Hands up (literally): we actually liked the Micosoft Band. That's despite it being ugly, harder than a handcuff, with a two-day battery life if you were lucky. Microsoft just announced its follow-up, claiming that, “Customers provided great feedback” on the first one, that they fully took on board. Imagine our suprise, then, to be confronted by a device almost as ugly as the first one, and otherwise identical in many respects.
"What would cyclists and gym rats want?” Microsoft wanted to know, and it seems the answer to that was, "A product just like the first one, but not so damn rigid, please."
Band 2 costs $249 USD or £200. It's available to pre-order now, with an official release date of October 30.
The array of 10 sensors from Band v1 - GPS, heart rate monitor, accelerometer, external and skin temperature and so on - is now bolstered by the addition of a barometer for accurate tracking of height. This means that calorie burn estimates are more accurate when running, cycling or hiking up hills, or just when going up flights of stairs in preference to using the lift.
Cortana updates you on your calorie expenditure - broken down into carbs and fats - throughout the day, if you're on a Windows phone, or you can check into the Microsoft Health app. This also lets you know a suggested recovery time after each workout. Band 2 also functions as a low-level smartwatch, with notifications and a limited number of non-fitness apps - you can summon an Uber cab direct from the Band for instance.
Now to be honest, all of this functionality was in the first Band, and significant updates do seem thin on the ground here. The key thing, however, is that Band 2 is now, thankfully, more breathable and flexible - "no hard edges or rigidity in any direction," is the boast. The Gorilla Glass-fronted screen curves with your wrist, and we're hopeful it'll be more pleasant to wear as a result.
Also new, but software based and therefore presumably also coming to the original Band, are a VO2 Max calculation and compatibility with a new fitness partner, the calorie-burn tracker Lose It!
VO2 Max is a useful measure of overall fitness that is usually calculated under lab conditions while breathing through a tube. Band 2 will estimate it via a testing workout, your heartrate and an alogrithm, as a number of rival fitness wearables from the likes of Polar and Garmin already do.
Microsoft really could have tried to make Band 2 look nicer, but it remains a powerful fitness tracker for people who are more serious about getting in shape than your average step-counter user, but maybe below the more 'elite amateur' level. The Guided Workouts feature is great, and overall functionality is impressive. It's not a sexy thing, but it's effective.
If its comfort levels are significantly better, as claimed, chances are we'll like it more than its older sibling, and we liked that quite a lot. We're awaiting hard facts on battery life, screen resolution, non-US pricing and so forth from Microsoft, and will update as soon as we have them.
And now, back to the 'Battle Ropes'.