Introduction and display
Update: The Microsoft Band 2 has only been out for a handful of months, but it’s doing well to hold onto its crown as one of the most fully-featured fitness trackers around.
Microsoft announced at CES 2016 that the Band 2 will soon be able communicate with select Volvo vehicles and the functionality sounds awesome. Right from the Band 2, you’ll be able to set the navigation, start the heater, lock the doors, flash the lights, or honk the horn. We’re still awaiting further details on when the update will roll out.
Next up, if you’d like to see the matchup between Microsoft Band 2 vs Microsoft Band, we go into deep detail on each and every change made.
Lastly, we compared the fitness capabilities of the Microsoft Band 2 to some of the leading contenders in the smartwatch category, such as the Samsung Gear S2 and Apple Watch.
Looking ahead, the Microsoft’s latest wearable could be usurped of its title as the smartest non-smartwatch by the Fitbit Blaze, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Read on for our full review of the Microsoft Band 2.
There were a lot of design and comfort issues with the first Microsoft Band that irked many, but the Microsoft Band 2 is cleaner and better form fitting than before.
It’s still not the most visually appealing fitness tracker, but it makes up for that by adding yet another sensor – a barometer – to an already sensor-packed device. Microsoft also included a few more apps, and the Band 2 hardware runs better all around.
With a curved screen and new sensor, Microsoft upped the price to $249 (£200, AU$380) versus the relatively lower price of the first one, just $199 (£170, around AU$230).
It’s right up there with the Fitbit Surge in terms of price and functionality, except the Band 2 has a bright, colorful touchscreen. There are also Garmin and TomTom devices that could give the Microsoft Band 2 a run for its money in terms of specs, but this is actually the more affordable one compared to the higher-end sports watches.
Aside from the clunky design of the first Microsoft Band and a few annoyances with compatibility, there was little I disliked. I’ve felt the same using the Band 2, except it’s noticeably improved in ways I didn’t expect.
One of the biggest issues many people had with the original Microsoft Band was its stiff and uncomfortable design, which is mostly the fault of the rigid, flat display.
The new Microsoft Band has integrated a curved screen that fits better on the wrist and makes it much easier to see notifications.
The Corning Gorilla Glass 3, AMOLED screen is larger, at 32 x 12.8mm and a 320 x 128 resolution, or 255 pixels per inch (ppi), whereas the older Microsoft Band’s TFT display measures 33 x 11mm for a 320 x 106 pixel count, or 247 ppi.
The larger screen doesn’t feel like it makes a huge difference, since it’s still smaller than your average smartwatch, but when comparing with the older Band, you can definitely tell: the new Band is bigger.
The Band 2 has more noticeable pixelation than the first one. It doesn’t necessarily matter, since you’re only getting text notifications. But, be warned: it’s definitely noticeable.
Other than that, the screen remains bright and vivid, yet it still magically retains battery power – but more on that later.
Design and comfort
The first Microsoft Band wasn’t exactly a looker. The all-black look the company went for was likely to make it sleek and discreet, but ended up a tad boring and forgettable for most.
The Band 2 has a silver metallic finish on the edges instead of the plastic on the previous wearable. This little change has certainly increased the visual appeal, but it still isn’t entirely what you’d deem attractive. It’s also far larger than the first Band, which means you get more screen real estate but it’s less discreet.
The new Microsoft Band is made of thermal plastic elastomer silicone vulcanate. In English, that just means soft, durable plastic that feels smooth on the skin.
Along with the flat screen, the rigid band is gone. Instead, Microsoft opted for a more flexible strap. Many people notified me about the deteriorating condition of the first Band over time, which I noticed started happening with my own device. However, with the side sensor compartments gone, I feel like the problem should be solved on the second Band – at least, I hope so.
The home and action buttons are back and in the same spot underneath the screen. They’re less resistant than the first set, and depress more quickly and easily. They’re also brushed silver instead of black, matching the border of the Band.
The clasp is also basically the same adjustable one found on the previous wearable, except it’s larger and silver. It also houses the UV sensor and the charge port, showing that Microsoft very deliberately utilized each and every inch of the Band 2.
I thought the first Microsoft Band was moderately comfy in spite of its awkward fit. It would get annoying when I was typing, forcing me to take it off. And, regardless of me wearing the small version, it still didn’t quite sit around my wrist properly.
I’ve found a similar comfort level with the Band 2.
In addition to the flexible strap, the curve has definitely helped making it fit much better. But, because the screen is larger, I can actually fit two fingers in between my wrist and the band. If I tighten the strap any further, it feels like my circulation is cut off. However, if I loosen it, the wearable dangles like an annoying bracelet.
I experienced similar issues with the first Band, so I’m not entirely surprised. Wearables are rarely a good fit for people with tiny wrists, but they’re getting better, thanks to the increasing amount of size variations.
Specs, performance, interface and apps
The same 10 sensors are still jammed into the Microsoft Band 2: an optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, microphone and a galvanic skin response sensor – with the addition of a barometer.
This means you’ll get all the metrics from before, plus measurements of elevation gains from hiking or biking uphill, not to mention climbing steps.
The placement of the sensors are different this time around. You can see the mic and barometer on the sides of your Microsoft Band 2 and the heart rate monitor and galvanic skin response (GSR) contact points on the inside surface. The charging port and UV monitor are on the clasp. Other items, like the accelerometer and GPS, are sealed inside behind the display.
Like the first Band, the Band 2 isn’t waterproof but remains dust and water resistant. With the IP67 rating, it can stand temporary immersion in water at a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes, but it’s not recommended and could ruin the tracker.
The lack of waterproofing is an unfortunate downside of the Bands, but I suppose sealing in the sensors would have hiked up the price a bit more. Still, it means I can’t take this wearable swimming or kayaking to measure my metrics, which is disappointing.
The processing unit has remained the same as the first Band – 64MB internal storage and an ARM Cortex M4 MCU – though I’ve noticed a slight change to the speediness of the interface. The operating system still isn’t Windows 10, but whatever changes were made show through, for the better.
The interface largely remains the same – tiles and apps laid out in a row. Again, same guts, but the performance has improved. There’s less lag throughout when scrolling, and the Band 2 is much quicker to respond when pressing the home button.
Press the power button to see the Me Tile, which is the home screen on your Band. From the Me Tile, swipe left to see the rest of your tiles on the Start Strip.
From the Me Tile, you can tap to see the progress you’ve made toward your goals. Press the action button to cycle through the indicators for your heart rate, miles walked and ran, calories burned and floors climbed. Drag the tile to the right to see the status bar showing battery level, daily heart rate monitor status (if the heart monitor is turned on) and Bluetooth status (if Bluetooth is turned on).
Just like the first Band, head to the Microsoft Health app on your mobile device to load tiles and rearrange or delete them.
There are a few new colors and designs you can customize your Band 2 with. The watchface is also back with a twist called “Rotate on.” The new watch mode will ask which wrist you wear your Microsoft Band 2 on and whether you wear it with the display facing outward or inward. Then, much like smartwatches out there, the clock will pop on when you turn your wrist.
Apps and fitness
There are a few more apps to choose from this time around. Your options include the usual: messaging, mail, calls, calendar, run, exercise, sleep, alarm/timer, guided workouts, cycling, weather, finance, UV, Starbucks, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and a notification center.
You can also sync with the UP by Jawbone app, Runkeeper, MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal, all so the Microsoft Health app has more info on you. Golf was added in a previous software update, so it isn’t exactly “new”.
However, Xbox Wire is a new tile you can add from the “Tile Gallery.” It’s a bit useless right now, since you technically can only read headlines from the Xbox blog.
You can’t even open a link of the story from your Band to read on your phone. Gold’s Gym Inspirations is even worse, as it gives you snippets of inspirational stories that read like an un-ironic motivational poster. I get that this is Microsoft’s push for more tiles to add to the Band 2 – but c’mon, really?
Thankfully, it’s not bloatware, as in neither app is stuck on your Band. Since the Band 2 has launched, the Tile Gallery has gone from displaying “More tiles coming soon…” to actually showing tons of tiles made by both Microsoft and the community of developers. Indeed, more tiles were coming soon and they have now arrived. However, the usefulness of each varies and, on the whole, there doesn’t seem to be a single tile available that provides a deep, satisfying experience.
I’m interested in gaming, so I thought the community-crafted Steam RSS tile would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, it’s just an aggregator of Steam press releases, which is pretty boring.
Next, I checked out BBC’s USA tile, expecting a bit more. Not to slight the Microsoft Band 2, as it’s tough to elegantly cram a bunch of text on a small screen, but what you’re getting here is just the headlines and nothing else.
As we detailed earlier, tapping the headline or bit of content in a tile doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t open up the article on your phone, as you might think it would. Tiles don’t add all that much to the already great experience, but if you’re after the most basic information at-a-glance, you’ll find something like.
You can mix and match these tiles, but again, only 13 apps can be viewed on the actual wearable.
The sleep app has changed a tiny bit with Microsoft adding a smart timer. After using the sleep tracker and gathering enough information, the Band 2 will set an alarm at your “optimal wakeup time.” This could just be 30 minutes before or after your usual alarm. It’s not automatic, and you can turn it off whenever you want.
I found it to be handy since I set two alarms anyway to help me wake up. Using the smart alarm is the same idea.
There are also two ways to use the sleep tracking app. Once in the tile, you can choose to press the action button or let it automatically detect you. It seems like the action button works best but you do have to remember to switch it on at night and off in the morning. Auto-detect is great for these moments. Though, Microsoft notes that if you’re stationary for a long period of time, the Band 2 will think you’re sleeping.
I haven’t had time to fully test out the five fitness apps just yet. However, it’s already obvious that not much has changed – that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Microsoft’s second Band. I was already duly impressed with the simplicity and effectiveness of the first Microsoft Band’s fitness apps.
Guided Workouts, found in the Microsoft Health app which can be downloaded and loaded onto the Band 2 one at a time, has been updated since its launch. It now offers even more workouts than before, ranging from beginner to advanced.
If you’ve used any of the fitness apps, it’s the same premise: choose a workout, and the haptics buzz. Choose the running tile and it records your heart rate, calorie burn, GPS coordinates, lap times and personal bests.
You can then view recorded maps of your runs and analyze your data for ways to improve. Choose the Exercise app and track your progress during group fitness classes, body weight or strength training and yoga, all with the same metrics.
Cycling lets you track your rides outdoors, or indoors. When the Bike tile is active, the heart rate monitor becomes “optimized specifically for biking activities.” It can also track elevation and elevation gain, distance, duration and calorie burn– all viewable in the Microsoft Health app.
Plus, you can map out your ride via GPS, track your current and average speeds and distance both on the band and in the mobile app. Then, you can review your custom splits and see an estimate for how long it will take your body to recover from the ride.
The Microsoft Health Dashboard has also greatly improved. True to its word, further insights have been included over time, allowing you to take actionable steps for a healthier lifestyle. With each use, the algorithms calculate your metrics to let you know what you can do to get a better night’s rest or your calorie burn trends. The metrics are all handily displayed in charts comparing your daily, weekly and monthly activities. The app on the phone also displays a decent amount of information though the Dashboard is much more detailed.
VO2 max is a new calculation Microsoft Band 2 is offering – and it’s the only fitness tracker doing it. Your body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise is the VO2 max. It’s the most precise measure of overall cardiovascular fitness.
From five run or bike workouts with an elevated heart rate, Microsoft then plops your heart rate into its proprietary algorithm to give you an estimated score. It’s not as accurate as being hooked up to a machine and running on a treadmill, but it’s more convenient. Why is this important to know even if you’re not a pro athlete? Well, the higher your VO2 max is, the easier it is to workout longer.
Compatibility and battery life
The days of selective compatibility seem to be over. Certain Android Wear smartwatches can be used with iPhones. Albeit in a limited capacity, but nevertheless, you can still use them together.
The same can be said for the Microsoft Band 2. You can still use it with Android and iOS devices but it works best with Windows 8.1 (and soon Windows 10 Mobile) phones.
I was hoping the virtual keyboard or Cortana would somehow magically be available on my Samsung Galaxy Edge or iPhone 6S, but alas, the compatibility only goes so far.
Aside from those features, you can still get notifications, alerts and even Google Maps directions right on your wrist.
The other compatibility feature, or rather integration, I would have liked is the new Band with Xbox One and Windows 10. With all the fuss over the new operating system, I thought Microsoft would somehow have incorporated its wearable into that mix.
I was able to get a full two and half days out of my Microsoft Band 2 – and that’s with everything (except always-on watch mode) turned on. I did keep the heart rate monitor running and used the rotate-on clock. The wearable finally gave out after I used it to track my sleep, as it promptly died in the morning after I woke up. Annoyingly, it made me reset the time and date upon charging.
Microsoft states 48 hours is the average you’d get without the GPS on constantly and on various power saving modes, like sparse notification alerts and not activating the always-on clock face.
It’s the same amount of time you get with the first Band, but I was able to get a bit extra. I doubt the results will be the same the next time I use the Band 2 if I go for a long run, use Guided Workouts and turn on sleep tracking, because it all depends on usage.
As mentioned before, the charge port is now part of the clasp, as opposed to its former spot behind the display body. The magnetic charger fits snugly and is less of a hassle than the former cord, where the Band had to sit a certain way so that the charger wouldn’t fall off.
Charge time is pretty quick, taking about 35 minutes, a marked improvement from its previous hour and a half for a full charge.
Like many other wearables this year, the Microsoft Band 2 is the result of a ton of smart choices that have greatly improved the device.
It’s still not a looker nor is it the comfiest. But, the Band 2 is all-around far better than the first iteration – which was already a pretty decent fitness tracker to begin with.
The design this time around is a lot more sturdy than the previous Band, which was prone to falling apart. The battery life has also hit slightly above the average fitness tracker mark, especially for one with a screen, notifications and GPS. I’m sure it will vary depending on what you use the Microsoft Band 2 for, but generally two and a half days is nothing to scoff at.
Health Dashboard is also much better, providing more insights and thus incentive to use it. The addition of VO2 max adds another layer of metric complexity that gives users even more information and motivation to continue wearing the new Band.
I would have liked greater functionality for non-Windows phones, so that Android and iOS users can take advantage of Cortana and the virtual keyboard. On the opposite end, further integration with other Microsoft platforms would have been nice, too.
The Band 2 is also on the pricier side, as far as fitness trackers are concerned. This could be a problem for some, especially since the first Band cost less.
In some ways, the Microsoft Band 2’s $249 (£200, AU$380) price tag is justified, since there’s an improved design and new screen on top of another sensor. It also costs the same as a Fitbit Surge, but it looks a tad better with its color touchscreen – though the Band 2 can’t control music from your wrist and has a shorter battery life. The Band 2 is also cheaper than high-end sports watches – but it’s not waterproof.
Basically, there will always be some sort of caveat with the fitness tracker you choose. With the Microsoft Band 2, you get a comprehensive health dashboard with a whole lot of sensors packed inside a device that doesn’t look too bad or fit too uncomfortably.
I feel like the Microsoft Band 2 would have been better as a sports watch, since it almost has the same amount of features. But, alas, it remains a band. Still, it’s a much better device than its predecessor and a more than capable fitness tracker to pick up if you’re a fitness enthusiast or looking for a reason to be.
Original review written by Lily Prasuethsut