I occasionally like to review new technology and share with folks what someone who isn’t a tech blogger actually thinks about things. I’ve never been much for having a favorite “team”. My tech either works for me or it doesn’t. Also — I don’t get paid to review things.
So here’s the thing — I actually USE my tech to help make me productive. I’m a busy writer/speaker/teacher (who also has a p/t day job in accounting) who is always on the go. I have a busy schedule, a constant stream of emails and PM’s coming in at all hours, students who need attention, editors who need things, other writers who need edits, video conferencing at least once a week, and a steady stream of business lunches that I have to keep track of and be able to navigate no matter where I am. I am notorious for editing manuscripts and articles on my phone, using my tablet as a laptop when I travel, and speaking into a tape recorder while I’m driving. I’m definitely not your typical end user. Without my tech, I wouldn’t be nearly as mobile. Nor nearly as productive. Plus I’d likely forget things left and right.
When the Microsoft Band came out last month I stood in line to get one. Finally found one at my local Microsoft Kiosk. I’ve been wearing it for a little over a week now. I know – not a lot of time yet, however I think it’s enough time for me to give it a review. After all, I’ve spent over 168 hours of my life attached to this device.
So first let’s talk about its Fitness/Health capabilities. One of my friends was showing me her FitBit Flex band, and how it tracks her sleep and activity. But it doesn’t do several key things that my MS Band does. The first is I can monitor my heart rate at any time of the day. Also, when I’m sleeping it monitors my heart rate. It gives me how long it took me to fall asleep as well as periods of light sleep and deep sleep, and it counts how many times I woke up. Of course like the FitBit it does count my steps. However, where the FitBit attempts to guage activity by continuous motion after a certain period of time, the MS Band gives you the option to start a workout with a push of a button and the ability to pause or stop the session with another button push. This gives you a better idea of how long you were actually working out including warm up and cool down. Also – with the heart monitor included, you get a better indication of actual calories burned, plus it tells you how many minutes you spent in your peak exercise zone, vs. cool down etc… To those who aren’t into fitness this may not seem like a big deal, but for those who like the numbers and who want to maximize their workouts, this information is pivotal. Next, you can download workouts to your Band and it will tell you, with a quick vibrate on your wrist, when to switch exercises. The exercises appear on the small screen. All of your workout information will automatically upload to MyFitnessPal, an app I’ve used for at least two years now. So that was handy! Less data entry is always a good thing IMHO. It also has a GPS tracker and you can track your runs with Run Keeper. There are a few other cool apps it syncs with, too.
Now on to the Band’s other features.The cool thing about the Band is you can tailor it to your specific needs. I need to keep on top of texts, phone calls, emails, and FB messaging all of my waking hours. I noticed with the Band I wasn’t feeling the need to constantly pull out my phone in meetings or when spending time with family. The Band alerts me (with a gentle wrist vibrate) when I’m getting messages, I can glance at it and choose whether or not to get the phone or whatnot. Of course since it is a bluetooth device, you do need to keep your phone close. I can leave my phone in the family room and work in the kitchen, dining room, and living room and still get notifications (within 900 feet or so?). Or, I can slip my phone in my purse or pocket and the band will work that way. The Band has some really neat features for texting and phone calls. You can send an automated message with a quick click. In a meeting and get a text? Tap respond and choose from your own automated messages (that you set up) to send back like, “In a meeting, will text you later.” I LOVE that feature.
Oh – and never fear, while you’re sleeping – the Band will not keep vibrating with notifications into the night. I also have Cortana’s sleep hours set from 11PM-8AM on my phone. It keeps things quiet at night.
I have been playing with using Cortana with the Band, and that’s been kind of neat, too. I like being able to tell Cortana to set an appointment from the Band. The only drawback — the phone needs to be close by, like in your pocket or purse. Cortana is a cool feature in and of itself. Because I use Verizon and they haven’t pushed out the latest version of Windows Phone 8, I downloaded the developer version on my phone just so I could have Cortana. She really is a handy tool when you’re looking for a restaurant, searching for an address, want her to set up an appointment, or need someone to take a note for you. You just have to get used to the weirdness of talking to your Band or phone.
Let’s talk about the display for a moment. Yeah, it’s a little small. But even my 42-year-old eyes have no issue with the size of the display. Also, the Band can be put in watch mode, making it a kind of cool, futuristic looking watch. From the phone app (works with Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone) you can change the color of your Band display, too. This might be handy if you have a favorite color or if want to change your display color to match your outfit. The other great thing about the Band is you get to pick and choose which things you want your band to be able to do, and you can even control, to a degree, how each application on your band behaves. Don’t want FB notifications because your band would be vibrating all day? Don’t add FB. Want to keep up with Twitter? Add Twitter to your band to notify you of new tweets. Other options include phone, mail, texts, messaging, calendar, weather, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, alarms, Cortana, guided workouts, runs, etc… Basically — you’re not stuck with a certain set of features. You can choose only the ones you use and leave the rest off!
Battery Power – I don’t use the Band as a full-time watch, so I get about 2 days battery life from my Band and it charges fully within 2 hours. So I usually charge it the two hours before bed.
Now for the design of the Band itself. I was really worried it would be uncomfortable at first. It looks bulky. But once you wear it for a few days, you will barely notice it’s there. I wear it screen side in when I’m not working, and screen side out (on outside of my wrist) for working (typing). Only because I don’t want to scuff the screen while I type. It’s more comfortable that way (for me). But I feel it’s awkward to wear screen side out all the time. So while it may seem like a hassle to adjust the band before work, and readjust it afterward, I’m not that lazy for it to be considered “a problem”. You will also likely want to visit a Microsoft Store to actually try on a Band to make sure you get the right size. I am a 5’2″ woman and one would think that my petite wrist would need a small. However, I have big bones, so a medium worked perfectly. They do have a sizing chart on the website that is handy. It told me I was a medium, but I felt more comfortable actually going into the store and trying on the right size.
Drawbacks: Nothing is perfect and there are a few things about the Band that could be improved upon in future versions.
– The alarm feature is great if you’re awake and aren’t doing a lot, not so good if you’re busy and distracted while moving around, and worthless if you’re a heavy sleeper. The reason? The light vibration can easily get lost in the sensation of moving around.
– If you’re a fashionista with small bones, I can see where the Band might be too bulky for you. So yeah — if you’re a girly girl — you better stay away from smart wearables because they aren’t for the timid or the fashion conscious, I’ve noticed. Maybe in the future…
– This is actually a phone issue more than a Band issue. Using Bluetooth on my phone 24/7 to work with the Band has greatly compromised the battery life of my Nokia Lumia 928, and I have to charge my phone every night instead of every other night. This really isn’t a big deal. I keep a phone charger at work, in my car, and at home. Who doesn’t? When I get a new phone, this probably won’t be the case.
– If you don’t plan on using the Band for all of its features including fitness, email, phone, and message alert notifications, time, weather, etc…. it may not be the device you want. I’m convinced that this is a great product if you’re looking for one wearable device that does almost everything.
– It would be extra cool if future incarnations of the Band were waterproof. A lot of people say this because they’re afraid they’re going to wash their hands and get it wet. That’s not a big deal, just be careful and dry the Band quick if it gets wet. Same thing with excess wrist sweat. Dry your wrist, and the Band off after exercise. Plus Microsoft has a great warranty program that covers you if you accidentally forget to take your Band off before jumping in the shower. I only bring up the waterproof bit because I actually enjoy water aerobics and swimming and it would be cool to be able have a wearable in the pool to track that exercise.
And there you have it. My take on the MS Band. Overall — I love my Band. It’s been very handy and well used. If you have any questions about it, feel free to post in the comments below and I’ll try to answer your questions.