The brand new Microsoft Band 2 is, frankly, what the first should have been. Not only is it more comfortable, but it’s more capable, powerful, connected and simply fun to use.
If Microsoft didn’t just set the bar for fitness trackers, then it came damn close. From the curved AMOLED screen to its new barometer for measuring altitude, I’m simply left wondering where the firm goes from here.
Design and display serve up the curves
Everything about the Band 2′s design revolves around its new curved, 320 x 128-pixel AMOLED screen beneath Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Still in the same thin strip orientation, the display now finally conforms to the curvature of your wrist.
Not only does this make the elastomer band an easier fit, but it makes navigating the interface feel more natural. The display is super vibrant, too, popping with whatever color scheme you choose.
The elastomer band uses a new latch that’s adjustable. If you’re just at the office – between workouts, of course – or hanging out with friends, you can set the band to be a little looser. But if you’re about to get your cross train on, then just pinch the two side buttons and slide the clasp further across the strap.
The clasp is also now where the battery is located, rather than within the band on the original model. Regardless, the Band 2 is still on the bulky side of the wearable spectrum, so you might have a hard time fitting this one in your shirt cuffs.
There are only two buttons on the Band 2 beneath the display along the band: a larger home button that returns you to the start screen and a smaller function button. This button cycles through several types of quick-look data – calories burned, steps taken, elevation gained, etc – when on the home screen.
With a little help from Microsoft Health
As impressive as the Band 2, it wouldn’t be much without Microsoft’s aptly-named Health app for Windows, iOS and Android. The Redmond firm just updated the app with cool new functions, like an entire suite of golf-related tracking tools.
The Health app is what allows you to take your fitness data and workout plans with you, and it does this through smart syncing via Bluetooth. The Band 2 has just enough memory – not to mention built-in GPS – to store your raw fitness data, but will need to sync with the Health app on a given device to not only free up that space but to put that data into context.
One workout at a time can be loaded onto the Band 2, which you can swap out via Bluetooth with a phone or computer through the Health app just like before.
Sensors, specs and battery life
The Microsoft Band 2 comes packing a vast 10 sensors to track all of your activity (or lack thereof): an optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, capacitive sensor, galvanic skin response and the new barometer.
Microsoft calls out the microphone as a “sensor”, but I’m not buying it.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Microsoft has been able to do much about the Band’s middling – thought relatively average in comparison – lasting power. The firm claims that the Band 2′s lithium-polymer battery can last up to 48 hours and takes less than 1 hour and 30 minutes to charge.
And when it’s time to charge, Microsoft has whipped a slick new charger that allows the clasp to simply slap into place and begin feeding the device the juice it needs.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: the Microsoft Band 2 is what the original should have been. But that doesn’t make this upgraded version any less welcome.
Frankly, the Band 2 is shaping up to be one of the fitness trackers to put on your short list. However, at $249 (about £163, AU$347), it’s entering smartwatch territory in terms of price. Luckily, the Band 2 is also set up for all sorts of phone notifications and has Cortana built in, making the price a little easier to digest.
The Microsoft Band 2 could very well be the fitness tracker to get when it launches on October 30. Stay tuned for our full review.