After rumors and leaks, Microsoft has officially announced the second version of the Microsoft Band. The original version of the band was launched just over a year ago and, while advanced at the time, it has not aged well from either a tech or style perspective. We thought the original was decent, but not great; it was very restrictive in what it could do and was not very comfortable to wear. The follow up device looks to improve on at least one of those issues. The Microsoft Band 2 is a much sleeker device, trading in glossy black plastic for metal accents, moving from a constrictive, flat display to a curved screen, and shedding most (but not all) of the batteries on the inside of the wristband. For those hoping for a true Microsoft smartwatch, the wait continues; at its heart, the Microsoft Band 2 is still a fitness tracker. That means it tracks your sleep quality, steps, calories, heart rate, and VO2 Max. The company, as rumored, has also added a barometer to the device which functions like the one on your smartphone to track altitude change (think: number of floors climbed). The band also retains the original’s GPS chip. Hopefully there have been some improvements made to it though; we found the original took a tremendous amount of time to find itself and consumed a ton of power. Thankfully Microsoft has dumped the plastic screen of the previous model, which scratched it you looked at it wrong, and is using Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3.
From a software perspective, there appear to be no big changes. The interface is largely the same and there are only Microsoft-blessed apps. We are glad to see that the company has allowed a few more apps this time around though, including Facebook and Uber. The company has also added a Tile for golf, that loads course information and allows you to use the GPS to record your game. It remains compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices, but note the original had greatly reduced features on non-Windows devices. The Microsoft Band 2 will go on sale October 30th and will retail for $249, a $50 increase versus the original.
It is interesting that Microsoft is sticking with the fitness tracker category. It supports recent statements from Fitbit that the segment still has a lot of legs. The original band was sold out for months, but it faced a much more immature wearable market that was willing to tolerate its weaknesses. One year later, we think the Microsoft Band 2 will have a much harder time finding its market. Long term, we are worried about the fitness-tracker-only strategy. With low cost options such as Misfit and MOOV offering incredible features on budget friendly devices, we are not sure the average consumer sees the point of spending over $200 on something that performs so many similar functions. I believe that most consumers would rather make the move to a smartwatch once they start looking at shelling out $200+. Smartwatches still offer fitness tracking while also allowing for a much vaster array of functionality including 3rd party apps…that is unless you are on Windows Phone and then you are kinda stuck.