Microsoft’s entry into the wearable technology space got off to a quick start Thursday when the company debuted the Microsoft Band at its stores nationwide. The Microsoft Band, part smart watch and part health monitor, dovetails with a new health-monitoring system called Microsoft Health. I had the chance to stroll down to the local Microsoft Store to check them both out yesterday so I could present to you Microsoft Band: 30 minutes of “wrists on” impressions.
The Microsoft Band is about half an inch wide and comes in several different sizes to accommodate “big boned” people and slender folks alike. Unlike other wearable tech, where sizes either seem arbitrary and don’t make abig difference, the Small, Medium and Large sizes of the Microsoft Band really do mean something. The wristband itself also has a slider with lockable positions, so even within each size there’s an option to do some additional tuning.
Having not worn a watch in a while, I was concerned that the Microsoft Band would immediately feel odd. Once I found the right size, I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite comfortable. In a sense I felt like Goldilocks. The first size I tried was too large, and the thing clunked around and banged into my hand with any rotation. The next one I tried was too small, and even at the largest slider setting the Microsoft Band restricted my movement and left marks near the base of my hand. But once I found the next size on the demo station, all was well.
To be fair, I only had about 30 minutes of “wrists on” time with the Microsoft Band, so I couldn’t get a feel for how comfortable it is long-term. Considering its surprising comfort for that brief period, I’m interested in evaluating it for a longer time, but the $199 price tag kept me from taking the plunge immediately, even with the Microsoft Store’s generous 30-day no-questions-asked return policy.
Fortunately, even that brief 30-minute period was sufficient to give a general idea of how the Microsoft Band would work (and not work) with my daily routines. And at first blush, the Microsoft Band is a big-time winner.
The default display shows the time, date and one of several health-related metrics you can choose to display if you so choose. One Microsoft Band I tested showed my heart rate on the “home screen,” and another showed the number of calories I’d burned while wearing it. The heart-rate setting is tied to an LED-like light that’s on at all times and can read your pulse from either the top or bottom of your wrist. This seemed at first like an odd decision, but Microsoft engineered it that way to accommodate people who want to wear the watch “upside down” and have the display inside their hand while also supporting people who want to wear it “on top” of their wrist like a traditional watch. I found the Microsoft Band to be much more comfortable on the underside of my wrist.
You can “wake up” the Microsoft Band by pressing a small button on the side, then immediately begin flipping through the touchscreen display. The display includes more than a half-dozen icons ranging from health-related stats, email and Facebook notifications to GPS, email and even a Starbucks “app” that shows a barcode that you can charge up a la a Starbucks card and then use your wrist to pay for your cup of joe.
The email functionality, like the text messaging, phone call, GPS and Cortana functions, are all tied to the Microsoft Band’s requirement to sync to your phone. The Microsoft Band in and of itself doesn’t have a 4G connection, but connects via Bluetooth to your phone. The most seamless integration is obviously with Windows Phone — that’s the only way to talk into your wrist a la Dick Tracy to activate Cortana — but it also works with Android and iOS.
I wasn’t able to sync the Microsoft Band to my phone in the store, so I couldn’t tell entirely how this syncing performed. It seemed pretty powerful though, and to be honest if I had one of these accessories I’d seriously consider switching to a Windows Phone to maximize its functionality (I currently use an LG Android phone on AT&T). It didn’t appear that the Microsoft Band would actually facilitate sending texts or emails or help you make calls, only alert you when some had arrived and let you preview them. But again, I only had a short time with the device in my local Microsoft Store.
The GPS functionality is particularly cool for runners, because even if you leave your phone behind during a run or jog the Microsoft Band will still track your route so you can analyze your performance once you get the Band and watch back together.
Heck, the device even has a sleep mode by which you indicate when you’re going to sleep and when you wake up, and it will then evaluate your quality of sleep. All about it doesn’t do is shock snorers when they need to roll over, though that would be a funny metric for Cortana to deliver to people: “Hey, you slept great, but your spouse hates you.”
According to the sales rep, the Microsoft Band consumes about 1MB of data per day from your existing mobile-phone data plan. That seems a bit high to be honest, though it’s likely the GPS functionality that’s causing the drain. I wasn’t clear whether you can turn off the GPS setting, but if so I imagine the Microsoft Band data consumption would drop considerably. It’s not like the thing needs to report my heart rate to AT&T….
The sales rep also said the Microsoft Band has a two-day battery life, though again I wasn’t able to verify or test that myself. Considering the device is literally always on and always doing something (monitoring heart rate, calories burned, GPS location, etc.), that seems pretty good. Charging the Microsoft Band is just a matter of nestling it into a magnetized charging stand, and the charge is reportedly pretty quick. Again, that’s one of those things I’d like to test for myself. One of the nicest things about charging it seems to be the lack of a USB cable. I have enough of those things already.
After about 30 minutes of “wrists on” time with the Microsoft Band I was impressed. That’s an arguably brief period with the device, but for someone who doesn’t normally wear watches, I was pleased to find the device both comfortable and functional. If you have a Windows Phone especially (I’m debating getting one), the Microsoft Band could be particularly enticing with the Cortana functionality. But even with Android and iOS, it’s still worth investigating for yourself to see what you think.