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February 9, 2015

Hands-on with the Microsoft Band

I recently got my mitts on the new Microsoft Band and took it for a spin. And over the weeklong test drive, I learned a lot about myself.

Like some of you readers out there, I’m a fitness-gadget geek. Over the years, I’ve used all manner of specialized GPS running watches, heart-rate monitors, bicycle computers, and Fitbit fitness trackers to quantify my level of fitness (or lack thereof).

So I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I got to try out the Microsoft Band, a new cross-platform smart band that tracks your fitness activity, heart rate and sleep quality as well as alerts you to other important stuff like calendar appointments, emails and text messages. The device works in conjunction with the free Microsoft Health app, so be sure to download that onto your Lumia or other Windows Phone.

Here’s my take on how the Microsoft Band works in the real world.


Comprehensive fitness tracker

First, don’t let the Band’s smooth black display fool you. A microphone and haptic vibration motor as well as an array of sensors, including optical heart rate monitor, GPS, galvanic skin response, ultraviolet exposure, accelerometer and gyroscope, lie under the surface of the device. (Read our recent story on what’s inside the Microsoft Band.)

All of the information the sensors collect is packed into the 11-millimeter by 33-millimeter screen, which is readable in bright sunlight. The rectangular screen shows the current time and one of five indicators: day of the week, distance, calories, heart rate and steps. You can cycle through these indicators by pressing the activity button while on the home screen–doing so lets you select the one you want to display.

Swipe left to see three tiles for categories such as text messages, workouts, walking/running and calendar events. Swipe left to see more tiles, which you choose via Microsoft Health.

After pairing the Band to my Lumia 635 via Bluetooth, I went for a short 2-mile run as a test. I pushed the Band’s activity button and set off at a quick trot. By the way, you don’t need to have your Lumia with you to track exercise; that’s a nice feature if you like to keep your hands free.

At the end of the run, the Band showed my total run time (17 minutes, 5 seconds), distance covered (2.01 miles), average per-mile pace (8:32), average and maximum heart rate (161 and 181, respectively) and calories burned (180).

Those stats were then uploaded onto the Health app on my Lumia, which gave me a broader display of my data. (Tip: Make sure the Band fits snugly around your wrist to ensure accuracy of the optical heart rate monitor.)

Interestingly, the Health app quotes a “recovery time” after you exercise, which is meant to be the estimated time it will take for your body to recover from the activity you’ve just completed. It told me that my recovery time for that run was two hours, which was a good excuse for me to relax!

You can also download guided workouts from the Health app onto the Band. Those workouts include “Gold’s Gym: Spring into Shape,” a 20-minute intermediate-level workout, and the 25-minute beginner-level “Anti-Treadmill Cardio Workout.” Tap the activity button to start a workout and follow the directions on the Band’s display, e.g. jumping jacks for 20 seconds.

Monitor emails, calendar appointments and more

I chose to monitor calendar events, text messages, emails and notifications on the Band. If that’s too much information for you to preview, you can deactivate the corresponding tiles on the Health app.


The Band was almost scarily accurate and responsive on these tasks. The second a text message came through on my Lumia, the Band audibly buzzed on my wrist. I admit that I jumped almost a foot in the air the first time the Band vibrated, reminding me that I had a meeting in a few minutes.

Ask Cortana: Speak to the Band

Long-press the Band’s activity button to activate Cortana. Once you do, you’ll see a pulsating orb and the word “Listening.”

Ask Cortana a question, e.g. “What’s the exchange rate of a U.S. dollar into British sterling?” by speaking into the Band, and she will answer by text on the wrist device or on your Lumia phone.


As befitting a personal assistant, you can ask Cortana to perform other tasks such as setting an alarm, reminding you to take your vitamins at a specific time, or sending a text message (e.g. “Text James.”).

Good night, sleep tight

I wasn’t expecting to find the sleep-tracker function on the Band as helpful as I did. It gave me a wealth of data, confirming what I long suspected: I don’t get enough sleep and the sleep I do get isn’t very restful, at least during the week.

Tap the activity button to start and stop the sleep tracker. It took me a night or two to get used to wearing the Band in bed, but now it’s second nature.

According to the Band, I slept a grand total of 5 hours and 29 minutes last night. (No wonder I feel tired today!) Of that time, I had 46 minutes of “restful sleep” and 4 hours and 43 minutes of “light sleep.” I woke up three times during the night and my resting heart rate was 58 beats per minute.

All of this data is a good reminder for me to go to bed earlier and to switch off my PC and Lumia an hour before I go to bed so I’ll rest better.

There’s a bit of a learning curve on using the Band, but by the end of my weeklong trial, it felt natural to check my emails and text messages and track my fitness activity with it.

The Microsoft Band ($199.99) is currently sold in Microsoft Stores in the U.S.

What do you think of my trial with the Band? Does it make you want one? Do you have any questions about its features?