Hands On With the New Microsoft Band 2

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In case you hadn’t heard, Microsoft doesn’t just make Windows anymore. It’s a full-fledged mobile computing manufacturer with what appears to be a complete lineup of products to compete with Apple—including wearables.

The Microsoft Band was Microsoft’s first attempt at a smart device that goes around your wrist (notice the hesitation to call it a watch). It was bulky, a little strange, and just could not compete with more established products such as the FitBit or even something like the Samsung Gear Fit.

I got the chance to get some hands on time with the product before its forthcoming release date. When holding the Microsoft Band and the Band 2 side by side, there are a few noticeable things that Microsoft has done to make its fitness band more modern.

First off is the display, which is significantly brighter and more crisp. Like the predecessor, it’s meant to be worn so that the display is on the backside of your wrist for quick glances rather than long uses. It’s a unique idea, but having the clasp on the top still feels and looks a bit like it wasn’t designed with that it mind.

Furthermore, it’s still a vertical, rather than horizontal screen, which will probably never not be weird. If you can get over those things though, the display here is actually decent—and this time around it’s even a curved display so that it actually fits your wrist a bit better.

The software side of things has also gotten an improvement on the Band 2. Performance is significantly smoother, as swiping through the notifications and apps doesn’t cause the system to stutter as much as on the original. There still isn’t a whole lot you can do here—it’s a bit like Android Wear, minus all the third party app support. But again, the limited functionality seems to be intended. You can check the time, weather, and messages, but the emphasis here is definitely on health tracking.

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I didn’t get to test out the tracking, but the Band 2 has all the familiar sensors that should be able to accurately track your workouts and daily steps. This is a product that is meant primarily to compete with the FitBit Surge—a fitness band with a few smart features. In fact, the two devices both come in at $249.

The problem here is that you can get a decent Android Wear smartwatch like the Asus ZenWatch for just $199—which has a nicer look and has a lot more functionality. What’s even worse is that for just $50 more than the Band 2 you can grab the base model of the new Moto 360, a premium smartwatch that you can customize the look of yourself.

In other words, the Band 2 is nice upgrade over last year’s model, but don’t expect it to catch on anytime soon. As smartwatches get better and the wearable market gets tighter in the next couple of years, fitness bands like the Microsoft Band 2 are going to need to either step up the functionality or get cheaper if they want to compete.