Skip to main content

Microsoft Band 2 Review - Health and fitness unshackled

The Microsoft Band 2 brings significant changes to all aspects of the fitness wearable making it pleasing to the eye and more comfy. The core functions remain the same, however, with only a few new tweaks and features.

Windows Central Recommended Award

Exactly one year ago to the day Microsoft surprised many with the release of their first wearable device simply called the Band. Announced late into the evening with little fanfare the Band always came off as an investigational device for Microsoft, with a slow international rollout and restrictive availability even in the U.S. Microsoft seemed to be testing the waters with the Band, unsure of how people would respond.

One year later and Microsoft is releasing its successor the Band 2 on Friday, October 30. At the core, the Microsoft Band 2 does the same things as the original Band mostly. However, the only thing that has changed is everything to borrow a recently popular slogan. With a refreshed design, better materials and a super sleek curved display the Microsoft Band 2 looks like it is ready for primetime.

Here is our full review of the new $249 Microsoft Band 2.

Microsoft Band 2 – What's different

Like its predecessor, the Microsoft Band 2 can be described as half fitness and half smartphone companion. It's not exactly a smartwatch, but it is more than just a health device too. Indeed, it finds its niche right between Apple's Watch and Fitbit's suburban-athlete message. At $249 the Band 2 is not cheap, but it is more affordable than a full Apple Watch. There is also less commitment to the idea of it as a smartwatch. That enables you to wear the Band 2 on one wrist while still wearing a fancy watch on the other.

The Microsoft Band 2 is similar to what the Surface Pro 4 is to the Surface Pro 3. The overall functionality is the same but there are so many smaller improvements that it feels – and acts – like a whole new wearable.

Microsoft Band 2 versus Band 1

Let's talk about design. Microsoft clearly went back to the drawing board after feedback from the first Band. That first iteration was divisive with some people loving it, and others hating it. It wasn't too long before people jokingly referred to it as The Shackle. Here is what changed with the new Band:

  • The Band 2 is made from new materials including medical-grade steel and a new type of rubber (Thermal plastic elastomer silicone vulcanate (TPSiV))
  • Larger, curved display now at 320 x 128 pixels and as a bonus it's now AMOLED instead of TFT
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with improved touch responsiveness
  • New Barometer sensor for elevation measurements for stair climbing That is in addition to the other sensors including heart rate, accelerometer, GPS, ambient light, UV, microphone, skin temperature and galvanic skin response sensors.

Additionally, Microsoft moved around a lot of internal hardware to make the Band 2 much more comfortable and practical. For instance:

  • Battery moved from the sides of the Band to the new clasp
  • Heart-rate sensor moved from the clasp to underneath the display
  • The charging port moved from underneath the display to the clasp
  • UV sensor is now on the clasp

The benefits of making all of those moves make the Band 2 much more comfortable as the sides now flex along the wrist. The heart-rate sensor is now on the inside of the wrist, and the charging port never touches the skin, which prevents skin irritation and the connector from getting dirty.

All of these changes address the big complaints with the Band 1 including discomfort, scratched displays and the soft touch peeling off after a few months.

Band versus Band

CategoryBand 2Band
MaterialThermal plastic elastomer silicone vulcanate (TPSiV)Thermoplastic elastomer
Display Size12.8mm x 32mm11mm x 33mm
Display TypeCurved AMOLEDFlat TFT
Resolution320 x 128 pixels320 x 106 pixels
Battery48 hours (GPS may impact battery life)48 hours (GPS may impact battery life)
Average Charge TimeFull charge in less than 1.5 hoursFull charge in less than 1.5 hours
Battery TypeLi-polymerLithium-ion polymer
Operating Temperature Ranges-10°C to 40°C (14°F to 104°F)14°F to 104°F (-10°C to 40°C)
Maximum Operating Altitude-300m to +4877m3,937 feet (1,200 m)
SensorsOptical heart rate sensor
3-axis accelerometer
Gyrometer
GPS
Ambient light sensor
Skin temperature sensor
UV sensor
Capacitive sensor
Galvanic skin response
Microphone
Barometer
Optical heart rate sensor
3-axis accelerometer
Gyrometer
GPS
Ambient light sensor
Skin temperature sensor
UV sensor
Capacitive sensor
Galvanic skin response
Microphone
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.0 LEBluetooth 4.0 LE
Supported mobile devicesWindows Phone 8.1 update or greater
iPhone®5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus with iOS® 8.1.2 or greater
Android™ 4.4 or later phones with Bluetooth®
Windows Phone 8.1 update or greater
iPhone®5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus with iOS® 8.1.2 or greater
Android™ 4.4 or later phones with Bluetooth®

On paper, these two wearable seem very similar. However, the difference in display quality, comfort, design and even tweaked UI changes the overall dynamic of the Band 2 as a viable alternative in the fitness market.

This Band is smarter

Besides the hardware fixes and improvements, the Band 2 also has a few new software enhancements that are useful.

For example, there is a slightly updated UI. When tapping the clock for your fitness tracking the progress meter now takes up the full display instead of being a tiny line-bar at the bottom. The back arrow key area is now black with an accent line instead of a solid color. New toggle buttons for GPS reflect the new pill design in Windows 10. Although subtle, these UI refinements look good.

Microsoft Band 2 clock

There is now an optional Smart-Alarm tool that only goes off when you are tossing and turning in bed. Fun fact I used to be a sleep technician at Cornell, and we never woke a patient out of a deep sleep because it causes disorientation. Instead, you wait until the patient moved as their sleep state is very light during that moment. The Band 2 feature works by monitoring your movement during a 30-minute window around your alarm time. So if you set your alarm for 7 am the Band 2 may wake you between 6:30 and 7 depending on when you toss and turn in bed. The result? You wake up refreshed and not groggy. Don't worry, though, you can still use the snooze feature.

Microsoft Band 2 clasp

There is also an optional Auto-clock feature called Rotate. The clock turns on only when you raise your arm up to view the Band. Fitbit does something similar, and it is tremendously useful, so I'm glad to see it here as you can now save battery life while gaining a clock.

Finally, there is a UV reminder function. This is an alarm that goes off after a defined period of exposure to the sun, and it is ideal to avoid sunburn. Since the UV sensor is now on the clasp, when worn with the display on the inside of the wrist it exposes the sensor towards the sky.

Unfortunately, none of those new features are coming to the Band 1 either.

Microsoft Band 2 heart rate

Interestingly, Microsoft is doubling down the 'inside wrist' orientation. To be clear, you can wear the Band 2 with the display facing out, but the Band 2 re-orientates the UV and HR sensors for more optimal usage when worn display down. I prefer this style too as it makes checking notifications in social settings less awkward.

Fix everything and change nothing

Okay, so how is the Band 2? To be fair, I was a big fan of the Band 1 although I agree with the criticisms that people made against it. As far as I can tell, Microsoft fixed almost everything in the Band 2. That's not to say that people won't find personal reasons not to like it. The new buckle clasp is still rather large and prominent, and some people still won't like the horizontal display.

For myself, I enjoyed the Band 2. It's comfortable. The display is delightful, and the sensors all work quite well. Battery life is decent, and you will still need to charge every other day. Like before, the best tip is to throw the Band 2 on the charger when taking a shower. The Band 2 can charge to around 70% in just 30 minutes with 2 hours needed for a full charge.

Microsoft Band 2

The new charger is superior to the previous incarnation. The magnets are much stronger now. You won't be able to shake it off, and it clicks into the sculpted port. The clasp doesn't quite fall into the charger port, so you need to align it, but overall it works fine.

Anything wrong with it?

Technology is never perfect, and the same goes for the Microsoft Band 2. Although Microsoft has made tremendous improvements in this version there is still room here to make it better. Here are a few weaknesses I noticed.

For one, I'd like to see a double-tap on the display to turn it on. Fitbit does this with their recent wearables, and even Windows Phone have a double-tap to wake. This may seem like nitpicking (and it is) but doing this can be easier sometimes, and it is doable technology.

There are also some feature inconsistencies that works in the favor or Windows Phone, for once. On an iPhone or Android phone, there is no Cortana option, no voice to text, and you cannot use the awesome on-screen keyboard for text replies. Those aren't deal breakers for non-Windows Phone users, but they would be cool to have as options. At least Windows Phone gets a win here.

Microsoft Band 2

The Band 2 is still not waterproof, only water resistant (e.g. rain, doing the dishes, washing hands). To be fair, the Band 2 is built much better than the last generation, and I expect the water resistance to be very good. Still, you cannot use this in the pool, and it is not advised to wear it in the shower. This restriction is the norm for these types of wearables, so it is hard to ding the Band 2 too much, but it is worth mentioning for aquatic athletes.

The price of the Band 2 also went up by 50 bucks to $249. This price is fair compared to the competition, but it is one more thing to consider.

I also have some concerns over the stainless steel that is used in the new Band. Although it does not cause any irritations, it still can scratch like any other metal and the clasp had some slight marring after a few weeks of usage. Others have noticed in-store demo units also heavily scratched. Like all wearables, the Band 2 is still slightly vulnerable to damage from everyday bangs and scrapes. The Corning Gorilla Glass 3 is durable but if you scrape it against a rock while climbing, it can scratch.

What about accuracy? I did find the heart-rate sensor to be better than the Gen 1 version, and Microsoft says it is 20% more optimized. It is still not always on and instead check periodically to save battery. Steps counting is conservative when compared to Fitbit too. (We'll be doing a deeper comparison to Fitbit and Band 1 in the coming weeks).

Microsoft Band 2

The Band 2 also still lacks controls for music, which is a big selling point for many users when exercising. Regrettably, the Band 2 still does not run a full OS, so it is not possible to multitask. In other words, when in exercise mode you cannot go to another task such as theoretical controls for music. I suspect that the Band 3 will go to Windows 10 IoT and there it will gain many more features with newer APIs and multi-tasking.

Finally, my biggest complaint about the Band 2 is the lack of social features. Part of the appeal of Fitbit is the same as Messengers: Your friends are on them. This lets you compete, set fun challenges, and rewards. None of that is on the Band 2 yet so you are using all of the health features in isolation. Sure, in the web dashboard (dashboard.microsofthealth.com) you can compare to the general populace and similar demographics, but this is not the same as a friends list. Microsoft says they are working on social, but it is something we'll just have to wait for. That makes switching from Fitbit a tough choice in my opinion.

C'mon Microsoft. Bring Xbox integration, achievements, and friends list already.

Wrap up and should you buy?

Forgetting about health the Band 2 is just a great phone companion. I do enjoy the notifications for text messages, emails, weather, and more. Luckily, that is all configurable too. In fact, I find the Band 2 more interesting as a smartphone accessory than pure fitness, and I have no issues recommending it for that reason alone.

Overall, Microsoft did right with the Band 2. The new design not only feels better than the first one, but the whole thing looks more elegant too. The price point is fair, and there are no real weaknesses to it. Most drawbacks are likely to be addressed in forthcoming firmware and software updates, which also lets Microsoft add new features.

Like the Surface Book, the Band 2 represents some crazy engineering from Microsoft. I am disappointed that it is not running Windows 10, possibly adding limits to the wearable, but I believe this will be addressed in next year's model. My biggest hope is that it gets abilities to add friends and family, adding more social value to Microsoft Band and Health.

I still recommend trying on the Band 2 in person, and I hope Microsoft releases it to more markets as well. But overall, the Band 2 is a winner, and it shows Microsoft is serious about this new category of technology.

The Microsoft Band 2 is available starting October 30, 2015, and in the coming weeks for $249 at Microsoft Stores, Best Buy, and online retailers in the US and the UK.

Looking for more Band 2 coverage? Windows Central will be doing numerous follow-up articles, including direct comparisons and deeper dives into features in the coming weeks!

More information

If you need more information on the Microsoft Band 2 you can read our main topic page or jump into our forums!

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

290 Comments
  • Awesome. I've been waiting for this review all week! Looking forward to picking this up tomorrow. It was surprisingly comfortable to wear when I tried it on. Sad to see the keyboard doesn't work with Android.
  • I was waiting for a review as well, but some how reading the drawbacks, especially not running W10 makes me hesitate. I still want one just knowing if they release a 3rd Gen with propper OS and better integration with the phone and MS services, band 2 will not cut it. Im not the type to upgrade yearly when it comes to phones or PC components. Just that scares me a bit. Tomorrow will be a painful day haha.
  • Same here - the review was something I was waiting for and unfortunately the same drawbacks you mention are what would prevent me from jumping on board with this. I have been using a Fitbit Charge HR (and a Fitbit Force previous to that), and while I like the functionality of the Fitbits, I have such haphazard syncing using the WP app that I am ready to give up on Fitbit. I was hoping that the improvements with the Band 2 would be enough to persuade me to make the switch, and while it is certainly tempting, I am also not one to upgrade on a yearly basis and would need something I could by happy with for a few years - I am not certain that the Band 2 is that device. Although, I'm not sure if the Fitbit Charge HR is that device either as it has been wearing rather quickly, the band shows significant wear and has stretched. I like the use of a traditional watch clasp over the solution in previous / lesser models, but that and the sleep alarms are all that really stand out for me with my current device, I would value the feature set the Band 2 has over the Fitbit, but it just isn't quite enough to make me switch yet.
  • I have a Fitbit Charge HR as well and your syncing issue isn't the Fiitbit. It's WP. I had a WP it was paired with and had the same experience. Couple that with the fact that it didn't do notifications at the time (Anyone know if this has changed?) and I switched to Droid for my handset. Since then, syncing (with the same Fitbit) has been rock solid and spot on and I have notifications as well. It's not your Fitbit.
  • I've had significant syncing problems between a Charge HR and an iPhone 6+.  So ... I think the problem is most likely with the sync interface from Fitbit ...
  • What is Droid? Do you mean the Verizon phones? I think the biggest draw for this device to me would be the phone companion features. Reading texts, getting notifications and such, would be more of a benefit to me than the health stuff.
  • Droid =AnDROID=google OS  
  • Android if Google's OS and Droid is exclusive Motorola Android based phones sold exclusively for Verizon. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • That is my same hangup too. I would really like to upgrade and get rid of my Band 1, but I would hate to get the Band 2 and then try and justify to my wife why I need the Band 3 next year. :-) The Band 2 isn't all that much different than the Band 1, except in quality and comfort, which are two big differentiators. I wish MSFT was running some sort of trade in program here in the US. It would make upgrading a little more palatable.
  • They are, at least my local MF's store is doing it for me.
  • what are they giving for it? and where are you located?  i spoke with my MS store in atlanta and they said that some guy went the trade in route and they offered him 19 dollars (through the recycle your old tech trade in program).  Is that the trade in program you are speaking of? I specifically want like a $75-100 discount for handing my band 1 in
  • That is a very unrealistic request. Why would they give you more money then the resale market for the band. You can hop on craigslist and get them for $65 or less. Almost no resale program would give you more then $25 percent of the original sale value and that is what you are asking  
  • Unrealistic? Really? http://www.windowscentral.com/uk-microsoft-band-2-buyers-can-trade-origi...
  • Microsoft always gets it right on the 3rd time. That's why I'm waiting for the band3 while I wear out my band1
  • MindSynthetic, I too am on the fence.
  • Not true!! 
    My works perfectly fine! :) I hope yours does too
  • I am using a Nexus 6 with my band and I can tell you that the on-screen keyboard does work with the Band 2 as opposed to the Band 1. I gave replied to multiple text messages using the keyboard in the Band. I was surprised to see this feature as it was absent on the Band 1. 
  • Thank you for pointing this out!!! I was SUPER excited to see that it works on my HTC phone!
  • Saving for it!! Once it comes to India I will grab one 8)
  • Had the original Band, but when it came out made the switch to the Fitbit Charge HR which I've more or less been happy with. Band 2 looks really, really great though. Think I'm going to order and make the switch. Also, great review Dan (you're killing it with all these Windows10Devices reviews and videos!).
  • If only I could get it in Belgium..
  • You can! From the UK MSFT Store. Only thing required is a valid UK billing adress (hint: use MSFT UK campus). They will ship to belgium without any problems :)
  • Much easier than that order from amazon uk.
  • And what about South Africa?
  • Really? I can enter the Microsoft address as billing address, and my own home as shipping address? That would be great!
  • I called Microsoft UK to help me order the Band  from germany and they also filled the billing address with one from the UK. It seemed to be no big deal for them. Then they filled the shipping adress with my adress in germany and a few days later I got my Band! So just do it.;-)
  • You can order from amazon.co.uk. No special tricks involved. I also saw that MS Health support SI units for weight, height and so on. So it seems that band 2 would be fully usable in rest of Europe
  • How did you find the comfort level of the Band while sleeping? Do you use it every night?
  • I use it every night, had no issues. That is personal preference though as some people are bothered by it. But I even wore the Surge, which is slightly bigger/bulkier to bed too with no issue.
  • "I prefer this style too as it makes checking notifications in social settings less awkward". I prefer the display facing out. Loving my Band 1!
  • "I find the Band 2 more interesting as a smartphone accessory than pure fitness, and I have no issues recommending it for that reason alone". Exactly!
  • I've tried it in in the store and it is much more comfortable than B1
  • Excellent review!  I also now feel better about my poor sleep after looking at your sleep tracking in the video!
  • It's nice to hear you can wear it every night. I can't sleep with my Band 1 at least 3 or 4 nights out of the week because it's really not comfortable.
  • On the Band 1, you get used to it. It feels super strange the first couple nights. Sometimes it's a little awkward when your arm is lying sideways, pushing the battery into your wrist. That I'm hoping the 2 fixes (in a way you can't really test in-store). But basically yeah, I can sleep fine with the Band 1 and see no reason the 2 will be worse.
  • NIce review Daniel. Microsoft has done a good job on the hardware side, however, the software side needs significant work. The mobile apps are bare bones and social integration is key. I was hoping that Microsoft would surprise us with new software on ship day (tomorrow), but that doesnt look like its happening. Either way, I await the delivery of my Band 2.
  • Looks good.
  • Drool...
  • talking about health, the health&fitness app is going down very soon, what is the alternative for the majority of us who don't have the band app available?
  • The only alternatives are non-MS. MS f-ed up.
  • The Microsoft Health app is the alternative, it's not exactly the same and same structure, but it is the replacement
  • Microsoft Health can't be an alternative since it is not available. at least not here where I live.
  • I wondered about that as well, and even asked Daniel about it when it was announced that MS' own app was being shuttered, and how it would affect the band and its functionality, and selling points. I of course got ignored and my post got deleted.
  • Great review - fair and balanced.  I also purchased the Band 1 on Day 1.  I'm on my third (first stopped charging and battery case spit open after 6 months; screen died on the second one, but to be fair, I was kickboxing with it on).  The flick-the-wrist to turn on clock mode is a nice addition that I voted for a while back.  One very nice new feature on the web Dashboard is the ability to make your own workouts!  I just stumbled on this a few days ago and it was something I wanted for a while.  The workouts to select are all very good, but not having all the equipment or simply wanting to adapt a workout to my personal fitness was not possible until now.  Analytics are also improved with the ability to compare yourself to your peers.  Actually made me feel more "average" than I thought! It will be great to see what other types of 3rd party apps can be developed.  Overall, great product.  But Microsoft needs to PROMOTE IT!  Give me a TV spot on Agents of Shield or something (wasn't "Daisy" wearing a prototype in one of the Season 2 episodes last year?).  Just promote it with the web tool and analytics. I think the vast majority of people don't know Microsoft even makes hardware, besides the Xbox!    
  • Haa someone did notice it. Microsoft has carefully placed Lumia and Surface too in other series also
  • Yup. Lumia gets good looks on Agents of Shield AND Scandal.
  • Don't forget Dallas as well!
  • And Hawaii-Five-0
  • lots of lumias on The mindy project :D
  • How about the NFL commentators? The NFL promotes Surface. MSFT needs to sponsor some athletes. LOL