My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: US$199 Microsoft Band - Fitness Tracker with Microsoft Health Apps and Windows Phone Executive Perks with Cortana Voice Commands

Monday, November 3, 2014

US$199 Microsoft Band - Fitness Tracker with Microsoft Health Apps and Windows Phone Executive Perks with Cortana Voice Commands

Microsoft has finally decided to take wearable seriously. Very seriously!

They’ve outed the US$199 Microsoft Band that does everything the competition does but cheaper as noted in the article “Microsoft Wants Its Wearable on Your Wrist and Your Health Data in Its Hands”, published 10/30/2014 @ 2:39AM by Aaron Tilley,  Forbes.

Granted, it’s not cheaper than the US$149 Nike Fuelband SE as described in my Geezam blog article entitled “Caribbean rides the Fitness Craze as Nike Fuelband SE making Apple iPhone users healthier”.

But the mere fact that it works with Windows Phone smartphone as well as Apple iPhones and Google Android smartphones as stated in the article “Microsoft Band works with Android, iPhone too”, published October 30, 2014 3:50 AM PDT by Rich Trenholm, CNET News means that this device, on price alone, will be a huge seller come Christmas 2014.

So what's so great about this latest smartwatch? For one, it's a Fitness Tracker that's jam-packed with smartwatch features galore!

Microsoft Band - Fitness Tracker that is a chip off the Samsung Gear Fit Block

The Microsoft Band is a rectangular shaped Fitness Tracker that has a form factor that reminds me of the Samsung Gear Fit as noted in the article “Microsoft Band is a seriously smart fitness tracker (hands-on)”, published October 30, 2014 1:55 PM PDT by Scott Stein, CNET Reviews.

It differs, however, in that the screen is flat, not curved like the Samsung Gear Fit. It's an all-plastic design with a Microsoft blue and black theme that can be seen throught the design, from the rubber wrist strap to the OLED Screen.

Similarly, like the Samsung Gear Fit, there is a pair of LED that's used to track your heart-rate. But unlike the Gear Fit's interchangeable plastic wrist-strap, the Microsoft Band has its Green-LED's built into the wrist strap itself.

This I already spotted and I don't like as although it'll probably line up better with the vein more commonly used by Doctors to take your pulse and probably be more accurate, it means that there's electronics built into the wrist strap.

That means if it gets damaged, I gotta go back to a Microsoft Store to have it repaired. Not good, Microsoft! That proprietary Band on the Microsoft Band is adjustable and the design is dust and splash resistant, but not to the point that you can wear this thing while swimming or in a bathroom!

That’s another strike against an otherwise forward-thinking design, as that means swimming and checking how many calories I burn while doing aquatic activities is out of the question, a problem that's also common with another Samsung Product, the Samsung Galaxy Gear S as noted in my Geezam blog article entitled “Samsung’s Galaxy Gear S Smartwatch coming to Jamaica while reppin’ for Tizen”.

Microsoft Band - Fitness Tracker that has Microsoft Health Apps that play nice

Like most Fitness Trackers, it keeps track of your heart Rate 24-7, keeping you on point with achievements monitored via synching your Fitness data with Microsoft Health App as well as vibration alerts to keep you on target with your Fitness goals.

Not sure if it also tracks your sexual activity, as that too is also a form of exercise that I’ve yet to hear any Fitness Tracker have a dedicated slew of Apps to track. It would be interesting to see how CNET News or Forbes would test a sexual activity App!

That Microsoft Health App works with Windows Phone 8.1 plus Bluetooth, Android 4.3.4 or above with Bluetooth as well as iPhone 4S or newer running iOS 7.1 or better. Microsoft Health also works with the following Fitness Apps, making it convenient for those who already have these Fitness Apps installed on their smartphone to access the Microsoft Band's data:

1.      MapMyFitness
2.      MyFitnessPal
3.      RunKeeper
4.      UP by Jawbone

Combined with its own built in GPS independent of the smartphone it's synchs with, the Microsoft Band tracks the following metrics to help you achieve your goal:

1.      Calorie Calculator
2.      Distances travelled when running or biking
3.      Heart Rate Monitor
4.      Pedometer
5.      Stopwatch for Lap timing
6.      UV Sensor

Microsoft Band is clever – Windows Phone Executive Perks with Cortana Voice Commands

The UV Sensor is fairly new albeit that’s more for persons having a real reason to be afraid of the Sun, Vampire Diaries Style. It also has another odd but really cool feature that's only available to Windows Phone users; you can get information from the smartwatch via using Voice Commands with Cortana.

Once your Windows Phone is within Bluetooth Range, Cortana will work via the built in microphone in the Microsoft Band to allow you to check your vitals as well as skip through the emails, notifications and the plethora of alerts that your Windows Phone smartphone receives.

This is where the Microsoft puts on a different shade of blue by way of its suppressing array of executive services that would make it almost a smartwatch. Not only can you query your emails and messages using Cortana upon syncing, but the US$199 Microsoft Band can grab data from your smartphone, specifically:

1.      Calendar reminders
2.      Emails
3.      Events reminders
4.      Incoming calls and Texts
5.      New Messages
6.      Notifications
7.      Social Networking Updates

You can't hammer out an email on that little itty-bitty screen unless you’re preset a message for sending when the time is right. Neither can Cortana answer you, as it has no speaker for interactive commands; it can only execute Voice Commands, not talk to you. But you can set its built-in alarm clock to remind you of the next appointment, even blocking hours of “me” time when placed in a “Do Not Disturb” mode!

Finally, the Microsoft Band has 100mAh rechargeable lithium-ion polymer batteries, which in layman terms translate to 48 hours worth of standby time while just doing nothing, which shrinks down to a measly 5 hours when you’re actively using the GPS battery while running or riding…..or having sex for that matter.

The daily battery charging ritual is at last modernized, with magnets similar to those used on Apple's MagSafe cables used to attach the charging Cable for quick charging. Still not good enough, but at least it’s conveniently done, albeit I’d expect future upgrades to also include options for true Wireless charging i.e. Solar, Radio Waves, etc.

Microsoft Band as an Apple Watch Competitor – NFC Wireless payments possible in future models

By far its most amazing feature is its ability to sort-of mimic Apple Pay, which Apple plans to bring to the Apple Watch coming out in the First Quarter of 2015 as stated in the article “Apple Watch Set For Spring Debut, 'iPad Pro' Later In 2015”, published 11/03/2014 @ 2:24AM by Mark Rogowsky, Forbes.

That neat little trick involves storing the Starbucks Barcode with a built in Barcode App which then allows those lucky Californians and New Yorkers to use their Microsoft Band to pay for coffee using a Bluetooth technology. Not quite Apple Pay, but pretty close and bears the potential of being upgradable to a NFC reader in future models to enable NFC payments like the Apple Watch but at a fraction of the alledged US$349 Apple Watch price.

These features, plus its unique UV Sensor for the Vampires living among us and the fact that it works with ANY smartphone, makes the US$199 Microsoft Band Fitness Tracker not just a deal but a SERIOUS competitor to the Apple Watch coming in the Spring of 2015, the Year of the Sheep.

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