Microsoft Band 2 review

The Microsoft Band 2 is an activity tracker, smartwatch and sleep aide with GPS, heart rate monitor and more. It has a unique but limited feature set which we like, but you may disagree. Read our Microsoft Band 2 review to find out which camp you are in. Also read our first-gen Microsoft Band review to see how it compares.

Also see: Best Black Friday Fitness Tracker Deals

Update 4 October 2016: Microsoft has now discontinued its Band 2, though you might be able to find a bargain online.

Microsoft Band 2 review: what it is, why it matters

The Band 2 is the second generation wearable from Microsoft. A wristband/smartwatch hybrid that aims to make you both more productive, and more healthy. It is an important product for Microsoft, because it is intended to promote the Band platform to OEMs, in the hope that partners will come onboard and build other Microsoft wearables. But it is important for wearables in general.

That's because Microsoft has taken the long view on wearables, not rushing in with over-specced expensive products such as the Apple Watch or Google Glass, nor jumping on the wear-em-for-three-months-then-bin pedometer wristbandwagon. The Microsoft Band 2 builds on the ideas behind the - frankly, prototype - Microsoft Band, offering a similar feature set in a more complete and consumer friendly device.

It is not a smartwatch on your wrist, nor is it a dumb activity tracker. Rather, the Band 2 is a device that enhances smartphone use whilst allowing you to be more present in your environment. And it is a GPS-enabled fitness tracker that helps you to improve athletic performance, and quantify and enhance all the factors that influence your overall health. Finally, it allows you to check and respond to messages from your wrist.

And you can wear it with a dumb watch. So there is a lot to the Microsoft Band 2. See all activity tracker reviews.

Microsoft Band 2 review: price and value

Microsoft is going to town with this launch, having allowed the original Microsoft Band to slip out with little fanfare. You can find the Band 2 in most major outlets. Microsoft will sell you a Band 2 direct for the SRP of £199.99 inc VAT. Or you can step outside of the manufacturer's network and purchase the Band 2 from Amazon, at the same price. Microsoft tells us the Band 2 will also be available from Dixons, PC World and Currys, although it is not yet listed there.

In the US the Band 2 will cost $249.99 from the Microsoft store.

What this means for value is hard to say, as the Band 2 sits alone in terms of feature set. On the one hand, compared to the Apple Watch the Microsoft Band 2 is a bargain: it has built-in GPS, offers some of the more useful functionality of the Apple device, and costs at least £100 less. But it isn't anything like as full featured as is Apple's watch.

Then there are GPS sports watches such as the TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio. This costs the same as the Microsoft Band 2, and offers nothing like the same functionality. The Band can do everything the Cardio can, and a whole heap more beside. The same is true of the Fitbit Surge, which is currently the flagship Fitbit activity tracker. That device also costs £199, and offers built-in GPS. But has none of the smartwatch features of the Band 2.

Of course, you can get a Fitbit, a Misfit, a Jawbone or any of the other pure activity trackers for much less than this. Sometimes as little as £50, even for a decent device. These gadgets (like the Apple Watch) don't contain GPS, but measure steps. And if that is all you want, the £200 Band 2 may be overkill.

None the less, the Band 2 is well priced for the feature set. The question is, do you want it at that price? See all smartwatch reviews.

Microsoft Band 2 review: build quality and design

The biggest knock on the original Microsoft Band was its design and build. And the criticism was justified. The Band was clunky and uncomfortable to wear. And it looked like a toddler's idea of a fashion device. This has been mostly, but not entirely, addressed in the Microsoft Band 2.

The new Microsoft Band remains big and chunky for a dumb wristband, but is relatively discreet for a smartwatch. In place of the uniform black of the original we find a silver metallic finish on the edges. The main unit is bigger, hosting more sensors and a bigger display, but where in the past there was a rigid band the new Microsoft Band is made of soft, smooth rubber. (Microsoft tells us this is thermal plastic elastomer silicone vulcanate. Which is nice.)

It feels a lot more comfortable to wear, but isn't entirely comfortable. I find myself taking it off when I am at my desk, as the bottom of the Band rubs on the top of my wrist. It's not disastrous, but it does mean I occasionally leave it at my desk when I go for a stroll, missing out on valuable steps. And remember that this a gadget that is supposed to stay on your wrist as you sleep.

The Band 2 feels well put together and built to last. Which is, again, an improvement on the original. I give my wearables a Hell of a time, being both clumsy and obsessed with exercise. And after the best part of a week there is nary a scratch on the Band 2, which has been off my wrist only for a brief charm through walking, running and golfing come rain or shine (and the 'Great Wind of 2015').

The clasp is secure and easy to use (further improvement on the original). It is also silver against the black rubber band, which is stylish and understated. And in a clever design twist the all-new UV sensor is housed in the clasp, as is the charging port. This is very space saving, although a metal chunk on the underside of my wrist is another reason not to wear the Band 2 during deskbound hours. Also see: Microsoft Band vs Microsoft Band 2.

Microsoft says the Band 2 is designed to be worn either like a watch on the top of your wrist or as a wristband with the display on the inside of your arm. Both make sense. The latter is more discreet, and in some ways more intuitive. As with the first band it can be difficult to read a letterbox screen that runs across your wrist. You are always reading upside down - unless you wear the Band 2 upside down, so to speak.

There are two buttons: Home and Action. These live at the bottom of the touchscreen. These match the brushed silver finish of the trim, are easy to fine and have a satisfying level of travel and feedback.

There are three variables in terms of size of Band 2: we found that we could make both Medium and Large fit and feel comfortable, so there is something for every wrist here. And overall we are impressed with the build quality and design of the Band 2.

We do wish it was waterproof, though. Microsoft says it is splash proof, but for now if you like to swim (or shower) that is your time to charge the Band 2. See all wearable tech reviews.

Microsoft Band 2

Microsoft Band 2 review: display

Key to the success of the Microsoft Band 2 is its curved display. This is a bright and sharp Corning Gorilla Glass 3, AMOLED screen. Measuring 32 x 12.8mm, with a 320 x 128 resolution, it boasts a snazzy pixel density of 255 ppi. That combined with the rich colours of AMOLED makes for a rich display experience, albeit on a tiny screen.

You wouldn't compare the Band 2's display to that of a smartphone. Or, at least, you wouldn't compare it favourably. At this size that would be daft, and anyway it exists to show off data: words and numbers, not images. As such it is perfectly fit for purpose, without being battery draining. Even when tramping the mean streets of Surrey, sweat in our eyes, we could always see distance, heart rate and speed data at a glance. The touchscreen is responsive and there is no obvious pixellation, either. Good job Microsoft.

Microsoft Band 2 review: specs and features

The Band 2 is an fitness aid that tracks heart rate, calorie burn and sleep quality. Out of the box it can work as a pedometer, and to track and record running, cycling, gym workouts and golf. But Microsoft is also keen that other providers jump in and add other sports and activities. Also see: Best GPS watch for running.

The Microsoft Band 2 provides notifications of incoming email, tests and calender alerts. You can get it to add other notifications such as WhatsApp messages, too (if you want no down time at all). Each aspect of the Band 2's feature set is accessed via a tile from the simple interface. You can rearrange these tiles, and add third-party notifications such as Twitter and Facebook.

There are multiple sensors in the Band 2, including GPS, and always on optical heart rate sensor, a barometer to measure your elevation and - new to this device - a UV sensor to nudge you when your skin is getting burnt. It isn't a big deal right now, you might think, but often the most damage is done when you think it isn't sunny.

The Microsoft Band 2 connects to your phone via Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and is compatible with Android, iPhone and Windows Phone. You install the Microsoft Health app to access insights into your activity and lifestyle based on the data gathered by your Band.

Microsoft Band 2 review: battery life

Microsoft claims around 48 hours of in-use battery life for the Band 2, which has a lithium polymer battery. We can't benchmark it in the same way as we can a smartphone, so I can only speak to my own experiences of using the Band 2.

In short: 48 hours is about right. I tend to charge it for half an hour or so when I am in the shower and getting ready every other morning. It charges quick: Microsoft claims a full charge in one and a half hours, but I found that a half an hour burn gets it up to around 80 percent charged. And that will do for a day or two, a day or two in which I walk to the station and then to the office, receive emails all day long, and almost always go for a run or a bike ride.

So although a wearable feels like it should last for a week or more, we can't really quibble with the Band 2's battery life. It is fit for purpose. And as it synchs with your smartphone via Bluetooth, I guarantee the phone will run out before the Band does. Which is in itself an issue.

Microsoft Band 2 review: as a productivity tool

This is weird. But I have to be honest. I love the feature set of the Band and the Band 2. I find that wearing a device which puts on my body notifications about incoming email and texts actually makes me more present in the real world Perhaps this is exclusive to me, but I receive so much (boring and work-related) information every day that I find it impossible not to constantly take out my phone and stare into its brightly lit abbyss.

When I am wearing the Band 2 life gets simpler. I can dismiss with a swipe any email, text or call which doesn't require immediate response (hint: this is almost all of them). Furthermore, the haptic feedback that tells me a calender event is 10 minutes away lets me concentrate in the office, safe in the knowledge that I am not about to miss a meeting (or a meal). I don't want to be able to respond on my wristwatch: I have a smartphone from which to compose and send emails. But being able to triage messages on the hoof is actually relaxing to me. (I should point out that you can send a series of pre-written messages such as 'I will call you later', which may be useful to you.)

I am aware that praising the lack of a feature as a positive makes me sound like a glassy eyed true believer who is blind to the Band 2's faults. Perhaps that is the case. The fact is that if you want a smartwatch that replicates all of the functions of your smartphone, the Band 2 is not it. Not at all. You need an Android or an Apple Watch. But for me the Band 2 is a good productivity tool. It does what it does extremely well. Also see: Best activity trackers 2015/2016.

Microsoft Band 2 review: as an activity tracker

It is a great activity tracker. The Microsoft Band 2 has everything that my TomTom GPS-enabled runners watch gives me, and more. As well as everything I can get from my Fitbit or Jawbone. And in a better shell, with a better app.

Of course the Band 2 tracks your steps. And the built-in GPS is a must if you are serious about measuring performance. In my experience the Band 2 locks on quickly and accurately.

I love the way I can clearly see heart rate, distance, time and average pace on a single screen. Every GPS runners watch I have tried has shown only one of those things in a format that I can reasonably see. It's the clear and sharp screen, innit? This is even more important when out on the bike.

Always on heartrate monitoring is a boon, and again accurate and easy to view.

We haven't managed to get out on the golf course with the Band 2, but we did take it to the driving range. All three of the courses closest to my house are in the app, and so next time I hack my way around I can log on and it will measure from where I take each shot. Which reduces the chances of cheating somewhat, but does give you accurate yardage into the green.

On the range it worked as advertised. The Band 2 ignored practice swings but recorded when I actually managed to make contact.

All of this data is parlayed into real-world tips and information on the app, which may or may not be useful to you. Personally I don't feel that I need the Health app to tell me how long I should rest between exercise, but I do like to see my splits and how my heartrate reacted to effort. Indeed, heart rate data is critical to pushing yourself harder and getting fitter.

You may be able to tell, but I love the Band 2 as a fitness device. My only quibble, and it is a significant one, is that the battery life runs out without enough warning. Which is wildly irritating if you are in the middle of a barnstorming run.

Update February 2016: Since we wrote our Microsoft Band 2 review Microsoft has pushed out an update that adds activity reminders and the ability to track your weight, and show sports scores and news headlines. It also should improve the Band 2's battery life.

Microsoft Band 2 review: as a sleep aide

With an eight-month old child at home, I am not the right person to track my sleep. I don't need to Band 2 to tell me how bad I am at it right now. But because of its combination of accurate location, movement and heart rate tracking, the Band 2 is an excellent sleep recorder. It records all of that data, and uses it to accurately measure your light sleep, deep sleep and wakefulness. You simply tell it when you are going to bed, and when you wake up. And it won't alert you to any messages you receive during this time.

Again, I am not sure how useful the tips are as sent your way by Microsoft Health. If I have had a bad night's sleep because my daughter has a cold, I don't need to be advised to avoid caffeine. Reader, I need caffeine. But perhaps I just have a bad attitude.

Read next: Best smartwatches 2015/2016.

Microsoft Band 2: Specs

  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3, AMOLED screen, 32 x 12.8mm, 320 x 128 resolution, 255 ppi
  • Li-polymer battery
  • claimed battery life: 48 hours
  • Optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, Ambient light sensor, Skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, Capacitative sensor, Galvanic skin response, Microphone, Barometer
  • Haptic vibration motor
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • USB charge cable
  • Compatible with iPhone, Android Windows Phone
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3, AMOLED screen, 32 x 12.8mm, 320 x 128 resolution, 255 ppi
  • Li-polymer battery
  • claimed battery life: 48 hours
  • Optical heart rate sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, gyrometer, GPS, Ambient light sensor, Skin temperature sensor, UV sensor, Capacitative sensor, Galvanic skin response, Microphone, Barometer
  • Haptic vibration motor
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • USB charge cable
  • Compatible with iPhone, Android Windows Phone

OUR VERDICT

It is very difficult to score the Band 2, because it is such a specific product with a unique feature set. But let's unpack it: it is definitely good value, as the combination of sensors and features is much greater than any comparable product at this price. And it is well made if not the last word in elegance, nor with perfect battery life. If you are looking for a GPS runner's or cyclist's watch it is a good one at a good price, and it also offers the productivity and sleep tracking. And if you want a smartwatch you will like what the Band 2 does, but you may hanker after the ability to compose and send messages. Simply, I don't. I like to wear my dumb watch, and I like for my phone to stay in my pocket rather than on my wrist. So for me the Band 2 is a winner. Microsoft has now discontinued its Band 2, though you might be able to find a bargain online.