Where does the Microsoft Band 2 fit in with the competition?
There’s no question Microsoft checked almost every box it needed to for its highly anticipated Windows 10-centric event to be deemed an overall success, but not all new devices showcased on Tuesday looked like blockbusters in the making.
Though clearly an evolved, refined version of last year’s cumbersome original, the Microsoft Band 2 retains this distinct work-in-progress vibe, as it tries too hard to cater to the masses, and appease fans of fancy smartwatches, as well as fitness addicts.
You know what’s wrong with a “best of both worlds” product? Those kinds of expectations nearly always set hybrid types up for disappointment, since neither target audience is fully satisfied with what the crossover has to offer.
Microsoft Band 2 vs smartwatches
As the early leader of a rapidly growing market segment, the Apple Watch will remain the standard any wearable has to live up to going forward, no matter its price range. At $250, the Band 2 is a cool hundred bucks south of the cheapest “iWatch” variant, and it’s a lot more health-focused, but the low-res display and generally lackluster design rule it out of contention immediately.
The curved 1.26-inch 320 x 128 AMOLED touchscreen is the second-gen MS Band’s Achilles’ heel against most Android Wear timepieces too, plus the Tizen-based Samsung Gear S2. Like it or not, Redmond, smartphone buyers are interested in specs, they’re even a little vain if you think about it, and want to make fashion statements with gadgets they pay a lot of money for.
While fairly pretty next to activity trackers, the Microsoft Band 2 definitely doesn’t look like a wrist-worn computer of the future, and as impractical as it sounds, many early wearable adopters want exactly that. I know this writer does, especially when asked to cough up $250.
But my biggest gripe with the OLED panel is its disregard of energy efficiency. If the resolution disadvantage compared to the 360 x 330 Moto 360 2015 or 320 x 320 LG Watch Urbane would result in considerably greater battery life, I’d cut the Band 2 some slack. Yet Microsoft rates autonomy at the same 48 hours as back in 2014, and that’s unacceptable.
Want a wearable that looks more like a watch, isn’t as good at fitness monitoring, but lasts an eternity? Pebble Time to the rescue. Oh, and the Time Round promises two-day endurance with a beautiful circular display in tow, albeit surrounded by a super-chunky bezel.
Microsoft Band 2 vs fitness bands
Research shows Fitbits and Jawbones currently sell like hotcakes, even if they’re predicted to gradually lose steam over the next few years. Before that happens, perhaps Microsoft is wise to not work on a full-fledged smartwatch of its own, and instead seize the moment with a device that’s first and foremost an activity tracker.
Compatible with Windows Phones, as well as Androids and iPhones, the Band 2 is one of the most sensor-packed products in its class, with everything from built-in GPS to an accelerometer, gyrometer, barometer, UV sensor, galvanic skin response, heart rate monitor, and skin temperature sensor.
To be honest, I’m not sure specifically what half of those do, but if you’re into running, golfing, cycling or climbing mountains, it’s better to have them at your disposal than wonder why is it your workouts aren’t properly audited or detailed.
Speaking of, various stats are shown on the Microsoft Health app, including sleep quality, and Cortana is around to help you with goals, only via Windows Phones for now, but possibly coming to Android soon. Very, very impressive, yet here’s my question – how do you justify the $100 price gap between this and the Fitbit Charge HR? Or the $150 premium over the Fitbit Flex?
A larger, sharper screen? That may count as far as smartwatch enthusiasts are concerned, but if you simply want a reliable personal assistant, you probably don’t care. Besides, the Charge HR can pull Android and iOS notifications and alerts, and it keeps the lights on for up to five days.
Granted, you can’t put a price on Microsoft Band 2’s awesome library of third-party supported apps, including gems like Lose It!, Uber, Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal, Starbucks or Facebook, but if I were to do that, it wouldn’t be $250.
Third time the charm?
The Microsoft Band 2 is too costly and short-lasting to tower above “rudimentary” fitness trackers, and it’s nowhere near eye-catching enough to compete in the same league as smartwatches. It’s a product without a clear focus, and in my humble opinion, it’s going to flop.
But it’s still better than its predecessor, and if Microsoft settles on a niche, it could go for gold next year. Wait, why not both? Why not come out with a more affordable Band 3, and a round, stylish first-gen Microsoft Watch in 2016? Now one of those I’d definitely buy.