Microsoft Band 2 Australian Review: Does Microsoft’s wearable satisfy?
The Microsoft Band 2 is a high quality wearable that delivers a wide variety of tracking data to maximise the health benefits of just about any exercise.
Microsoft’s second take on wearable computing has recently become available across a wide variety of Australian retailers, as well as online through Microsoft’s online Australian store. (Its first attempt, the Microsoft Band, was never officially released in Australia.)
Microsoft describes the Band 2 as more than a simple fitness tracker but not quite a smartwatch competitor, and it’s priced accordingly at $379 outright. At current exchange rates, taking GST into account that’s acceptably close to the US list price of US$249.99, bearing in mind that US prices never include sales taxes.
|Microsoft Band 2|
|Display Size||32mm x 12.8mm|
|Resolution||320 x 128 pixels|
|Battery Life||Up to 48 hours|
|Sensors||Heart rate, Accelerometer, GPS, Skin temperature, Barometer, Microphone|
|Compatibility||Windows Phone 8.1, iPhone 4S, 5, 5C, 6, 6 Plus (iOS 8.12), "Many" Android devices (4.3 or better)|
Upsides: Why you’d want the Microsoft Band 2
- Simple interface: The Band’s icon-driven interface is easy to understand, with a handy text explanation that pops up as you choose to run, sleep or undertake any of a number of exercise routines.
- Decent battery life: Microsoft rates the Band 2 as being good for up to two days of battery life. That’s certainly achievable based on our tests, especially if you don’t use the inbuilt GPS all that much.
- Inbuilt GPS for run tracking: The Band 2’s inbuilt GPS means that you can run using only the Band 2, where many fitness trackers rely on pairing to a phone GPS
- Inbuilt UV meter: There’s an Ultraviolet meter built into the very solid clasp on the Band 2, so you can easily check the intensity of the often harsh Australian sunlight while you’re out in it.
- Works across operating systems: While some smart devices such as the Apple Watch or Android Wear devices only work on their respective platforms, the Band 2 has apps for iOS, Android and, naturally enough, Windows Phone. The Microsoft Health app requires a Microsoft login but works well across all three major smartphone platforms.
- Good for golfers: The Band 2 can use its GPS to track your golf game, noting the course you’re on and the distance of each shot based on where you take the next subsequent shot. We’re not golfers and didn’t test this, but it’s a nice inclusion that’s usually only found on golf-specific wearables.
Downsides: Why you might not want the Microsoft Band 2
- Not quite a smartphone, not just a fitness tracker: The Band 2 occupies an interesting space in the current wearables space, but this doesn’t come without some compromises. It’s heavier than many straight activity trackers on your wrist, and the fixed band means that picking the right size for your wrist is a must. It’s priced comparable to many Android Wear smartwatches, but it’s not an apps platform, so any new features will be limited and only come from Microsoft itself.
- Utilitarian design: Many wearable life trackers are concentrating on style over everything else, but it seems Microsoft’s yet to get that memo. Some may like the Band 2’s utilitarian design, but those after a showy or stylish band will probably find it a tad ugly.
- UV pickup is a bit hit and miss: The inclusion of a UV meter is smart on Microsoft's part, but only if it works. Quite often we'd try to test local UV conditions but the band only picked up low or no UV readings.
- Weak music playback: There’s no onboard music storage on the Band 2 itself, so if you want to exercise on the run (as we did), you’ve got to bring your phone along anyway. You can use the Band 2 for music control with a double tap of the power button, but this is somewhat slow and fiddly process that only allows for simple track skipping, pausing and volume adjustment.
- Custom charging cable: The Band 2 recharges from a pin mount in the wristband. Lose the charger, or break it, and you’re going to be without your Band 2 for a while, compared to devices that use a standard micro USB charger.
- Some features are Windows Phone only: This isn’t surprising. Microsoft would very much like you to invest in its smartphone platform after all. Specifically, inbuilt voice assistant Cortana only works if you’re paired to a Windows Phone device, as does the ability to create text messages on the Band 2’s tiny screen.
- Ordinary sleep tracking: It’s a common failing for many wearables that they don’t do a great job of tracking your sleep. The Band 2 always seemed to think we were getting 99%+ sleep efficiency with few waking periods on nights when we woke multiple times, suggesting its sleep tracking really isn’t that great.
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
There’s an obvious synergy between the Microsoft Band and the Windows Phone platform, with additional features and a common UI between them, but that doesn’t meant that the Band 2 is only of interest to that relatively niche group. As long as you’re happy with the style, it’s a solid competitor to both the smartphone and straight fitness band products thanks to its range of sensors, ability to present notifications in a meaningful way and wide variety of activities available through the free Microsoft Health app.
That being said, there are many fitness trackers on the market today that might suit your purposes more effectively. Huawei’s Talkband B2 offers many of the same band-type features along with a Bluetooth headset function for around $100 less. There are many sports-specific watches from makers such as Garmin that are worth considering. In the smartwatch space there are countless Android Wear devices you could buy for the Microsoft Band 2’s asking price. It’s less expensive than even the cheapest Apple Watch, but it’s also nowhere near as stylish.
Where can I get it?
Microsoft sells the Band 2 in its Sydney flagship store, as well as through its online store. It’s also available through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and select Rebel Sports stores.