Microsoft Band Impressions

When Microsoft initially announced the Band I thought it looked really cool and that I would want one. However, I don’t like dealing with rushes so I figured I’d wait a while until things settled down and then I’d get one. I failed. After two trips to the mall I decided to just buy one off EBay.

I hate buying stuff like this from eBay because the people who generally run out buy up all of a new product and then resell it on eBay are part of the problem. They’ll buy up all of the new iPhones at launch and then resell them at twice the price. However, people buy them and pay the markup. I got lucky, somebody had bought two but his wife didn’t want one so he was sell it pretty much at cost (band + sales tax + screen protector + shipping).

Anyway, I have one now and the Microsoft Stores are still pretty much out of stock. Although the online store briefly showed that they were in stock, but today it’s back out of stock again.

First some background: I have a FitBit and have been using it a lot for the past 6 months. I really like the FitBit and think that it’s a good product.

Now my impression of the Band: I like the hardware. It’s bigger than a FitBit but smaller than a watch. The display is touch sensitive and there are two buttons on the side. There is a power button and an action button. Then there are all of the sensors they crammed in to the Band: GPS, heart rate, motion, temperature, UV, clock and whatever else. It also has Bluetooth to communicate with your phone or other devices.

The basic hardware in the Band blows the FitBit out of the water. The FitBit just has a motion detector, clock and Bluetooth. So the only thing it will ever really do is detect is when you are moving and how much movement is going on. Which is actually really useful. The Band however could go so much further. Which brings me to the Band’s short coming: software.

The Band’s software at the moment feels quite limited. However, I’m still learning my way around. For instance, the steps taken goal out of the box is 5000 steps. I do 5000 steps in my sleep. The screen says you can change the goal but it is not immediately obvious how you do that. I looked at preferences and other areas and didn’t see anything. Then I went in to the Steps screen and finally noticed the small pencil icon on the right edge. That takes you to the screen that lets you set your steps. While it wasn’t immediately obvious to me, I had been on the screen and not noticed the pencil thing, given the direction I think they are going I can see the logic of not having all of the goal settings put in a preferences screen.

Because the band monitors your heart rate the steps screen can show you your heart rate while you were out running. Or in my case walking the dogs (peaked at 115, not exactly a workout). I think that’s pretty cool. Given the GPS data I’d love to know if there were elevation changes.

The Sleep screen is actually a lot more detailed than FitBits. Again: heart rate is tracked so you can see that information. That combined with the motion detector you can get a better idea of how restful your sleep really was. Overall really cool.

I’ve not used the Guided Workout yet. I’m going to try out the Couch to 5K workout. What I don’t like is that I do not see a way to create my own workout. I’m doing Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program, I can’t find anything like it in the existing work outs and I don’t see a way to add it or make it myself. Hopefully this will be rolled out in the next release. Given the capabilities of the Band it should be possible to enter what exercise you did, how much weight you are working with, and how many repetitions you did. Perhaps the other Guided Workouts are already doing this and maybe there is something for this already, but I’ve not found it yet.

The big pieces of the application I see missing are: diet/food tracking and weight tracking. Perhaps I’ve not found them yet, but I don’t see it. What I don’t want is to have to use another app that is not integrated with this…For instance: with the FitBit I could enter in what I’ve been eating and my weight and track my progress.   At the moment I can’t do this in the Microsoft Health application running on my phone.

I could get a different application to track that information but now I have to go to two places. Worse, I hate entering data in to my cell phone. On screen keyboards suck and voice input ain’t happening. What I really want is a set of applications that work on my phone, tablet and PC so I can do what I want to do where it makes the most sense to do it. Throw in the apps on the band too now I guess.

What I see in the Band and its software is a great start. It’s not a finished product though. From what I see and what I’ve read Microsoft is doing two things that are really smart. First: they are acting like a startup. They’ve released the Band as quickly as possible instead of waiting until they had a polished product. The Hardware is polished pretty well with only a few improvements needed (the glass scratches too easily is a common complaint I’ve read) which makes sense b/c it will be hard to get people to turn around and buy new hardware quickly. But the software is still beta in my opinion. It has some really cool features that I like but given the capabilities of the hardware they have barely scratched the surface.

The second thing they are doing is making it a platform. Based on Microsoft’s existing HealthVault platform and the messaging around Microsoft Health it seems that there will be ways to create applications that extend the Health application. Hopefully they will also make it possible to write applications that run directly on the Band as well.

At this point I’ve had the Band for less than 24 hours. I like it and I think as it stands it’s a kick ass product. However I also see a ton of room for growth.

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