I’m somewhat of a geek, so the notion of wearing a device that provides data about exercise seemed like a good thing, if only because it would help me convince myself that exercise is something that needs to be fitted into my daily routine. After a small medical mishap at the end of 2013, I bought a Fitbit Flex. This is one of the simplest devices you can wear as its only interface is a set of five lights that illuminate to show progress towards your daily goal. In this case, to take 10,000 steps.
Fitbit.com offers a nice web site to track progress over time and I’ve been happily watch myself progress to a grand total (as of today) of 6.5 million steps or 4,866 km. I know that I would not have done this exercise without wearing a device, so that’s proof of their worth.
I went through several Fitbit Flex, mostly because they have a fiddly clasp that tends to fall off at the worst time, meaning that I have left devices behind in places like the Nice Airport car-hire facility. This fault and the lack of feedback from the device led me to by a Fitbit Charge, which I like very much. It’s simple to use but acts as a watch and provides feedback on steps taken, stairs climbing, calories consumed, and so on.
And then the Microsoft Band appeared. I didn’t like the first version because it was uncomfortable to wear and seemed expensive for what it delivered, so I waited for Microsoft to improve matters, which is what has happened in Microsoft Band 2 (on the right in picture above). I’ve been wearing the Band 2 along with the Fitbit Charge since the Band 2 was released on October 30 to figure out what I like about both and to make a decision as to what I’ll wear in the future.
The Band 2 is packed full of sensors and I delight in knowing my heart rate at a glance. People have been telling me for years that I am somewhat stressed when flying and this was confirmed by the finding that my heart rate increased from a normal 68-70 beats per minute to closer to 100 when flying.
You pay for the Band’s sensor capabilities with a short battery life. The Band 2 will last 48 hours on a charge, but that shortens to a day or less if you exercise with GPS turned on, which you’ll probably want in order to see maps of your course produced in the Microsoft Health dashboard. The Fitbit is simpler and offers much better battery life. I typically charge the Fitbit once a week whereas the Band 2 needs to be monitored daily to know whether it needs a quick charge. Charging is quick for both devices.
Speaking of dashboards, both Fitbit and Microsoft make data accumulated from the devices available for comparison and observation. Both are well laid out. I like the way Fitbit allows you to add activities that might not be recorded by the device (for instance, if you forget to wear it), while Microsoft’s provides more analysis of the data.
Both devices have companion apps available on all major mobile platforms. The Microsoft app (which I use on Windows Phone) has some additional bells and whistles, such as being able to change the tiles that show up on the device. For instance, I have no interest in accessing Cortana with the Band so I removed that tile. Speaking of tiles, the ability of the Band to display snippets for new messages (text and email) as they arrive is a nice feature. This depends on the presence of a Bluetooth-connected phone to receive the messages and broadcast them to the band. As you might expect, reading messages a couple of lines at a time quickly loses its appeal, but it’s a useful way to recognize when something important arrives and you need to take action.
Many will buy these devices to track the distance they cover on a daily basis through normal activities or exercise. All devices have their own way of measuring distance (the Band 2 uses GPS) and the two seldom agreed on the number of steps taken or the distance covered. That really doesn’t matter as long as you use one device on a constant basis and measure your own progress against whatever data it produces. I measured the GPS distance recorded by the Band 2 against Runmaster Pedometer, a GPS-capable exercise recording app running on my Lumia 1020. The Band 2 and the Lumia agreed within 2-3% most of the time.
I prefer the Band 2’s clasp. It is much more secure than the Fitbit Charge, which tends to pop out from time to time (but much less frequently than the Fitbit Flex). The Band 2 is comfortable to wear and I don’t notice it on my left wrist. I don’t wear a watch anymore and like the “glance” mode of the Band 2, which shows the time if you move your wrist. An important point is that the Band 2 is water resistant, which means that you have to take it off when showering. The Fitbit is happy to be clean and goes into the shower along with its owner.
The devices are obviously worlds apart from it comes to price so it’s a little unfair to measure the Fitbit Charge against the Band 2. There are more sophisticated Fitbit devices that are a better direct comparison with the Band 2, but I can only discuss what I have.
The Microsoft Band 2 is available for $249.99 at Amazon.com or £199.99 at Amazon.co.uk while the Fitbit Charge comes in at $116.05 at Amazon.com and £64.95 at Amazon.co.uk. To make the comparison more accurate between the U.S. and UK, you have to convert to a common currency and factor in sales tax, which differs according to the state of purchase. Taking an 8% rate for sales tax, the figures are as show below. As you can see, the Microsoft Band 2 is much cheaper in the U.S. while less of a difference exists for the Fitbit Charge, probably because it has been available for longer and some discounting is present.
|Microsoft Band 2||$249.99 + tax = $269.98||£199.99 = $314.51|
|Fitbit Charge||$116.05 + tax = $125.33||£64.95 = $102.14|
Overall, both devices do a good job of helping people become less of a couch potato (if you let them). I like the simplicity of the Fitbit and its battery life. I like the approachability of the Band 2 and the data that it produces and that’s the reason why I will probably persist with the Band 2.
Everyone is different and wearing one of the more sophisticated Fitbit devices might be sufficient to tilt the balance the other way. And of course, newer devices when released will up the ante and set new benchmarks for wearability, usability, battery life, data gathering, applications, and dashboards. In the meantime, I’ll get on with achieving my daily goal for kilometres covered and steps walked.
Update (21 Nov): The small tab on the side of the Fitbit that you press to see the clock or other data has snapped off and can’t be fitted back. I guess it’s the Band 2 from here on.
Update 2 (1 Dec): Due to some excellent support from Fitbit, I now have a new replacement device. The old device is still working and reporting data, it just can’t display anything but the time (if you rap the screen).
Update 3 (19 Jan 16): The Band 2 has stopped charging, which seems to be quite a common difficulty experienced by people. Microsoft has provided me with a UPS label to return the device to a support center in Germany. We’ll see how long it takes to come back.
Update 4 (24 Jan 16): Microsoft has sent a brand-new replacement Band 2 to me. Let’s hope that this one doesn’t have the same difficulties with charging.
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