When Microsoft unveiled the original Band, it felt much more like a proof of concept device than a full-fledged consumer product. That said, it turned out to be an impressive wearable. It had ten sensors to help monitor a wide variety of health and fitness activities, a full-color touch screen, a battery that lasts longer than the Apple Watch, and the ability to load third-party apps, aka “tiles.”
But there were some glaring flaws. In an editorial last September, I detailed what I hoped would be improved in a second iteration. The short of it was that the build quality and overall aesthetic were lacking. It wasn’t a device I absolutely loved to have strapped to my wrist, just one that was overwhelmingly pleasing regarding functionality.
When I saw the Band 2 unveiled last October, it looked like most if not all of my issues with the original device had been dealt with. It had a new look with a curved screen, a total of eleven sensors, and all of the great functionality I enjoyed with the first generation.
I eagerly placed my order and have been wearing it almost non-stop since my Band 2 arrived in early November. After four months of use here is how I feel the second iteration stacks up.
Microsoft switched to a new curved capacitive AMOLED display measuring 32 by 12.8 mm. This makes the Band 2’s screen not as wide, but taller than the original. It is still approximately the same PPI, and everything looks similar, but the taller screen definitely makes emails and messages a little easier to scroll through.
The screen is also more scratch resistant thanks the addition of Gorilla Glass. But since the device is usually meant to be worn on the bottom of your wrist, the screen still ends up with some scratches unless you have a screen protector. But it is nothing as bad as the first generation.
The other huge advantage of a curved screen is it gives the Band 2 an improved overall look. The profile of the Band 2 looks sleeker since it is now curved the whole way around with metallic finishes on both ends. The old Band had an awkward flat part in its profile from the non-curved screen, and the resulting bulky look left many commenting it resembled and felt like a prison-like bracelet. Now the Band 2 has a slimmer and smoother overall profile that is more natural to the shape of your wrist.
The Band 2’s profile also differs because the batteries were moved the to the back of the band rather than on the sides. The new design has two advantages, first it helps with the look and feel to not have those bulky batteries sitting on the side. Second, the straps of the band are much more flexible without batteries fixed to them.
Speaking of the battery, it performs well. Microsoft quotes a two-day battery life, but under testing by our own Oliver Fuh, he was able to get almost three days’ charge out of it under certain conditions. From my normal day to day use, the two-day quote seems pretty typical.
Many have harped that it is such a short battery life for a fitness tracker when FitBits can last five days between charges. True, but those devices aren't powering a full-color touchscreen. The two-day battery life puts the Band 2 at about the same performance level as a Samsung Gear 2, and certainly ahead of the Apple Watch or the Moto 360 smartwatch.
In the end, the battery life has never been an issue for me. Just a 40-minute charge in the morning when I’m getting ready and having a cup of coffee, and the Band 2 is set for the rest of the day and night.
The Band 2 delivers a great combination of smartwatch and fitness tracker functionality, which has only been improved and expanded upon since the first generation. With its vast array of sensors, the Band 2 does an incredibly detailed job of recording your activity throughout the day and even when you sleep. And not just the typical things like calories burned during a workout, or how fast your bike ride was. But also things like the number of strokes on your golf game and how much exposure to the sun you endured while working out.
What makes these things impressive though is how this data becomes useful and tailored for you with the Microsoft Health app and website. For example, after workouts you get an estimate of how long your body needs to recover before you hit the gym again. The Band 2 also integrates with other apps so you can marry your fitness data with your diet tracking program, or upload custom workouts from your gym.
The Band 2 comes with great smartwatch features too. One of the recent improvements which I use the most is the new music controls. With just a double-click of the main button, I can get access to volume, play, pause, next track and previous track, without pulling my phone out of my pocket or bag.
Some reviewers complained about the fit, saying it feels awkward or uncomfortable. After wearing my Band 2 daily for a few months, I disagree. The fit is definitely different from a typical watchband most are used to, so it certainly might not be for everyone. However, in four months I haven't found it to be uncomfortable or unnatural.
The fit isn’t a nuisance, it’s just slightly different, and in some ways better. I prefer the feel of the Band compared to some of the heavier metallic wristwatches I’ve owned, which slid on my wrist, weren’t as adjustable, pulled hair, and rubbed skin raw. The Band 2 doesn't do any of that. Either way, the fit is indeed improved over the first generation, so, if this is what initially deterred you from the original Band, the Band 2 might be worth checking out.
The Band 2 is an excellent device and a little over four months later I’m still quite happy with it. The refined look is not as stylish as some smartwatches. But the new metal finish to the front and back, the curved screen, and the less bulky sides, all give it a sleek appearance of its own. It is more durable, showing fewer scratches, and is more flexible with an improved fit. Importantly, Microsoft continues to bring updates and new features to the Band 2 to increase its functionality on an ongoing basis.
The most significant flaw in my estimation was the pricing. Originally it sold for $249.99 at launch. This made it $50 more expensive than the first generation. I felt the steeper price tag led the Band 2 to comparisons with smartwatches that have a premium fit, look and more phone integration. The higher price may have set the Band 2 up for comparison with something it is not, a premium smartwatch.
Since launching, there have been promotional sales and trade-in offers, but it is available now for $175. This price, which is slightly lower than the higher end FitBits, makes a much more compelling price point to entice owners of other fitness trackers. It now costs less than high-end FitBits but has more sensors and features, deeper smartphone integration and is still platform agnostic, working with all phones.
If you are looking for an activity tracker that is more interactive and does more than sit on your wrist counting metrics, the Band 2 is a compelling device. It goes beyond others both in terms of sensors and smartwatch like functionality. It’s fun; it has a distinctive look, and it has a robust set of functions which are all quite practical and easy to use. With the second generation Band, Microsoft has shown it can successfully iterate for this brand new product line, and I look forward to seeing how they continue to develop it into in the future.