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
- Ambient light sensor
- Skin temperature sensor
- UV sensor
- Capacitive sensor
- Galvanic skin response
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.