Wednesday, 20 January 2016 16:10

Listen to the Band (first looks)

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‘It is not a smart watch. It’s a fitness tracker with benefits – lots of them’.

Microsoft went to great lengths at the Australian media launch of its Band 2 today to make sure that it was positioned as a ‘fitness wearable with smart features’ in a somewhat veiled tilt at Apple’s Watch that is a smart watch with some fitness features.

In reality the two could not be more different and each has its place in the market – one as a serious fitness device and one as a fashion device. Comparisons are odious so no more mention of the Apple Watch.

The A$379.99 Band 2 is designed for fitness – from its 11 sensors (about nine more than a typical smartwatch) to its Thermal plastic elastomer silicone vulcanate (TPSiV) band housing a curved 32 x 12.8mm full colour AMOLED display. It is IP67 rated so you can sweat profusely, get it wet in the rain, take it into dusty or snowy environments, and generally do anything active people do – except swimming – it is rated at up to 1-metre-deep for 30 minutes.

It is meant to be worn 24 x 7 and battery life averages about 2 days of normal use. Of course constant GPS use will reduce that. It has fast charge via a custom USB cable that clips onto the clasp. It will charge to 80% in 30 minutes and a full charge in around 1.5 hours.

The 24 x 7 is important – exercise, work, sleep, play – as it uses the 11 sensors married to location and time lines to build a profile of you that can lead to easily actionable insights.

  • Optical heart rate sensor (continuous or sample mode)
  • 3-axis accelerometer (measures movement and g-force)
  • Gyrometer (orientation and angular speed))
  • GPS (accurate distance, time, slips and speed and will show this on a street map)
  • Ambient light sensor (for sleep and other uses)
  • Skin temperature sensor (ambient temperature, sleep and other uses)
  • UV sensor (reminders for sunscreen)
  • Capacitive sensor (skin touch enabled)
  • Galvanic skin response (can measure stress but in the future may also address issues like hydration)
  • Microphone (for Cortana)
  • Barometer (elevation as well as sleep)

But the real gem is Microsoft’s Health App that runs on Windows 10 and Mobile, Mac, iOS and Android.

I am going to wait to write about the app functionality until I do a full review in a few weeks but suffice to say it impressed - no blew away - a bunch of highly intelligent and inquisitive journalists. The app is amazing and covers running, walking, biking, golf (including free downloadable course maps and automatic stroke recording), exercise, guided workouts, goals, recovery time, sleep and so much more.

Microsoft has also opened up its APIs to allow external software to use it – currently Strava; Runkeeper; MapMyRun/Ride; Brooks; MyRoundPro and Golf by TaylorMade; Golds Gym; Shape magazine; Lose It; MyFitnessPal; and many more use Band 2 data.

And the icing on the cake – the ‘benefits’ - are notifications from phone, emails, SMS, calendar, Twitter, Facebook and more. All of which can be actioned by your digital assistant Cortana (supported by Windows 10 and Mobile – OS X, iOS and Android may depend on availability of the app).

My first take

To say that I have reviewed and used ‘many’ smartwatches and fitness bands is an understatement – everything from the original Pebble to the Apple Watch and everything in between.

As far as smartwatches go most of these suffer from having to be recharged every night and frankly I prefer the battery life of more traditional timepieces and fashion accessories from Omega et al. However, there is no disputing that notifications on your wrist can be useful at times.

Perhaps my experience is best summed up by saying that I absolutely loved the Samsung Gear S2 but its black leather band (as fashion accessories are wont to have) made it difficult to use as a fitness device. Its S-Health fitness app is OK as far as a smartwatch goes but there is no comparison with the combined functionality of Band 2’s 11 sensors and Microsoft Health App both on the phone (W10M, iOS and Android) and on a Windows or Mac PC. I like the type, amount, presentation, and access to the data that makes the Band 2 the ultimate life tracker. The sleep functions look amazing!

The Band 2 with its rugged TPSiV construction, and Gorilla Glass protected curved screen looks quietly elegant (no it is not a fashion device) and I can see me wearing it 24 x 7.

The Band 2 is available now in three band sizes from JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, selected Rebel Sports stores and via Microsoft’s Pitt St, Sydney Mall store and its online store.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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