Microsoft Band 2 Review

I believe that I have FINALLY found the right fitness wearable for me! As a geek and a gym rat the wearable fitness craze has been exciting and fascinating. Unfortunately I sit squarely in a group that is not part of the target market for the latest and greatest. The focus of the wearable market has been on runners and bikers — an obvious target because of the need for gps and mp3 etc — and every day non gym goers who want to track their steps and become “more active”. Nothing against those people, but I am not them, I am a gym goer and a fencer — with some softball thrown in.

I want basic smartwatch functionality like weather and text message alerts. I want to track my steps and heart rate during the day in order to know my normal energy expenditure. I want to track my sleep so that I can make adjustments for recovery after working out. In the gym: I want to track my heart rate, time my rest periods, track the actual exercises and routines, and collect all that corresponding data in a form that can be viewed in a useful form on a smartphone or a website.

Enter the Microsoft Band 2 and Microsoft Health. The Band2 is not specifically for a cardio monkey as it also has step/sleep tracking. It’s not strictly a smart watch but shows alerts from your phone and also has the battery life to last overnight. It has tons of sensors and ways to track your activity only one of which is gps for biking and running. It allows you to create guided workouts that show the exercises and times the rest periods for you.

I first got hooked on it when I saw the Microsoft Health fitness app/website. It collected all of the workout and fitness data and put it in one place and gives you a ton of ways to view it in graphs and over times. It was miles better, for the gym, than any of the other apps that connect to wearables.

Working out

For someone like me who doesn’t have a workout partner, the Band2 makes an excellent gym buddy. Using the Microsoft Health web application I designed my workout using the surprisingly complete list of exercises available. You can then set the order as well as rest times between sets and between the different exercises. A great thing that the Health App does, that even some of the more popular gym apps do not, is provide a way to track supersets and circuits.

While in the gym you basically tell it to “go” and it gives you the list of exercises along with sets and rep information right on your wrist. It times your rest periods and then vibrates when it’s time to get off your butt and work. While you are working out it tracks your heart rate and allows you to later see a calorie burn number for each exercise and rest period. I learned that the best sets that I would do had a higher calorie burn during the rest period immedietly after.

After you are done you can synch it to your phone which uploads the info to the web app. I love all of the charts and metrics available to track from workout to workout. Obviously I don’t know believe that the “calorie burn” is super accurate, however it seems to be consistent enough that I can track progress from workout to workout.

In the two weeks I have used the Band2 I have made 3 adjustments based on the information provided: I increased the rest time between sets of one exercise, I re-ordered the exercises moving one more difficult exercise earlier in the workout, and I decreased the weight on one exercise so that I could get more quality reps. Thanks to the Band2 I have this routine seriously dialed in and I feel comfortable using it for the next two months!

Outside the Gym

The Band2 tracks steps, heart rate, calories burned and stairs climbed throughout the day. It allows you to set goals for each metric and try to hit them during the day in an effort to keep yourself active during the day. This is great for me since I have a desk job. Even though I go to the gym regularly, it’s been tough for me to track how active I am during the week, especially when work gets really busy. My cardio suffers when that happens and I end up trying to play sports and sucking wind wondering what happened.

It also tracks your sleep, which is also great for me because I’m horrible at getting as much sleep as I should. I am a night owl and love staying up late. But if I do it for too many days in a row it really catches up with me and I end up exhausted and cranky for no discernible reason…at least until I realize that I am sleep deprived. I have also noticed that I tend to put on weight(fat) when I don’t get enough quality sleep. The band tracks your sleep and tries to determine how much restful sleep you get vs light sleep. And then it lets you view how much sleep you have gotten over the last week(s). It’s been great for me to be able to look back over the last week and see if I can read another chapter in my book or if I should get to bed early.

Other

The Band2 also has a GPS in it so you can use it to track your runs. It connects to a few other apps like Strava and allows you to upload your runs/rides to that app so you can share with your friends. Additionally it has a generic “working out” mode that you can just toggle on so that it tracks your heart rate, calories, etc and just gives you the total at the end. This is a great feature for when I am fencing, I can just turn it on and track how much effort I am giving.

In summary, this wearable is everything I want out of a fitness tracker and it has the flexibility for me to be able to track the wider variety of activities that I engage in. It also gives me the tools to analyze the data collected to make adjustments and changes to benefit me.

The only cons I can think of are that it is really rigid in the gym, I cannot change the exercises or re-order the execises on the fly. It’s also a bit more expensive than other fitness wearables like the lower end FitBit’s. Although it is cheaper than the Apple Watch or some of the Android smartwatches.

Even if you don’t end up getting the band, you owe it to yourself to check out the Microsoft Health website and app.

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