You really can’t accuse Microsoft of phoning it in when it built the original Band. Between jamming 10 different sensors into a glorified wristband and creating a new health platform to interpret your data, the company shot for the stars… and wound up with one cumbersome wearable. Thankfully, the $250 sequel fixes nearly every gripe we had with the original design, and adds a new sensor too. The Band 2 might not be the perfect fitness partner, but it comes much, much closer to realizing Microsoft’s goal than the original did.
Microsoft’s first fitness tracker was a clunker, but the Band 2 is more refined, with a comfortable design and a thoughtful software platform that has gotten better over time. Even so, there are still some kinks Microsoft needs to work out, and the short battery life in particular might be a dealbreaker for some.
I’m probably in the minority for not hating the original Microsoft Band, but my fondness never extended to its design. Aesthetically and ergonomically, the thing was a mess. Microsoft, realizing that a wearable should be, well, wearable, went back to the drawing board and finally came up with a design that’s not nearly as cumbersome. The new Band owes its relative comfort in large part to its curved AMOLED screen — the screen follows the natural curve of your wrist more elegantly than the original’s flat display ever could. The downside? It makes the Band look a bit like an ill-fated Samsung wearable. Whatever — it was the right decision to make. That screen is covered with a tiny sheet of Gorilla Glass 3, too, a flourish I wish they remembered last year. When I tried that first Band, Microsoft included a screen protector I quickly lost and it was maybe four hours before the first nicks started marring the screen. It didn’t help that Microsoft suggested you wear the Band with the screen on the inside of your wrist, which gave me pangs of concern every time I plopped my hands on my laptop and started typing.
More importantly, the hefty battery bulges that punctuated the first Band are mostly gone. See, Microsoft used to brag about all the sensors it managed to cram into such a small package, and the designers mounted two separate power cells on opposite ends of the wristband. Neat technical achievement? Perhaps, but it also made for a clunky cuff that tended to squeeze people’s wrists. Microsoft’s solution is more thoughtful this time — the battery lives in a single bulge at the end of the strap so it pushes into the top (or bottom, depending on your preference) of your wrist instead of all around it. There hasn’t been an appreciable dip in battery life, either, so you’ll generally squeeze a good two days out of the thing before connecting it to its charging clasp (the older one won’t work, alas). If you’re itching to use the Band as a smartwatch, expect to get closer to a day and a half of continued use with Watch mode enabled — at least you’ll be able to glance at the date and time whenever you need to.
The rest of the band is made of a comfortable dark gray elastomer — your wrists might get a little sweaty, but at least they won’t feel the pinch of bad design. Make no mistake: This year’s Microsoft Band is a huge improvement over the original, even if it’s still tricky to put on with one hand. Now, about those sensors. All 10 of those original data collectors — the heart rate sensor, accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light detector, skin temperature monitor, UV and capacitive sensors, microphone and one that measures galvanic skin response — are back and they’re joined by a barometer for measuring elevation changes. It was and remains one of the most comprehensive approaches I’ve seen to mobile health tracking, and it represents a very valuable sort of thinking. Just counting steps is fine and all, but traipsing around gets so many bodily systems working in unison that it would be a shame not to gather all that extra context.
One might imagine Microsoft’s step forward with hardware would be accompanied by some sweet new software functionality. Well, yes and no. The company has been dutifully updating the original Band with new features since launch, so there’s a surprisingly small gap between what these two wearables are actually capable of. Quick Read, for instance, helpfully flashes incoming messages on the screen one word at a time (like Spritz) — that arrived on the original Band back in February. And that impressive, shot-tracking golfing feature? Part of the first Band’s repertoire as of June 2015. I have to give Microsoft props for making sure last-generation Band owners aren’t getting the shaft, but it does make the Band 2 just a little less exciting… for now, anyway.