Microsoft Band 2 review: It’s good, but it’s not the one

Price when reviewed

Microsoft Band 2: Interface and notifications

The Band 2’s interface is as simple and elegant as ever. The bright, crisp touchscreen tells the time by default (you can set it to time out and wake it with a button press if you want it to last a little longer between charges), while a stroke to the right gives a quick glimpse of the remaining battery life, Bluetooth connection and whether the heart rate sensor is active.

Tap the screen, and you get a quick overview of your current stats for the day: how many steps you’ve taken, distance covered, the calories you’ve burned, how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed and you can also check your current heart rate.

Swipe left on the homescreen, and you’ll see all the Band 2’s installed apps and various activities spread across a series of icon-studded tiles. What you see can be customised via the Microsoft Health app on your smartphone. This comes in Android, iOS and, naturally, Windows Phone flavours. Not a runner? Fine, simply remove that option from the list. Not a golfer? No problem. If, like me, all you want is a Sleep tile, a Cycling tile and a Starbucks tile for quickly bringing up your Starbucks loyalty barcode, then that’s fine – you can have up to 13 of the things, or as few as you like.

And you can also choose to receive notifications from your smartphone, with emails, texts, Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Twitter updates all on the menu – simply add the relevant tile in the app.

Emails, texts and social network updates come through to their own tab, and a quick tap of the message displays them on the screen, one word at a time – which is vaguely handy if you’re running (and there’s nothing nearby to run into), but not ideal on a bike.

Microsoft Band 2: Cycling, walking and sleeping

I’m not a runner, so my main activities are walking to and from the train station, sleeping, and cycling the hour-long commute in and out of London twice a day. I do longer rides, of around four to five hours, at the weekends, and I normally use a Garmin Edge or Vivoactive smartwatch in tandem with a wireless ANT+ heart rate strap to log and record my efforts.

For me, the original Band was great as an everyday fitness tracker, and here the Band 2 still gets my thumbs up. I love being able to get an idea of how much exercise I’ve done during the day, and the insights into my sleeping patterns and habits, as well as my resting heart rate (a raised resting heart rate is a reliable sign of fatigue or impending illness, as it happens), do genuinely help to provide a clear idea when to work out harder and when to give my body time to recover. It’s all useful, interesting stuff, and the fact that the Band 2 records all of this data without any intervention is a big, big plus.

From the few days I’ve had with the Band 2, the pedometer functions seem pretty accurate, too – they certainly tally with my Garmin Vivoactive, anyway. However, the Band 2’s sleep recording is far better than the Garmin implementation. It was more consistently capable of recognising when I actually went to sleep, and wasn’t so readily fooled by periods of inactivity sitting in front of the TV. Just like the Garmin, it splits sleep into light and “restful” (deep) sleep, as well as marking when I woke up or tossed and turned in the night.

I’m less impressed by the Band 2 as a cycling companion, however. In fact, it suffers from all the same, deal-breaking limitations that put me off the first version. My biggest bugbear is the inaccuracy of the heart-rate monitoring. If you rely on a heart-rate monitor to indicate when you’re pushing yourself just the right amount – hard enough to be able to sustain a maximum level of exertion, but without running out of steam, for instance – then you’ll find the Band 2 to be lacking.

I compared the recorded data from the Band 2 with a section from the same ride recorded on my Garmin Vivoactive. The differences are huge. The Band 2’s heart rate trace (the red line in the graph below) is stair-stepped and coarse, whereas the Garmin outputs a far more believable set of data.

The speed trace (blue) from the Band 2 looks suspect, too, indicating I was constantly speeding up and slowing. This was on a section of road that was relatively clear, when I was cruising along at a steady pace, so there’s something clearly awry. 

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