Well it’s been just over a year since my acquisition and review of the Microsoft Band 2 fitness wearable. Although I loved the device, various issues with it and business choices by Microsoft have swayed me to step away from it and invest in a FitBit Blaze instead. Here’s my reasons why I have made that move as well as my first impressions of the FitBit Blaze.
Just for reference, you can read my original review here.
Self Destructing Strap
One thing I will start by pointing out, is that I have looked after my Band 2 for this past year. Regularly cleaning the strap and sensor to make sure that sweat and gunge hasn’t been sitting about on it for too long. If you don’t do this it will smell for a start, but also it could have a detrimental effect on the strap. I use hand cleanser, the type that evaporates after a few seconds, it’s excellent stuff and great for cleaning your wrist too after long periods of wearing the Band 2.
Unfortunately, over the first 6 months or so I had read reports of other peoples straps splitting, I thought I would get away with that having been so careful with keeping it clean. Within 8 months small splits started to appear near where the strap meets the screen. I feel that this is a design flaw more than anything, a replacable strap would have been the perect solution, or one that didn’t have a point of stress where the strap meets the face. The few months following the initial splitting has seen it getting longer until I’ve decided it’s no longer ‘wearable’, excuse the pun.
Ever Decreasing Battery Life
Now the battery life of the Band 2 was never great as new, but it got very bad after a years worth of use, to the extent where you would be lucky if it lasted a whole day and night. That’s without using the GPS to track any walks / runs. Having it run out in the middle of the night is a pain in the arse, especially as it has to be completely removed to recharge (as with all wearables), so no sleep tracking.
End Of The Line
Another key factor is that Microsoft have decided that the Band 2 has reached the end of the road, which is actually really disappointing, but my initial concerns about it not being a true Windows 10 device were justified. Microsoft just don’t want to maintain multiple operating systems anymore, and that’s great, but not for the Band 2.
On a side note, Microsoft have just announced Windows 10 on ARM, so the future of a Windows 10 based wearable are looking much more promising. Maybe we will see the product bought back to life under the Surface moniker, with an ARM CPU. I hope so.
One confusing element of all this is that the Microsoft Health App was recently renamed to Microsoft Band, I thought this was a sign that the Band product line was going to be given a few more years yet before being killed off, I guess not. Unless Microsoft already has plans under its sleeve.
It’s also worth pointing out that The Band 2 wasn’t great as a potential development target either, to be honest it was pathetic, and nowhere near what I was hoping. I had managed to get some cool security app prototypes working on it, but they were just prototypes and didn’t really deserve being taken any further, other ideas I had were just not possible, and it not running Windows 10 is what I’m blaming this limitation on.
Ditching The Band 2 For A FitBit Blaze
So this weekend (just gone) I made an off-the-cuff decision to ditch my Band 2 and get a FitBit Blaze. I had contemplated calling in my insurance on the Band 2 and getting a new one, but this made no sense, to get another years worth of use out of a device that retails around £200 when the insurance excess would cost me £100, I may as well just spend £150 on a new FitBit Blaze that isn’t at the end of its life.
It didn’t take me long to decide on a FitBit Blaze, I had recently heard the announcement that FitBit had purchase Pebble and killed off their product line, so it was the only option really, I don’t have an iPhone for an Apple Watch, and I don’t want an Android wearable. FitBit is supported on Windows 10 too, so that was that.
I chose the Blaze in particular because I liked the size of the screen and the look of the device. It actually looks like a watch, and after a year of wearing a Band 2, that was more than welcome, although I didn’t dislike the Band 2’s aesthetics.
The packaging for the device wasn’t as fancy as the Band 2, but it is on-par with its pricing and actually really nice. As with the Band 2 though, I won’t do an unboxing video, or lengthy description on it, I’ll just link to someone elses from YouTube,
I haven’t actually watched that video, it’s just one of the first ones I found, so I hope it contains a suitable view of the packaging, if not, sorry.
So far, I am very impressed with the build quality of the device. Mainly as it comes in parts, the strap (2 parts), a metal casing for the device and the device itself. The device goes into the back of the metal casing and the straps clip to the top and bottom, it all comes apart pretty easily and clips together just as easy too. At least this means that if the strap gets damaged, I can easily buy a new one, unlike the Band 2, what with it being an integral part of the design.
The strap is quite a sturdy plastic / rubber type material, my only beef would be that it’s a little too stiff at times, especially when putting the excess strap through the loop, it gets jammed in there and needs wiggling to set it free. I’m sure that will change after a few weeks of use.
Everything else is spot on for the price range. Not much more to say really.
Comfort / Fit
As it’s designed as a watch style fitness wearable, it’s great, fits nice and snugly on the wrist, not too tight, and plenty of room for adjustment either way. I’m a skinny bastard so was expecting to have to get the small size as I had with the Band 2, but that wasn’t the case, I got large and that fits me perfectly. The size guide on the size of the box works, so if you decide to get one, check your wrist against that first.
The Band 2 used to leave identations on my hand where the clasp was, although it didn’t cause any problems, it goes to show that it’s probably not ideal to be used constantly if it can’t be worn without leaving marks behind. I have high hopes for the Blaze but haven’t had it long enough to formulate an opinion as yet.
Looks-wise, it’s pretty snazzy, looks like a watch, nice big screen but not too big, changeable watch designs should keep it feeling fresh, maybe not to the extent of the background images and colour themes on the Band 2, but it’s nice having a watch face back again.
One thing to bear in mind is that the FitBit Blaze does not have as many sensors as the Band 2, so that will impact on the feature-base, but with that said, it’s not lacking on functionality either.
Obviously, primarily it is a fitness device, you can track your runs (the exercise kind, not the toilet variety), workouts, biking, treadmill, heartrate, sleep, then you can get your phone notifications (except on Windows 10 Mobile), control your music (even on Windows 10 Mobile!) and use it for discreet alarms. Everything you need from a fitness device, without it trying to take over your life as another smart device.
I’m only on day 3 of having the device at the moment so can’t go into detail on each of the features but from what I have experienced so far, it all works very well. I started a weekly challenge this morning to see how many steps I can get in from Monday to Friday, you can even challenge your friends which is pretty cool, but seeing as I don’t know anyone else with a FitBit, I’m just challenging myself.
I’m not sure if you can swap it onto your dominant hand and enter a wank-o-thon yet, maybe that’s an idea for an app if their API supports it…
I’ve already read a number of articles saying that the accuracy of the heartrate sensor during exercise can be as much as 20bpm off, and sometimes even register no heart rate at all. Something makes me think that this could easily happen if the strap isn’t tight enough and the device flops about, or maybe gets too much sweat between the wrist and the sensor. I for one am unlikely to be jumping about any time soon, maybe a brisk walk here and there, so I’m hoping I won’t experience these issues, only time will tell.
So far it’s been pretty solid, it registered my sleep on Saturday night, but for some reason the app instantly forgot it, no idea what happened there, maybe a bug with the app, but the next night it recorded it just fine and retained it in the app. The resulting data is very similar to that of the Band 2, with the exception that it seems to separate disturbances from being awake a lot better than the Band 2 and shows me waking up less, but thrashing about just as much.
I’ve just done a walk around Brighton town center and back, that seems to be accurate enough (maybe a little low), although for some reason it lost bluetooth connection to my phone, so when I started the walk it wouldn’t connect to my phone, I don’t think this is even necessary but it can use the GPS on the phone rather than on the device. I would rather it used its own GPS so I could test the battery life but this time I just went without either. The logged distance seems a bit low to me, and the number of steps also seems low, but without hard evidence it’s difficult for me to prove otherwise. Maybe i’ll use the Band 2 and the Blaze simultaneously to see what happens (aside from looking like a massive douchebag).
Setting up my FitBit certainly wasn’t trouble free, so I have listed all of my issues below. Some of these aren’t issues as such, but by design, anyway here they are,
- Connecting to my phone out of the box was very troublesome, it took ages just trying to connect, then eventually it stated that the battery was low. I’m unsure if that was the cause, but I had to wait until I got home before I could try. I wasn’t expecting a full battery out of the box, but maybe enough to connect to my phone.
- When I finally got it on charge, it took at least 30 minutes before I could start the setup process, that seems a bit excessive to me.
- The device is completely useless until initial setup is complete.
- When I finally got the initial setup done the service emailed me to tell me the battery was low… yeah I know, I was using it at the time obviously.
- The initial firmware update took a long time, in the region of an hour, and that’s on my home broadband with roughly 70mb download speeds, not sure what the bottleneck was, but it got rather boring. During the update there’s also no ETA which would have been nice, just 2 progress bars, one on the phone screen and one on the device which didn’t match.
Please note, the initial experience may be nicer on other platforms, I’m using a Lumia 950 running Windows 10 Mobile.
Microsoft Band App vs FitBit App
Although both apps are very good, my money would be on the Microsoft Band app, it’s far more polished than the FitBit app, although both have a wealth of information on the screen that you can browse through and drill down into for more detailed analysis.
The Microsoft Band app, to me, seems to be more intuitive and well designed, but then you should expect that from Microsoft. You may feel different after comparing the apps so don’t take my word for it. Not that you should ever take my word for anything on here…
So far I’m chuffed with the Blaze, the out of box experience could have been better and why it lost my first sleep recording is a mystery. It may well happen again at some point which will mean me going on forums and moaning, just to be told that it’s the app and then for someone to blame Windows… bla bla bla yadda yadda. Anyway, I have high hopes for this device and I haven’t even looked at it from a programming perspective, but as a consumer buying a fitness wearable, it ticks all the boxes.