Microsofts second attempt at making a fitness tracker is a lot more comfortable and attractive than its first, packed with sensors and relatively easy to live with.
The first Microsoft Band was a chunky, clunky device, and while, in some ways, it was more comfortable than devices that needed to be worn tight to the wrist, it had more than a little whiff of criminal ankle tracker about it.
Fit and finish The band has a curved display, flexible rubber sides and a hard lump that forms the clasp and contains the batteries and electrodes for the sensors. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Microsoft Band 2 ditches the plastic screen for a Gorilla Glass display and a metal body. It looks good, is easy to read with a clear and bright AMOLED display, and hasnt smashed or scratched in two months of using it all the time. The rest of the band is made of a tough but flexible black rubber with a metal clasp and a plastic chunk with two metal contacts on it.
The chunk is the battery, and the metal contacts are for some of the skin sensors. The clasp is a sliding, push-button release, which is excellent. You can take it on and off and adjust it easily on the fly very useful when youre switching between a comfort fit for every-day tracking and a tighter fit to prevent it moving around on your wrist when going for a run.
The top and bottom of the band hold it in place on the wrist without the sides of the band having to be tight, meaning it is much less sweaty than some competitors. Wear from rubbing on a shirt cuff was clearly visible after two months, however. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
It fits under a shirt cuff, isnt sweaty and doesnt have to feel tight on your wrist. Its also easy to type with it on, as the band around the side of your wrist is thin, but the finish on the rubber shows obvious signs of wear after only a couple of months.
The Band 2 isnt waterproof, but is sweat-proof. No showering with it on, or swimming, but it will survive workouts without issue.
SpecificationsDisplay: 12.8mm x 32mm AMOLED (320×128 pixels)Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0Compatibility: Android 4.3+, iPhone 4S or later, Windows Phone 8.1 or laterSensors: Optical heart rate, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light, UV, skin temperature, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response, BarometerSensor-packed The optical heart rate sensor sits on the wrist under the display, making a solid contact with the wearers skin. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Band 2 is one of the most technologically advanced fitness trackers available with 10 different sensors and a microphone. Some of the sensors give direct read-outs, such as the constant optical heart-rate sensor (which is one of the most accurate Ive tested), the UV sensor and GPS. Others are used in combination to detect steps and activity, track workouts and other things.
As with the original Microsoft Band, some of the sensors do not appear to be used, or at least the data isnt user accessible yet.
Most of the information can be viewed on the band itself, or via the app and web app, which is one of the best I have used with any fitness tracker.
The Band 2 also tracks sleep and has a vibrating alarm to wake you up at the best moment. The recorded data is some of the most interesting of any sleep tracker I have tested. It also shows the standard light, deep and restful sleep markings through the night. But I can also see that when I drink a beer or glass of wine before bed my heart doesnt reach its resting 49 beats per minute until after the alcohol has been cleared from my system in the middle of the night.
Sleep tracking is particularly interesting, providing insights beyond simply how long or how deeply you slept. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Im asleep, but the alcohol has delayed my rest, which explains why even small amounts of alcohol make me more tired in the morning.
Microsoft Health is full of these little pieces of information that make a world of difference to my understanding of the data, and it is improving with each update. Other platforms do not offer quite the same inferences or detail without having to pay a monthly fee.
One of the best new features is the ability to build custom workouts and upload them to the Band, which can then track your progress, either through completed reps or time.
Custom workouts are one of the Bands strong points, guiding you through and measuring reps or time. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Its quick and easy to do. I built a 10-step circuit-training session in about five minutes, uploaded it to my Band and away I went. If youre not sure what youre doing there are many pre-programmed exercises and routines, complete with very good explanatory videos, to choose from.
Running tracking is also excellent, getting and maintaining a location fix with the GPS, although it isnt quite as effective as a dedicated running watch for heart-rate band training.
Smartwatch features Microsofts Tiles are small apps that do things on the band, from tracking sleep to providing smartphone notifications. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
Beyond the solid fitness-tracking feature set, the Band 2 behaves like a pseudo-smartwatch. It can show notifications from a smartphone, including calls, has music controls at the double tap of a button, and has tiles for Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, Stocks, Weather and Starbucks, which lets you pay for coffee with a barcode.
Connected to Windows Phone users can access Microsofts virtual assistant Cortana to pull up information and perform voice control. Most of the other features, including music playback control work on Android and iOS too.
The charger magnetically attaches to the end of the strap and plugs into a USB power adapter. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Microsoft Band 2 lasted just over two days between charges in my testing. Using the GPS for a run reduced the battery life, as does using it as a watch with the screen on all the time or having notifications sent to the band. I found charging it for about 20 minutes a day 10 minutes while showering and 10 minutes while brushing my teeth before bed was enough to keep it between 50 and 80% charged.
It fully charges in just over an hour with a USB, magnetic charger that clips onto the end of the strap with a firm grasp.
The Microsoft Band 2 costs 200 in three sizes, small, medium and large, but only one colour. For comparison, the Fitbit Surge costs 200 with similar specifications.
Verdict The Band 2 can be worn inside or outside of the wrist, here showing heart rate. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The Microsoft Band 2 is not the most attractive, the cheapest or longest-lasting fitness tracker available. But it is packed with sensors and insight, and is one of the easiest fully-featured trackers to live with. Its cross-compatibility with Android, iOS and Windows is commended, as are the apps and data visualisation of Microsofts Health app.
It makes a good, advanced band to be worn as well as a dumb watch, fits under a shirt cuff, but is less useful as an out-and-out smartwatch. There are also question marks around how long itll last, having visibly shown signs of wear in the first two months.
Pros: sensor-packed, continuous heart rate, GPS, not sweaty, doesnt pull out hairs, good data visualisation, cross-platform, no monthly fee, great sleep tracking, custom exercise regimes/tracking, notifications
Cons: not waterproof, quite chunky, rubber shows signs of wear, battery life could be better
The clasp works really well allowing easy on-the-fly adjustment by simply sliding it along the slot. The clasp also has a UV sensor on it. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the GuardianOther reviews