The Band is Microsoft’s newest entry into the wearable devices. And boy did they go in big! The Band is a fitness tracker and smartwatch. Microsoft has released apps to connect to the Band are available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

This posting is my experience with the Band. Up front I’ll say that while I’ve looked at many of the other smartwatches and fitness trackers, but the only other one I’ve used is a Fitbit One. I’m going to stay away from going into the specifications for the Band. I’m certain Microsoft and many other bloggers have already plastered the specifications all over the Web. I am using a Windows Phone 8.1. While most features are available on all three platforms, some of the Smartwatch features may not be available.

Features

The features of the Band can be broken down into two catagories; Smartwatch and Fitness Tracker.

Fitness

Microsoft designed a bank of sensors that track many aspects of your activity and health. For a complete breakdown of the sensors, visit Microsoft Band.

The tiles on the Band can be edited by using an app on a smartphone. The tiles can be moved around, removed or added. I’d suggest trying each one and remove any that you don’t use. I figure the more tiles that are on the Band the faster the battery will run out.

As I said earlier, I’m only going to cover tiles that I found useful. The first screen that shows is the time screen. Having the time easily available means I’m pulling the phone out of my pocket a lot less often. Tapping on the time, switches to a view of your activity for today. On the time screen there is room for an extra data piece. I like leaving my steps there but you could put the date and it would make it more like a watch.

Workouts can be downloaded to the band and accessed from the Guided Workout tile. These workouts display the exercise, count the reps, time you please can notify when the time comes to switch exercise. Since it uses the vibration of the Band, you don’t need to watching a screen or listening with headphones. The app lists the workouts available and can download a single workout to the Band. The smartphone is not needed once the workout is loaded.

The Sleep Tracker gives a great amount of detail of how well you slept. Select the Sleep tile and start the tracking. In the morning turn the Sleep tracking off. During this time, no massages will come through, this creates a nice quiet time. Alarms set on the phone will not make the Band alert during this quiet. The heartbeat is watched more closely to give a better look at your health. The Band watches the heartbeat much closer during sleep.

There is an Alarm/Stopwatch tile that can be used as a morning alarm clock. But only one time can be set. This is one area that can be improved.

Smartwatch

Alerts, messages, phone calls and email can be paired between a smartphone and Band. I turned off the email; it’s a tile so I just removed it. With multiple accounts and the amount of email I receive it wasn’t useful for me.

I do find the messaging very useful. When a text message comes in the Band Vibrate and displays the beginning of the message. By swiping right on the Band, a preset reply can be sent. There are four messages that can be preset to chose from. Phone calls work the same way.

Since I spend my time either on a keyboard or phone, I find it wonderful that I can just twist my wrist to check who is messaging me. As with any tile, this is removable.

3rd Party apps

Recently a couple of apps have come out for Windows Phone that adds a little more functionality to the Band. An app called Pimp my Band, allows for adding a wallpaper of your choosing. There is a trail, but at just 99 cents I think this is a steal. Select a photo and download it to the Band. Easy and quick.

Band Sensor Monitor also has come out. This always for real time monitoring of the sensors on the Band. Currently only supports viewing the data from the connected phone, there is plans to make the data available via Web Site. The app is $1.99. I’m not thinking I’m going to need this, but I could see an athlete that wants the trainer to watch the health information from a distance. That would be useful.

Starbucks has a Card app on the Band. By registering your Starbucks Card to the Band, a scanable code will be displayed on the Band to pay at Starbucks. My coffee shop of choose is Caribou but the Starbucks tile is so easy to use. I’ve already made a few stops, I plan to keep $5 on the Band. As with any of the tiles, this is completely optional. Easy to remove.

I’m hoping that we are only seeing the start of great apps for the Band.

Final Word

Looking at the number of wearables that are flooding the market. The vast majority either was focused on being the best activity tacker without the smartwatch or tried to be a smartphone on a wrist. The Microsoft Band fits right between. A great fitness tracker and just enough smartwatch features to make the smartphone more useful.

At $199 this is worthing of checking out. I hope other companies pay attention and learn from what Microsoft has done.