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Microsoft Band Part 2: Following Your Fitness

In the second of her two-part review of the Microsoft Band, Katie focuses on its fitness features.


This is the second in my two-part review of the Microsoft Band, after I wore it nearly every day and for many nights over a month-long time period. In my first review, I focused on the Band’s day-to-day functions, and how it felt while wearing it. In this part, I examine the device’s fitness features, including workouts that are timed and led by instructions on your wrist, and activity summaries that teach you about your progress.

In the tech world, where everyone seems obsessed with step tracking, heart-rate sensing, calorie tallying and sleep evaluating, a wrist without a gadget is hard to find.

Trouble is, we’re already getting wearable weary.

Microsoft is out to prove that its wrist gadget can beat the competition. For the past month, I’ve been wearing the $200 Microsoft Band. As I said last week, I’m not a huge fan of its look or feel — especially when wearing it every day and night. But the Band really hits its stride when you use it for exercising.

This thing can help you with workouts in one of two ways. You can use it on the go, selecting an icon representing Run or Workout from your Band’s screen just before you start, and it will measure all sorts of data points. Or you can use it in a more planned strategy by downloading a specific workout to the Band — timed instructions and all — from its corresponding Microsoft Health app on iOS, Android or Windows Phone.

Either option gives you the freedom to leave your phone at home while you exercise.

This could be a real plus for people who don’t like moving around with that extra weight in their pockets. For others, including at least one person I know, phones are a safety must-have when running alone, so the Band’s independent streak isn’t a huge selling point.

Both Band-tracking methods give you a post-workout reward in the form of data. In the Microsoft Health app, a list called Activity History shows you information about your body’s behavior during the workout. This includes whether or not a workout was a personal best for you, your high and low heart rate, total calories burned and a breakdown of how many calories you burned from fat versus from carbohydrates. It can also include your GPS coordinates, if you opt to turn this on, but it sucks up more battery.

I tested the on-the-go workout-tracking method on several occasions, like 40-minute power walks, my weekly tennis drills and runs. I even wore the band in the pool during a swimming class with my one-year-old just to see how many calories I burned pushing him around. Note: I didn’t have any trouble, but the band isn’t waterproof, so this isn’t recommended.

One of the downsides of this method is remembering to tap the icon on your Band before the workout or other activity begins. It was incredibly frustrating to get halfway through even 15 minutes of exercise, only to realize that I hadn’t pressed the right buttons to start tracking my activity.

Sleep is also tracked using this button-pressing routine. On several occasions, I slept an entire night wearing the Microsoft Band, only to wake up and realize I had forgotten to initiate activity tracking.

When I wore my Band during tennis drills, I learned that I ran nearly three miles in my 90-minute session, which was rewarding. I accidentally turned on GPS tracking during this session and afterward saw a map that looked like a rat’s nest; it represented me running around a tennis court.

Maps of your movements measure your fast, medium and slow speeds, and display them in green, yellow and red lines, respectively. This helps you see where you were when you really moved well — even if it was because you were charging toward a Krispy Kreme doughnut store up ahead.

If you’re more of a planner, you’ll like the Microsoft Band’s in-app workouts that can be synced over to the gadget on your wrist. These come from a variety of sources with whom Microsoft has partnered, including Gold’s Gym, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness.

I really liked one from Shape magazine called the Flat-Stomach Formula workout. This was a 20-minute workout for beginners that helped me tone my stomach without doing any crunches. Once I synced the workout over from my smartphone app to my Band, I could select the workout on the Band to start. It timed out the whole thing, including intervals for resting and instructions on when to do different moves. And the band vibrated to signal the start of each step.

Preview videos and details about each workout can be found on the Microsoft Health app, so you know what you’re getting into.

I found that once I had a workout saved to my wrist, I was more apt to do it.

On the downside, the Band can’t automatically identify what you’re doing, whether playing tennis, riding a bike, skiing or practicing yoga. The Run or Workout tiles felt a little generic. And while I liked seeing a lot of data about my workouts, it felt squeezed on my smartphone’s screen. A Microsoft spokesman said that next year the Band will have a corresponding Web-based portal where you can see all of your data in one place.

The Microsoft Band’s real strength is in fitness tracking. If Microsoft can improve some features, and design it to be more comfortable and attractive for everyday use, it could be a real contender in the race to find the perfect wearable.

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