Microsoft finally announced its fitness and activity band, the Microsoft Band, on Wednesday night. The announcement caught pretty much everyone by surprise, though of course I had previously and exclusively revealed that it would launch in October, so the firm just squeaked in under their own deadline. Here's a quick overview of what to expect from this interesting device.
It's available now ... in limited quantities. If you want a Microsoft Band, hurry: You can order it now from the Microsoft Store online, but quantities are limited, so act fast if you're serious about it. This is not a "preorder." It's available now.
Cost. The Microsoft Band is $199.99.
Sizes. There are in fact three "versions" of the Band, though the only difference between the three is the size of the band: Small, Medium and Large. You will want the right size, of course, so use this sizing guide to determine which one makes the most sense for you.
It's big and bulky. This is no Fitbit. The device is 0.75-inches wide and 0.34-inches thick (19mm x 8.7mm) and weighs 2.12 ounces (60g).
Display. Touch-enabled TFT full-color display, .43" x 1.30" (11mm x 33mm). It uses a tile-based user experience, which makes sense on a device like this and is visually consistent with Windows, Phone and Xbox.
Storage. 64 MB.
Sensors and IO. This thing is loaded with sensors—an optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response—plus a microphone, haptic vibration motor, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.
Battery life. Rated at 48 hours with normal use. ("This is based on one hour of exercise tracking and eight hours of sleep tracking per day.") You must remove the Band to charge it, obviously. The good news is that it will fully charge in just 1.5 hours.
Durability. It's sweat- and splash-resistant. "The Microsoft Band is designed for indoor/outdoor use. Microsoft Band will be okay if exposed to sweat during a workout, but it's recommended to dry the smart band with a clean, soft cloth after your run/workout. The Microsoft Band is not waterproof and should not be immersed in liquid for any period of time." Learn more here.
It can do some things without a smart phone. You can use it as a watch; track steps, calories burned, heart rate measurement, basic running, exercise, and sleep; and use it for stopwatch, timers, and alarms.
It's a smart phone companion. Though Band is more independent than other smart watches and bands, it works best (and requires) a smart phone and accompanying app. It is compatible with Android (4.3+), iPhone (iOS 7.1+), and Windows Phone 8.1, and requires a free Microsoft Health mobile app that is available on each platform. This app obviously provides far more detail than is possible on the Band itself.
It works best with Windows Phone. If you do have Windows Phone, you can use Cortana voice commands with the Band to "take notes and set reminders, ask her to give driving directions and keep you on top of news, stocks, weather, and more." Cortana integration requires a data connection (cellular or Wi-Fi).
Fitness and activity tracking. Obviously, fitness tracking is the top reason to get this device. It tracks your physical activity. It provides guided workouts. It monitors your heart rate 24 hours a day, giving you an understanding of your "true metabolic burn rate." The UV monitor will tell you when its time to put on some sunscreen. The built-in GPS will record the routes you've walked, run, biked, and hiked, and map them for you for later review. And when activated, it will even monitor your sleep.
It's not just fitness. You can also use Band to get email, calendar, text, social network, weather, and other non-fitness notifications, and perform basic operations with these things. For example, when you get a text message, you can view it on the Band and then reply with a standard message if desired. Ditto for calls and voice mails.
Microsoft Health. This is the new online service that sits behind Microsoft Band and, weirdly, "next to" Microsoft HealthVault. This new platform "will unite data from different health and fitness devices and services – steps, calories, heart rate and more – in a single, secure location," Microsoft says, and use an "Intelligence Engine" to analyze the data and report back to you. Which exercises burned the most calories during a workout, the recommended recovery time based on the intensity of a workout, and the amount of restful vs. restless sleep, for example. Microsoft Health works with UP by Jawbone, MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper today, and more third party products and services will come online soon. You can also connect your Microsoft Health data to HealthVault to share the tracked data with your medical provider. Learn more here.
You can personalize it. Thanks to the full color screen, you can choose from various colors and background for the display. You can rearrange the on-band tiles as you wish as well.
What you get in the box. Microsoft Band, USB charging cable, various pamphlets. You also get a $5 Starbucks gift card for some reason. There is a one year warranty.
Here's a video showing off how the Band might be used in the real world, but you can learn a lot more about this device from this feature story on the Microsoft web site.
I've ordered a Microsoft Band, and given my years of experience with Nike Fuel Band and Fitbit devices, I'll be giving this thing and the accompanying Microsoft Health apps a thorough look. Who knows? This could be my new activity tracker.