Hands On: Microsoft Band vs Fitbit Charge

Of course within 24 hours of receiving the new Fitbit Charge, Microsoft goes and releases their first product geared towards the fitness crowd. And, of course, being me, I had to find one the day it’s released. I really think this is the first time I have bought a Microsoft product, other than the computers I’m forced to use every day. I even ventured into a Microsoft Store where customers are still outnumbered by staff.  ;-)

With the Fitbit Charge being just a rehash of the Force (it even says Force when you look at your Bluetooth settings on the phone), the Microsoft Band is a much more interesting product as it not only adds GPS to the mix, but also continuous heart rate monitoring. This lines it up nicely with the ChargeHR and Surge from FitBit. The cost is even split as the Band comes in at $199, where as the ChargeHR is $149 and the Surge is $249. Microsoft has one big advantage here of having the product available now, instead of an early 2015 rollout.

The Microsoft Band itself has questionable bulk and looks when compared to the sleek look of the Charge. When I first put it on, I wouldn’t say it was the most comfortable band I have worn. Both feature a nice soft/matte type material, but whereas the Charge seems to nicely wrap around your wrist, the Band feels like it has a much rougher fit. This is because the shape of the Band must accommodate a 1.4″ touch screen (worn on the bottom of the wrist), two batteries placed on the side, and finally a built in heart rate monitor at the end of the strap. It’s a unique approach to fit in these different pieces, but my initial impression is that comfort is given a second seat to add more features. Maybe this will change over time as the Band get worn in.

Speaking of the strap, The Band also features a unique take on a clasp. You have two buttons on the side which allow you to securely adjust the Band to different sizes while wearing it. You’ll want to keep the Band fairly snug as this is how the heart rate sensor works. It needs to be somewhat tight against the skin as it uses and optical sensor to gather this information. The Charge features the same clasp as the Force, but Fitbit has said they have improved the clasp so that it will not fall off as easily. Nothing too much to talk about there.

Compared to the small OLED of the Charge, the touchscreen of the Band offers much more usability. Both show the steps, calories burned, and alarms. The Charge also has the ability to show floors climbed with it’s built in altimeter. The Band does not have this feature, but I think the inclusion of a heart rate monitor helps give a better measure of effort anyways. For instance, if I’m using the Fitbit Charge to track a CrossFit workout, it may not seem like I’m taking a lot of steps, but you can rest assured that my heart will be beating out of my chest from the WOD (workout of the day). The Microsoft Band will be able to pick this measurement up now straight from the device. I would have had to wear an additional HRM and uploaded to RunKeeper or MyFitnessPal to get the same information into the FitBit data.

The Band has a plethora of other sensors. Just looking at the specs, you’ll find the following

  • Optical heart rate sensor
  • 3-axis accelerometer/gyro
  • Gyrometer
  • GPS
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Skin temperature sensor
  • UV sensor
  • Capacitive sensor
  • Galvanic skin response
  • Microphone

I wasn’t even sure what galvanic skin response was until I looked it up on Wikipedia.  :-)  Basically it’s an indication of stress. There is even a UV feature that will tell if you are getting too much sun. The point being that The Band brings a whole new game to fitness trackers in a small, if questionable looking, package.

Out of the gate, the Band supports iOS, Google Play, and Windows Phone. There is even a Mac OS utility app so that you can update and sync the device.  Here are a few screenshots of the new Health app on an iPhone:

Overall, I’m quite impressed with Microsoft’s first fitness based offering. Reading thru a lot the press releases and hands on, Microsoft is also looking to license out the sensors mentioned above to other companies. Seeing as how Microsoft is looking to get Jawbone Up data into their Health app, I would say there is a good chance that the next versions of the Jawbone Up will feature some of this tech (or at least I am hoping it does!).

One suggestion that I would make to Microsoft would be to allow for a vertical view of the data. Samsung made a similar change to their Fit device when people started wearing them. You are able to wear the Band either with the screen facing up (like a normal watch), but Microsoft wants you to have the screen face down. Don’t know if it’s just habit when checking my wrist, but I find it more comfortable wearing the Band like a regular watch. It would be great to see if Microsoft takes initial feedback and rolls it into future updates.

25 thoughts on “Hands On: Microsoft Band vs Fitbit Charge”

  1. I’m interested in real world battery life with the Microsoft device. I think they are claiming 48 hours. But I am interested in knowing how that’s affected by constant updates from your phone.

  2. Of course, one of the huge drivers of Fitbit is the social angle… I don’t even know how many people in the office have it, but they’re all linked up and competing. Seems like a good motivator.

  3. Don’t let Dave fool you with the social angle of Fitbit…I taunt him all the time and he never moves… ;-)

    Just fully charged it now. There is an option to have a “watch mode” on the Band which has the screen on all the time, but in a dimmed fashion. This will surely take a hit on battery life. I won’t use the GPS on it as I haven’t been running as much.

    Will update the comments with additional info on battery life.

  4. This is exciting, but as Dave said how about the social angle? Will the software side be as good as FitBit? Will it integrate with other systems, including my company’s wellness site, so I can compete with my friends and co-workers for WHO IS THE BEST WALKER/RUNNER IN THE WORLD? :-)

  5. Runkeeper actually kind of sucks at recording workout data for anything that’s not tied to GPS. Usually, it’s just time and average HR. I’d like to see HR over time during a non-distance-based workout so I can correlate to specific exercises. Maybe MSFT can offer that.

  6. 48 hours? Isn’t that a pathetic amount of time between charges?. I use my Fitbit from years ago and I only charge it every ten days or so. i would not want to be charging a device like that every 48 hours.

  7. Fun fact…any activity logged with the Band can transfer over to My Fitness Pal and over to FitBit. Haha.

  8. As cool as some of the features are for the Band, it’s definitely the most uncomfortable. Taking it off from last night’s sleep, and there are nice indentations on my wrist everywhere. The Band keeps hitting against my wrist bone as well which doesn’t feel too nice. Who tests these bands before they are released to general public! Gah!

  9. “As cool as some of the features are for the Band, it’s definitely the most uncomfortable. Taking it off from last night’s sleep, and there are nice indentations on my wrist everywhere. The Band keeps hitting against my wrist bone as well which doesn’t feel too nice.”

    Corrective / Reconstructive wrist surgery to better accommodate the Band seems the blindingly obvious solution here. Prove your dedication to gadgetry testing and usage, Adam.

    The fact that wasn’t your initial reaction makes me question your priorities.

  10. Let me ask Dave what medical coverage he has here on ZNF. If the deductible is low enough, maybe I can go thru with it. :-)

  11. I was wearing it the “proper” way, with the screen on the bottom of my wrist. i’ll wear it looser tonight to see if that helps. with a optical based HR sensor, you need to make sure that there isn’t much light leak to get accurate readings.

  12. “I was wearing it the “proper” way”

    OK. With that cleared up, I think it’s now indisputable that you have a defective wrist.

    Assuming you are still under warranty, just get your wrist replaced with a new one.

  13. Regarding battery life, I’ve been off charge since noon yesterday and the battery icon looks like it’s half full. I don’t know if it’s really 50% but I’ll see what it says when I go to bed tonight.

    Regarding comfort, I tighten the band during exercising to get an accurate heart rate reading. I loosen the band at other times.

    I like the device so far. I especially like the guided work outs. Phone notifications are cool too.

  14. “My wrists did not come with warranty papers…”

    If you purchased your wrists with a credit card, you may have warranty coverage directly from the CC company. Do your research!

    Especially given today’s review in the NTY:

    “the Microsoft Band is a full-featured device that might be the most flexible wearable device on the market.”

    Given the flexibility, I’d say that determining your wrist is factory defective is pretty much definitive. (And what were you thinking in the first place by purchasing wrists without warranty coverage?)

  15. Why do you feel the need to bash Microsoft in your review? Being “forced” to use their products…..the joy you had in seeing more customers than sales staff in a store…..it really makes me questions your entire review when you begin with childish comments like that. In fact, once I read those comments I skipped the rest of your review. Why bother reading a review from someone who is biased? Later.

  16. Max, 100% of our coverage is biased – we give you our opinion straight, take it or leave it. And you overlooked Adam’s most critical of points, obviously too subtle for you to discern… if a fitness fanatic who isn’t generally enamored with Microsoft products rushes out to buy Band on Day 1, as Adam did, well Microsoft may just have a hit on their hands. By the by, speaking of bias, as I fund your ability to leave comments clearly devoid of humor, I’ve taken the liberty of blocking future contributions. If anyone’s going to be cranky here, it’s me.

    Also, in relation to bias and Microsoft, I remember that their agency offered to pay me to write up Microsoft laptops at Walmart. So, while we may be biased, you can rest assured we’re not on the take.


  17. While I concur with your decision regarding Max, shouldn’t Adam also be banned for poor judgment in purchasing defective wrists with no warranty coverage?

    And if you didn’t bother to vote yesterday, considering the bizarrely unsettled state of the VA Senate race, I’d strongly advise banning yourself…

  18. “You’re doing a poor job following my Twitter feed… The Virginia ringers were out in full effect.”

    Excellent job! I officially declare you fit to continue commenting.

    “Ah ha! Chucky has a defective Twitter reader. Hopefully it’s under warranty.”

    Of course it’s under warranty. Do you take me for a simpleton? Am in the process of returning it for service. Simple logic board replacement and carburetor tune-up, apparently.

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