Microsoft Band Review: Fitness Band Adds Golf Tracking

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With the addition of a brand new golf tracking system, Microsoft's (MSFT) first digital fitness device, Band, is now an even more attractive package.

In cooperation with the pros from TaylorMade, the Microsoft Band now offers golf shot tracking, analysis capabilities and more. Even before you step up to the first tee, you can use the new course finder on the Health app to quickly find the courses nearest you.

Band's on-board GPS sensor automatically detects the hole you're playing, displays your score for the hole you just completed and can give you accurate distance to the front, middle and back of the green. An automatic shot detection feature keeps track of your score. steps, heart rate and calorie burn. Add TaylorMade's new myRound Pro application and you can plot your entire round on the course.

The actual Microsoft device is a fitness band that can be set to always tell you the current time, but not all fitness monitors or smartwatches can do that. The two-ounce Band is much bulkier than the Xiaomi Mi Band I've been wearing, and loving. Band's band is quite thick and made of stiff thermoplastic with a rubber-like coating. The device can be worn with its screen on either side of your wrist.

There is a 1.4-inch long, color TFT touchscreen display (320 by 106 pixels), two control buttons on the side, and a pair of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries on the band's underside which Microsoft claims can last as much as two days on a full charge. Behind the screen is a magnetically-attached charging port. Opposite the screen is a clever adjustable-fit clasp with a skin sensor on the back.

On the inside is a Freescale (FSL) ARM (ARMH)-based Cortex M4 processor linked to only 2 MB of RAM and 64 MB of internal storage. While other smartwatch/exercise monitors may sport beefier internals, Microsoft's Band always performed flawlessly and never seemed to lag for any reason.

In addition to having GPS built-into the band, there are loads of sensors that can measure ambient light, ultraviolet light and our heart rate. There's also a skin temperature thermometer, a pedometer, a three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyro sensor. Band syncs with the outside world via Bluetooth 4.0 and offers applications for Microsoft Phone 8.1, Google (GOOG) Android (4.3 and later) and Apple (AAPL) iOS (7.1 or later) devices.

Band tracks your heart rate, the number of steps you walk, your calorie intake and the amount of time you sleep, It syncs with and displays that information in Microsoft's free Health app on your smartphone or tablet. The system allows you to set personal exercise goals and measure your progress, via the internal GPS system, whether you walk, run, hike or cycle.

Using Microsoft's Band has been a somewhat different health-tracking experience than with my Xiaomi Mi Band device.

The Mi Band measures steps and the amount of time you sleep, while Band does a whole lot more, including tell you the time. The Mi Band has no display except for three colorful LEDs which flash at times, while Microsoft's Band touchscreen can list incoming phone calls, text messages, emails and more.

The Mi Band's battery lasts two months on a full charge, compared to the two days for the Microsoft Band. Of course, there's also a slight price differential: the Xiaomi can be purchased online for around $15 and Microsoft Band retails for $200.

The Mi Band automatically knows when you are sleeping, while the Microsoft device need to be told, by physically pushing a button, that you're going to sleep. And, while it doesn't keep track of many kinds of exercise data, the Xiaomi software is somewhat more user friendly than Microsoft Health.

Microsoft's Band comes in one color (black) and is available in three sizes: small, medium and large. My test unit was much more comfortable to wear than it looks. It performed quite accurately when keeping track of my exercise routines. I found the display was easier to see at a glance when I wore the device with the screen under my wrist.

While it doesn't seem like it would be a big deal, having the dual batteries last more than a day turns out to be a terrific feature. Of course, two weeks or two months would be better. I'm able to wear the Band overnight to monitor my sleep and then give it a quick charge in the morning. Band is capable of fully recharging in less than 90 minutes. Typically, a full charge took less than half that time.

Microsoft's Band is a very good first-generation effort and a very competent fitness tracking device. That said, I'm guessing there will be a second-generation model coming soon -- probably in plenty of time for this year's holiday shopping season. They better. With new devices from Fitbit (FIT), Samsung (SSNLF), LG, Motorola and others Microsoft is going to have to do something to keep up.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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