Following my article on the Microsoft Band updates, I relented to peer-pressure and bought one. Having used the Band exclusively for a week, I found it easy to add to my daily routine and I’ve generally had a great experience. The next few paragraph describe some details on my week, as well as a few suggested tips for how you can maximize your Band experience.
I used the Band as a watch for the latter-half of the first week, I also wore it in the gym and generally had it on as long as I was awake. I did not wear it when sleeping.
I started off with the Band on my right wrist while my watch occupied my left, as usual. Aside from a general feeling that I was suddenly a comic book hero, the Band was comfortable to wear on a daily basis. With its flat screen and thick band joined by a clip on the back, the unit did seem cumbersome in some situations, and you can forget about having it sit under a dress-shirt. You can remove the Microsoft Band using a push-button release on the sides of the clip. I did, however, find it clumsy when working and subsequently ended up taking it off when I sat at my keyboard for long periods of time.
After a few days, I set my watch aside and wore the Band on my left wrist. Using the Band as my watch was an easy transition, though with the rectangular display, the time was always numbers down (meaning towards my forearm) or facing my hand, which was awkward as I found I was always moving my arm to see the time. Perhaps in another release Microsoft will consider a horizontal display where the numbers are smaller, but a width-wise position would provide more of a watch experience. When using watch mode, users should be mindful of the battery life and press the action button to turn off the display when not in use. While this may seem like a cumbersome task, it was easy to integrate into my routine and became second nature.
Microsoft Band has excellent text, email and health applications for displaying information. The vibrate feature offers simple notification without disturbing a room full of people as we have all done with our devices dancing across a boardroom table. I could glance at the Band to discretely view incoming messages. In order to respond, I highly recommend reverting to your phone or laptop as the Band’s predictive keyboard isn’t functional. The Band’s “quick read” mode is great for displaying messages in speed-reading style one word at a time in large font as an alternative to squinting at lines of text on your wrist. While this is great, it also means you are potentially staring at your wrist for a while before the end of the message, so be careful when driving or anything similar.
The Starbucks app quickly became my favorite to use; it lets you swipe your finger to buy lattes and espressos. As my Band is one of the first in Canada, I also enjoyed the look of disbelief as my local Barista witnessed me pay with a quick scan of my wrist. Note that the app only provides a bar code to scan; it does not have advanced features like checking your card balance, reloading or jumping between cards.
At the gym
As I mentioned in my previous article about the Band SDK release, I’m an avid indoor cyclist and I couldn’t wait to try it out. With the device on my left wrist, I hopped on a stationary bike and started pedaling in a cycling class. If you use the Band for a similar purpose (or for any type of workout), remember that you must select the app and turn on the appropriate mode each time as the Band doesn’t automatically track any activities outside of steps and pulse otherwise.
I wondered how accurate the Band would be, so I left my old heart rate monitor on for the first class. To my delight, they matched exactly, tracking my overall time, calorie burn and heart rate throughout the class identically. By default, the display will stay on during your workout. If you find this distracting, you can push the action button to turn the display off; don’t worry, the device is still on in the background. Like most wearables, the device is obviously aware of your movements. Subsequently, on one occasion where I ended the cycling session but didn’t hit END twice to commit the ride, the Band vibrated to prompt me to END the session. This is a great fail-safe for anyone who has had a ride erase due to user error.
The Band had seamless synchronization to my iPhone 6, and I enjoyed the portal experience to track my daily performance. The only negative to using the Band in the gym was its size. With its thick strap, the Band occasionally locked my wrist in place, causing me to slide it back up my forearm to continue some movements. While this was easy to do sitting on a bike, someone lifting heavy weights wouldn’t have that same capability and something would have to give.
Make no mistake; water is not your friend when you have a Band. I was very careful to respect this fact, but also felt that at some point it was going to get wet accidentally, whether I was refilling the coffee carafe or washing my hands. Microsoft clearly states the device is not waterproof, so be sure to remove it when washing the car or dishes.
I had a great time getting familiar with my Band and using it during week one. But I do not use a device to track my steps or heartbeat every day, so I will likely use the Band for the gym or on days that I know will be very active. As Microsoft continues to release updates and the Band SDK becomes more popular with third-party integrators, I look forward to watching how usage and functionality grows.