Last week, Microsoft released a new feature for owners of the Microsoft Band. The hybrid fitness wearable/smartwatch already has the ability to track unique details of your runs, bike rides, workouts, and even golf game. After last week’s update, the Band can now track your hikes with the new Explore Tile.
Microsoft extolled the feature as being a great new way to track your hikes, or even walks around the neighborhood, using the Band’s array of sensors, including the onboard GPS. So when my family and I decided to take a trip to our local Zoo last weekend, I decided to take the new Explore Tile for a test drive.
As soon as we got out of the car and started making our way to the Zoo’s entrance I clicked the Explore Tile. I then received two quick messages on the screen. First, there was a prompt for starting without a GPS lock yet, which I agreed to. And secondly, that the screen will power down while I’m using the Explore Tile to save battery. I continued on my way and less than a minute later my wrist buzzed letting me know that my Band had now locked in a GPS signal.
I went around the rest of our-two hour trip paying no attention to my Band, except for a notification about one and a half hours in reminding me to stay hydrated, and another buzz a short while later letting me know my exposure to UV rays had increased. What’s great about Microsoft’s approach to the Explore Tile, and the Band in general, is it requires minimal interactions, and when you do have to interact it is as a glance-and-go experience as it can be. With the Explore Tile, you can turn off notifications, or leave the watch face on depending how you want to use it and what you want to focus on as you explore
As we finished up our excursion and made our way back to the car, I ended the session on my Explore Tile. This is when I got to see how detailed the new feature is and I was impressed by this simple addition to the Band’s feature set. It tracks things like how much you were on the move, how much you were at rest, elevation gain and loss, your climb rate, heart rate, calories burned and UV exposure, among a few other details.
You also get a picture of your trip overlayed on a map so you can see exactly where you were and where you stopped. As you can see on my map below, my Band noted each time I stopped at an exhibit in the Zoo and marked it as a point of interest. The Band automatically notes the places you stop, but you can also manually add points of interest on your band during your walk directly.
I mentioned that using the Explore Tile powers down the Band’s screen, but there are still a few interesting things you can do with the Band while you are out and exploring. When the Explore feature is running, you can see stats like heart rate, calories burned and elevation, of course like you can in most of the other tiles. But you can also see your GPS coordinates, last known heading, and an outline of the path you have traveled so far.
You can also leave the Explore Tile while it is running for things like bringing up your music controls or jump over to some notifications if you feel the need to distract yourself on your hike for some reason.
Overall, I was impressed by this feature, and it does fill a need. There have been times where when on vacation I went on long walks or was just out exploring new areas, and to keep track of those excursions I had to use the run tile. But the run tile is focused on things like your pace and how intense of a workout you are getting. It is nice to have a feature on the Band which keeps track of health metrics for exploring as well as capturing more details of the experience, such as a map and points of interest.
It is encouraging to see great new features being regularly added to the Band. The Band has always had more sensors than other wearables at similar prices points, like FitBit. And the steady stream of updates has made it just as feature rich as other wearables with new workouts, activities, and even social sharing features.
However, if Microsoft is truly committed to the Band they need to work out a better form factor. The current band is susceptible to cracks in its rubber, something I’ve experienced twice now even with my relatively low impact use. And other high-end wearables focus on the feel of the wristband and even give users the ability to swap out different designs, such as with the Apple Watch or the FitBit Blaze.
I’m continually impressed by what the Band is capable of with regularly added features like the Explore Tile. It makes me very hopeful for the future of this wearable. But it is clear they haven’t worked out some of the fundamental kinks in the first two generations. Hopefully, Microsoft is committed to iterating fast to improve its design and make the Band the competitor it could be.