Another Smartwatch! How does it compare?
I’ve reviewed the Fitbit Blaze (to /r/fitbit reader’s disgust, as I’m not a fitness freak) and the Samsung Gear 2 Neo – neither of which I loved.
I was hoping the Microsoft Band 2 would be a different experience for me. I still wasn’t fussed about the fitness side of things, so they won’t be covered in this review. A special came up where it was $249AU rather than the $389RRP which was enough of a push to order one.
A few days later, the box arrived. Inside was the nicely presented Band 2:
Setup wasn’t too bad – for my Samsung Galaxy S6, I had to download the Microsoft Health App and sync to my Band 2 (which took me a while to work out, I had to first remove the Band 1 I’d mucked around with ages ago but Microsoft still remembered, before adding the Band 2. That wasn’t clear at all!). Once that was done, I went through the config and changed a few settings around the shortcuts; I hid things like golf which I’d never use.
One thing I’d enabled was the Notification Centre, which was soon disabled again because I realised I didn’t want my wrist vibrating each time a notification turned up on my phone. Just the important stuff was what I wanted, and each of those (phone, sms, email) had it’s own app anyway.
Once it was on my wrist, I felt I couldn’t get it comfy and in the right spot. I’d opted for the large model as I’d measured and medium was too small, but there was something a bit lumpy about it.
I knew battery life was still going to be an issue, with a best of 48 hours from the Band 2, but on paper the rest of the boxes were ticked for me:
Supported by iOS, Android and Windows Phone (so I’m not stuck on a type of mobile phone)
Sleep Tracking (with the ability to turn off display at night)
Colour, readable screen.
Gizmodo recently ranked the Band 2 as their 5th best smartwatch (I have no idea why the pictures of the watches are on bikes, rather than wrists), which is a fairly reasonable ranking (even though I disagree with their reasons).
Anyway, if you’re after a detailed review on what the device is and does, there’s plenty of online content about that. Here’s what I found personally after using it for a while:
My Experience – Positives
Although the band can seem clunky and uncomfortable, it’s a matter of getting used to it. For me that only took a day, now I don’t notice it on my wrist at all. It’s not lumpy or awkward after a day (I was wearing an analog watch before this), so if you try one on and it feels weird, that will probably pass.
I also didn’t mind that it’s designed to be on the inside of your wrist. From a resting position, there’s less wrist turn required to see the bottom of your wrist rather than the top.
The screen is easy to read, the buttons easy to press. Touch is responsive, and I found navigating around easy to do. What surprised me the most though, was the device’s ability to write messages:
It works really well and for a short message, I’d generally not bother taking my phone out of my pocket.
Alerts about meetings, SMSes, calls etc work quite well. Feeling a small vibration on your wrist and glancing at it is still much better than fishing your phone out of your pocket.
I also like setting an alarm on the Band 2 itself rather than my smartphone. They don’t sync up, so you’ll have to turn your phone’s off… but a vibrating wrist is a nicer and quieter way to wake up than a sound, especially when you have a sleeping child in the next room.
The setup of the Band 2 is somewhat customisable, where you can decide which icons are shown or not, and what order they display in. There’s also a few third party apps such as The Associated Press’s news, but I didn’t find anything particularly interesting (news isn’t something I want to read on this screen).
My Experience – Negatives
Negatives, there’s a few. Battery life annoys me more than I’d hoped. Charging via the car wasn’t putting through enough juice, so over an hour each day wasn’t enough to keep it going. Charging at home while I get ready in the morning seems to be enough as long as I do it daily. I’ve already forgotten my Band more than once because of this change in routine.
Worse than the battery on the Band 2, is the heavily reduced battery life on my Samsung Galaxy S6 running Microsoft Health (required for the Band 2). For the first time ever, my phone was going flat before a working day was done:
Battery usage of Microsoft Health
Microsoft Australia contacted me on Twitter when I posted about this. They said to reinstall Microsoft Health, which I’d already done. From there it was suggested to contact Microsoft Band support online, which was actually either Australian based, or more likely at least in an Australian time zone.
Their recommendation (after telling me “we’ve got you back”) was to reset the Band itself. Skeptical, but without any other option, I tried it. As mentioned previously, the setup process is pretty quick so it’s nowhere near as bad as resetting a smartphone.
Since then, the battery usage of Microsoft Health on my phone isn’t even listed, and my phone’s battery life seems to be back to normal. No errors either! I’m surprised this made a difference, but there you go.
Microsoft Band 2 vs Fitbit Blaze
This is a close one. Fitbit Blaze has a superior battery life, over double of the Band 2. It also (to me) looks a bit nicer, but I do like the watch look (Moto 360 is the winner in that area!), but the Fitbit Blaze is more of a fitness watch first. The Band 2 tries to make everyone happy, and I think does a better job of that. Support was better on the Band 2 by far too.
I’d rate them on par with each other, and you’ll need to work out what’s more important to you on features and differences to pick which one you prefer. Neither are a bad choice!
I like the Band 2, and it’s a big jump from the Band 1 which felt unresponsive and bulky (I tried one for a few days). I’ll keep going on about poor battery life, because it bothers me so much – hopefully with advancements in OLED screens which have power savings on dark screens due to no backlight… maybe the Microsoft Band 3 will have one. Give me a week without charge and I’ll be happy, so Sunday nights can be charge night!
That aside, it’s an all rounder that does everything it does reasonably well. Readability is quite high, anything that shows up as a notification I can quickly tell what’s going on. Navigation can take a little time to learn; not that it’s difficult, it’s just different to how you’d use a smartphone.
I still think it’s overpriced at $300AU, even though that’s a heavy discount from the RRP of $380. The $250 price I paid makes me feel a little better, but from the outside it doesn’t look like it should cost as much as it does. That price pain applies to all mainstream smartwatches really, and since they’re in the early stages still, we should see a ramp up of the technology used in them in the next few years to come.