But does it travel? Hands-on with the Microsoft Band v2

But does it travel? Hands-on with the Microsoft Band v2

The hardware update to Microsoft’s first generation wearable, Microsoft Band v2, became available on 30 October through multiple retail and online outlets.

I pre-ordered my Microsoft Band v2 from Amazon and, thanks to delivery using their Prime service, it was delivered on release day and saved me a trip across town to pick one up at the Microsoft Store.

The timing was perfect because early the next morning I was on an airplane heading to Redmond, WA and Microsoft headquarters to attend the annual Microsoft MVP Summit. Receiving the device before I left meant I could give it a good workout on the road.

There is already a lot of content here on the SuperSite relating to version 2 of the Microsoft Band for you to catch up on, if you haven't read through it already.

In the meantime, I have decided to share my own experience about Microsoft Band v2 and how it compares to my use of last year's Band v1. There are quite a few steps forward with v2 compared to v1 but the device does have some lingering issues that you should be aware of.

COMFORT AND FIT

The first version of the Band was very stiff because the main display was straight and battery compartments were on each side of the Band. Every time you opened the Band to put it on, it stressed the covers of those battery cases, which eventually caused those cases to separate and crack open. Of course, this allowed a clear opening to the electronics and put those electronics at greater risk of water intrusion.

Band v2 alleviates this issue by having only one battery case, which is now located on the clasp, thus preventing any stress on that area. The screen is curved so it now fits better to the shape of your wrist and the sides of the Band, which are made of what appears to be the same rubber type material as Band v1, are wider and much more flexible. The wider band helps the device fit much more comfortably as well.

Microsoft Band 2 Battery Case

Microsoft Band v2 battery case

When I first put on Band v2, I must admit it felt strange and out of balance. With Band v1, most of the weight of the device was near the display because of the battery locations on the side of Band v1. Since Band v2 has the battery attached to the back of the clasp it caused the wearable to fill weird as I turned my wrist to look at the display.

Choosing to wear Band v2 on the inside of my wrist helped with the transition and after just a few hours wearing Band v2 on the inside of my wrist felt quite comfortable.

It makes sense to expose the UV sensor at the top of the clasp, so it seems more of the Sun to measure UV light and give you a better idea of UV exposure.

WEAR AND TEAR

Microsoft Band v2’s display is now protected with Gorilla Glass so it is much less susceptible to scratches like v1 was. On v2 I am opting not to use a screen protector, although they are available.

The screen has held up well, even as I spent a lot of time at the keyboard of the HP Spectre x360. I also wear v2 on my right hand, and that's the hand I mouse with;  I have learned to bring my mouse closer to the edge of my desk. This prevents having to rest my wrist on the desk, and therefore prevents constant contact with the v2 screen.

The clasp has developed some contact marks between the two pieces (see the image below), but they are not visible nor are they unexpected when two pieces of metal are slid against each other.

Microsoft Band 2 Clasp Scratches

Microsoft Band v2 showing contact scratches on lower clasp

I did scratch the top of the clasp at some point in the last week and have some small scratches near the UV sensor so the metal of the clasp is most certainly not scratchproof.

Microsoft Band 2 Clasp Scratch

Microsoft Band v2 showing a scratch next to the UV sensor on the clasp

The rubber material of Band v2 is similar to that used in v1 so it easily gets scuffed up as the device is worn daily. Not sure there is any way to prevent that from happening.  I mean it is a wearable that is intended to measure activity, exercise and be an extension of your smartphone – not a fashion accessory.

SLEEP TRACKING

Microsoft Band v1 could track your sleep, but you had to manually start that tracking yourself; it was not an automatic option. In a subsequent firmware update, automatic sleep detection was added to the device. I found it to be very inconsistent and it would miss sleep sessions.

In this latest iteration of the band, the automatic sleep detection works 100% of the time – at least it did every night this past week of my use of the device. It also detected an afternoon nap I took this past Friday as I recovered from transcontinental jetlag.

Another improvement: the results of sleep that is auto-detected shows up in your Microsoft Health history much faster than it ever did on v1.  In the past week, my auto-detected sleep sessions appeared in about 60 to 90 minutes compared to twice that or longer on v1.

Having the data in your hands much quicker is a great improvement over v1.

A quick observation about the sensors at night. Whenever I wore Band v1 to bed, it seemed as if the sensors were always lit up; in a dark room they seemed bright as the sun.  After wearing Band v2 for over a week each night, that issue is gone. I am not sure if it is the relocation of some of the sensors or what but I am yet to wake up and see that bright green light once while wearing v2.

ELEVATION TRACKING

As mentioned earlier, Microsoft Band is an activity tracker, and walking to and from gates in airports plus in between sessions during a conference means a lot of steps are measured.

Band v2 introduces a new capability, using a new barometric sensor to more accurately measure changes in pressure/elevation, thus providing an additional piece of data tied to your daily step counts.

This data, which shows the equivalent to how many flights of stairs you would have climbed, is a great reference to understand changes in elevation as we walk around during the course of our day.  Microsoft band v2 can also use this additional data to more accurately reflect your calorie burn during daily activity as well.

Microsoft Band 2 tracking stairs climbed

You can easily access this stat by tapping on the main screen of Microsoft Band and swiping over to the fourth tile to see the current count for stairs climbed. During my week on the Microsoft campus climbed the equivalent of 59 sets of stairs and while the eyes did not necessarily see every flight the legs certainly felt them.

BATTERY LIFE

The hardest knock against Band v2 after one week with the device is the lack of battery life. Physically, with Band v2 only having one battery compartment compared to v1, it stands to reason that battery life will be severely hampered.

Band v1 suffered from the same malady but a firmware update earlier this year really extended the battery life on that device and hopefully a similar optimization will be delivered to v2.

Until this happens, establishing a structured charging plan is the only way to make sure your Band v2 is always available when you need it ready for measuring a workout, other physical activity or your sleep.

Luckily, just like v1, Band v2 can fully charge your device in less than 90 minutes. Short charging windows while you shower, work at your desk, etc. will help keep you moving throughout the day.

WHAT I CONCLUDED AFTER A WEEK'S USE

The Band v2 is a solid device and a worthwhile upgrade from v1. There are real improvements in the design, the sleep tracking and the daily wear and tear.

Personally, I am pleased with the upgrade and view Band v2 as a tool. I do not use it as a watch, in fact I have opted to wear my traditional watch and Band v2 at the same time, so I no longer have to focus on the Band to tell me the time of day. It can sit on my wrist and be an extension of my smartphone plus measure all the activity I get into during the course of a day.

If wearing a watch and Band at the same time is not your thing, then there is a great enhancement that will briefly turn on the time when you lift and turn your wrist to look at the v2 screen. This can eliminate the need for Band v1’s Watch Mode, although that is still available as an option.

Microsoft is no longer targeting the low end wearables market but are looking to deliver a premium device with plenty of capabilities. Sounds a lot like some other hardware work the company is doing doesn’t it?

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