at all while doing vigorous activity, which is key and cannot be said for all smart watches or fitness trackers, including the Basis, which has come undone so many times that I'm actually surprised I still have it.
CHECK OUT THESE RUNNING METRICS (THOUGH IT SAYS BIKING):
I cant say enough how useful the metrics are on the Microsoft Band and what it can tell you through its Microsoft Health app. For running and cycling, it measures the obvious: duration, distance, elevation gain/loss, average speed, top speed. Plus it not only measures total calories burned, but it also measures how many fat calories versus carb calories you burned. Which is helpful for dialing in your food intake of macronutrients. versus how many carbs you should replenish post-workout. And it packs in the ever-essential GPS.
For weight training it takes into account your heart rate, which tells you how long you hover in aerobic rather than anaerobic zones. That's useful for all kinds of reasons, but specifically if you need to stay in a certain training zone for the day and not burn up hard-earned muscle you've worked to build. You can also foloow workouts designed by the MS Health app, but dont ask me how those are, because as the deputy editor at a women's lifting magazine, I definitely do my own thing.
For golf the Taylor Made Golf connectivity detects shots automatically and provides you with distance to the front, center, and back of the green, allowing you to find the perfect approach. That's vital info to improving your game when on the range.
A features I havent been able to check out includes the talk-to-action feature exclusive to Windows phone users.
I have had one pretty big upset, though, with the fitness tracking: While mountain biking in Aspen recently, I realized halfway through a three hour ride that the Band had never started tracking my biking. While in the sun and sweaty and trying to ride and not hold anyone up, I'd 1) pressed the Biking tile, then 2) pressed the Action button, then 3) confirmed that I wanted to ride by pressing the Action button again. But little did I know it was still asking me one more question about turning on the GPS (which should be automatic overall—either you have it on or off, which I would have chosen to, but not waste time asking me to turn it on just before an activity). But since I hadn't pressed the action button a THIRD time, it had not started tracking. TOTAL bummer. I had to rely on another guy's stats for the ride, but since we didn't ride exactly the same distance, pace, or elevation, it just felt like a loss. That takes getting used to, but I figure that once you know the drill, no matter if you're in the brightest sun with impossible visibility, you'll be able to get the device going without a hitch.
In that case, I wish that like my old Basis Watch or the Apple Watch that the Microsoft Band could detect activity automatically.
That same ride, about 3/4 of the way through, the battery died despite being 70% charged earlier in the morning. Microsoft says that the battery will run out quicker when you're engaged in activity, but I guess I regret not having that last oomph of battery to track at least the second half of my ride.
Sync or Swim:
The Band charges pretty fast, and you never have to connect it directly to your computer for any info-syncing reasons. Only once (right now, actually) have I had syncing issues, where the band and phone could not communicate despite my following Microsoft instructions on how to resync. The jury is still out as to what has happened. Looking forward to sorting this out soon. If this happens to you, although it's a total pain, you can get the Band replaced at local retailers or via a Fedex return paid for by Microsoft, within warranty.
The Silver Linings:
In terms of functionality and connectivity, the Microsoft Band is pretty great for the $199 price point. Being able to quickly scan your email, the weather, and your most recent Twitter and Instagram notifications without getting out your phone is both safer and a timesaver. All the metrics, including GPS, that it packs in are spot on for a key smart watch, and I suspect that future upgrades will put this undersung fitness tracker/smart watch square in the running for wish lists of athletes on the move.
Microsoft Band on Twitter.