Microsoft’s Build 2016 happens this week, and in preparation for the event, a longtime fitness app, Active Fitness, has gotten an upgrade to add Microsoft Band support. The company behind Active Fitness is in town for Build and using its blog to show the new features of its app, give some highlights from Build, and show folks around San Francisco. The company hasn’t posted much since its first blog post on March 20th, and it’s possible that the bugs I experienced with the Microsoft Band integration may be the cause. The company delivered a couple updates to the app over the weekend, and I’ve had the chance to put it all through its paces. Unfortunately, there’s a couple caveats (and one BIG caveat) that will keep me from adding it to my regular fitness tracking toolkit.
I’ve used Active Fitness before, but it’s never drawn my attention for longer than a day. And, during that time I can’t say I’ve ever honestly used it to track more than two consecutive fitness activities. It’s been one of those apps that is pretty neat, but not top of the bunch. But, with the Microsoft Band integration, I thought it was time to give it another look.
When I saw that the Active Fitness update brought additional fitness tracking activities to the Microsoft Band, I was pretty excited. Band owners know that specific activity tracking right now is limited to Bike, Run, and Golf, but you can add customized activity titles through the standard Exercise Tile. However, when added as a general exercise, the monitoring is not customized to the activity. So, how did Active Fitness pull this off?
Active Fitness pretty much handles its list of new fitness activities (50+, including snowboarding, skiing, and shopping) the same way as the Exercise Tile for the Microsoft Band. It’s in name only. And, the more frustrating thing about this integration is that Active Fitness ONLY integrates with the hardware – it DOES NOT integrate with the Microsoft Health dashboard. So, while Active Fitness will allow you to add a Scooter Tile (seriously, that’s an option), if you record a Scooter activity session, the data only resides in the Active Fitness app, it doesn’t sync to Microsoft Health to be included in your overall Microsoft Band data. That, to me, is a deal breaker. Additionally, Active Fitness doesn’t have a web-based dashboard/service of its own. Active Fitness data does reside somewhere on the web but the only way to access it is through an app (mobile or PC).
One of the more interesting aspects of this update is that Active Fitness is touting a way to improve battery life for the Microsoft Band if you use the app to track activities. Active Fitness does this by offloading the GPS capabilities of the Microsoft Band to your smartphone – which, in my mind, essentially removes one of the biggest features of the Microsoft Band that sets it apart from similar wearables.
I really wanted to like this Active Fitness update. But, without full Microsoft Health integration, it’s a no-go situation for me. I like to have all my fitness data in one place. And, offloading GPS to my smartphone to save Microsoft Band battery will be valuable in a pinch, but not something I’d recommend using all the time.