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Hands on with Microsoft Band: It's awkward and inaccurate, but stuffed with features

Jon Phillips | Nov. 4, 2014
It's uncomfortable to wear, and its heart-rate data is inconsistent. But for just US$200, the Microsoft Band is stuffed with more sensors than any other wearable available.

microsoft band heart rate locked
JON PHILLIPS. The Microsoft Band's heart rate reports wouldn't be so troubling if the band didn't blurt out, "Hey, I'm locked and loaded, and ready for accuracy!" Figuratively speaking, of course.

Over the course of the hour, the Microsoft Band consistently reported heart-rate numbers that lagged far behind those of the Earphones. Worse yet, its reports fluctuated wildly, showing rapid BPM swings that didn't jibe with reality. One moment, my two devices showed similar numbers. The next moment, the Band would show a 20-, 30- or 40-odd bpm deficit.

The Microsoft Band's performance disturbed me, so I tried a similar A/B comparison test on my elliptical machine at home. Keeping my wrists as stationary as possible, the Microsoft Band yielded far more accurate (and reasonable) results. Its heart rate numbers were always within a few bpm of the Earphones, and tracked evenly as I increased my heart rate from 85 bpm to 140 bpm throughout a workout.

microsoft band uv levels
JON PHILLIPS. Of course, there's no UV light inside, but I tested the feature outside, and it reported as promised.

My takeaway? Simple: Like all currently available wrist-worn heart-rate monitors, the Microsoft Band seems to have trouble with jostling arm movement and forward motion. This is a legitimate problem given Microsoft's product marketing--especially when the band's display reports that it has your heart rate "locked." 

On the plus side, the Microsoft Band reported steps counts that were within about 5 percent of two other wristbands I was wearing during the hike. 

You have to love onboard GPS

Heart-rate tracking is fundamental to so many of the Microsoft Band's fitness features, so it's rather heart-breaking that I don't trust the platform's numbers. For our final review, I'll spend more time with the band's heart-rate tracking, and, who knows, maybe my experience on Mount Davidson will prove anomalous. I'll also spend more time with the band's deep well of features.

But for now I can tell you the Microsoft Band's interface is easy to navigate, and does a wonderful job of translating the aesthetics of Microsoft's tile scheme to a wearable interface. The UI's look-and-feel is unmistakably modern Microsoft, right down to its colors, fonts, and background motifs. Unfortunately, there's no option to set the exceedingly oblong display to a vertical orientation. This is an oversight that Microsoft needs to address in an update--Samsung did so with the Gear Fit, and improved its user experience immensely. 

screens microsoft band
JON PHILLIPS. I really dig Microsoft's workout charts. On the left we see my route up and down Mount Davidson, with exertion levels flagged by color.


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